In Scripture we find two kinds of idols. The first is an alternative to the living God from the get-go. When the children of Israel turned aside to Baal or Molech, they were sinning overtly and rebelliously. They were turning from the living God to false gods.
The other kind of idol starts out innocently. God gave His people something to remember Him by, and at first they remember Him rightly. An example of this would be the bronze serpent that Moses fashioned in the wilderness, so that anyone who had been bitten by a serpent could look on it in faith and live (Num. 21:8). Jesus said that this serpent was given as an Old Testament type, representing His crucifixion (John 3:14). It was a gift of God—and yet, Hezekiah was right to destroy it (2 Kings 18:4).
One of the things we need to remember when it comes to church architecture is that a building is corporate clothing. A building is how the whole church dresses. The trick is how to dress up without playing dress ups.
Whenever we are faced with a challenging or daunting task, there are two problems that can ensnare us. One is when we are very aware of our infirmities, and the other is when we are not aware of our infirmities.
This is how it works. When we are aware of our infirmities, that tends to paralyze us. We are confronted with something we know that we cannot do, and so we do not do it. But if we look at it, and we are swollen in our own conceits, and think that doing it would be a snap, we go on in our own strength and in our own name.
God hates a particular kind of incongruity with a passion. He detests the notion that we can create a liturgy, or a worship space, or a tall steeple, that somehow masks or deals with sin. But if such things could deal with sin, then Jesus didn’t have to die.
“When ye come to appear before me, Who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; The new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: They are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them” (Isaiah 1:12–14).
We are continuing to meditate on the task of building a sanctuary in our new location. As we do this, we want to make sure we identify all the basic principles that are involved. One of them is the nature of work.
Nehemiah once had what could be considered an impossible task, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. No sane feasibility committee would have given him the green light. And yet, when the task was operating under the grace of God, what happened?
“So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” (Neh. 4:6).
As the Church worships God, from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, we are making an authoritative proclamation. We are telling a dead world to wake up.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14, ESV).
Of course, when the Church is full of corpses, we have a hard time getting everybody on the bus to go out to the world’s graveyard in order to make that declaration. The people are reluctant to go, if reluctant is the word I want.
The doctrine of regeneration is therefore less a matter of orthodoxy than it is a doctrine of life. And the doctrine of life is less important than life itself, while both are crucial. So the fact of regeneration is not a matter of orthodoxy, but rather a question of authority and power.
We have been considering how best to glorify God in our planned building endeavor. We want to glorify God with timber, and brick, and mortar, and stones. And speaking of stones, we should pay very close attention to a juxtaposition that the Lord placed between some stones in very different situations.
“And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out . . . And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:40, 44).
If stones can speak in a way that glorifies God, they can also be cast down and crushed into pebbles in a way that glorifies God. If stones can speak, then stones can have a heart, and if they have a heart, then God requires the externals of that architecture and the internals of that architecture to be saying the same thing, with the same motive, in the same love. Isaiah warns us in this way:
“Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Is. 29:13).
In order for the stones to cry out rightly, the heart of the building must consist of living stones that also cry out rightly. And in order for us to be those living stones, the sovereign God must take away our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. He must make us alive. He quickens the stone by taking away the stone. And when He does this, we are then able to quicken the stones by gathering as living stones to worship the Lord God of all Israel. So let the stones cry out.
As we marshal our resources, as we count our shekels, we want to remember what the biblical definition of prudence is. We want to be prudent in our how we raise money for our sanctuary, but we don’t want to be so prudent that we are tempted to think we could do something like this apart from God.
God is in the business of doing for His people beyond what they could ask or think. But He does this for His people who are walking by faith in the light of His Word. He does not do it for those vain daydreamers who build sky sanctuaries in the clouds.