Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 8 October 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 48:1-14 / (NT) 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
I. Church and building
II. Belief and building
III. Church’s responsibility with its facility
With today’s sermon, the current preaching series on St Columba’s Ministry Vision will be completed. As the final message, we’re going to think about ‘church and its facility.’ By ‘facility,’ I mean, church building, land and everything that exists physically in this world that belongs to church. But simply, I’ll talk about church building and its site.
Someone might question and say, ‘Why does he want to talk about church building? Isn’t church people, not the building?’ This is the starting point of this sermon. Then, we think about church’s belief/theology and building. Having considered these interesting points, I’d like to talk about what responsibility a church has in regard to its building.
I. CHURCH AND BUILDING
Let’s begin from the relationship between church and its building. Church is the people who believe in the Lord Jesus and worship God, not building. But a church as a group of believers is closely related to the building they meet and worship. This relationship is almost inseparable. We know this by instinct and say it in our everyday expression as ‘We go to church’ or ‘See you at the church.’ So, separating one from the other, drawing a clear dividing line between a church and its building is difficult, if not impossible.
Our first Bible reading from Ps. 48 explains such relationship between church and its building. If you remember the words read to you from Ps. 48, Mt. Zion, the city of God, is repeatedly mentioned as the presence of the invisible God and His glory revealed to the eyes of the believers and of the world. Take vs. 1-2 as an example; it says, “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.” V. 8 depicts the same, saying, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever.” The whole psalm speaks about the city on the hill and, by doing that, points out the glory of God and His people’s life in it.
So, as this 48th psalm alongside many other parts of the Bible indicates, church and its building/facility are interwoven together to specify at least three important spiritual facts. First, church building is surely a part of God’s invisible promise for His children visualised in this world. What I mean is, a local congregation symbolises the universal church. Likewise, a local church building symbolises the place where God’s universal church gathers together. We look at our church building, our temporal spiritual home, and we remember heaven, our eternal home. In this sense, the Apostle Paul talks about “every family in heaven and on earth” in Eph. 3:15.
Second, the existence of a local congregation is manifested by its building. It notifies and proves to the world the existence of a local body of Christ not only on the Lord’s Days when the members of the local church gather together, but also on the weekdays when the congregation is scattered. Seeing a church building, the people in this world assume and know that a group of people exists who are bound together by faith in Jesus.
This is the basis of the third and last fact I want to point out as the meaning of the relationship between church and its building. As the building proves the existence of a local congregation, it also bears something fundamental and essential. That is, bearing witness to the Christian faith. The local community sees the building and knows that it is a place for worship to God of the Bible and for calling the name of Christ the Saviour and Lord. So, the building itself is, to the eyes of the unbelievers, an open invitation to Jesus Christ.
In short, church is not building, but people. But a church on earth is not a group of people scattered all over the places, but a body of believers whose life is closely interwoven with a building for worship and spiritual growth. In this sense, church building is important in the life of a local congregation.
II. BELIEF AND BUILDING
As we understand this relationship between church and its building, there’s another important aspect we need to have in mind. That is, our belief or theology manifested in church building. As much as a local church building indicates the existence of the congregation, it also reflects that congregation’s belief.
There are many different ‘forms’ in terms of church building. This is because, in shaping its building, every church reflects their belief/theology onto it. For example, congregations who are Protestant and Reformed regard the pulpit as the centre of their church building because God’s word begins our worship and the word is the guideline for all orders and content and the conclusion of our gathering before God. After all, God’s word is the centre of church’s faith and life. But some others regard the Communion altar as the centre because priest’s bringing sacrifice to God through consecrating the bread and the wine is the central idea of their gathering, which they call as ‘mass.’
In addition, people’s belief is also reflected on the inspiration of their church building. Entering a church building, you might feel you’re in a special place where God meets His people. Entering another church building, you might look around and focus on other things like its size or colour or style. One gives you an inspiration of otherworldliness whereas another gives a different emotional impact. That’s because two buildings are built, reflecting two different theological understandings on the place for worship and congregation’s spiritual life. So, as much as the life of a local congregation is interwoven with its building, their belief is reflected on their building.
In addition, once a building is built, the builder generation and their succeeding generations use the same building and often in different ways. Each generation’s belief is thus reflected on the same building. Each generation leaves its mark on it.
III. CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY WITH ITS FACILITY
So far, I explained church’s relationship with its building and its belief reflected on the building. We now understand that our life and existence in this region is interwoven with our church building; also, our Protestant and Reformed belief is reflected on the shape of this building. So, the question ‘What is this to do with us?’, is the point I want to focus on as the third and last point of today’s message and it is about congregation’s responsibility with its building.
For this task, I need to remind you of the three facts I mentioned earlier regarding church building, namely, (1) church building symbolises our eternal home, ‘heaven,’ and (2) church building presents a local congregation to the world, (3) bearing witness to our Christian belief. Each congregation is responsible for keeping these three fundamental purposes of its building.
First, our responsibility is to keep our church building to function continually as a symbol of heaven, our eternal dwelling place. We should be continually reminded by this building that we’ll one day enjoy in heaven our full communion with Jesus the Lord in the presence of our Heavenly Father. When we think of coming to this place, we should be joyful and love to join with one another. It should never be burdensome like our entering heaven will never be. Rather, it’ll be the greatest and never-ending joy of our souls. So, our responsibility is to keep this building functioning as a symbol of heaven.
The second responsibility we have is to consider this building as the face of this congregation. No individual member represents St Columba’s congregation; it’s neither the minister nor the Session clerk. St Columba’s as a collective body of Christians is portrayed in the eyes of the people and community with this building. It is your face and mine; this building is the face of St Columba’s. So, our responsibility is to keep it clean, nice, tidy, presentable and beautiful as Ps. 48, v. 2 says that God’s church should be “the joy of all the earth.” I don’t mean we must decorate this building with precious metals and stones; I mean we must adorn it with godliness and modesty so that God’s glory, righteousness, grace and beauty could be evident.
This smoothly leads us to our third responsibility with our building. Considering it as our face and keeping it well will surely be an open invitation to Christ to the unbelievers around us. This building will surely bear witness to Christ. Compare two church buildings for example. Both buildings are modest, tidy and well and carefully maintained. One of them has a high fence and its door always closed to the public, whereas the other has friendly atmosphere and its door seems to be ready to welcome anyone. Which one do you think would reflect God’s grace, before talking about their readiness to invite anybody? In this way, even with our church building, we must consider presenting the free saving grace of Jesus our Lord to the world. This is, in fact, the principle we learn from 2 Cor. 5, our second Bible reading. As v. 20 points out, God makes His appeal through us to the unbelievers.
So, this building is, to our eyes, the earthly symbol of our eternal home. But to the eyes of the unbelievers, the face of St Columba’s and a voiceless yet loud invitation to Christ.
As the conclusion, let me emphasise a couple of points. First, church building is not a meaningless place; rather, it has a rich spiritual meaning as explained so far. So, both ignoring and refusing its spiritual significance in relation to the life of a local church are not right. We must love this place and keep it as the most important place for all church members. If its condition needs attention, we should give a full attention so that it could meet its purpose fully and effectively.
Second, we must do so continually and diligently so that the generations after us will also be able to continue our common earthly task until the return of our Lord Jesus, that is, to shine His light to this region as a city set on a hill!
May our gracious God bless His church so that all His children may understand what the psalmist says in Ps. 48:1-3 in these words; “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! / His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. / Within her citadels God has made Himself known as a fortress.” Amen. ***