FrontLine • September/October 2009
Glory to God
God’s overarching purpose is that all He does is to bring glory and honor to His holy name. God was delighted, therefore, when King David desired to build the temple. However, it was not the fact that David wanted to build a temple that delighted God, but rather in his purpose for wanting to build. It was in David’s heart “to build an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel” (1 Kings 8:17). Though his desire and motivation were good, the task of building the temple finally fell to David’s son Solomon. It was a construction project dedicated to the name, the fame, the reputation, the testimony, and the glory of the Living God (1 Kings 8:44). Likewise, our purpose as Christians ought to be that God be glorified in all that we do—including in our building projects (1 Cor. 10:31).
Solomon began his building projects with the right goal and purpose: to bring glory to God. However, somewhere along the line, purposes can become overshadowed by ulterior motives: self-aggrandizement and self-glory. When his eyes were not on the Lord, Solomon embarked on multiple building projects, the purpose of which was not for the glory of God but rather for the glory of Solomon. He sought to build monuments to himself. “I made me great works; I builded me houses” (Eccles. 2:4). Because his focus, motivation, and purpose in building were wrong, when the construction was completed, he confessed, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccles. 2:11). His elaborate, expensive, and extensive construction plans (not unlike Boston’s overbudget “big dig” project) became a huge financial burden on the people, and it eventually led to the division of the nation (1 Kings 12:4, 11, 16). Unless the purpose is right, all that the flesh can build (from Heaven’s perspective) is but wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3:11–15). Surely there are lessons here for us concerning the proper motivation and purpose in our building projects. If we are not building for His name’s sake, the project is not worth building.
A Witness to the Community
God has called believers to be living witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth. Christ lives in us (Col. 1:27), and we bear witness to His saving grace wherever we are. That is God’s purpose for the believer. But inanimate objects can also be witnesses unto the Lord. A heap of rocks was a witness between Laban and Jacob (Gen. 31:48). It bore witness to the covenant they made with each other. An altar was a witness in Joshua 22:27. It bore witness to the fact that the Jews who lived on both sides of the Jordan were God’s people. These inanimate witnesses testified without saying a word. Their mere existence testified loudly and continually. A church building can also be a witness to the Living God today.
In New Hampshire we have many beautiful old white clapboard church buildings which, in their day, testified to the fact that God was working in New England. Many of them have been apostate for generations. Others have been turned into tourist centers or antique shops, selling quilts and maple syrup. Yet they too are witnesses: they testify to the fact that God’s people generations ago were not diligent in fighting the good fight of the faith. They testify to the truthfulness of the warning of our Lord Jesus Christ to a formerly Fundamental church in Ephesus that had left its first love: “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5). Yes, buildings can be a witness and testify nonverbally to the community. But what a glorious witness it is to see the Lord working in this region with new Fundamental, Bible-believing churches being built that now testify to the fact that God is still in the business of saving souls, even in the hardest of fields. The mere construction of a building designed to house a body of Bible-believing Christians is in itself a witness to the community.
The Lord saw fit to use the members of Salem Bible Church to do much of the construction of our last project. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and spiritual growth for all involved, but it also served as a witness to the community. Neighbors drove by and spoke with us and discovered that many in the congregation (only a few were skilled carpenters) had dedicated virtually every Saturday for two years to serve the Lord by building the church building. This too was a witness. It testified of the power of God working in the hearts of His people. It testified of the indwelling life of Christ, moving ordinary people to be servants of the Lord, willing to sacrifice for His name’s sake. It testified to both men and angels of the manifold wisdom of God in saving, molding, and motivating a body of believers in Christ to be actively engaged in the work of the ministry (Eph. 3:9, 10; 4:12).
If our purpose in a building project includes the concept of the building itself as a witness to the community, then we should be sensitive to the expectations of the community even in choosing the type of building to be constructed. For example, a pink stucco building looks great in Florida. Modern, avant garde architecture is appreciated on the West Coast. However, in the small towns of New England, such structures would stick out like sore thumbs. The townspeople would drive by every day wishing that that building were not there because in their minds it ruins the landscape. That too is a witness. It testifies loudly, twice a day as they drive to and from work, that the folks who put up that monstrosity do not care about what the townspeople think. Paul’s exhortation, “Give none offence” (1 Cor. 10:32) is appropriately applied to every aspect of ministry—including the building project. On the other hand, an attractive, well-kept building designed to “fit into” the community sends forth a positive message. This too is a witness that testifies of care and concern to the very people you seek to reach for Christ (1 Cor. 9:19–23).
Worship is fundamental to any Christ-honoring church. It is central to the Christian life now, and it is a joyous activity in which we will be eternally occupied (Rev. 4–5). One cannot discuss the purpose of a church building without discussing worship.
This was especially true in our last construction project. We had been meeting for many years in a long, skinny building that was basically a Sunday school wing with a large open room, which we used as our assembly room for worship. However, that space was also used for church dinners, youth programs, a Sunday school classroom, and any other function we held. There was no foyer, so when you entered the building, you entered into the worship area. With all the extra noise and interruptions, the space was not very conducive to worship. We desperately needed a “sanctuary,” a space set apart for worship. Worship is why we were building. The fact that the purpose of this space was for worship drove every decision in the planning phase. In light of today’s hideous trend in the Neoevangelical world to change God-centered worship into man-centered entertainment, we did not want the seats in the sanctuary to reek of “theater,” the pulpit platform to reek of “stage,” or the general atmosphere of the space to reek of “show time.” Thus we were led of the Lord to design an old-fashioned, traditional sanctuary to reflect the simple, traditional worship and the conservative Christian music that we intended would fill the space. We were convinced that a church building that resembled a movie theater or an entertainment center might actually encourage wrong attitudes and behavior. When believers enter into this space, we encourage them to sit quietly and reverently, read a portion of Scripture, pray for the ministry of the Word, and prepare their hearts for the worship. God is concerned about behavior in His house (1 Tim. 3:15). If the purpose of building a sanctuary space is for reverent, humble, simple, Spirit-led worship, the design of that space ought to reflect that purpose. When answering the question, “Why are we building?” worship ought to be a priority.
The Edification of the Saints and Evangelization of the Lost
First and foremost, the purpose of construction ought to be for the glory of God. Secondly, it also ought to be a witness to the community. But there is also a more practical side to putting up a church building. One purpose of the local church is to be a center of training and edification of the saints so that that they might be sent out into the world to be a witness for Christ and function as an army of evangelists to proclaim the gospel of God’s grace. Physical structures are usually needed for those purposes to be accomplished. The popular slogan “if you build it, they will come” may apply to baseball fields, but it does not apply to churches. Besides, the Great Commission does not say, “Bring the lost to church” but rather “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). If our purpose in building is based on a hope that a pretty steeple will draw many people to Christ, our hopes are misguided. Attractive buildings don’t win people to Christ, as the ornate but empty cathedrals of Europe demonstrate. People are not won to Christ by angels or buildings but by trained, dedicated, zealous, Spirit-filled Christians.
Therefore, an important purpose in building ought to be to establish a suitable structure to facilitate the teaching and training of believers and thus fulfill a key element in the Great Commission. If we are going to send men and women out into the world to represent Christ and preach the gospel, they need to know sound doctrine, how to live the Christian life, and how to spread the good news. The practical reality is that this requires separate classroom space to teach believers in various age groups and maturity levels. This is why we build.
And of course, the church body will have many special meetings geared toward evangelism, at which times the lost will be invited to attend. It can be fearful and intimidating to attend a church for the first time, especially if you have never been to any church before and if all you know about church is what you’ve seen on TV. A welldesigned, well-lit, clean, attractive building with an inviting main entrance can be used of the Lord to help alleviate some of those fears. This too is why we build.
In a nutshell, the purpose of a building project ought to reflect the Biblical purpose of the church:
• To glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31).
• To worship God simply, in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
• To edify the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12).
• To evangelize the lost (Matt. 28:19, 20).
James Delany pastors Salem Bible Church in Salem, New Hampshire.
(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2009. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)