Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
That which brings us together tonight is the dedication of a building, a church building. First we moved sand, then we watched the cement foundations being laid in the trenches dug for them. Then we saw the block walls being erected. The wall behind the pulpit was in fact built twice, because the first one fell in a strong windstorm last fall. Next the huge steel beams were set up. And then the wood trusses were set on the beams. The roof boards and shingles followed. We filled the sanctuary with scaffolding to assist the builders, electricians, and dry wallers in their work in what is now the ceiling of the sanctuary. Then there was the furnace, the air conditioning, and the plumbing. There was more carpentry work, followed by paint, carpet and tiles, and the pews.
Men designed. First the building committee met repeatedly to develop a concept drawing. Then the architect used his professional skills to draw up the prints and plans. It all was the work of men, mere men. Everything was the product of the efforts of men who die. And this building will end too. It will not endure forever. As quickly as the windstorm blew down a portion of this wall, so quickly this building will burn in the day of the great fire which will destroy the whole earth. God teaches us that this building will not last. No matter how much time, money, and effort has been put into it, this building belongs to this earth.
Yet this building has a beauty. It has a beauty which it ought to have. As Prof. Decker pointed out in his opening remarks, a place of worship should have as much beauty as can be put into it. It ought to have beauty because it is to be used for the worship of God, the God of all grace, who is the perfect beauty. And so we strive to reflect that beauty not only in our worship, but also in the building we have built for the purpose of worship.
Additionally, this building has a beauty which is not seen with the physical eye. This invisible beauty is, first, the fact that this facility gives a place of separate identity in this community to Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church. For almost six years we have had to use rented facilities, facilities which carried on them the name of another organization. Now we have our own building. Second, there is a beauty in the fact that we can now worship in a room which is not a gymnasium, with backboards, hoops, and nets all around us. And the shorter preachers, like me, no longer need to “balance” on a small raised platform set behind a pulpit which was then too short. Now we have a facility which has been designed and constructed for the purpose of worship. And, third, the beauty of this facility is that it represents the concrete expression of our gratitude to God for the Gift of the Lord Jesus Himself. The money which was given to purchase the land, to obtain the down-payment, and to buy furnishings was and is an expression of our thankfulness to God for all the blessings He has given and is giving to us. These monies came first from a sizable gift from our mother congregation, Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church. These monies also came from all of you. Some gave much and some gave a little. Even the children contributed with their dimes, nickels, and pennies to the drive. We may not have kept in mind the lofty, spiritual goal at all times of thanking our God, but the wonder of God’s grace (beauty) is that these failures became opportunities for us to experience forgiveness again. And then we had even more reason to thank our covenant God.
This physical building is a picture of a spiritual reality. That reality is the spiritual house of the church, the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. The spiritual house of Christ consists of all of God’s elect. Out of all generations and nations of the earth God calls and gathers the church into one spiritual dwelling. Our congregation is a microcosm of the whole, that is, a small picture of the whole. You, the members of this instituted congregation, are the church. Not this building, but you, the people, are the real church.
God builds the elect believers together into a spiritual house. God’s first work is to take dead stones and make them alive. They are dead because of their relationship to Adam, that is, dead in sin. God takes those stones which He elected and He makes them alive. He regenerates, justifies, and sanctifies “living stones.” He gives us the spiritual life of Christ. He makes us willing to do His will. By the wonder of His unending grace God keeps these stones alive unto all eternity.
The beauty of the building of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not found in the individuals, but in the whole, in the building of which they together are the parts. By themselves and apart from the whole, individual believers have no significance and beauty. That is true for the physical building too. When the steel beams, the individual blocks, the buckets of paint, the coils of electrical wire, the two-by-fours, and the plywood were sitting in the parking lot, they had no beauty. Separated from the rest, one stone or a single fiber of the carpet or a drop of paint is not beautiful and has little or no significance. It is only as they have been put together by craftsmen that they have significance — in the whole.
So a living stone, a child of God, is not of significance or beauty by himself. That is because, in His eternal plan, God wanted the living stones to fit together into a beautiful whole. Each of the living stones is purposefully different from every other, just as all the various parts of this physical building are different from each other. And yet, each believer, having his own place in the whole, serves to make the whole beautiful, reflecting the grace and beauty of God. According to God’s plan His people are not gathered erratically and without unity of purpose. But God’s purpose in election is the formation of a unity in which every part has its own place, significance, and function. Each piece, in its own divinely ordered place, contributes importantly and necessarily to the beauty of the whole. Altogether they best serve the purpose of giving praise to the Artificer, Jehovah, and His tender mercy. The elect are built up a spiritual house, that is, the covenantal dwelling place of Jehovah God in Christ — each one in fellowship with God through faith in Christ, and each one in relationship to each other as covenant friends together of the living God.
The elect experience this beautiful fellowship in the way of their coming, by faith, unto Jesus, the Cornerstone. It has been my prayer, ever since the cornerstone was set on the right side of the main entrance into this building, that everyone when entering this building would see the text on the cornerstone: I Peter 2:4, 5, and that, seeing the text, everyone would pause to think, “I am a living stone and I am here to serve a purpose with all the rest. That purpose is not that I shine for myself, but that I will so fit as to help make the whole in fellowship with the Stone.”
Each living stone is alive by virtue of its relationship to Christ. This enables each stone to be active. The activity of the living stones is that they come to Christ, who is the Cornerstone. The Cornerstone was and is not appreciated by all. By nature, believers join unbelievers in rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ. But God set Him to be the Cornerstone on which the church is built. The regenerated, justified, and sanctified children of God love that Cornerstone. We love to be in fellowship with Him. Therefore we also love to be in fellowship with each other, for His life lives in our fellow-saints.
The activity of living stones is first that they come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Coming to Christ is the activity of faith according to which we constantly go to Him to appropriate Him and His blessings. We may never forget that apart from Him we are nothing. While earthly stones are dead and must be cemented together, we are made alive and we come continually to Christ. Practically we go to Christ for forgiveness, for grace to obey His commandments. As living stones we say, “I need Christ. My fellow-saints need Christ. We together need Christ. Together we go to Christ.”
The second function of living stones is that, while we come to Him together, we serve. Our attitude towards Him and each other is one of serving. We “offer up spiritual sacrifices to God by Jesus Christ.” We live to serve. We live in order to give ourselves as spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ. This building and we, members of the church, are living to serve.
Tonight we dedicate this building to God’s service. The purpose of this building is to serve and glorify Him. It is not for the praise of the architect, or the bricklayers, the carpenters, or the building committee. But it is here to glorify God. It is here to serve Him. So we give this building as our spiritual sacrifice to God.
On August 5, 1998, when I stood in approximately this same spot (only a few feet lower in the sand) at ground-breaking, I made this same point. I strive to press it home again tonight. I would rather this whole beautiful building would burn to the ground, if in any way there is disunity in the body of Jesus Christ because of this building. This building is not worth it. We serve. We wake up each morning in order to serve. We dig in our pocketbooks to serve.
Our sacrifices are spiritual, not bloody, that is, consecrations of ourselves and the work of our hands and purses. Our service is to glorify God, not ourselves. This is how we express our constant gratitude for our union to Christ. Even then our sacrifices must be sanctified, that is, by Jesus Christ, the High Priest. They need His cleansing power. Knowing that He is there always to cleanse, we keep serving, giving ourselves to Him.
May this building be in existence, not for the praise of men, but as an expression of our constant gratitude that Christ and we are, together, one spiritual building. May this earthly building be dedicated to the service of the God who was pleased to save wretches like us.