The following is the text of an address given by Rev. Ron Cammenga at the special dedication service of the new church building of our congregation in Loveland, Colorado. The building has been in construction for about a year, most of the labor being done on a volunteer basis by the members of the congregation. The new church is 54 x 100 feet, with a full basement, and seats approximately 350 people. The dedication service was held on Friday, July 11, 1986.
Tonight we give thanks to God for the spacious and beautiful new church building that is ours for the public worship of His Name. It has not always been the case that God’s people have had these kinds of facilities for worship. Until the second century, Christians were forbidden even to erect churches, and were compelled to worship in private homes, in the open fields, or, to escape persecution, in caves or even in the Catacombs, the underground burial places beneath Rome and other ancient cities.
When the Roman persecution was temporarily suspended, we find from the year A.D. 202 and forward, that the early Christians began for the first time really to construct church buildings for the public worship of God. However, in the year A.D. 305 the emperor Diocletian, proving himself to be the anti-Christian beast that he was, issued an edict ordering all Christian churches to be razed. Under Constantine some 20 years later these churches were rebuilt, and many new ones erected over the whole Roman empire.
Not only has it been the case in the past that God’s people have not had facilities like ours for the worship of God, but this is the case at present with many of God’s people. We are mindful of God’s people in lands stricken by poverty where there are simply not the means to erect the kind of facility that we have. We are mindful of our brothers and sisters in our sister church in Singapore who at present are having great difficulty securing an adequate church building. We are mindful of fellow believers in communist countries tonight who are prevented by the government from even gathering in public assembly, not to speak of erecting a building for this purpose.
And we are not unmindful either tonight of the future. We know that there comes a day, perhaps even for us or our children, when we will be again denied the public worship of God. There comes a day when we will be evicted from our church buildings, the doors boarded up or perhaps even the building broken down. That will be the day of the Antichrist and the awful persecution of God’s church that he will inaugurate.
So tonight we are thankful, very thankful for what we have, what God in His goodness has given us.
I want to call your attention this evening briefly to the opening words of Psalm 127: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1a).
The Lord has built this house. From several points of view it is the Lord who has built this new house of worship. He has built this house. because He has so prospered us numerically that it has become necessary for us to build a new church. Over the last several years, we’ve experienced internal growth. The Lord has blessed us as families, giving us children. Many of these children have grown up, married, and are now raising families of their own. The Lord has also added to our number from without, for which we are very grateful.
The Lord has built this house also because it is He Who has given us the means to build it. The resources that were needed to erect our new church building were resources that He graciously provided for us. The materials themselves out of which the building is constructed are from Him.
And the Lord has built this house because He has provided men, women, and young people alike with the strength and the desire to do the work necessary in the building of His house. Liberal contributions of money, time, and talents have been made by the members of the congregation. It is the Lord Who has made this possible. In truth, it is the Lord Who has built the house.
Several things follow from the fact that it is the Lord Who has built this house.
First of all, if the Lord has built this house, it is the Lord’s house. It belongs to Him; it is His possession and property. And that implies that it must be used to His glory. This isn’t our house, to do with as we please. But it is His house, and must therefore be used for His glory. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 3:21, “Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
This has to be our motivation in building our new church and this must govern the use we make of our new church: The glory of God. It has happened that churches have been built for the glory of man, so that in the building of them man, man’s architectural achievements, man’s skilled accomplishments, man’s sense of beauty and art were glorified. During the Middle Ages, for example, the zeal for church-building became perverted by a spirit of pride, ambition, and competition. This, in fact, became a leading cause in bringing about the great Reformation. You will remember that it was especially the selling of indulgences that provoked the reformatory work of Martin Luther. The specific indulgence that aroused Luther’s ire was the indulgence introduced by Pope Leo X to raise money to defray the cost of building the gorgeous St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy. Leo was determined to go down in history as the builder of the largest, most beautiful, most costly cathedral ever erected.
This same carnal, competitive spirit is alive today. Men build their crystal cathedrals and their luxurious church buildings, each seeking to outdo the other. Then man and not God is glorified in the church. And then it were better that the church worshiped in the fields or in the caves.
In the second place, if the Lord has built this house and if it is the Lord’s house, it follows that the Lord dwells here. A house is to be lived in. You live in your house. Since this is the Lord’s house, He lives here. As much as the Lord inhabited the temple of the Old Testament in the Shekinah of glory, He inhabits our new church building.
That means that we must have reverence and respect for this house—God lives here. This reverence must characterize our worship in this building. But this ought also to characterize all our use of the building. Even the children ought to be aware of this, and parents ought to impress this upon their children: Reverence for the house of God.
The Lord dwells here in the gospel of His grace and salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ. The presence of the Lord here isn’t a personal, visible sort of presence, but is His presence through the gospel and the preaching of the gospel. Through the gospel He reveals Himself to us in the greatness of His glory and works. Through the gospel He reveals Himself to us as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Through the gospel He has fellowship with us and brings us into the fellowship of His covenant house. Through the gospel He bestows all the blessings of His house and family upon us.
The very structure of our church building expresses our fundamental conviction concerning the centrality of the preaching of the gospel in the worship of God. The inside of our building is plain, beautiful but plain. You don’t find all kinds of religious clutter to detract from the preaching of the gospel. You don’t see pictures hanging from the walls, banners streaming from the ceiling, relics and statues erected in appropriate places. We have a very plain building. And up front and center, as the focus of our attention and worship, we have a pulpit for the preaching of the gospel. This is as it should be.
This, now, is what must bring us to this building week after week, Sunday after Sunday. Not the beautiful new building itself. Not the nice-sounding new organ. Not the people. But God and God’s fellowship which through the gospel is to be enjoyed in this house.
What this really comes down to is that tonight we do not so much dedicate this building, as we dedicate ourselves to the true worship of God in this building.
If the Lord has built this house, it follows that He is the One Who deserves thanks tonight. Our dedication service is necessarily a service of thanksgiving. This is not to say that we are not grateful to those who have had a special hand in the building of our new church. We’re grateful to the members of the Building Committee. We’re grateful to those who have given many hours and donated much labor and given up many evenings and Saturdays for the building of the church. But our thanks is especially directed to our covenant God, the One Who has built the house and Whose house it is.
Having built this house in conscious dependence upon Him and to His glory, we trust that our efforts will not have been in vain. That’s the text: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”
If we have not built in dependence upon the Lord God and to His glory, our labor will have been in vain. Oh, the building probably is completed. And it’s a beautiful and useful facility. But it’s all in vain. There’s no blessing of God in it. And the worship of God in the building is empty and of no saving benefit.
But we have built in dependence upon the Lord, and in our building we aim at His glory. Our confidence, therefore, is that our labor is not in vain but will prove fruitful. Our confidence is that in this place, by us and by our children after us, He will continue to be worshiped in the great truth of the gospel: Our confidence is that just in this way, we and our children will be saved. Then all the hard work, the sacrificing, the time expended, certainly will not have been in vain.