Rev. Houck is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. *Speech given on 11/17/95 at the dedication service of the new
In II Chronicles 7:1-22 we are informed of the fact that Solomon and the Israelites were also involved in a building project — a building project which was much more extensive than that of Peace Church. They built the temple of God. It required hundreds of thousands of workmen. And the Israelites spent seven years building it. Before that, King David had spent many years gathering material. The material included 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver. The temple was a very elaborate and beautiful building. Its inner walls were carved with flowers, cherubim, and palm trees. The whole thing was overlaid with pure gold.
Solomon and the Israelites had a dedication service for their new place of worship too. That service was just as elaborate and beautiful as the building itself. The dedication lasted fourteen days. Solomon gathered all the elders of Israel, the heads of the tribes, the chiefs of the fathers, and all of Israel “from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt.” In a solemn procession the Levites took the ark of the covenant out of the tabernacle and brought it to the new temple. They offered thousands of sacrifices. They sang songs of praise and adoration to God. The trumpets sounded. The cymbals and other instruments of music were played.
Solomon spoke to the people and told them about God’s faithfulness to David and Israel. He blessed the people and admonished them to serve God. He kneeled down, spread his hands toward heaven, and prayed a beautiful prayer. He asked God to dwell in the house which they had built for Him. He prayed that that house would be the house of God and that God would put His name in that house, so that from that house God would be with Israel and bless her. From that house God would show His faithfulness to Israel and be gracious, merciful, and kind to Israel.
In answer to the prayer of Solomon, God sent fire down from heaven. It consumed the sacrifices which Solomon had offered to God. And the cloud of God’s glory filled the house. It was so thick that the priests could not enter into the temple. By that cloud of glory God indicated the fact that He came down unto them to dwell with them in that house. The infinite God, who is so great that heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, much less a physical house, made that house His temple. He set apart that house from all other houses. It was His holy dwelling place.
Thus the temple became the place of worship for Israel. There was no other building where they were to worship God with their sacrifices and offerings. That house was the place of all of their religious ceremonies and celebrations. Whether they lived far away or nearby, all Israelites had to go to that house to worship God. That is why the dividing of the kingdom and the setting up of the golden calves by Jeroboam was so wicked. By that the northern kingdom left the house of God. They left the house where God dwelt with His people.
As we think of this house which we of Peace Church have built by God’s grace, and of our dedication service, we must understand that things are different today. This house is not the house of God. This building which we have built is not the temple of God. God does not dwell in this building in the same way that He dwelt in the temple of the old dispensation. There is nothing sacred about this building as such. The furniture in this building is not holy either.
That is because, with the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the way in which God dwells with His people has changed. Rather than dwelling in a building among His people, God dwells directly in His people. By the Spirit of Christ who was poured out upon the church, God lives in the heart of every true believer. We believers are the temple of God. We are the house in which God dwells. When we came into this church building this evening, we did not come into the house of God. We brought the house of God into this building.
That is a fundamental change. We are not obligated to worship God in any particular building anymore. We may worship Him in the auditorium of a school, as we did for seven years. We may worship Him in a home. We may even worship Him in a barn if that is what we want. That is because we, who are God’s people, are the temple of the Holy Ghost. Wherever we assemble, there is God’s house.
That does not mean, however, that we may not dedicate this building to the Lord’s use. It does not mean that we may not thank God for this building.
Even as Solomon and Israel thanked and praised God for the temple, we must thank and praise God for this building. For we could not have built this house if God had not been faithful to us. God is the One who gives us all that we have. He gave us the financial means to build this house. He gave the abilities and talents that were needed by those who labored in the construction of this house. No one could have lifted a hammer without His power. He sovereignly ruled over government officials so that we received the proper permits to begin the work and the approval of the work done, in spite of all the requirements which had to be met. Even though it took longer than we expected, and certain aspects of it were difficult, here we are in a beautiful church building. It is all because of the faithfulness of our God.
In fact, this building is a monument of the grace, mercy, and kindness of God to us. For except God had worked in our hearts, regenerating us and giving to us a love of the Truth, we would not even have desired to worship Him in such a house. This building is a testimony of the fact that God is our God who has saved us and who has given to us a love of the church. This building bears record of the fact that God does indeed dwell within us and that the temple of God is meeting in this building.
That can be seen also from the fact that we dedicate this house almost exactly seven years after we were organized as a congregation. Seven (3 + 4) is the number of God’s covenant and of His dwelling together with His people. This house, completed seven years after our organization, manifests the significance of that number. God dwells with us, His holy temple.
The fact that this building is not the temple of God does not alter the fact that we ought to dedicate this building to the use of God’s kingdom. Because we are the temple of the Holy Ghost, our bodies, our souls, and all that we have are to be dedicated to the cause of God. We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. We are to give ourselves over to His service. How fitting and proper, therefore, that we give this building over to the cause of God and His spiritual house. We must do that rather than using this house for our own purposes or for the cause of sin and Satan. This house must be used for God and good rather than for man and evil.
That was the case with the temple of Solomon too. God came to Solomon and warned him that the temple must be used for good and not evil.
In II Chronicles 7:14 God said, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Even though the people of Israel were sinners, if they would humble themselves, repent of their sins, and seek God in His holy temple, God would hear them and forgive them. He would bless them and always be there for them in that house which they built for Him.
But if they would forsake this house and turn away from the God who dwelt between the cherubim, He would judge them.
God said in verses 19-21, “But if ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you, and shall go and serve other gods, and worship them; Then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight, and will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations. And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to every one that passeth by it; so that he shall say, Why hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and unto this house?”
That must be our great concern. How are we going to use this house? For God or for man, sin, and Satan? There are many very beautiful church buildings in the world. There are big buildings, elaborate buildings, buildings filled with gold and silver. But most of them are not used for God. They do not serve the spiritual temple of God. They are empty shells. God is not there because the people of those buildings have forsaken God and His Truth. We must not do that. We must be careful that we dedicate this building to God and His cause.
That means first of all and foremost that we must use this building for the preaching of the gospel. The preaching is the chief and most important calling that God has given to His church. It is the chief means of grace. God forbid that this building should be used to proclaim a false gospel or a distorted gospel. We may not allow anyone, no matter who he is, to use this building to preach the lie of the devil instead of the truth of God. The preaching that goes forth from this pulpit must be the gospel of sovereign grace, the gospel of the Reformed faith, the Truth of Holy Scripture. Elders! Congregation! Guard this pulpit and set it apart for the Truth.
In the second place, we must use this building for the proper administration of the sacraments. God has given us two beautiful sacraments which are signs and seals of the truth of the gospel. Baptism is a picture of the washing away of our sin by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper pictures Christ spiritually feeding our hungry and thirsty souls. These two sacraments must be administered in this building regularly and correctly. We ought to rejoice in presenting our children for baptism because God has established His covenant with believers and their seed. We ought to rejoice in partaking of the bread and wine, for we spiritually partake of Christ Himself. We must continue the practice of “close communion” — only members of this congregation and those who show the consistory that they are truly Reformed may partake of the Lord’s Supper here. The elders have to guard the table of the Lord in this building so that as much as possible it is not profaned and God’s judgment come upon our congregation.
In the third place, we must use this building for the faithful exercise of Christian discipline. The main reason that so many beautiful church buildings are nothing but empty shells is that the congregations which once worshiped in those buildings did not exercise Christian discipline. They allowed unrepentant sin to continue in their midst. The result was that they were infested with unbelievers. If this house of God is to be dedicated to God, Christian discipline must be faithfully practiced within these walls. Then, the people who use this building will show themselves to be God’s true people by their confession and walk.
Finally, if we are to use this building for God and His cause, every one of us must pray for grace that within these walls we will worship God properly as individuals. When we hear the pure preaching and the reading of God’s Word, we listen and take heed. We believe and obey. When we sing praises to Him, we do it from the heart in true thanksgiving for all of His blessings. When we pray, we are conscious of what we are saying and mean what we say. When our children come to this place for catechism, they know their lessons and listen respectfully to their pastor because their parents have faithfully instructed them. Whatever we do in this house, it is for the glory of the God of our salvation.
If we use this building in that way, God will be in this place when we meet here to worship Him. God will be with us and bless us wherever we are. He will be our God and we will be His people.
But if we do not use this building in that way, if we allow the preaching of the lie, if we are unfaithful in the administration of the sacraments and in the practice of Christian discipline, if we do not worship God from our hearts in true love, we will, like Israel, be cut out of that heavenly land of Canaan. Then this house, no matter how beautiful physically, will be a house of man, a house of sin and Satan. The people of this house will not know the presence of God and His blessings. As people walk by and see the trouble and misery our unfaithfulness brings to us, they will be astonished and will say, “Why hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and unto this house?”
Let us, therefore, be faithful and dedicate this house and ourselves to the cause of God and His true spiritual house.