Today we are celebrating and giving thanks to God for the completion of the extension to our premises!
Solomon’s Temple stood in Jerusalem from the tenth century to the sixth Century BC. It took 7 years to build. Estimates on the total cost to construct the temple in today’s money vary between hundreds of millions and several billion pounds, depending partly on just how much gold it contained. That puts our little building project in its place! When King Solomon dedicated the Temple to God the celebrations lasted for 8 days leading into a further six days celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. We trust our more modest celebrations today will still be pleasing to God.
Some people misunderstand the purpose of church buildings. Some people think that God is exclusively or especially present in some places and cannot be found anywhere else. That view is mistaken. The Almighty, All-knowing and Eternal God is also Omnipresent. God is always everywhere. Even Solomon almost 3000 years ago recognised that vital truth. We do not need church buildings to be able to meet with God.
2 Chronicles 6 18 ‘But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple that I have built!
God does not live just in church buildings. God is everywhere all the time. At the same time, human beings have often found it helpful to have particular places to meet with God. Those places assisted the faith of believers that God would hear them.
2 Chronicles 6 19 Yet, LORD my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. 20 May your eyes be open towards this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays towards this place.
So the Jews had their Temple in Jerusalem and later their synagogues. From around the third century Christians also built church buildings where they could meet together and worship God. But it is a mistake to imagine that this means that Christians believe that God lives only in church buildings. The Bible gives us a very different picture of what the church is.
Ephesians 2 says this. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Christians are people who have been saved by God’s grace. The Bible says that we are all fellow citizens with God’s people. We are all members of God’s household – God’s family. We are part of the Body of Christ. And we are a spiritual building, with Christ as the cornerstone, built on the foundations of the apostles and the prophets and the gospel they proclaimed. We are now God’s Holy Temple, and God Himself lives in us all by His Holy Spirit.
So the church is not the premises. Nor is the church the programme of activities and events we organise. The church is the people of God, indwelt by the presence of God Himself. This is what sets the church of Jesus Christ apart from any clubs or teams or choirs or organisations or bodies or families. This is what makes the Christian church different from any other religious groups. We are unlike ANY other group of people in the world. We are “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” God is alive and at work in His church. God dwells in His church, in a way that God does not dwell in ANY other group of people in the world!
In the Old Testament God gave the Temple in Jerusalem to his chosen people the Israelites. It was a very special building in three ways. It was the place where God was to be found. God was present and active in the Temple in ways and to an extent which at that time He was not working anywhere else on earth. So the Temple was the place where people met with God. When the time came to worship and to pray, the Temple was the place to go. And then even more important, the Temple was the place where God dealt with sin. The Temple was where sacrifices were continually offered, and especially at the great festivals of the year and most important of all the sacrifices for sin offered by the High Priest once a year in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The temple was the place where God was to be found, the place people met with God, and the place sin was dealt with. But now the people who make up the church are the new Temple made up of living stones, where God lives by His Holy Spirit. There aren’t special buildings where people go to meet with God any more. The Church of Jesus Christ is not the buildings – it is the people.
So Christians together are the new temple. People who believe in Jesus are the new “building” in which God is especially present. Christians are now the “place” where people go if they want to meet with God. And Jesus Christ the greatest High Priest has offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin. So Christians are the people with the gospel of salvation. We have the good news of how Jesus has dealt with the problems of sin for all who put their trust in Him. Christians are the new temple.
1 Peter 2:4 says As you come to him, the living Stone- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
God does not live in church buildings. Christians are the “dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” God the Holy Spirit lives in each and every believer and God lives and moves and works in us even more wonderfully when we meet together.
Acts 2:42 tells us this about the first Christians. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They gathered in the Temple Courts in Jerusalem but also met together in their houses. The church is not the building but rather the group of people who gather together for teaching and fellowship and worship and prayer. A fellowship does not need premises to be a church. Today there are many churches in this country and many more in other parts of the world who do not have their own buildings but meet in schools or community centres or even just in each other’s homes. The church is not the building, but rather the people of God. But then what are the functions of church buildings for those congregations who do have them?
Buildings give us a space to meet with God and to worship God. We know that God is not any more present in a church building than he is anywhere else, but many people find it helpful to go to the familiar place where they have met God many times before when they want to meet with Him again. Expectation increases our faith. This element of expectation is true for Christians gathering for their regular times of worship and prayer and fellowship. But many people who are not believers who are looking to meet with God or find out about Jesus also experience a greater expectation by coming into an established church building, even above entering a school or a community centre. And churches who own their own buildings and grounds also have greater opportunities to organise events and activities to welcome people who are exploring the Christian faith. We give thanks and glory to God for all the people who have met with God in this place over the years.
Then again, church premises also offer a space to reach out into the community with the saving love of Jesus. We do so through our Toddler Group on Monday mornings and Drop In on Friday afternoons and through different special events, including the welcome return of our Christmas Crafts Afternoon in two weeks’ time. Many people come into a church building hoping to find practical help and support, and that may be more the case than ever in the hard winter which is coming. Some people come into a church building hoping to find peace and it is gratifying how often newcomers have spoken of the sense of peace and calm they have experienced entering these premises. More than that, some people come to a church building hoping to find a place of safety and even of sanctuary. We give thanks and give glory to God for all the people who have experienced God’s peace in these premises over the years. We must make sure that this space always remains a place of warm welcome for everybody who enters here.
Church buildings also offer spaces to serve the needs of the wider community. We look forward to opening Haven Café again when the time is right. We are very happy to host Chelmsford Tamil Church meeting here every Sunday afternoon. We hope we might welcome groups like Slimming World back in the future too. And we must always be looking for more ways to serve North Springfield we these premises in years to come.
A very long time ago I heard a talk about Baptist Home Mission where the speaker said something which is both very simple and very important. “The function of church buildings is to help the mission of the church”. The reason for having a space to meet with God and worship God, a space to reach out to the community and a space to serve the needs of the wider community, is to enable the church to fulfil our mission of sharing the saving love of Jesus. That is what these premises have always been for.
The whole purpose for the church building an extension to these premises was to help us all to accomplish that vital mission more effectively. It was NOT about providing a legacy for future generations. It absolutely was NOT so that we would be fondly remembered in years to come. We have given and worked to improve our buildings so that we can share Jesus better and we must make certain that we never lose sight of that vital purpose. We have come here today to dedicate the whole of these premises to God once again: the longstanding building and the grounds as well as the new extended rooms. We have come to give thanks to God for the sacrificial generosity of so many people. We give thanks to God for the hard work of many people who have worked as a team to bring this development to reality. Beyond this building project, we thank God for all the generosity and all the hard work by all the members and friends of the church week after week and year after year, which sustains all the activities in the mission of the church.
The church is not the premises. It is not the programme. The church is the people of God in the presence of God. The most important element in the Dedication of the Solomon’s Temple was NOT a celebration of Solomon’s generosity or Solomon’s wisdom. The Temple was not built to glorify Solomon but to bring glory to God. And that is what happened on the day the Temple was dedicated.
2 Chronicles 7:1 When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, ‘He is good; his love endures for ever.’
So as we rededicate these premises to God we pray that his glory will descent and fill us afresh. May we all worship and give thanks to God, declaring “He is good; his love endures forever!