“Coming to Christ as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house . . . . .” 1 Peter 2:4-5
I usually dwell on more ‘glorious’ thoughts, but kindly consider this a bit of necessary ‘house-keeping.’ Paul’s letter to Ephesus echoes the language of Peter; “You are . . . members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” Eph. 2:19-22
As the human drama is being played out, what does God have His eye on? Is he focused on sin and sinners, on changing societies, cultures, and governments? Is He deeply concerned over the state of the world? I don’t think so. I think He has matters well in hand.
As I understand the Divine agenda, God has given all power and authority into the hands of His Son. His focus is the exaltation of the Name of Jesus Christ and the building of “the Kingdom of His dear Son.” God has something to show the world; something holy beyond measure, something His Spirit promotes and preserves, something that immensely pleases Him. God has designed a spiritual house, and He is most jealous over that holy environment, that it is not disturbed or contaminated. It is built of ‘finished stones,’ precisely fashioned and fitted so that “no sound of the hammer or chisel or any iron tool may be heard in its building” (1 Kings 6:7) In other words, He desires no ‘noise’ or nonsense in this most precious process.
This spiritual house is a ‘holy site’ above all others; the transcendent room made ready for God himself, and for those holy objects He entertains. (Heb. 12:23) And what is particularly amazing about this house is its material composition; flesh and blood saints like us.
The Jewish concept of a ‘house’ was one of a common blood and an uncommon loyalty. One vigorously built and defended one’s house. For believers, our common blood is Jesus’ sacrificial wounds, and our loyalty is to everyone who bear their marks on heart and soul. It is a sacred society that makes up this spiritual house; there is nothing casual about our relationship. Together we are woven into the fabric of God’s own pleasure and intent.
Whenever we celebrate the Communion together, in essence, we shut ourselves into a covenantal fellowship of ‘body and blood,’ solemnly pledging our lives to Jesus and to one another. The entire foundation of God’s spiritual house is rehearsed in those precious moments when we mingle memory of His death, burial, resurrection with repentance, faith, confession, and love.
Now, I literally believe this stuff. It is not simply a doctrine or a theological ‘ideal’ that has little bearing on my everyday life. It, in fact, colors and modifies my attitudes and actions in a multitude of ways. And particularly in the present American cultural environment, these truths are being put to the test almost daily in my experience. I confess, they frequently make me uncomfortable and unsettled. For example, I have scores of friends with whom I vigorously disagree politically. Their views are so foreign to mine that I truly wonder what version of the Bible they are reading. And many of these people, who love Jesus Christ, are severing relationships with family and friends over their differing persuasions. In all likelihood, if I were to reveal my opinions to them, they would also distance themselves from me.
So, I am confronted with a decision when I meet with these folks or hear of their activities. Is my first loyalty to my own opinions and preferences or to Jesus Christ? Do I value the fact they are my Christian brother or sister above my contempt for their (in my view) misguided beliefs? This is not theoretical; this is the stuff of Kingdom priorities and loyalties.
I am convinced many modern believers do not grasp Peter’s understanding of this ‘spiritual house.’ For many it is simply a denominational issue, their vision of it does not extend beyond their own doctrinal boundaries. Fact is; this ‘house’ is nothing less than the eternal inheritance God is preparing for His Son! My priorities as a believer must begin with the question: “What does God want; what is His desire in this matter?” If God is fashioning a dwelling place for Himself out of ‘living stones’ (i.e., the believers), then I must lend my efforts to making that a reality. When God gets what He wants in someone’s life then good things follow. So, I am going to try to put God’s desires ahead of my own in this. That’s pretty simple, but not always easily done!
I feel somewhat dishonest functioning this way around these folks, but I retreat to Paul’s instruction in Romans 14 about not becoming a ‘stumbling block’ to others, causing them to fall. He teaches that there can be wide differences of opinion about many matters, and though he holds what he considers the right perspective, he does not try to impose that on others. Everyone will answer to God for his or her attitudes and conduct.
“Therefore, let us pursue the things that make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19)
So, that’s how I am trying to navigate these somewhat treacherous waters. But the larger question is this; why is so much of the Christian church in America content to disregard, and sometimes despise other true believers who hold differing views? “By this shall everyone know you are My disciples, because you love one another,” Jesus declared. In other words, as Dr. Schaeffer wrote, the world has no obligation to believe in Jesus until they can visibly see this. That should concern all of us.
Much of the American church is offering a ‘happy fellowship,’ largely free from spiritual vision and relational obligations; a rather impoverished version of the self-surrendering challenge to follow Jesus Christ. (Matt. 10:37-39) The surrounding culture may be lost but it is not stupid. The harsh divisions within the faith make her appear a sad and curious caricature of Biblical Christianity. The message of redemption is being muddied and mishandled by folks who are forgetting what Jesus’ Kingdom is supposed to look like.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)
The fact that American Christianity is losing ground in the culture is clear. Defections are vastly outstripping conversions, and the churches trade believers back and forth as each one attempts to be ‘relevant.’ What kind of church will our children and grandchildren inherit? If the church continues to disregard the hideous fractures in her human infrastructure, she will further disintegrate. I hear supposed prophetic voices decrying the actions of other saints and rallying their troops to fight off the ‘persecution’ they are feeling. They are not persecuted; they’re acting pathetic. Much of the church is reaping the harvest of her own self-seeking, exclusivist, and privileged activities, completely oblivious to the concerns and struggles of other believing souls who possess an equally legitimate claim to the favor of God.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) The same sad question is being advanced by Christians who are willing to ‘murder’ the reputation of other saints who disagree with them. Good luck with that. How long will it take for some professing Christians to realize that their personal agendas, their money and investments, their social and political preferences are not as important to their future as satisfying God’s desire?
Of course, you and I have little power to affect this on any large scale, if we were inclined to make the effort. But we can represent the truth, and respect the heart of God, by having, and expressing, regard for all true believers, no matter their affiliations. Will this be easy? Surely not, but it is absolutely necessary for any serious hope of regaining a credible voice for Jesus. That’s how I see it. Thanks for listening.