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Enter the name of the tune for hymn 362
Look carefully at the photograph on this month’s front cover and you will see a black and white building located behind the Ferry Bridge that crosses the River Trent.
The fine cast iron bridge was built in 1889, the same year as the Eiffel Tower in Paris; but the black and white building seen more clearly in the picture on the right is a much later structure. Once The Boat House Inn, it later became an Indian Restaurant called “River Tree”, and has now become the Meeting Room of the Christadelphians in Burton upon Trent.
Buildings are like that, of course. With a bit of modification and a lot of hard work they can be adapted to serve many different functions: shops can become offices, factories can become warehouses, windmills can become residences. As time passes things have to change if buildings are to continue to function, otherwise they have to be demolished. The real question is: How capable of change are the people who occupy the buildings?
Bible readers will know that in the first century a big decision was required to become a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was crucified as though he had been a condemned criminal and, even today, people would think twice before becoming a follower of someone in those circumstances. One writer sums up the dilemma in these words:
"Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:22–25).
The writer’s point is that God sometimes uses ways and actions which can be readily dismissed as ‘foolish’ or ‘weak’, but God acts in that way because He wants people to think about His purpose and to follow Him and His way of doing things, rather than their own.
It was the apostle Paul who was writing to a community of believers in Corinth, in Greece, but it is worth noticing what he said about that community. Just a few verses on he says that they were a mixed collection of people, none of whom were very significant from a worldly point of view:
"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called…"(1 Corinthians 1:26).
And a few chapters later he says that some of them had been quite immoral and unpleasant people before they had become Christians:
"Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you…"
But then he adds:
"... But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9– 11).
Their acceptance of the gospel had made all the difference. They had been baptized into the saving name of Jesus and that, says the apostle, had totally changed their situation in the eyes of God.
Notice how he addresses this group of people in the opening words of this remarkable letter:
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:1–3).
Note that the apostle is not writing to a building but to a group of people. He calls them “the church of God” and that is an important distinction, the significance of which is not always understood. For many people their idea of ‘church’ is linked to a building, a temple, a mosque, or a cathedral. But in Bible times there were no such buildings in which Christians worshipped. On rare occasions they might have met in synagogues or assembly halls (Acts 19:9), but often they seem to have met in houses:
"Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ" (Romans 16:5);
"The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house" (1 Corinthians 16:19).
The key point is that in the Bible “the church” is a group of people, not a building. It doesn’t much matter where you meet but it very much matters what is the basis of your belief and behaviour. Work your way through the “Acts of the Apostles” and you will see that there was only one way in which you could become a legitimate follower of the Lord Jesus. First you had to understand the things that were taught by the apostles. Then you had to believe them before being baptized (by immersion) into the saving name of Jesus. Or, as the inspired writer Luke sums it up:
"And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized" (Acts 18:8).
It’s not the building that matters: it is belief and baptism that holds the key to eternal life.