I. First of all, we should see that Spiritual Churches originate with spiritual people, people who are born again of the Spirit of God.
In chapter 1 of this epistle, Peter has set forth in unforgettable terms the great central truth of our redemption through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.” This was a favorite and much-beloved text of the great reformers as we can see from the writings which they have left to us. Martin Luther in explaining the second article of the Creed in his Small Catechism (1529) teaches us to say: believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord; who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature… not with silver and gold, but with his holy and precious blood.” In like manner the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 – the standard of the Reformed Churches throughout the world – asks in the first question, “What is thine only comfort in life and death?” and gives as its answer that “I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ who with his precious blood hath fully satisfied for all my sins and delivered me from all the power of the devil, etc.
But Peter continues – “wherefore” – seeing that this is the case laying aside all sins, as newborn babes desire the sincere, “i.e., the pure milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” and it is these same people, you see, who are in verse 5, built up a spiritual house. They are those who have repented of their sins. They are those who have been born again of the Spirit of God. They – and only they – can be a part of the spiritual house, of the true spiritual church!
Now the medieval church, before the Reformation, had gone far astray on this matter, and it had done so because of a fatal error which had been made at the beginning of that era in church history when the leaders of the church had made a compromise on the doctrine of man of human nature. Pelagius had said that there is nothing wrong with human nature at all – the whole trouble is with our education and our environment. Augustine had said – No, human nature has been poisoned by the Fall of Man and can only be saved by a radical, God-given renewal. We are saved by grace, he had said. The church as a whole had condemned Pelagius as a heretic and had praised Augustine, but had proceeded almost at once to forget what he had said and, with typical human inconsistency, had come to the point where it was more Pelagian in fact than it was Augustinian, Human nature, they said, was indeed corrupted, but that corruption was washed away by the administration of baptism and thereafter you were on your own. Be a good church member – fit into the religious system of the church and your salvation is assured. To this whole scheme of things, the reformers said a resounding NO!
With the apostle Paul they taught the total depravity of our human nature – that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that by nature, we are dead in trespasses and sins, prone to all evil and unfit for any good in God’s sight, however much good we may do in the eyes of men and that all, without exception, must be born again. Moreover, they said, this being born again is entirely a divine gift. It is the sovereign work of the Spirit of God – and it is not of men or of the churches nor of rites or ceremonies, but of God, and more particularly, of the Spirit of God. He shows us our sin and needs – for which we are not otherwise convinced. He leads us to see our Savior as the only answer and to break with sin and trust in Him. And He will hold us fast! There is only one way to salvation, then, and it is to cast oneself on the mercy of God and ask for His grace – His pardon – His forgiveness.
This is the beginning of everything. This is particularly the beginning of spiritual persons who make up spiritual churches – for it is the twice – born souls who have the Holy Spirit dwelling within and working within for their growth and their perfection. Can we have spiritual churches today – or on any day without this? People are trying it everywhere. In denominational churches and in independent churches. In liturgical, semi-liturgical and non-liturgical churches, in churches that practice infant baptism and those who practice believers’ baptism. In churches that are a-millennial in their view of the future and in those that are pre-millenial. People are trying to substitute a mere acquiescence in belief for being born again. People are trying to substitute church rites and ceremonies for being born again. People are trying to substitute an emotional experience for being born again. And we wonder why our churches are often lifeless and ineffective – why our people will go on a bus ride or attend a ball game or come to a fellowship supper (and there is nothing evil in these things in themselves) but will not come to Bible class in any great numbers or help with evangelistic efforts and the like. We wonder why our churches are not spiritual – and the reason is too few of our people are spiritual. Too few have been re-born of the Spirit of God and have the Spirit of God within. Too few have cast themselves on the mercy of God and are living from Him day by day. The need for spiritual persons to make us spiritual churches was one of the themes of the Reformation. By grace alone – the Reformers said and we who today are standing in their succession cannot afford to say otherwise.
II. Still another thing to notice in this connection, however, is the fact that Spiritual Churches are built upon a spiritual foundation. The apostle Peter, having made the point that spiritual persons, newborn by the Spirit of God and therefore lively stones in that spiritual house of which he speaks, immediately brings in a Scriptural basis for what he says “wherefore also it’s contained in the scripture (Isaiah 28:16) ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded!’ ” The requirement of a new birth for participation in Jesus Christ and in his spiritual house, the church, is not man-made – but divinely ordained through the Word of God given by inspiration. And here again, we have come upon one of the great principles of the Protestant Reformation: not only grace, but also Scripture which teaches the doctrines of grace.
The medieval church possessed the Scriptures. In the very nature of things they could not have been widely distributed, to be sure, for they had no way of mass reproducing them, printing not yet having been in vented. Still copies there were in the churches and in the monasteries: and we must not, and do not forget the labors of those devoted scribes who faithfully from generation to generation wrote and re-wrote the divine Word and did so with great accuracy, so that it was preserved: and today, when hand-written copies of the Bible dating from the time of Christ and before are coming to light, we can appreciate all the more their faithfulness. The record has never been falsified down through the ages.
Yet the medieval church chose to isolate itself from the Scriptures by its organization, first of all, which placed men – the bishops above all, with the pope of the head of them all – as the churches teachers and ceremonies as the upholders of truth. The Bible became unnecessary under these circumstances, and in fact, ignorance of the Bible was profound.
On the surface of things we are far better off today than they. We have the Bible everywhere and in our own tongues. Anyone who wants a copy can get one – and usually free of charge – and we have a deep concern for those of our brethren behind the iron curtain, for example, to whom the Bible has become a rarity and are doing all that we can to
get the Word to them. We are a people of the Book – yet how truly are we building upon the foundation? How genuine is the Biblical basis of our churches? Do we continue to take seriously the authority of the Bible in all things in the church?
We give it lip service, to be sure: but there are many today in evangelical seminaries and in evangelical pulpits who are veering away from the old doctrines of Biblical authority – and there are even more
today who in the name of modernity and relevancy are ignoring what the Bible actually says and teaches and giving men instead stones of man-made thinking.
Is there any wonder that Bible knowledge is becoming a rarity today? That even in our evangelical churches there are many who have little or no acquaintance with the Scriptures? And few who have an overall grasp of the truth of God – so that they are easily led astray. Instead of the Bible many evangelicals today want films – musical groups – and what have you: you need only look at your Saturday papers to see what I mean. Churches are vying with each other like the moving picture presentation houses. Each one seems to be saying – we have a better show than that other church down the street. Come to us! Is it not the purpose of believers to seek instruction in the Word of God? What do they care about special features – the Word itself is our special feature: given by the Spirit through prophets and apostles and laid by the Spirit on the hearts of men so that they do find in their hearts that repentance towards God and true faith in our Lord Jesus Christ which are the hallmarks of the new birth in the life of men, so that they do find in
their lives the knowledge and the will to obey the known commandments of God which further show that we know Him and the One whom He has sent into the world to save sinners – our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Reformation altars, vestments, vessels of silver and gold, crosses, pictures, stained glass windows, statues, choirs, organs and all the rest were swept aside – and sometimes they went too far in these things, I will readily admit – but one thing remained in the churches, the one thing that built spiritual churches: the pulpit wherein stood men who expounded the Scriptures to the people.
III. There is still a third observation to be made here, however, as we consider this matter of spiritual churches – they consist of spiritual persons, born again of the Spirit of God, they are built on the basis of Scripture, given by the Spirit and applied by the Spirit to our hearts, and lastly, Spiritual Churches are after all the product of the Spirit’s work.
In church history, we read of the reformers before the Reformation John Wycliff in England, for example, and John Hus in Bohemia, the land of the Czechs, the Waldensians in their Alpine valleys, and a few others as well. Their contribution remained a small one next to the work of Luther and Melanchthon, Zwingli and Calvin and Knox, and the rest. Why? Because the Reformation was first and foremost a true revival and revivals are not contrived by men in their time but sent by God in His time. The one thing needful is that men should stand for truth and righteousness! The results may be small or great – that’s the Spirit’s responsibility but our part is to be faithful even unto death.
We want spiritual churches today. We want revival today. Dr. Stephen Olford’s book is well called, “Heart’s Cry for Revival’. That heart’s cry exists among God’s faithful people today. Yet we must have patience. We cannot produce it. We can and should support our evangelists today who sound God’s Word abroad. We can and should support such campaigns of evangelism with their call to the whole continent to come to Christ. But do not think that any of these things will necessarily give us the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led churches that we need: only the Spirit’s work can. He will not do glorious work among us if we are not faithful.
We must proclaim the truth of the new birth – sounding forth the word that all, all is of grace – so that we may have spiritual persons to make up spiritual churches. We must renew our faith in Scriptures and keep on studying and keep on teaching and preaching the Word of God and nothing less – for there is no other basis on which spiritual churches can come into being than this. But only the Holy Spirit can make Christ precious to us indeed – and make those a people who were not a people, those to obtain mercy who had not obtained mercy. The revival that will produce spiritual churches must be the Spirit’s work. in the earliest Protestant hymnbooks there stood always several great hymns invoking the Holy Spirit – “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord’ and “We now implore the Holy Ghost” above all others – for the Reformers knew that spiritual churches holding the spiritual doctrine of the Spirit-given Word of God are and always will be His blessed gift. Let us seek for our day the kind of churches those Reformers sought for theirs Spiritual Churches. Amen.
Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church