"This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. (Ezra 1:2-3)
Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." (Nehemiah 2:17)
Israel had been sacked, the Temple and it a walls had been reduced to rubble, and the people sent to live in Babylon. After years in exile and a new political situation, Ezra called the people back to rebuild the temple, and Nehemiah to rebuild the walls.
A temple. Walls. The brick and mortar components of what would become the institution of the priesthood and Israel’s worshiping life together.
Part of the godly life of faith, according to Scripture, is to invest ourselves—our time, talents, and treasures—in institutions. Institutions like the temple complex, for Israel of old. Or institutions like Christian schools and local churches and parachurch organizations today. And let’s not forget meaningful businesses built on Christian principles and those institutions called families as well.
To invest in institutions is to invest in something that will outlast us. For that’s what institutions do. If intelligently built, institutions can stretch years into the future, blessing generations of people well after we’re gone. And what a wonderful legacy to leave! Right?
Sadly, when called to return to Jerusalem to join in the rebuilding of the Temple complex, most did not return. Why not? Because Babylon turned out to be rather nice after all, with lots of culture and lots of beauty and lots to live for. And so many preferred to stay in exile rather than doing the hard work of returning and rebuilding an institution to the glory of God. Present personal pleasure was preferred to a better future for others.
I am a bit worried these days. I’m worried that most Christians are focused on their momentary pleasures or avoidance of pain instead of on building the Kingdom of God, which includes investing great amounts of time and efforts building and maintaining the sorts of godly institutions that will outlast them in bringing glory to God. Years ago, groups of Dutch immigrants spent vast amounts of time, energy, thoughtfulness, and money in building the Christian Reformed Church. (Many of them are still around, though many, too, have passed.) They employed a good deal of institutional intelligence in building it too, so it would weather storms and remain sturdy through changing times. That’s what the Church Order is about, as well as our creeds and confessions— our “forms of unity.” They’re to prevent us from falling apart due to lack of process or conflict or flits of false teaching. They’re to keep the institution strong.
Despite all this institutional intelligence, however, the institution of the CRC is in danger today. This is true in part because of radical individualism; it’s also true because, circumstantially, new teachings around human sexuality are being promoted that, if adopted, will divide our denomination in major ways—likely in two. Its already happened to several other denominations. And it’s not pretty.
It’s unpleasant to speak this way, I confess. And some of us will say—and what sort of devotional is this anyways!? But we can’t be unaware of what’s going on in our church. We must, instead, as Jesus told us, ‘keep vigil’.
Would you join me today in praying for wisdom for the leaders in the CRC? To pray for deep institutional intelligence for our denomination as we navigate these stormy waters over the next while?
We know our Captain will bring us safely home. But let us pray to Him for fresh wind and calm seas ahead so we can faithfully continue our mission as a strong institution in this hurting world.
Solo Dei Gloria!