Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and 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 fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, N.K.J.V.)
Here in America we have church buildings galore. They come in all shapes and sizes and are found here, there, and everywhere all across the landscape. Our megachurch buildings look more like shopping malls than cathedrals, but most of our church buildings are the classic variety marked by towering steeples.
The problem with having so many church buildings is that we begin to think of a church as being a building rather than a congregation of people. That’s why we pastors must constantly remind our flocks that they are the church. Yes, our churches meet in buildings, but the buildings are just that: buildings. As someone has said, “A church are those who are left without a building after their building has burnt down.”
With this understood, what the apostle Paul does in our text passage is use the metaphor of a building to illustrate how new believers are added to what theologians refer to as “the universal church.” The universal church is simply the sum total of all of history’s Christians who get saved between the Day of Pentecost that is described in Acts 2:1-38 and the coming moment of the Rapture that is described in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. You see, when Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Mathew 16:18) He wasn’t talking about just one congregation of believers who meet in a brick building on the corner of Maple street and Elm street. No, He was talking about each and every believer who gets saved during what we call “the church age.” Again, the two bookend events of the “church age” are the Day of Pentecost and The Rapture. Everyone who becomes a born-again Christian during that age automatically becomes a part of the “universal” church. This “universal” church is also metaphorically called “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12) and “the bride of Christ” Ephesians 5:27).
Someone asks, “Will people believe in Jesus and get saved after the Rapture during the seven-year Tribulation Period that is prophesied to one day play out upon the earth?” Yes, they will. But those people will not become a part of the universal church (the body of Christ, the bride of Christ). Ultimately they, along with all the believers who got saved from Adam until the Day of Pentecost, will spend eternity with the universal church in the eternal city called The New Jerusalem (Revelation chapters 21 and 22). What they will not do, though, is ever become a part of the universal church. That door of opportunity closes at the moment the Rapture occurs.
Now let me get back to the metaphor of the universal church as being a building. In ancient times workers began building a building by first laying a cornerstone. Using that cornerstone as a base square, the workers would then lay the foundation for the building. Lastly, the layers of individual stones would be systematically set in place atop that foundation. With all this in mind, let’s now walk through how Paul used this process as an illustration of how the eternal, universal church is being built. First, Jesus, by way of His virgin birth, sinless life, vicarious death, and miraculous resurrection, has become the cornerstone (Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:6-7). Second, the early church’s apostles and prophets, by way of their authoritative preaching and divinely inspired writing of scripture, began with Jesus (the cornerstone) and from Him laid the foundation of the church (Romans 15:20). Third, each Christian serves as an individual stone that helps to complete the building (the universal church) (1 Peter 2:5). As Peter figuratively describes us there in 1 Peter 2:5, we are “living stones.”
Doesn’t all of this make for a beautiful, metaphoric picture of the universal church? Not only is the Christian an integral part of Christ’s bride and body, he or she is also a part of Christ’s building. How’s that for a good Baptist preacher’s three-point alliterated outline? So, Christian, the next time you look at a church building, I hope you will recall the fact that Jesus is right now “building” His universal church, and you have the jaw-dropping privilege of being a “stone” in it. That ought to make you shout, and it ought to make you go out and serve Him all the more.