If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” – I Corinthians 3:17.
What temple is this? It is not a literal temple or church building. It is not the temple of the human body, though that is truly called a temple of God. It is the visible Church, the body of which Christ is the Head, as shown by the context (verses 9, 10): “Ye are God’s building…I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon…”
In the Greek, the works “defile” and “destroy” are the same verb. It can properly be translated “defile,” “corrupt,” “destroy.” Those who destroy the temple of God by defiling or corrupting it, will in turn be destroyed by the holy God.
There is a difference between the temple destroyers mentioned in verse 17 and the unwise builders spoken of in verses 12–15. The unwise builders built on the true foundation. Their work did not stand the test, so they lose their reward. But they did not reject the true foundation, namely, Jesus Christ; therefore they themselves are saved, though the reward is forfeited. The temple destroyers, on the other hand do not have the true foundation. They are on a false foundation; they are not really Christians, and so they will finally perish in hell. Them shall God destroy, because they destroyed the holiness of God’s temple, the Church.
Why the Church Is Holy
The Church is holy because it is God’s “temple” or special habitation, as the Jerusalem temple was his special habitation in the time before the coming of Christ. There God’s presence is revealed; there God manifests himself. In the Jerusalem temple there was the Shekinah, the revelation of the glory and power of God among his covenant people in the place where an atonement was offered for sin. Today the Church is the sphere of the saving power of God, the manifestation of his salvation and glory. Therefore the Church must be holy, because it is so closely connected with God, the holy God, who cannot tolerate sin.
The Church is holy because it is made up of sinners called to be saints. Many people have a wrong idea of the meaning of the word “saints.” It does not mean a few eminent religious figures in history, Every Christian is called to be a saint, and every genuine Christian really is a saint. The word “saint” simply means a holy person. Christians are called to be holy people. They are in process of being sanctified, that is, made holy in character and life. Because the Church is the body of the saints, it is holy and its holiness must be protected and preserved.
The Church is holy because it is the body of which Christ is the Head. As Christ is holy, so his body must be holy. A holy Head and an unholy body cannot live together in harmony. The person of wicked life who wants to be a member of the church without forsaking his sinful practices is a destroyer of the body of Christ, he is a perverter and corrupter of the holiness of the Church. The person who is a stranger to the saving power of Jesus Christ, and yet joins a church and continues a nominal member of it while he goes on living like any worldly person, is a temple destroyer. Him shall God finally destroy, unless he repents before it is too late.
What the Holiness of the Church Involves
The holiness of the Church involves a converted, spiritually alive membership. This cannot be absolutely attained on earth; it is an ideal condition and can only be approximated during this present life. Yet the fact thaI it cannot be absolutely attained does not imply that we may complacently tolerate a worldly, broken-down condition of the Church. We may not accept it as a proper state of affairs that many members show little or no sign of conversion to Christ. Those to whom religion is a very minor incidental concern in their life have no ground for thinking themselves convened and on the road to heaven.
Those who attend church services only occasionally, who practically never attend prayer meeting except when it happens to be in their own home, who take no delight in fellowship with Christian people, but prefer to associate with worldly people-such have no ground for thinking themselves Christians. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” “Bring forth fruits, meet for repentance.” The holiness of the Church involves consciousness of being a body of people in covenant with God. True Christians do not just “go to church;” true Christians are the Church. They are conscious of their unique position and privilege as the dwelling of God on earth. This means more to them than being American citizens, it means more to them than any family or business relationships, it means more to them than any other social relationships. If a person is really a Christian, he must realize consciously that the most important thing about himself and his life is that he is a part of the temple of God on earth, that he has a position and a privilege that other people do not have.
When the Church has a real consciousness of its unique position and privileges as the temple of God, the body of Christ, the body of people on earth in covenant with God, then the members will take a delight in the ordinances of God. The prayer meetings will no longer be meagerly attended by one-fifth or one-third of those who ought to be there. The Sabbath services will be well attended, regularly, both morning and evening, not just occasionally. The Christian who is conscious of being a member of the temple of God will not have to be urged and persuaded to attend church services; he will do it spontaneously.
When the members of a church have a real consciousness of their unique position and privileges, they will willingly and gladly set aside more of their time for spiritual things. Family worship will not be neglected or hurried through in a merely formal manner. All divine ordinances will be a delight to such Christians. The minister and elders of such a church will be free from the dead weight of concern for unconverted, lifeless, nominal members on the church membership roll. The pastor will not have to go through the hopeless farce of trying to persuade unconverted members to go through the motions of Christian profession and dUly. Spiritual energies will be released for eV<lngelislll among the unsaved outside the Church’s membership.
The holiness of the Church involves separation from the world and from worldly people. “Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord; and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor.G:17,18).
True Christians will not willingly associate intimately with those to whom Christ means nothing. There must be a clear line of demarcation maintained between the Church and the world. The holiness of the Church requires this. The true Christian will never feel entirely comfortable or at ease among those who are not Christians. He will delight rather in the fellowship of Christian people, the saints.
The holiness of the Church demands separation from worldly people and worldly conduct of all kinds. In our day the boundary line between the Church and the world has been so broken down that it is often difficult to distinguish between the two. There is so much of the world in the Church that the members of the Church feel at home in the Christless world. We live at peace with secularism today, we feel at home in a world to which Christ means nothing. That is the tragic weakness of present-day Christianity.
It was an astonishment to the heathen of the Roman Empire to note how the early Christians loved each other. The same is true on many foreign mission fields today. But how easily we feel satisfied and at home in the secular, Christless society of America today! How much we are absorbed in the non-Christian world, how little we care for the company of the saints!
How the Holiness of the Church Is to Be Maintained
The holiness of the Church is to he maintained, first of all, by a proper caution in the admission of new members. A credible profession of faith and obedience is to be required. This will not guarantee absolute purity of the Church, since the Church’s officers cannot see people’s hearts or motives. But it will accomplish much. There must be no open church membership, no open baptism and no open communion. Many churches today have virtually open membership, open baptism and open communion–their highest privileges are available to all comers without any requirements of faith and life except the most general and formal. It is far easier for a person to become a member of such a church than it is for an alien to become a citizen of the United States.
Biblical standards of faith and life are to be insisted on. Those who are not willing to accept Biblical standards are to be excluded from the membership of the Church.
Many a church has been broken down and destroyed by lack of a proper caution in admitting members from the world. It is very easy for the sake of human friendliness and good will to open the door of Church membership. But if wrongly done it only admits another temple destroyer to the temple.
This is even more true and important in the case of church officers, such as elders, deacons and ministers. Those who do not possess the Scriptural qualifications of faith and life are not to be ordained to office in the Church, lest temple destroyers be placed in positions of authority in the temple. Neglect of this caution with respect to ordination of ministers has destroyed some of the most prominent denominations, and broken down their witness for the truth.
Those who deviate from the truth or who live ungodly lives are not to be received as members, far less are they to be exalted to official responsibility in the Church. It is not popular to be strict, but strictness of the right kind keeps the temple from going to pieces. We should be just as strict as the Bible, no more and no less.
The holiness of the Church is to be maintained, by mutual admonition on the part of the members. Cain’s answer to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was an evasion of responsibility. Every member of the Church has a responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the others. The members are to have “the same care one of another.” This may not be easy, but it is a Christian duty. Many troubles can be prevented or healed by it.
If you see a fellow Christian doing something which is wrong, try to persuade him not to do it. If you know of one who is living in violation of his covenant vows, think whether it may be your part to speak a word to him about it.
The holiness of the Church is to be maintained, in the last reason, by official discipline of the scandalous. Scandal is not any and every sin, but something which destroys the temple. “A scandal is not everything which is sinful, or displeaseth; but something in a professor’s carriage, which either in itself or from its circumstances, may tempt others to sin, expose the Church to just reproach, or mar the spiritual comfort of the saints” (R.P. Testimony, XXXl.2).
“Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13). What are some forms of scandal that may call for such drastic action? First, grossly and openly sinful conduct stubbornly persisted in after faithful admonition, for example, Sabbath-breaking, slander, participation in the worship of a false religion such as Masonry. Secondly, notorious and continued violation of covenant vows (that is, of the person’s own profession and promises), in spite of faithful efforts made to win the person back to the right way.
Those who continue without attending divine worship or partaking or the Lord’s Supper must eventually be separated from the membership or the Church. To allow them to remain as nominal members is to allow the temple to be defiled and destroyed.
The honor or Christ requires that the holiness of the Church be maintained. The tendency is to hush things up, to smooth things over, and silently to tolerate an unholy condition in the Church. But we are to he most concerned about what is right, not just about what may be pleasant or comfortable to particular people.
The Church is not merely a lifesaving station. It is also a King’s palace, a holy temple of God. It must be kept holy because God is holy and cannot tolerate sin in his habitation.