*At Criswell College, we love the local church. In this first FCC Summer Blog Series, we would like to highlight a few of our professors as they explain why this is the case.
**Today’s post is by Kirk Spencer, Assistant Professor of Science and History.
I would like to share two experiences which renewed my appreciation for the local church and its necessity (and indestructibility).
The first occurred when I had an opportunity to preach the night service at a little country church called Faith Temple. I got there very early and sat in my old pickup truck and read some John Donne poetry (which was appropriate as Faith Temple was in a little town called Poetry, Texas). The sun was shining through broken clouds and the rays were slanting down and moving quickly as pools of light and shadow across a patchwork of dark plowed fields.
I sat there long enough to see the beautiful sunset that evening. As the sun was setting, a deacon was the first to arrive. He greeted me and went in and lit the church. Its windows glowed like amber against the opal sunset sky.
Dust and Diamonds
The second experience occurred when I was at a company picnic. The picnic was held at an antique village made of old buildings moved to the location. The buildings were furnished and placed along a dirt street to recreate a country village. The village was used for the entertainment and amusement of large groups.
It was an all-day picnic and I had become bored. So I wandered out into the surrounding woods. I found an old white clapboard gothic revival church. Not a reconstruction but the real thing which had been moved into the area with the other buildings. The paint was peeling and the stained-glass was broken. The pulpit and pews were worn smooth. Though the Church was gone from this church building, the space felt different from just any other abandoned building. It was as if there was an afterglow (a patina of power) left over from the eternal events which had occurred there.
While in my contemplation, sunlight shined through the church windows and lit the dust that floated in the air, making it appear as beautiful diamonds. Standing there, amazed at how dust could become like diamonds, I remember how clear was this impression—how God allows us such beautiful places and things on this earth and we often sanctify them, but they are of earth and we must leave them behind. But the light that was shown in the lives of those long ago—those who prayed and sang and cried in this room—that light still shines in the darkness and can still make something beautiful from the dust.
These events so impacted my imagination that I have tried to capture them in lines of poetry. I wanted to express the vital importance of the local churches (even tiny congregations); how every congregation, large and small, are part of a long line of redemption that connects us, every one, back to our Savior and Lord.
Every word coalesces back into all others and stretches forward into eternity. The work of the Church endures beyond all the structures we build (both of wood and programs)… ours is a living faith. As such, there is no other institution, whether government or college or convention or denomination or even family which is as important or as necessary or as indestructible as the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. For as the word from which the word “church” is derived (kuriakê) implies…we really do “belong to the Lord.”
Though they are not finished… here are the lines of poetry I wrote in Poetry Texas:
Eulogy Written for a Country Churchyard
Heaven’s light falls grey-laced
broken, aslant and plowing
the fertile patchwork quilts
spread round Faith’s Temple
buried under loblolly spires
hidden behind saplings
and thick thorn briars
sitting in stillness and cicada sighs
in the sun-warmed scent of cedar and pine
I touch its alligator skin
cracked, curled and bent
I enter in its open doors
breathing deep its musky scent
of cedar oil and damp hymnals
I touch its brown wood benches
empty now but burnished by conviction
I feel its worn pulpit wood
etched and polished smooth
by Bible leather and preacher’s grasp
and here from behind this sacred desk
around the room and down each aisle
this holy space still seems to smile
as daylights white satin
through windows stained and broken
turns the dusty air to diamonds floating
telling us of God’s holiness
if we will only listen
to what church bells tolled of long ago
what decay wants to show us still
through these old forgotten gothic panes
out beyond the churchyard lanes
tilted tombs of graven stone
sink into the earth and groan
and throw aslant the epitaph,
“Worldly things they cannot last
To those of heaven, hold you fast”
far up the distant grassy hill
now a bigger building built
Faith Temple is living still
see the faithful deacon there
to fill it full with amber light
along early evenings opal sky
fading far up to sapphire night
in twilights first diamond
heaven’s Bright and Morning Star