Some say the church is in ruins, but that depends on what is meant by “church.” We may illustrate the church by comparison with, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World which is not yet in ruins; it is the oldest of the seven but has outlived its later rivals. The Pyramids of Egypt today look much the same as they did when the Battle of Hastings was fought, or at the time of Christ, or maybe even as long ago as when Abram lived at Ur of the Chaldees. How oldare they? Some think they ware built four or live thousand years ago, but nobody knows. Imagination has encircled the origin of those royal tombs with many romantic stories. One legend relates that the third of the three largest pyramids at Gizeh, near Cairo, was built by a Greek lady named Rhodope. When she was bathing one day an eagle carried off her sandal and dropped it near the King of Egypt. The King was so attracted by the beauty of the sandal that he ordered a search for the owner, and when she was found he married her. Perhaps she was the original Cinderella, Interesting as these fancies may be, there is more cause for wonder in the truer records which preserve details of the Pyramids themselves. Earlier than the well-known three at Gizeh is the Step Pyramid at Sakkara, which is the oldeststone building of any size that remains on earth. A later stepped pyramid at Meidum is the most magnificent of all, but only the three at Gizeh were included in the seven wonders.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops. The largest of the three is a marvel of engineering skill. Its six million tons of stone were quarried on the opposite side of the River Nile, floated across at the time of Mood and draggedabout half a mile along a sloping ramp. The Pyramid occupies an area of 12½ acres and stands 150feet higher than St. Paul’s Cathedral. The ramp took ten years to build and the Pyramid another twenty; the reign of Cheops (or Khufu) was devoted to this work – the building of his own tomb – and it is said that 100.000 of his subjects were employed in the great task. The labourers were ill-treated, like the captive Israelites under another Pharaoh in a later age. Tradition says the temples were closed during those HO years and all private labour ceased. How much of Egypt’s wealth and what human suffering were dedicated to that mighty sepulchre we cannot tell.
The accuracy of the work of the surveyors who marked out the square base of the Great Pyramid would hardly be credible if it had not been verified in recent years. The base deviates from a truly level plane by only a little over half an inch in a length of 456 feet. The base-angles vary from those of a perfect square by no more thanone fifteenth of a degree. Just as imagination has played about the origins of these monuments so has it been fascinated by their dimensions, especially those of the Great Pyramid. Inside the tomb, passages leadtothe so-called Queen’s Chamber and King’s Chamber, and in the latter is a plain red-granite coffin which bears no inscription. Magicand prophetic meanings have been attached to the measurements of the passages, one of which is said to foretell the great events of English history. We need not be concerned about these speculations, but certainly the Pyramids are wonderful memorials of the splendours of ancient Egypt, triumphs of the builder’s art. They form, too, a striking illustration of abuilding at present underconstruction, one not planned by man but made of men.
The Two Churches, Before considering the wonder of the Church we must face a problem which causes confusion in the minds of many peopletoday: “What is the Church?” In the New Testament the word"church" lias two senses, which must be clearly distinguished if we are to see how the problem arises. Putting from our thoughts whatever notions we may have of the Church, let us try to visualize these two conceptions; in particular, we must erase from our minds the idea that “church" means a material structure of ordinary bricks or stones and mortar.
The first New Testament conception is this. It includes all true Christians at present on earth, and a multitude of Christians no longer living on earth, together with Christians yet to be. Because this Universal Church cannot now be seen, it is often called the Invisible Church. Now let us understand the second sense of “church.” When a number of Christian people meet together regularly at a certain place to share in worship, fellowship, and witness, they are a “church" in that particular place, a local church. There are on earth thousandsof groups of believers in Christ, meetingin different places, farmingthousands of local churches. By contrast withthe Invisible Church, any local church can be seen and maybe called a visible church. These two meanings of “church" are very clear and of great importance to every Christian believer, As soon as men introduce other definitions of “church" many problems arise and the question should be asked: “Is it right to invent any conception of church or churches beyond the two known to the New Testament, especially since such conceptions have led to the many divisions among Christians which arc to be deplored?” Ideally, the only distinctive title any local church can bear in accordance with the New Testament is some equivalent to the phrase: “The church at …” Apart from the name of the place where its members meet, a local church should not need to be described by reference to the name of any place, country, nation, person, principle, or practice. When we have to face, as each, of us must face at some time in his life as a Christian believer, the problems associated with what is called “church truth," it is well to have clearly in mind the ideal – that which ought to be. There is no better test for any local church than to measure itself against this New Testament standard.
The Perfect Church. Of the two conceptions it is that of the Universal Church which is trulya wonder of the world, though it is also sadly true that comparatively few recognize it as such. In the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians it is portrayed as it will be – a perfect company, consisting of all who during this age have been saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As it is perfect, it contains no hypocrites or heretics; it has no divisions whatever. It is part of God’s master-purpose – “to gather together in one all things in Christ.” This magnificentconception has not always been known among men. In former ages it was a secret, but we know of it now through the books of the New Testament. If a vast union of all Christians living today could be formed on earth, it would not be theChurch. This grand triumphantunity is something far beyond the scope of man to create, imitate, or anticipate; it is the work of God. It is like a great pyramid, but unseen by natural eyes, perceived by faith founded on the promise of Christ – “I will build My Church.” It stands four-square upon the Apostles and Prophets of New Testament times, upon Jesus Christ the chief corner-stone, upon the confession “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living Clod.” Through the subsequent centuries the living stones are being added by the hand of God “soul by soul and silently.” The building-process will not go on for ever; as we perceive the partly-finished edifice, we see the sloping sides converging to the point where the topmost stone will rest and the perfect pyramid will be complete. The Pyramid of Cheops was the earthly-life-work of that King, an assemblage t if lifeless stones, a tomb to house his dead body. The other Pyramid is the Risen-Life-Work of the- King of Kings, an assembly of living stones, the eternaltemple of God. The Pyramids of Egypt alone remain of all the seven wonders of the ancient world; the Church of Christ will be for ever the wonder of the universe.
The Church Universal consists of men and women, boys and girls, of every race and country, of every period of the centuries of grace, who are redeemed by the Incarnate, Crucified, and Resurrected Son of the Living God. Membershipof that company depends not on anything beyond true faith in Christ; certainly it is not automatic upon joining an earthly congregation. The mostvital point each one of us must be sure about is his title to a place in that Church. For those who are in theChurch, it is a privilege to associate with like-minded Christians in a church in their home district. Every Christian it a living stone; every living stone has its place in a little local pyramid which bears the very shape and structure of Christ’s universal society.