Today's words that I want to share with you are intended to do honor and institution. It's called the church. In my lifetime, I have read and I have heard not a few criticisms of the church as an institution. And they will say, well we believe in Christ and in the faith, but we don’t really believe in the institution of the church, made up of humans. Today, I speak for the church. I refer to the words of Jesus. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, He turns to them and asks them the question hey, “Who do people say that I am?” What do people say behind My back? And Peter, always the impertinent one, said oh “Some say You are the Messiah. But we believe You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Now when Jesus looked at them and said “I tell you Peter, on this rock,” meaning His confession of faith, “on this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That’s my text of the morning. Where did this idea of a church start? Didn’t start with Peter or James or John. It didn’t start with some pope. It started with Jesus. The simple Galilean. The Savior, the Messiah. “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That’s where I’m coming from. I was a little boy in a country church in Iowa, went to church every Sunday, first as a baby in my mother’s arms, then as a toddler. I learned to love the church. Sunday was church day and every Sunday we went to church and I heard words and I heard music and I saw faces and I was exposed to the church. It was a very alive place and that’s where my faith was nurtured and cultivated and encouraged and motivated.
So I was just a little boy when I made the decision to become a preacher when I grew up. Never anything else but that; it was who I am and where I came from. I ask you today, what is the church? Where did it come from? What is its value? What is your part in it? Why are you here today? What can you do for this church that Christ founded? And what can the church do for you?
It’s the 60th anniversary this month of my ordination as a minister of the gospel. All ordained ministers that were in that church at that time were asked to come forward and they put their hands on my head. I was just a young boy and I felt the weight of one hand and then another and the weight of 11 hands on my head so heavy. And the leader pronounced ‘and now we ordain you Robert Harold Schuller to be an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Reformed Church in America. And do you accept this obligation? If so answer I do.’ And I said, loud enough I think to be heard, ‘I do.’ Well, that’s a long time ago. Sixty years as an ordained minister! I’ve been faithful. I’ve been a follower. I made the promises. To the best of my ability I have fulfilled them, thanks to my wife, my family and most of you here. Thank you.
The church, what is it? It is a divine institution. Yes, it is an institution. Don’t let the negative cynics and critics put that word down. When a movement succeeds, it will always become an institution. Somebody has to pay the bills. There will be rules and regulations, you can’t get around it. And that’s true for the church. The church is an institution, made up of human beings. You are one of them; so am I. And we’re called to follow the words of Jesus, who said “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creatures.” And He said “I will build My church.” He coined it. Ekklesia is the Greek word. The church was founded by Jesus. And deliberately, intentionally and permanently it’s made up of people who are not saints. They are believers. There is a difference. And you and I are called by Christ to keep this institution alive, from generation to generation, from age to age. Yes, now we celebrate 2000 years as an institution and the church has survived because of people like you. Not a few of them died for that faith.
I never forget that for I wear a blue ring. The blue ring was slipped on my finger by a Christian minister in Ishtahabad, Persia, Iran. He was a Muslim and he became a Christian. And he gave me this ring. Its blue lapis lazuli carved in a negative is a lion. And he thought that I would be a lion for the faith. And he took it, slipped it on my hand. And it was not long after that and he was executed; executed by the government. Death penalty, he converted from Islam to Christianity. A lot of people have paid with their lives. That may not be the demand from you or me, but you and I are called to be shining lights in a dark world. For many people on planet earth, you are the closest thing they’re ever going to come to Jesus. We better live it.
So it’s a divine institution. As a young boy, I committed my life to that and then when the calling came to begin a new church in Southern California, didn’t take prayer on my part, I knew it was a calling I had to come. And when we came here, I didn’t go out and try to find all of the Christians living in town and invite them to come and help me form a church. They had it. They had the faith. They were already going to a church. I went to talk to people who didn’t have the faith, weren’t interested in religion. I met them in coffee shops. That’s how we started and then I rang doorbells. Are you an active member of a local church, I would ask and they would say yes and I’d say good God bless you. But if they said no, we don’t belong to a church; oh I said I’m thrilled to meet you. Tell me, why don’t you go to church? Some of them would mention the sins and the shortcomings and I would remind them that the church is the only institution that specializes in trying to invite non Christians in. Yes. The church is the only institution that goes after what some people would say are the bad people. The sinners. We don’t go out and try to find the best people in the county or the city or the town and get them to join the church. We say come, all you who are sinners and need salvation, come.
I’ll never forget I was an ordained minister only six weeks, living in a little town in Chicago, Illinois, a suburb, and then there was a major rally to celebrate something in Christianity and leaders had rented Soldier’s Field, biggest auditorium. I think it seated a hundred thousand people. Huge. And the event was held and Arvella and I went. It was filled, packed, every seat. Christians! And they sang the hymn “In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” They were the Orthodox, Eastern, Greeks, Anglicans, Germans, Lutheran’s, Japanese, African, Episcopals. What a collection. This was the church and I was an ordained minister, serving that church. What a blessing.
Yes it has been a blessing, you say, but the arguments, the quarrels, the politics; oh anything that’s nice is going to have its price, no doubt about that. Every institution will have its politics; can’t avoid that. Decisions need to be made. And in spite of all of its faults, all of its shortcomings, all of its divisions and quarrels, there is a power that lives in the church and it has for two thousand years. And if you’re going to invite non-Christians to become Christians and if you go to open the doors, anybody who comes well you’re going to be a human institution as well as a divine calling. So, yes everything that’s nice has its price. So in these 60 years of serving as a minister of Christ and 60 years of serving the church has been my pride and my joy and I thank you.
And now I pray that God who knows you better than you know yourself and God who knows you so much better than I, help you to become conscious that when you step in this place, it’s not the building. It’s the faith that’s here in the minds and in the memories, in the hearts. People who are sitting around here. They know that there’s a God because He came to earth to show Himself and that’s Jesus Christ. And that He’s become our Savior. And that He’s 2000 years ago formed an institution, how do you like that word, called the church to keep the faith alive and never let it become extinct. So I say I love thy church, oh God, walls before me stand. Dear is the apple of thine eye, graven on thy head. For her my tears shall fall, to her my prayers ascend. To her my cares and toils be given till cares and toils shall end. Amen.
Let’s pray: So God, we’re a part of something that was conceived in the mind of Jesus 2000 years ago. Even in this place over 50 years ago people came together, believers and followers of Christ to create an institution that Sunday after Sunday and through the week could keep the faith alive. And so I pray for Your special blessing upon all of these persons here who are making it happen. Amen.