Lighthouses have been around for thousands of years. The earliest known ones were in Egypt 2,000 years ago. The U. S. has some amazing ones on our various coasts. Most are no longer in use due to the modern technology that serves the same function as lighthouses once did. And what was the function of a lighthouse? Its light served as a navigational aid and a warning signal for boats of dangerous areas.
The keeper of the lighthouse and his family often lived in a house adjacent to or even attached to the actual lighthouse. It was his responsibility to be sure the light was on at all times. Letting the light go out in a lighthouse would spell certain disaster for ships who looked to the lighthouses for direction and safety.
Thankfully many of those lighthouses still stand thanks to the work of those who know the importance of preserving such historical structures. I hope that you and your family can one day visit a lighthouse if you have never had that privilege.
Churches are like lighthouses in their communities. People in the community look to churches for help in navigating life’s waters and warning of life’s dangers. Therefore churches must keep the light burning.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and gives light to all who are in the house.” – Matthew 5:14-16
In this text Jesus told his followers that were the light of the world. In actuality, Jesus is the light, and his followers are to reflect his light. In 5:13, he also referred to them as the salt of the earth. One common characteristic of both salt and light is that of influence. In other words the church is to influence the world and more specifically its own community for good and for the gospel.
Another function of light is to reveal what is hidden in the darkness and to dispel the darkness. Perhaps one reason people do not attend church is that they do not want the light of God’s Word (Psalms 119:105) shining into the dark places in their lives. A wise pastor once told me that a church should not only have the power to attract but to repel as well. I have known churches/pastors that were so concerned about the latter that they not only failed to proclaim the full counsel of God but also refused to take a stand on moral issues. These actually lost the respect of the community because they expected the church to be a lighthouse.
As Jesus was delivering this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, he may have pointed to one of the surrounding hilltop cities with their glistening walls, which were often whitewashed with limestone, making them highly visible. Jesus said they cannot be hidden. Likewise churches (the people not the building) cannot and should not be hidden. Whether they like it or not, the community looks to the church to be the lighthouse, providing direction for their lives and safety from the danger of shipwrecking their lives.
Jesus also made reference to the lamps that were used in homes for lighting the interior. He said that if someone wants to give light inside the house that he does not hide it, but he puts it on a lampstand so that it gives light to everyone in the house.
Remember the kids’ song “This Little Light of Mine”? What exactly does it mean for us to let our light shine? It means holding to sound, biblical doctrine and living a lifestyle consistent with that. It means telling others about Jesus and how they can know him, and then living like those that do indeed know Jesus.
It’s a sad commentary that some churches have let their lights go out. The Gospel and Jesus as the only way of salvation are no longer proclaimed from the pulpits or small groups in these churches. These churches no longer take stands on moral issues in the community or even compromise moral standards as not to offend members of the community. The truth of the Bible is watered down. Those who are involved in open and flagrant sin can go to these churches and sense no convicting power of the Holy Spirit.
When churches are no longer lighthouses in their communities, then disaster is invited into the community, and shipwrecked lives abound. When churches that once had influence in their communities no longer do, then the community has no one to help navigate the turbulent waters of life or no one to warn them of what dangers lay beneath those same waters. The problem in American is not so much with those who don’t know Christ, but it is with the churches that have let their lights go out.
Chip Warren is the past president of the Albertville Ministerial Fellowship.