Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Architecture, Cathedrals, Money and the Poor

I recently saw a photo of a magnificent cathedral in Europe. I have to admit, I'm a great fan, and student, of architecture; I love to draw designs for new homes, both great and small. I'm in awe at the majestic creations of those who lived in times without the equipment we have today and yet managed to create some of the most beautiful and inspiring buildings known to modern man. Yet, somehow when I see these cathedrals with all their grandeur, ornate facades and magnificent interiors, the words of Jesus creep into my head: "they've cleaned the outside of the cup and left the inside dirty."

I'm sure many who might read these words would wonder what I'm talking about considering the interiors of these cathedrals are just as wondrous, if not more so, than their exteriors. I'm also reminded of the words Jesus spoke about people wanting to be seen and about our hearts will be where our treasure is. These ostentatious cathedrals and churches make me wonder where the hearts of those who built those buildings are; they've built such rich, gorgeous buildings in the name of God and called them churches when we all know the church is not a building, but rather the body of Christ. The buildings we gather in are not the church. And why do we need multi-million dollar buildings to hold services in? Do those buildings somehow enhance the message of Christ? Are those decorative accents and embellishments truly needed to share the message that Jesus came to earth, born of a virgin, to save all mankind from the sin of Adam, to give us healing, peace and eternal life through His torture, crucifixion, death and resurrection?

I'm reminded of the scriptures in the book of Acts where all the newly converted sold everything they owned and brought the proceeds to apostles to distribute to each, according to his or her need. I'm sure some of those people who sold everything lived in what we today would call mansions, yet they gladly sold those castles of stone in order to ensure all their fellow Christians had what they needed because they knew there was a mansion awaiting them in Glory. And I'm quite certain the leaders of the first century church didn't take any of those funds and rush out to buy or build a huge building for the congregations to worship in. The first century saints met in one another's homes, not a centralized church. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that in this day and age it's much easier, even better, for the local congregation to meet in their own separate building versus trying to host the church in someone's home. But do we really need multi-million dollar compounds to hold those services in?

Jesus warned us about doing things to be seen; or putting on airs by sitting in high places in order to be held in higher esteem. Our modern day sanctuaries are often built with the idea of "wait til they see how much grander our church is than the so-and-so congregation down the street." Having all the latest bells and whistles in the sanctuary or in the classrooms, etc., don't matter to Jesus. Well, they probably do matter, but not in the way we hope. How many of the hungry, naked and thirsty in those neighborhoods/cities could have been fed, clothed and satiated with the funds used to build a structure that is not needed? How many homes for the homeless could have been provided while we've built a building that is largely empty 95% of the time?

The local congregation's "church" has become a business in many respects. And that was never the intention of Jesus or the first century leaders. In fact, I do believe Jesus is, and the apostles would be, appalled at what is presently called the church of Jesus. I've been in services in those mega-million dollar complexes and I've been in services in buildings that were very, very humble with barely electricity, heat and a/c, and I've felt the spirit of God just as strongly in both. God doesn't need us to build Him ornate buildings. Our pride is what drives us to build these ornate, majestic, architectural wonders we call church.