Ever since Constantine, (Roman emperor in the 4th century) and the declaration of Christianity as the official Roman religion, the church has built a ubiquity of the most magnificent structures that the world has ever laid eyes upon. It seems though, that in the churches recent history there have been many young people who have a certain disdain for the church because of the construction of these magnificent but seemingly “hypocritical buildings”. The reasons for this stance would vary I imagine, but to get the idea across, here are a couple that ideas that I personally have said and heard. Some, I think, find the church to be hypocritical or simply misguided because they witness the construction if these fancy churches yet do not attend to the poor as they seemingly are thought to profess. So, it has been said that they spend millions on a building and simply in that act, they no longer practice what they preach inside those buildings. Others have said it only serves as a self-glorifying structure-the church wrapped in its own glory and power. This could indeed be true in some pockets of history. Lastly, one I have said before and heard often among young zealots (I use that term in an endearing way) is that the church in its essential form is not a building, but rather a people (could not be more biblical). In years past, we have equated the building as “the church”, and that should never be. I could probably list many more if I sat and thought about it, however that is not the point. The question remains lingering, is there significance or importance in a church building?
I think I have found myself agreeing with most of these previously stated opinions at one point and time, and that is a reason why I have enjoyed h2o Church’s practice in this regard (the church body I am apart of and work with). If, for a second, we consider the early church (before Constantine), we will see that they met in the homes of church members for goodness sake! What are doing making these grandiose structures then? In the same breath though,I must caution myself, because this conviction is not explicitly written in the New Testament, but we can glean certain principles from stories of the temple, the New Testament church, and the like. h2o, similar to the early church, doesn’t have a building, but instead we meet on Kent State Universities campus in one of the more homely looking buildings on campus. While the exterior building needs some work, the lecture hall that we meet in is getting a makeover as I write this!
I was with my friend the other day and we had heard about our room (133!) in Bowman hall (the building we meet in) going under a good deal of change. Anything that looks a little less like a rustic lecture hall is always a good thing!
We are excited about the new remodeling happening, and are looking forward to seeing what it will look like when it is done! I am a big fan of the color scheme so far (is that weird?)!
Back to the question-To shed light on this theology of matter (church buildings), I go (as I often do) to my dear friend and conversation partner (although I have never met him) N.T. Wright. In his book Surprised by Hope he deals with this new disdain towards church buildings. Now keep in mind that Wright is an Anglican Bishop and has the traditionalistic view that I need in my life as many others do to balance out their anti-building/hippyish beliefs. He says this about church buildings:
Church buildings and other places where, in Elliot’s phrase, “prayer has been valid” are not a retreat from the world but a bridgehead into the world, a way of claiming part of our God-given space for his glory, against the day when the world will thrill to his praise.
It is nothing short of dualistic folly, then, simply to declare without ado (as many try to do today, supposedly in the interest of mission but in fact in the interest of dualism-or a quick profit) that old church buildings and the like are irrelevant to the mission of God today and tomorrow. Of course in many cases a church building has served its purpose and can now be demolished or given over to alternative use. But many are rediscovering in our day that there are indeed such things as places sanctified by long usage for prayer and worship, places where, often without being able to explain it, people of all sorts find that prayer is more natural, that God can be known and felt more readily. We should reflect long and hard on a proper theology of place and space, thought through in terms of God’s promise to renew the whole creation, before we abandon geography and territory.
Wrights thoughts on this are a slight stretch for me, but I typically need that in my life. I think that I need to renvision Gods redemptive work on this earth to include more than just his people, but the rest of his creation too. To add to Wright, a building, just as a sanctified sermon or a time of blissful prayer, can draw one’s attention more fully to the glory of God revealed in Christ. Can’t one be drawn more fully into God’s presence through the beauty of a sanctuary? I agree with Wright that there is a need to reflect long and hard on a theology of space and matter.
Could we perhaps introduce the women of Bethany in Mark 14 to this conversation? She “wasted” a jar of “pure nard” that was worth almost a years salary on Jesus! Couldn’t that money have been used for something else? Of course, but the women was more concerned simply with worshipping Christ. She wasn’t concerned about what she could do for Him, but rather glorifying Him. Should this not also be the case in constructing churches?
As far as h2o Church is concerned, I could not see us being anywhere else than on campus and in a place that students are familiar with. So, although this doesn’t apply to h2o per se, I think it is still an interesting view to consider the next time you pass a church building.