Saturday, May 7

Should we build beautiful churches?

As you might guess, this is Lisa, not Ben :)

Some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for awhile. The answer to the question “should we build beautiful churches” really depends on the answers follow-up questions:

1. Do beautiful churches testify to God’s glory?
Maybe I’m biased, but I’d say absolutely yes! Churches testify to man’s creative potential as God’s image bearers in this world. And they testify to our ascribing beauty and majesty back to God.

2. Do beautiful churches help us to pray and praise God?
Also an unqualified yes. Beautiful churches are a foretaste of the amazing architecture of Heaven and just a hint of the beauty we will see in God. When I see an amazing church and remember these things, I am in complete awe.

3. Should we give us best ____ to God?
Well, of course! As a culture, should we support gorgeous houses, museums, restaurants, and government buildings but only put forth mediocre, bland churches? Should the Christian culture be known for cheesy, unimpressive art, music and architecture, or should we surpass the best in the world?

4. What does God’s architectural record say about his thoughts on beautiful churches?
I can think of only three times God gives out building specifications in the Bible. One is Noah’s ark. The second is ark of the covenant (to Moses) and the third for the temple in Jerusalem (to David, see 1 Chron. 28:19). The second two projects were incredibly detailed descriptions from God for extravagant and symbolic structures. The extravagance spoke to both the Israelites and neighboring cultures about the importance of God in their lives. The symbolism was just as vital, and described God’s relationship with man. When Jesus died, the veil in the temple was ripped – God used his architecture as performance art to speak to his people about the new covenant in Jesus’ blood. God doesn’t change, so wouldn’t he still value buildings as meaningful ways to speak to his glory?

5. What do Jesus’ priorities say about the subject?
This answer is mixed. Jesus lived a simple life, and his financial advice tended towards helping the poor, shrewd investment , honesty and sacrificial giving. He never commanded his followers to build him a church, just to spread the gospel of love. Certainly Jesus did not want material pomp and circumstance for his followers or himself. On the other hand, take a look at Mark 14:3-9. Jesus is anointed by a woman with ridiculously expensive perfume – money poured out to glorify him—and says “she has done a beautiful thing to me,” even when his followers say that all of that money could have been used to feed the poor.

6. What does church history tell us?
Got to say, I love old cathedrals. But I’m not sure how much God does. Often they were built, through the wealth of the church in the medieval and renaissance days, in a spirit of exhibitionism. Towns competed to see who could construct the tallest tower. Funds were taken from the poor through the tragic selling of indulgences and used by the rich church to flaunt its power. But how can I judge everyone’s motives this way? The church may have been generally corrupt, but surely there was some pure desire to praise God and surely the illiterate folks benefitted from the illustrations in the stained glass windows. Now, they are tourist attractions in secular cities.

7. Are beautiful churches a distraction?
God does commission a temple for central worship, but also tells the Israelites that he doesn’t dwell in any structure made by man. Do beautiful churches put more of a division between religious and secular life, separating the holy Sunday morning experience from the workday? Also, does a beautiful church distract us from inner contemplation during a church service?

8. How should a church use its money?
It really comes down to this. A larger or more attractive church usually does not appear without a multi-million dollar building campaign. There are churches that meet in schools, community centers and homes in order to avoid this expense. I’ve even heard of cowboy churches that meet in the open air, and a church that meets under a bridge. Many of these churches have other financial priorities, like supporting missions or helping the poor. How can you say they are wrong?

This is difficult for me, a lover of beautiful buildings and member of large churches. I think that the wealth of the American church should be spread around and that maybe sacrificial giving is a better testimony of God’s love than a beautiful church. But I really want both.


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