Saturday, October 9, 2010

Buildings, Money, and Passing the Plate

Yesterday I was walking around the historic district of Savannah looking for somewhere cool and quiet to think, read my bible, and pray. Given my current situation, I find myself doing a lot of that lately. I eventually made my way into The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The structure is beautiful but has no religious significance for me; after all, it's just a building.

Curiosity got the best of me after a while, and I began strolling around the cathedral. It turns out that if you are going to have an elaborate building like you see above, you also have to frequently ask for money. Apparently anyone can donate for each candle they light if they so desire. I'll admit that I don't understand. In light of all the lit candles (pun intended), there must have been many donations yesterday.


In case a visitor misses the candles, these other two signs are reminders of the need for donations for such an ornate temple of sorts (see final photo).



Before we go any further in bashing Roman Catholicism, we should take a look at ourselves. We may not ask for many direct donations for existing buildings. However, I have seen my fair share of building campaigns that have been hyper-spiritualized when asking for thousands of dollars ("We need this new building to reach the lost" or "Nehemiah built the wall around Jerusalem; in the same way we need to build this new sanctuary").

When we pass the offering plate and use most of the money to pay off large mortgages on large buildings that sit empty for the vast majority of the week, what are we saying about our priorities?

I remember one time about seven years ago when a church we were a part of had fallen behind on its $27,000 per month mortgage (yes, that figure is correct). The pastoral staff made a really big deal about a special offering that would be collected in November in order to get back on schedule with the bank. The church family sacrificially gave just enough to cover the payment. The pastors made a huge deal about thanking God. So, what impact did this have? It completely torpedoed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering that year. That church of 700 or so people gave less than $10,000 to the international missions offering. The reason is simple: they had already given a lot to their own sacred building. Our family wasn't at that church long after that debacle.

A few years later, when Alice and I were appointed as missionaries with the IMB, our appointment service took place at Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church in Orlando (I'm not joking about the name). They had just constructed a new building that cost $80 million (I'm not joking about the cost either).

If we are going to reach the nations, we must stop wasting all this money on church buildings. So what can we do? For churches that already have buildings, may I suggest trying to use what you have more effectively and not build any new edifices. If possible, try to sell some of what you have. Get into homes for meetings as much as possible. Be creative. Do all you can to use the bulk of your money to support missions from your neighborhood to the ends of the earth.

We must get past the idea that God cares about church buildings. In fact, I believe God detests it when a church decides to spend large amounts of money on new buildings. It simply cannot in any way be justified biblically.

What does please God? He is pleased when we honor Him by joyfully obeying Him. Let us give to the needy. Let us share the gospel. Let's use our money wisely in Great Commission fashion as the stewards we are supposed to be.

No more buildings please.

22 comments:

Arthur Sido said...

I read this morning a link from Dr Black about a Baptist church in Dallas imploding their current building to make room for a new $115,000,000 building. It is necessary you see, because the old building was just not adequate.

Eric said...

Arthur,

If ever there was a church that has to do things bigger than everyone else, it would be FBC Dallas. Predictable and sad.

Bad Catholic said...

The Church houses the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Sacramental Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ - wonder if that could be your continued attraction to it?

The candles just represent the prayers of the faithful.

I've never been in a Church, Catholic or Protestant - especially one that owned a historic building - that wasn't raising money all the time for its upkeep - and that includes Baptists.

There are a number of historic Baptist Churches. These Churches were built by the great financial sacrifice of their congregations for the Glory of God. Do you propose that all of these historic Church buildings should be abandoned because they are too costly to restore and maintain?

Eric said...

Bad Catholic,

My attraction, as I said, was because it was quiet and cool.

None of your arguments are scriptural. I really don't care much for arguments from history and tradition - whether they be in favor of Baptist buildings or Catholic ones.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

As amazing and beautiful as some of them are, days these things just make me sad that the only true church in existence, the one which Jesus is building with living stones, is represented by lifeless bricks, timber and stone, all the result of man interpreting Scripture according to his own whims and traditions.

As a youth, I was a member of an orthodox Protestant church in which we were expected to sign a contract to give a certain amount of money per week. A numbered envelope system was instituted to enable the leadership to ascertain who hadn't given in a particular week, and a bill was sent.

Jeffrey said...

Eric,

I'll throw one more issue in the hopper. Money troubles are one of the biggest reasons given in most surveys for marital problems. I wonder if there's any correlation between high divorce rates in the Church and the tithe and offering arm twisting that goes on.

Jeff

Bad Catholic said...

"None of your arguments are scriptural." On the contrary, the Bible clearly teaches the concept of sacred space - The Jerusalem Temple, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, etc.

The ancient Jews of the Old Testament, as well as Our Lord and the Apostles, saw Jerusalem and its Temple as a special place. Otherwise, why does the Book of Revelation describe the Church dwelling with God in the Heavenly Jerusalem if the earthly city has no spiritual importance?

I agree with you that helping the poor, etc. is important - but remember the Scriptures: Judas demanded to know why the woman wasted the costly perfume pouring it on Jesus' feet when it could have been sold to help the poor.

Beautiful buildings and works of art help us to lift and our minds and hearts to God in prayer. And it is Biblical - God wanted Solomon to build His Temple and then ordained Nehemiah and Ezra to return from exile and rebuild it. If the Jews could have prayed just as well at home, there would have been no need for the Temple.

Yes, Christ is first and foremost in our hearts, but He should also be in our Churches. And I don't know what's more Biblical than belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist - Jesus said "This IS my body" and "This IS my blood." I take Him to mean what He said.

Yes, I can pray in my house - but I pray better in God's House.

Joe G. said...

"I really don't care much for arguments from history and tradition ...."

Eric, I don't understand. The entire Old Testament was recorded from oral tradition. I think a lot of the New Testament may have been as well, although my history may be a little shady regarding the N.T........my point being, TRADITION is EXTREMELY important, regardless of your opinion or Bad Catholic's!

Tradition and Scripture, and the prophets, etc. have guided us for 6,000 years of church history, if you count the Jews. (I count the Jews, since Jesus and practically all the early Christians were Jews - and in fact they worshiped in the Jewish tradition.) You cannot overstate the importance of tradition and history. W/o them it's just blind faith, and we are not blind, ever since Christ gave us His light.

Eric said...

John,

"A numbered envelope system was instituted to enable the leadership to ascertain who hadn't given in a particular week, and a bill was sent." Wow and sigh. I don't even know what to say.

Eric said...

Jeff,

An interesting idea. I'e never heard that before. Maybe you could study it and let us know the findings. I certainly do think that tithing as arm-twisting is a reality in some churches.

Eric said...

Bad Catholic,

Your arguments stem from the Old Testament, which finds its fulfillment in Christ. With Jesus' coming, no special buildings were needed any longer.

I'm arguing from the practices of the New Testament church. If we are to follow the model given us, buildings won't be of any significance. The early church met in homes; therefore, I believe we should do the same instead of wasting money on buildings that God never tells us to construct.

Eric said...

Joe,

All scripture is breathed out by God (II Tim. 3:16). Tradition is not.

Tim A said...

Mark 13
1As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"
2"Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
... 10And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.

Jesus priority is definitely not "sacred space" or anything like that. There is no sacred space in the NT teaching; only sacred people known as saints. We are "living stones" being built together. The "living stones" are not being "built together" when they line up in pews facing a pulpit for one-way communication. They are when they gather for "one another" communication. Heb. 10: 24,25; 1 Peter 2:1-10

Acts 7 Stephen's message before he was stoned:
God does not live in buildings:
44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house.
48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
49 ‘ Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the LORD,
Or what is the place of My rest?
50 Has My hand not made all these things?’[n]
Israel Resists the Holy Spirit 51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.

Today God's people are clueless that "God does not dwell in buildings made with hands."

Not only are special buildings for church life a huge cost burden, and a waste of God's resources because He did not ask for them and specifically told us they don't help Him, 90% of the time spent in these buildings involves huge corruption of what God specifically asked His people to do when they gather.

Bad Catholic said...

I recently wrote a review of a book I read about Church Architecture on my blog. I would invite your comments:

http://mrmemitchell-badcatholic.blogspot.com/2010/10/ugly-as-sin.html

Eric said...

Tim,

I agree with much of what you say. Buildings have often distracted us from what is important: the gospel.

Eric said...

Bad Catholic,

I'll take a look at your post. Thanks for the invitation.

Mark said...

If you read Revelations closely, you will find that the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, IS THE CHURCH, i.e. the ekklesia, the body of Christ. There is a very rich comparison between parts of the old testament and parts of the new regarding this, which I won't go into in depth here. Interesting that one of the last recorded historical events in the OT was the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Interesting parallel that in Revelations we again see the Holy City, and Revelations 21 reveals that Holy City to be "like a bride adorned". I believe that the Holy City IS the bride adorned. If you follow the imagery of the rest of the NT, that Christ indwells people and not buildings (or cities) it only makes sense that the New Jerusalem is the body of Christ, not a physical location. Just an interesting aside (or interesting to me, anyway!)

Mark

Eric said...

Mark,

That is an interesting idea. I'll have to give it some thought. Here's a question: if the New Jerusalem refers to the church body, why do you think such specific dimensions are given for it?

Mark said...

Eric,

I don't have a good answer for that. Concerning the description of the foundations, etc. I imagine there is a deeper spiritual meaning, which I have not studied enough to understand. Regarding the dimensions, however, I can't say, but that is a good question. The author does go to great lengths to describe the seemingly physical characteristics. I have also gotten the same impression in my spirit when reading Hebrews 12, regarding Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion. I have lately felt that this refers to His kingdom in general, His people, although that passage does not specifically state that. It does mention "general assembly and church of the firstborn", but it is in a list of other things. I would be interested in your thoughts as your process the idea further.

Mark

reformedlostboy said...

Mark and Eric,

regarding the dimensions of the New Jerusalem those dimensions are of a cube and the same shape was given to the Holy of Holies where only the priest could enter the presence of God.

Eric said...

Bobby,

That's interesting. You are right. What implications do you think those similarities have on how we should understand the New Jerusalem?

reformedlostboy said...

I haven't given it enough thought to make any solid statements. I do find the similarities shared by the garden of Eden, the temple, and the revelatory visions of John quite intriguing, especially as I read with the intention of finding how it all points to Christ with the understanding that we are the body of Christ corporately. Maybe a future blog post as I meditate on it.