Christchurch, New Zealand is hit by a series of devastating earthquakes. People are killed and buildings fall. Among the broken buildings are many heritage churches, and as time goes on vigorous debate breaks out about the cost of repair.
Can the Anglican Cathedral be rebuilt or must it come down? What should be the new design? How much will it cost to repair heritage church buildings? Who should pay these costs?
Ownership is challenged. Does the Cathedral belong to the Anglicans (so they make the decisions) or does it belong to the city of which it has become a symbol? What does God think?
Perhaps the Bible is deliberately vague on subjects such as church buildings because there is no one answer to this last question. I think in God's mind there is no question, because every situation is different and he wants to guide us in each circumstance.
Imagine if Acts mentioned a specific church building. Think of the mayhem today as some tried to make that the pattern we should all follow and criticised any slight deviation from it.
God is interested in buildings, and at various times in history has given detailed instructions on how to build them.
Take Noah and the ark. God gave very specific dimensions for the ark, described the type of materials to be used, and told Noah its purpose to save eight people and numerous animals from imminent destruction.
As the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness, God again gave detailed instructions for constructing the tabernacle where they were to worship him. In the days of David and Solomon, God took a personal interest in the building of the temple and decreed that Solomon, rather than David, should have it built.
Jesus preached and taught wherever he happened to be. This included the temple and the synagogues, both places where people gathered to debate the Holy Scriptures. He showed anger at the commercial use of the temple, and told the people they should know it was a house of prayer.
Much of Jesus' teaching took place in outdoor spaces as he spoke to his disciples and the crowds. He taught on the Mount of Olives, while in a boat on Lake Galilee, in the streets of Jerusalem, and also in the upper room. He didn't need a building to preach in, but used them when they were available. When his disciples tried to get him to admire a building, he told them it would soon be ruined with not one stone left on another.
The early disciples preached in the synagogues where people were already gathered. They also met from house to house. The Bible doesn't say what they did when their numbers grew; it has nothing to say on the subject. It certainly doesn't condemn ownership or use of particular buildings.
Later Christendom delighted in constructing very ornate buildings that were more to man's glory than God's. But why does God give people the gift of vision and architecture, if not to be used for his glory? People do find God in buildings and places of worship, but the style and form of these buildings can vary greatly in different countries, cultures and climates.
We need buildings for many practical reasons, not least the weather. God's instructions for church life, however, are more to do with accountability of our resources. Surely this includes what proportion of our available finances is spent on buildings with all their frills and fancies, and what is spent on bringing people into his kingdom. Whether we are building or rebuilding our focus needs to be on Jesus Himself and his people.
"You are the church, the living stones," Jesus taught the disciples, "and I am the cornerstone." His true church is the people, not a building made of wood and stone.
In every situation and culture, we are to glorify God and make him known. Whether this is done with or without buildings, or what type of buildings, matters little.
Lois Farrow is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand who is passionate about God and His word. I enjoy reading, writing and my family, which includes seven grandchildren.
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