I’m going to use my last post as a springboard for the present one. There I discussed my understanding of New Testament offerings. Namely, that they were not commanded, nor were they given on any sort of consistent basis (The Corinthian and Galatian gift to Jerusalem notwithstanding). Rather, they gave “as any had need” (Acts 2:45).
This brings a major problem to the modern church: How are we going to pay for the building?
If we are going to have any such things, then we must have consistent income–something we never find in Scripture.
Here is where our system falls apart. It seems we have built our church buildings on the sand. Nay, we have built them out of sand. The fact that the early church only took up offerings for the poor, saints in need, and ministers (more on this in the next post) should cause us at least to ponder why we have poured so much into our buildings. I am not suggesting that buildings are sinful in and of themselves, but think about it. I have a sneaking feeling that some will read this and go on the offensive to argue for the legitimacy of their buildings. Why would we be so ferociously for something that has absolutely no foundation in Scripture?
According to Viola and Barna in Pagan Christianity?:
“In the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches today is worth over $230 billion. Church building debt, service, and maintenance consumes about 18 percent of the $50 to $60 billion tithed to churches annually” (40).
Before I read PC I already had a bad taste in my mouth for the modern church building. I wasn’t against it. I simply had a hard time justifying it in my mind. After reading the actual dollar amounts my jaw dropped. Is that good stewardship of God’s money? Is that flowing out of the principles of giving laid out in the New Testament? I submit that it is not.
I’ve read arguments about how the church building is a “city on a hill”–that we need public places where all can see where we are and be welcomed there. However, such an argument is based on modern public relations theory rather than NT principles. The early church had no buildings and yet they were well known and for a time were even well respected in their communities. The Lord even added to their number daily (Acts 2:47). The argument that having buildings draws people to church simply doesn’t hold up. Actually, the American church is shrinking. According to the Barna research group, “nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”
Don’t misread me. I’m not saying that teenagers leave because we have church buildings. I am merely saying that church buildings do not advance the Kingdom of God. If it isn’t advancing the Kingdom, we need to find out if it is inhibiting the Kingdom–a question to which we will now turn.
We need to continuously question and critique our practices and beliefs to see whether they are actually founded on biblical principles and are working for the good of the Kingdom. We should not be afraid to assign such tests to our buildings. I understand that it is a scary thing to do. As the Barna study reveals, we have invested untold amounts of time, energy and money on such structures. To go as far as simply questioning the spiritual validity of our buildings is to embrace the possibility (not actuality) that we have not been wise stewards. I challenge you, however, to be bold enough to ask the questions, search the Word, and be open to the possibility that we have been wrong. Questioning will only cause you to search for the truth, and truth is freeing.
Is it “biblical?” (Let me say, when I use the word biblical, I mean very specifically: Do we find this in the Bible?) The answer is no. We find no instances of church’s owning buildings until the time of Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD. Constantine is known for recognizing and endorsing Christianity as a legitimate religion. During his reign he sanctioned the building of structures in which Christians could worship. He commissioned architects to build the Christian buildings after the model of the Roman Basilica. “Basilica” stems from the Greek word, basileus, which means “king.” Thus, a basilica is the tribunal chamber of a king from which he would distribute his judgments and decrees. Constantine then set up church leaders in political seats and sanctioned taxes which went to supporting the Christian Church. In return, Constantine gained support of the growing Christian community. As we can see here, the church building was birthed out of a very corrupt relationship.
Since that time a distinct class of Christians emerged called clergy. As the king sat in his judgment seat, the clergy sat in their seats and distributed their words. As a result, the Body of Christ became paraplegic. These men became the prominent, exclusive ministers of the church. Now, the ministry of the church is placed on the shoulders of a few or even one man. The body sits passively in their seats as the “ministers” direct them. Most of the “ministry” that is delegated to the membership includes such things as ushering or door-greeting. This is in direct contrast to the church meeting we find in the New Testament in which “each one brings a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” –where we stir up one another to love and good works and encourage one another. In all, there are 58 “one-another” exhortations for the church. The arrangement of the modern church building does not allow for it. In the modern structure one person does the teaching; one person brings the songs. If anyone wants to speak in a tongue, interpret, bring a revelation, encourage, exhort, uplift, etc it must be done during the “shaking hands time” or in a setting completely away from the gathering.
Moreover, the modern church building encourages an isolationist mindset. Churches are notorious for removing themselves from society, creating their own “Christian” versions of things (i.e. Christian bookstores, coffee shops, clothing lines, sports teams, etc.). This removes the Christian’s sense of responsibility and calling to be a missionary in the world. How can they be involved with their neighbors if they are at the church building every night of the week?
The New Testament shows us that the church met in homes. Again, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not suggesting that Christians should only meet in homes. We have evidence that believers met in many different places. They even rented places on occasion when large groups came together. I am suggesting, however, that the modern church building is founded and shaped on principles that are foreign and contrary to those in Scripture. In chapter 4 of Reimagining Church, Frank Viola gives a beautiful and insightful picture of how the home fosters an atmosphere in which true, scriptural “one-anothering” can take place. While the home is not the only place this can happen, I do believe that the modern church building is a place where it, indeed, cannot happen.
Before you comment and tell me about how your church is nothing like this, let me say one last thing. I am fully aware that not all churches have passive members–in some churches many of the members are using their gifts and building up one another. That said, please do not take my statement on buildings as an attack against your church. My argument is simply that the modern church building does not foster the sort of gathering we find in the pages of the New Testament.
What are your thoughts on the church building? Do you think that the modern church building fosters an atmosphere of mutual ministry found in Scripture? What are you thoughts on the amount of money American Christians put toward their buildings? Do you think that is good stewardship?