There was good discussion in the comment section of the previous post about institutionalism. It is worth further consideration and will likely continue to come up as we discuss the topics of this book.
Many of you have already read Bill Kinnon’s post The People Formerly Known As The Congregation (TPFKATC) which Brother Maynard recently nominated as 2007 Post of The Year. I did a response post to Bill’s post called The Underlying Issues. (Both of these are linked on my *Recommended* page, along with lots of other good stuff.)
It is interesting that almost all of the issues addressed in these posts are also addressed in Pagan Christianity. Bill’s post was regarded as polemic. However, it connected deeply with the changes and questions many people are experiencing in their beliefs about church.
In regard to these posts, I said at that time:
“Whether or not we ourselves are written off as reactionary, the church will eventually have to address the validity of these issues.”
Much of the commentary about the book so far has been about the tone of the authors. While the critiques may be valid, they are a distraction. At the end of the day, whether or not you like Frank, George, or their writing, the issues remain. Whether or not you agree with their conclusions, I believe there is value in the book’s review of the history of church practices.
Moving forward on specific issues, I would like to look at them from the perspective of our practices in relationship to our principles. Do our practices influence and shape our principles? Or do our practices reflect our principles?
The Church Building
The second chapter is about church buildings. At this point the book shifts to being an interesting overview of the history of the church building from the first century through modern times. There are descriptions of how and why various elements that are now associated with church buildings came into being, for example – steeples, stained glass, pews, and pulpits.
While there are many interesting facts and examples, the historical detail is by necessity not comprehensive. However, there are plenty of footnotes included for those interested in pursuing further study of the topics discussed.
“The early Christians understood that they themselves – corporately – were the temple of God and the house of God.”
“In 324, Constantine began ordering the construction of church buildings to promote the popularity and acceptance of Christianity. If the Christians had their own sacred buildings, their faith would be regarded as legitimate.”
“The Christians embraced the concept of the physical temple and the idea that the building is a special place where God dwells in a special way.”
“Somehow we have been taught to feel holier when we are in “the house of God” and have inherited a pathological dependency upon an edifice to carry out our worship to God. The church building has taught us badly about what church is and what it does.”
“If we equate church with sitting in a pew and taking a mostly passive role, then church buildings are appropriate for the task.”
“The social location of the church meeting expresses and influences the character of the church.”
These few quotes don’t really do justice to the extent of material covered in this chapter. But it gives you a bit of a taste.
My conclusion is that there is nothing inherently wrong with a building. I actually think buildings are helpful and sometimes necessary, but not to the extent that we have they made them monuments. I think there are great possibilities for redemptive use of the buildings that already exist.
A few things that buildings have influenced or contributed to:
- Misunderstanding ekklesia.
- Sacred/secular dualism.
- Congregants as spectators.
- Lack of participation.
- Consumerist mentality.
- Attractional mode.
- Lack of movement and mission.
- Overhead costs.
The problem isn’t necessarily the building, but rather our imagination and understanding of who we are and what we are called to be apart from the building. Over the years, I believe that our buildings have contributed to the calcification and lack of movement that the church has fallen into by subtly reshaping our identity as a people.
In the Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch said:
“One of the major blockages to unleashing Apostolic Genius is our adherence to an obsolete understanding of the church. A people whose imagination of what it means to be God’s people has been taken hostage to a less than biblical imagination of church.”