10 And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. 1Kings 8:10-11
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
I was driving through Kansas City, MO on business. As I drove through part of the city, I saw a large, beautiful church. The initial view was obscured, but it looked like something special, a real architectural jewel, so I kept my eyes peeled as I got closer.
When I was clear of some trees, I saw it in all of its faded glory. Where there must have been at one time beautiful stained glass windows, there were now white boards. Maybe it’s abandoned, maybe its members just don’t have the funds to do better. I couldn’t help thinking that the poor, old building deserved to have its windows back.
There are a lot of spots to fill, and I realized it would be a costly, time-consuming effort. The man who made most all of the stained glass windows for the National Cathedral in Washington DC made a career of making and installing the windows there. He started when very young. The last time I was there over 10 years ago, he was an old man. Some windows still had plain glass, waiting for another masterpiece to fill them. The tour guide said he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to finish what he’d begun. I’m sure he’s at least semi-retired now.
My next thought was that maybe the effort and money would be better spent on the mission of that church. Or the mission of any church for that matter. I’d have a hard time spending so much cash when there are people in need.
Follow me as my mind flitted about: my next thought was a memory from my last acting job. We had ended a run of The Magnificent Yankee, and I was sitting on stage with a friend looking at the partially-demolished set. Parts of it could be seen through the double doors to the alley, thrown out as trash. It occurred to us what a huge waste that was. How many decent shanties could be built with those materials! People with no shelter at all would welcome them. It would be something, at least! Perhaps a more fitting offering to needs than stained glass.
My friend and I had this blinding glimpse of the obvious. We and the endeavor we were part of were nothing but a luxury. Easily assembled, and even more easily thrown out.
How much of our resources do we waste on luxuries? How much do we spend on churches, when perhaps something more modest will serve as well? I don’t know.
You see, Solomon spared no expense when it came to building the temple in Jerusalem. It was dedicated to God’s glory, and He filled it in the form of a cloud. There was only one temple for the Jews. That one. No other was needed or sanctioned.
Today we build many churches per city. They are likewise dedicated to God, but I think they are not on a par with The Temple in purpose. Today they are places of worship. The Temple was God’s dwelling place among His people in Jerusalem. Today, we build them well, even extravagantly, in reverence – I hope – to God. I mean, if you are inviting God over to your place, would you offer him the room over the garage or the master suite in the house?
Since Jesus’ time on earth, we are told to regard our bodies as temples: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit… therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Therein lies the rub, the tension, if you will. How well should we build the buildings compared to how well we build the body of the church? I’m old school, so I think we should have good church structures. They should be attractive and well maintained. You don’t invite guests over without having your house in good order.
That being said, the building should never be the goal itself. I’ve been to all of the major cathedrals; St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s and Westminster in London, The National Cathedral in DC, and Notre Dame in Paris. All are beautiful. All are impressive. At least one, in my opinion, edifies man as much as God. Maybe more.
St. Peter’s is the only one that left me feeling…weird. It seemed to me almost pagan. People lined up by the busload to rub the right foot of a bronze statue of a sitting St. Peter for good luck. It has been rubbed so much over the years, it is deformed into a sort of clubbed foot. There are two corpses of past popes in glass sarcophagi with kneelers before them. People kneel and pray to the corpses.
To the glory of man more than God.
Better a church with clean, modest architecture and simple stained glass to help illustrate biblical events and truths. Better this with community outreach and an outward focus of building our personal and corporate temples as the body of Christ.
Where is the balance point? I honestly don’t know with certainty. I do believe we should err on caution’s side.
“Love the Lord your God with all your hear, with all your soul, and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus
“…work your own salvation with fear and trembling.” St. Paul
Temples need to be built, both as places to worship and as living sacrifices to God. Whether the latter is our individual body or the body of the church. Just build. Whenever you get a chance.
What do you think? I and other readers want to know!