(The following piece was originally written and posted on the City Presbyterian blog.)
City Presbyterian just bought a building – a beautiful old brick structure straddling the line between wealth and poverty in downtown Oklahoma City. Renovated five years ago, the facility is in better shape than a 93-year-old building should be, and, as of November 1, we’re its new stewards.
We’re all pretty excited about closing on the property, but not because it means we’ve finally arrived (we haven’t), nor that we eventually will (we won’t). We’re excited about our new church building because we’re excited about being Christ’s Church; any other motivation runs the risk of idolatry.
In a previous post, I wrote about the challenges of “finding” a church. I also promised a few ideas as to having a right perspective in the process. Toward that end, and in the wake of our recent acquisition of the property at 13th and Shartel, here are two thoughts I would offer:
A church is not a building and a building is not a church. There’s something to be said for beautiful architecture, as it reminds us that God is a God of aesthetic as well as order. And while we need beauty, aesthetic, and order to flourish in our humanity, God has nevertheless prospered His Church when those things haven’t always been present. If one’s evaluation of a church begins or ends with a building, there’s probably some room to grow in a more biblical understanding of ecclesiology.
This doesn’t mean there sometimes isn’t a need for functional space – the Bible is filled with places of worship that ranged from a pile of stones to Jerusalem’s temple. The point is that these places had purposes that were responses to God and not just the whims of man. When we want something because we want something – especially when it comes to buildings – we run the risk of making its acquisition an idol, with our subsequent fulfillment impossibly dependent upon it.
A church’s people make up a church, but the church is not (only) for its members…or even its non-members. One of the biggest tensions a church experiences is trying to figure out who it’s for – the members or those the members are trying to reach. Bitterness comes from those in the pews if they feel they are only a pastor’s pawns; apathy comes from those not in the pews because this reinforces their belief that a church doesn’t care about them. As a possible answer to the question, neither is correct; the Person the church should be for and about is Christ.
Of course, because Jesus is who He is, by being for and about Him, everyone benefits, members and non-members alike. When members stop asking the question “What’s in it for me?” and start asking “What’s in it for God?”, their focus has much more of a worship tint that colors everything they do, whether it be attending a morning service or caring for the poor, widowed, or orphaned.
Churches don’t need programs when their congregants desire God, and skeptics can’t use a church’s preoccupation with itself as further justification for their disbelief. Programs don’t change people and hyprocrites are still the biggest obstacle to the skeptic’s faith; only the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ’s authentic and genuine Body makes the difference.
Without trying to idolize or idealize, Acts 2:42-47 is as succinct a picture of who and what the early Church was about (notice the place of people and the people in the place):
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Buildings and benefits are outcomes, not goals; teaching and togetherness are primary; worship of God through work with each other yields results. The early Church’s commonality is not some pre-Communist socialism in which one says, “What’s yours is mine,” but rather a picture of true Christianity that says, “What’s mine is yours.” This – all this – is what Christ desires of His Bride the Church, and what we at City Pres hope to pursue – with a building and as few programs as possible – to be about what Christ wants, for this is most assuredly what all most need.