Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 2


The following may be extremely challenging or distressful to some who read - especially if are involved or have recently been involved in a grueling "building campaign." Please be advised.

Consequently, the story of the church building is the sad saga of Christianity borrowing from heathen culture and radically transforming the face of our faith. To put it bluntly, the church buildings of the Constantinian and post-Constantinian era essentially became holy shrines. The Christians embraced the concept of the physical temple. They imbibed the pagan idea that there exists a special place where God dwells in a special way. And that place is made "with hands."

As with other pagan customs that were absorbed into the Christian faith (such as the
liturgy, the sermon, clerical vestments, and hierarchical leadership structure), third and fourth-century Christians incorrectly attributed the origin of the church building to the Old Testament. But this was misguided thinking.

The church building was borrowed from pagan culture. "Dignified and sacramental ritual had entered the church services by way of the mysteries [the pagan cults], and was justified like so many other things, by reference to the Old Testament."

To use the Old Testament as a justification for the church building is not only inaccurate, but it is self-defeating. The old Mosaic economy of sacred priests, sacred buildings, sacred rituals, and sacred objects has been forever destroyed by the cross of Jesus Christ. In addition, it has been replaced by a nonhierarchical, nonritualistic, nonliturgical organism called the ekklesia(church.

Form determines function with the church building, not the other way around (as Jesus promoted).

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, "So what's the big deal? Who cares if the first-century Christians did not have buildings? Or if church buildings were patterned after pagan beliefs and practices? Or if medieval Catholics based their architecture on pagan philosophy? What has that got to do with us today?"

Consider the next sentence; The social location of the church meeting expresses and influences the character of the church. If you assume that where the church gathers is simply a matter of convenience, you are tragically mistaken. You are overlooking a basic reality of humanity. Every building we encounter elicits a response from us. By its interior and exterior, it explicitly shows us what the church is and how itfunctions.
To put it in the words of Henri Lefebvre, "Space is never empty; it always embodies a meaning." This principle is also expressed in the architectural motto "form follows function." The form of the building reflects is particular function.

The social setting of a church's meeting place is a good index of that church's understanding of God's purpose for His body. A church's location teaches us how to meet. It teaches us what is important and what is not. And it teaches us what is acceptable to say to each other and what is not.

We learn these lessons from the setting in which we gather- whether it be a church edifice or a private home. These lessons are by no means neutral. Go into any given church building and exegete the architecture. Ask yourself what objects are higher and which are lower. Ask yourself what is at the front and what is at the back. Ask yourself in what ways it might be possible to "adjust" the direction of the meeting on the spur of the moment. Ask yourself how easy or hard it would be for a church member to speak where he is seated so that all may see and hear him.
I wish I could copy the entire chapter - yea the whole book. But my earnest
desire is that you purchase it and read it yourself.
In short, I've seen first-hand how the obsession of erecting a building has distracted followers from engaging in daily obedience to the teaching and purpose of Christ. There is this "we will do much more for God when we have a place" as we (I'm recovering from the mindset myself) look and walk beyond numerous Kingdom-building opportunities. I've seen how the anxiety of meeting the mortgage for the structure that has a less than 9% usage during an average week - has become an emotional cancer for many a well-intentioned Christ-follower.
I sincerely believe that God's new wine is expanding with relentless pressure and that the conventional wineskins are about to erupt into thousands of tiny shards. Be ready to DUCK!

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