Can Churches Be Pretty?

Posted: 11/29/2009 in Church
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What does it mean to beautify the Church?

I had a good conversation with a great friend the other day about how the church in America lost its message as soon as it stopped building its churches with stone. No longer was care, beauty, and symbolism injected into the structure. Instead, it has been reduced to strip malls and movie theatres, treading in the footsteps of America’s short-lasting, consumeristic, mass-produced, and entertainment-driven society.

And you can feel it.

The awareness of a holy presence is much different in a cathedral than in a movie theatre or gymnasium. It’s not that the presence is any greater, but it is almost as if a veil is lifted in a cathedral. It is like the difference between looking into the Grand Canyon and staring into a mudhole. There is evidence simply in the grandeur. This is not to deny the significance of the mudhole, but if one were to define depth and width, one would not look to a mudhole as an example.

All of this is something I can easily affirm. And I can testify to it through my experience. Tradition testifies to the significance of a well-designed building as well. However, it is my reasoning that seems to get fuzzy when confronting this issue.

I cannot seems to reckon the “frivolous” and prodigal spending it takes for a church to be luxuriously built up with grandeur and awe with the fact that the homeless and hungry are sleeping and starving right outside the building. How could a people seeking the Kingdom of God possibly be comfortable using fortuitous amounts of money on a capital campaign while friends and neighbors suffer?

Is it really beauty when the stained glass is stained with blood of the innocent and oppressed?

But as a wise response, my friend recalled to me the story in scripture (John 12:1-8) in which a woman named Mary broke open an expensive jar of perfume and, using her hair, mixed the perfume with her tears to wash Jesus’ feet. This was a completely elaborate offering, and my response to the elaborate offering of a cathedral is much like Judas’ in this situation. He begged, “This could have been used to benefit the poor and hungry. Instead, it was wasted on frivilous spending!” If you remember, after this, Jesus rebukes Judas and implies that Mary was right in her offering. According to my friend, when we spend lavish amounts of money on His church buildings, it is much the same as Mary’s act.

But I feel we must ask, “Who was this act for? And how do we define the Church?”

If we look into Matthew 25, Christ said, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” So when we recognize that the least and the lost are Christ and we take into account how Mary treated Christ, we get this picture of how we ought to treat these outcasts – lavishly!

So maybe when Christ rebuked Judas for making a suggestion to give to the poor, he wasn’t contending that money is better spent by not wasting it on the poor. But rather, Christ is saying that we cannot treat the poor and oppressed with some calculated numerical value. Instead, we ought to treat them as kings!

In conclusion, I cannot reasonably consider (based on Scripture) that Christ was in some direct or indirect way approving of a certain type of structure for church buildings. Because of this, I cannot conclude that capital campaigns and extravagant buildings are either evil or good. So where the Scripture is silent, we live in the tension — being ever so aware, cautious, and contemplative of the way a church and its people spend their money.

The Scriptures are more clear, however, on how to respond to poverty and those afflicted by it. In fact, there are over 2100 verses in the Bible dealing with the poor and oppressed. Because of this clarity, this should be of primary consideration for the church, for this is her beauty and treasure.

  1. Hey, this is David Reed from Liquid. Nice blog. I have one too. My wedsite name is "". You should visit it sometime.

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