The USA Today posted a slide show of the 45 most beautiful church buildings on the planet. From every corner of the globe, some small, some magnanimous, these church buildings, cathedrals, and chapels dazzle the eye and inspire the imagination.
But do they do what they were intended to do: draw people to worship the Creator God and His one and only son Jesus Christ?
I have long struggled with a love/hate relationship with beautiful church architecture.
I love the art of the building, the wide array of shapes, the delicate use of color, the movement of lines, the play of natural light. I love the sheer size, the views, the integration with the surroundings, the use of natural materials. I am a fan, like many of millions of people, of the visionary dream of the creators.
But I also despise these places. I am disgusted for two reasons. For one, most of these buildings are now no more than glorified museums and have long since stopped being a places of authentic Christian worship. And two, the creation, namely the building itself, is worshiped far more than the Creator.
Tourist upon tourist (myself included) arrive at these buildings and find themselves awestruck by every nook and cranny of design complexity and leave without one minute of reflection on God Almighty.
There can be crosses every where, ancient frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible, stunning stained-glass images, meticulously sculpted statues all pointing to the Almighty God, but the building itself overshadows everything.
At their core, I do believe these architectural wonders were intended to draw us into connection with God, but I find more often they deter people from worshiping Him and instead make us idolize a builder or an architectural style.
My mind wrestles back and forth with all sorts of questions:
- What about the money spent vs. the money that could have been given to the poor or missionaries?
- How should do we balance the pride and arrogance of man in building such things vs. the call to personal humility?
- What about Jesus? He was a builder by trade yet we never see Him building such elaborate structures to worship His Father in Heaven.
Since most of these buildings now sit empty, or have barely any worshipers at all, I ask myself about Christian stewardship. Is it wise and spiritually discerning to keep these monuments up and running if they are not used for worship? Everyone wants to preserve history, but if they have ceased being active worship centers are we wasting God’s money? Are we inadvertently causing people to worship idols made by human hands?
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them. O people of God, bless the LORD! (Psalm 135:15-19 ESV, emphasis mine)
Again, I could punch-counter punch this issue all day long. For some reason, church architecture stirs such a battle within my soul, far more than music, visual art, or other creative expressions. I hope I am never asked to be on a church building committee. I don’t think I could handle it.