I was getting ready yesterday to go out to my Grandmother’s 95th birthday celebrations. While I was in that “autopilot” mode you get into while showering and dressing, I found my mind wandering to considering some of the larger organised churches around Australia and other parts of the world and was surprised by what the Lord showed me.
I was considering Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas when my mind then meandered from the huge Minster (or Cathedral) in York, England to St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. Then my thinking wandered to the Crystal Cathedral, then to Paradise Community Church in Adelaide, South Australia, to Christian City Church and Hillsong Church in Sydney .. and here is what the Lord said …
Five hundred years ago a man named Martin Luther protested against the injustice of the prosperity of the Roman Catholic Church at the expense of its adherents. He sounded an alarm over wrong doctrine and ugly practice. He heralded the need for men and women everywhere to discover that their salvation did not depend on their commitment to an institutional church but that they could be saved by grace and justified by faith through their own relationship with God.
Luther understood that, at the literal end of the day, we would each stand alone before God to answer for our relationship with Him and NOT our membership of a church like that of the Roman Catholics as was his “target” some 500 years ago.
Now, why would God show me all of those churches in the UK, America and here in Australia to then go on to say something like that? Here is what I now understand:
For all of our dogmatic adherence to our protest-ant ways, the church of today (including the supposedly free charismatics and Pentecostals) are just as guilty, as the Roman Catholics were, of building cathedrals of perverted prosperity at the expense of their adherents.
Sure, we don’t build cathedrals in the traditional sense anymore, but they are cathedrals nonetheless! A traditional cathedral was always known for its imposing size; it’s ability to house thousands at a time; it’s majestic music and huge choirs; and its contemporary opulence.
If that be the case, please tell me how the aforementioned churches are any different to the Catholic Cathedrals of old?
1. They are Known for their Imposing Splendour
Recently my wife and I saw the tail-end of an episode of “Your Best Life” with Joel Osteen only to see him dedicating Lakewood Church’s new facility; an ex-sports stadium capable of seating about 10,000 people at a time. I was really saddened to consider how excited these people were about dedicating a monolithic meeting room that would only be used for about 12 hours a week. Closer to home, it’s astounding how Hillsong Church’s new Bella Vista campus is the one place many Christians consider a “must-see” when they visit Sydney.
2. They are Known for their Ability to House Thousands at a Time
Regardless of whether it is a modern conference-type facility or a sandstone edifice, whichever way you cut it, the minute we build a facility capable of housing thousands of adherents at a time for the primary intent of “having church”, we have built a cathedral.
3. They are Known for their Majestic Music and Huge Choirs
Here in Australia, the best examples of modern cathedrals in this regard are Hillsong Church and Christian City Church in Sydney. These two “local” churches are known for their magnificent music and their choirs. In fact, I find it tragically hysterical that almost every church that has tried to adopt their model or style of worship now has a choir, a choir stand and a choir leader … “.. but we’re not bound by liturgy. We’re spirit-filled and free”.
4. They are Known for their Contemporary Opulence
One of these churches recently spent in excess of $300,000 on state-of-the-art digital audio mixing desks for use in their services. Others have installed the very best commercial quality theatre seating. In others, the lighting rig alone rivals that of a major rock concert. Lakewood Church even features a huge slowly rotating globe as a backdrop for the televising of their services.
I’m not trying to be critical of these mega-churches simply to be seen to have a post-modernist whinge. What I am trying to communicate is that many over the centuries have fought with their very lives and reputations to see us, the church, break free of the things that the Roman Catholic church held so dear until the time of Martin Luther’s protests. Today we claim to be living freely in the liberty of those protests and yet we have simply allowed ourselves to become ensnared in the very things that trapped the men who led the church after Constantine got his hands on it back in about 300AD and those are the same traps that ultimately robbed us of the purity and power of the early church.
Thomas Aquinas is reported as having had an audience with the Pope of his time. When he was ushered into the Pope’s presence, the Pope gestured saying, “Look Thomas. Never again will we have to say ’silver and gold I do not have’”. To which Thomas Aquinas responded, ‘And neither will we ever again be able to say ‘in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise and walk’”. Ouch!
When will we ever learn that to build a tower supposedly as an example of how great God is when in reality it’s a legacy to how great we are, will only result in God coming and scattering it and us once again as He did on the plains of Shinar?
There is a consistent theme of “God-made” vs “man-made” that runs through the Scriptures, but it’s so subtle you may not have noticed how serious God is about it.
In the days of old, God always called for altars to be made from uncut, God-made stone. When Uzza steadied the Ark of the Covenant on the cart, he lost his life because David was instructed to carry it on the shoulders of God-made men, not on a man-made cart. Jesus told Peter that He would build His church upon his revelation about the God-made Christ .. not upon Peter as a man-made Pope. Further, the church is made up of God-made living stones with a God-made living Saviour as its chief cornerstone. We, God-made men and women, ARE the temple (the Holy of Holies) of the Holy Spirit.
Do you see it?
My Aussie friend Phil Marshall, who pastors a church in Edmonton, Canada told me recently that, in the five years to 2005, the church in North America has spent nearly 25 billion dollars on building programs! Recently Dr Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral, retired. When asked by Larry King what he would be doing with his time during retirement, Schuller replied by telling King that he would dedicate himself to establishing a fund that would ensure the Crystal Cathedral would always stand and that the property would never be sold. As Australian television talk-show host Rove McManus might say about both these examples .. “What the .. ??”
When will we begin to live for the things that so many others have given their lives for over the two millennia since Christ first showed the way that a life must be lived, a death must be died and a God-made church must be built?
We must stop investing millions of dollars into structures that are ultimately of no real value to the Kingdom of God. Sure, we might gather in them and people may even become believers, get healed or delivered in them, but at what cost to the Kingdom? We invest millions, even billions of dollars into building buildings when we should be investing it into building lives. We say that’s what the building is ultimately designed for, but when will we stop fooling ourselves? What it so frequently comes down to is the male pastor’s equivalent of “mine’s bigger than yours”.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against buildings for Kingdom purposes. In some cases we need them. Heck, I live in a building that’s used for Kingdom purposes .. it’s called my home.
I’m not against the specific churches I’ve already named nor any church for that matter. I’m not even having a rant or making an attack because I “have issues” with organised religion. I have given much of the last 30 years to serving the Body of Christ in one form or another .. as an ordained minister, as an itinerant prophetic teacher, as a general gopher, a church planter and more. I am passionate about the church.
However, I am motivated to sound a God-inspired alarm for ministries and churches to stop continually perpetuating the production of the number one world-wide killer of genuine Christian community and missional activity just to be seen to have made it among their peers. That number one world-wide killer? The building program .. especially as it relates to building mega-church structures.
Why is God concerned about this? I believe it this simple: He wants us to stop “going to” church and to start “being” the church.
I remember reading that Smith Wigglesworth once said .. “I am a thousand times bigger on the inside”. I can relate to that. Now that I’m over 40, my body is changing. Physically I’m a little more ’solid’ (some might rudely say ‘portly’) than I used to be. As a result, I sometimes like to joke with people that “I’m a temple of the Holy Ghost and I’m putting on extensions!” But all jokes aside, the only building program that God is truly interested in is for us to corporately work to build who we are in Him, because this is the only God-made place He Himself desires to dwell in all His fullness.
In the end, if we must build cathedrals, may God be pleased to fill the expanse of our growing and maturing spirits and may they, and only they .. being fit together with one another in love .. be the cathedrals of praise we see built now and in the future.