I’ve said it often enough myself. I’ve heard others say it as if it were obviously true. But now I wonder. I certainly wouldn’t debate the fact that the church is made up of people, and the structures we meet in are secondary to that reality, but in our haste to make this point, perhaps we have missed something of the value and theological importance of the church building.
I have been thinking about this ever since David Fitch’s blog post from over a year ago on the positive missional/incarnational implications of having a church building. A few quotes:
"…are there times when inhabiting a building might itself be incarnational according to missional logic?"
"…if taking up embodiment in a community will require that this community
see us, watch our way of life, see they way we welcome and engage the
hurting, see God in our architecture, our meals, our artwork and
worship, there might be times when we take residence a place that is
visible to the community."
Then a quote from N.T. Wright (I can’t remember if it was a book or lecture) on how celebrating the Eucharist in a church building was the best way (not the only way) to do it, as it is a space set apart specifically for that purpose. He compared it to drinking wine – if all you have is a paper cup, that will do fine. The wine is what’s important. But the best way to drink wine is out of a wine glass. So if you’ve got one, don’t go with the paper cup.
And finally I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way and in a section where he talking about how Jesus seemed to refuse to be anti-institutional (he attended temple and synagogue, the Jewish feasts, etc, despite the open corruption and sin that inhabited such places) he says this:
"We sometimes say, thoughtlessly I think, that the church is not a building. It’s people. I’m not so sure. Synagogues and temples, cathedrals, chapels, and storefront meeting halls provide continuity in place and community for Jesus to work his will among his people. A place, a building, collects stories and develops associations that give local depth and breadth and continuity to our experience of following Jesus. We must not try to be more spiritual than Jesus in this business. Following Jesus means following him into sacred buildings that have a lot of sinners in them, some of them very conspicuous sinners. Jesus doesn’t seem to mind."
I don’t think anyone is saying that God’s work can only happen inside specially sanctioned buildings, but those "sacred" buildings can certainly provide an embodied missional presence in a neighborhood, city, etc. From a missional perspective, what do you see as the drawbacks and/or advantages of having a building?