This building metaphor for Christianity is interesting. Somewhere along the journey which established our religious institutions, we rejected the concept of a mobile tabernacle where we looked for direction and forgot that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean. We also forgot that the church consists of people gathered in and sent from a meeting house and instead started calling the building itself the church. So it is appropriate to take a good, long, critical look at this old house and decide if we should love it or list it.
A number of comments on the Facebook page called for more than listing the house of Christianity. Some folks who have been living in this residence think that it should be razed so we can start over. I can’t say that I’m too surprised. The verdict is in, both those outside AND inside the church see it as marked by judgment. That is part of the explanation for the rise of the “nones” (those who list no religious affiliation) a portion of whom constitute the “dones.” I have a lot of affinity for those who are eager for a new structure for Christianity to reside in. Still, I’m not ready to list it.
There is no denying that Christianity is currently a fixer upper. It is going to take a lot of renovations to get the dones to love it again or for that matter to stem the tide of Millennials who are leaving home and not looking back. But I am encouraged by the vision of those who are looking to renovate. Not many will argue that the foundation and structural integrity are the problem. The foundation laid by God as architect and the weight-bearing walls of wisdom, patience, humility and trust have no problem supporting the roof of justice. The roof may be leaking and some of those walls may need to be patched, but the house doesn’t seem prepared to collapse. Some of the best suggested renovations include more windows to let in more light, knocking down walls that divide and removing doors that keep some out. We should surely upgrade the guest room so we can welcome the stranger as we have been instructed. And if we do this well we will need to add more bedrooms for those kids returning home to stay.
My favorite suggested renovation was to overhaul the bathroom since that is the place we all need to go to clean up and, um, get rid of our waste. Maybe the bathroom of Christianity needs multiple head showers, an unforgiving full length mirror or two and an attached mud room where we dump our filthy clothes before the thorough cleaning begins.
This whole conversation fills me with hope for the church. I’m glad for those who love it enough to roll up their sleeves and work hard on the makeover. I’m even filled with hope by those who want to list it. Knocking down the failing institutional structures is the surest way to make room for the one thing at the heart of our story that is the source of our greatest hope: resurrection!
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of Old South UCC in Kirtland, Ohio, where Darkwood Brew is used as a tool for ministry as church beyond walls. He has a YouTube channel called Bible Bytes, short video commentaries on the scripture lesson for the week.
You write “Not many will argue that the foundation and structural integrity are the problem.” But, in 1989 the Christianity Today Institute estimated that of all the humans who have lived and died on this earth, three-quarters did so without ever hearing “the Christian gospel.” How, then, does the historic Christian religion help one make sense of the total human condition?