Tuesday, June 21, 2011
A Church it is; a Cathedral it isn't.
Sometimes someone will ask me why Redeemer is planning to build a 'Cathedral' and the only response I can sanely offer is, "We are planning no such thing."
We most certainly are planning to construct a sanctuary, when God permits and as God provides. But a Cathedral? Seriously? I've seen Cathedrals and what is planned here is certainly no Cathedral. It will be a large parish church, and in fact what is envisioned is much smaller by comparison than many churches built for the same purpose all over the country in previous decades. But a Cathedral? A Cathedral is Washington National Cathedral. A cathedral is Ely, or Winchester, or - at least by name - the crystal structure built in California by Robert Schuller. Hey, we're no mega church either, looking for a massive warehouse, or a an arena to convert. We're a largish congregation, serving Christ, one another, and our neighbors, personally and together. We will build a sanctuary that furthers that work, and one that will have the capacity to bless generations to come.
"But won't the money for that take away from the vision to plant churches?"
Um, no. One could make the same argument for ANY building proposed. In fact, correctly done, new church buildings strengthen congregations and expand their capacity to serve in a whole variety of ways - just like the one we're in right now. Its a false dichotomy, or at least a badly informed one, that pits one against the other, presupposing that money spent on facilities takes away from money that serves the mission. It is especially sinister when ministry in mercy to man is juxtaposed against ministry to God in worship. I remember exactly which apostle raised that false comparison when Jesus' was anointed with costly perfume. Pouring on Christ in worship what is costly in the eyes of man does not take away from our capacity to pour on needy people the sweetness of the Gospel. It makes it even more possible. Just as our current structure can be home not only for this congregation but numerous community meetings, educational endeavors, and even the seminary, so also future buildings will only add to that capacity.
Oh sure, one can be foolish and needlessly luxurious in defining what is beautiful; but minimalist visions of church where what is 'needed' (as defined by whom?) is set over against what is beautiful (again, defined by whom?) will never serve the church's internal mission to show forth the glories of heaven on earth, and strengthen its soul for her external mission of proclaiming the saving Gospel of Christ which alone can save and take men from earth to heaven.
I don't know where and when all this chattering about 'Cathedral' got started. Maybe someone in their zeal used that word to describe the glory of what they hoped to see. However it started, it needs to stop, because its not only inaccurate, its also a lie. Its even become a pejorative expression used to denigrate a legitimate vision, an exaggerated slander meant to prejudice the discussion.
I don't want to build a Cathedral either. I do want to see us build a glorious church SANCTUARY where God is worshipped, the Church is edified, and from where we go into the world God loves with his kindness and mercy for all.
* By the way, the picture at the top of this article is a Parish Church - in South Leith, and not too far off the size envisioned here; the picture at the top of this web page is a Cathedral - Westminster Abbey. Please note the difference. By the way, technically, what makes a cathedral a cathedral is not its size but the presence of the 'cathedra' - the Bishop's Chair/Throne, from where he preaches. Since we're Presbyterians (!) you can be pretty sure there won't be a cathedra in any church we construct. Even a HUGE Presbyterian Church can't be a Cathedral.