If You Were The Carpenter

I got into a curious conversation recently that keeps my imagination humming.

It almost seemed too trivial at first.  I almost didn’t take it serious.  I guess you could say it was beneath my contempt.  After all, I don’t come to Jesus looking for what YOU think.

Okay, let me unpack that statement.  I am sure it doesn’t make sense yet.

I don’t get invited to too many Bible studies anymore.  So maybe this is just a trend whose time has come and gone, but perhaps you know the experience yourself.

Often a deacon or Sunday school teacher charged with leading a class winds up turning the session into a “discussion” of a text.  (So far, so good.)  But the “discussion” boils down to a few people talking about “what the text means to me”.

I don’t mean to suggest that is a bad thing.  But it’s not, really, a goal.  It’s not the end game.  It’s not the point.  I mean it’s a good start (not a necessary one, but a good one).  You read a text, and part of absorbing it is reflecting on what it means, and your own opinions and ideas are the first stop in that process.

But really, we want to know what IT means.  What did this text mean to the person/people who wrote it?

I am thankful to have the text translated into English, even thankful there are various versions of it in English, but those who wrote it, who were inspired by God to offer it, did not write in English, not even Old English.  They were not Americans, and thus not part of this culture, not expressing the message in American idioms and so forth.  There was an original context, and getting to the meaning of a text means getting familiar with it, as best we can, rather than settling for “what it means to me” or to Mrs. Wilson, or to Mr. Johnson.

So often we treat the Bible like its our slave, and read a passage completely out of context, ask what it means to us, and settle for what ever FEELING it gives to us or to someone brave enough to speak up in the “discussion”.

Like, I said, I see that as a good start, but not a good finish.  We have tools, experts to consult, and deeper meditative reflection at our disposal than Mrs. Wilson’s opinion.  And even if some texts always remain mysterious to us, we can treat them with more respect than that.  (But let me hasten to add this caveat: In our day-n-time, it is fashionable not to even open a Bible anymore in some circles, and I want to commend anyone who at least does that much!)

And so when I got into this conversation recently, it sounded like this kind of exercise in futility to me – at first.  But we weren’t talking about Bible study – per se.  On the contrary, we were talking about Christian IMAGINATION.  Engagement with the heart.  And here was the suggestion:

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the CARPENTER with a limitless budget.  Even with NO SKILLS in the trade, artistic or scientific, take a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and sketch a floor plan for a church BUILDING you think would honor Jesus.  I mean, just start from scratch, using only what you know and think about church and Jesus and the world he comes into and dies for as a demonstrations of his LOVE.

Like I said, at first, it seemed too trivial to me.  Why would I care what a bum would draw?  Why would you care what Mr. Johnson would draw?  And for that matter, to my knowledge, no one has ever tried this exercise before, and the church has rocked along for 2000 years without it.

Right?

Wrong.

No.  Somebody did this.  Almost certainly skilled professionals.  And every single “church” building you ever entered (almost without exception) is the finished product of someone else’s imagination about what that should look, feel, and function like.  Often with millions of dollars devoted to it.

And yet, it’s not been questioned.  Just accepted.  And the cultural artifact we call “church buildings” guide our Christian imaginations – sometimes setting them free, but sometimes limiting them in ways we NEVER notice.

Would this get us to the bottom of anything?

No.  This exercise is not a goal in itself.  But it is a good start.  One I would like to invite you to engage in for once in your life.  And once you do, describe it, and tell why you would build it this way or that.  And don’t forget, there is no budget to limit your imagination.

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9 comments

  1. Michael Bolstler · December 11

    Interesting question. To be honest if I were to do this, i would probably read through the Bible until I understood how to sketch the church God specified for Moses or Solomon build (as you can see I don’t even know who God asked to build the temple. I usually skip over the boring bits about cubits and court of the gentile measurements and so on, since after all there’s no need for temples anymore, right?).

    I do notice that I love old churches and cathedrals, but absolutely hate the modern ‘prefab community center box with other boxes added over time’ design.

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    • Agent X · December 11

      \Thanx for this comment. Thanx for reading here.

      The question is not meant to rival the temple or even the church itself. As many are fond of saying (and I agree) the building is not the church; the people are the church. In the technical sense, that is absolutely correct, and its a distinction that should be made clear. However, I don’t personally have any quibbles with speaking of the building as the church in short-hand ways or in some metaphorical sense. Thus, I think the distinction is not always clear, but still … I don’t really care. (if and when I think I need to make the distinction, I do, and that should clear it up.)

      All that said… there is no biblical president for a church building. Church buildings don’t appear during Bible times. In those days, it was common to meet in someone’s home, but it is possible some groups met near streams, rivers, and/or lakes or under a large shade tree or in some public square. After all, when the church people get together WHERE EVER THAT MAY BE, there is the church (technically).

      And still, we Christians tend overwhelmingly anymore to own and operate church buildings.

      I totally get it that some of these church buildings are works of art and others not. In fact I favor the artistic ideal. I think if you want your worship space to glorify God, it is natural and fitting to design it with beauty in mind. On the contrary, designing it to be plain or even ugly strikes me as NOT glorifying God… But then again, there are not RULES for this.

      Nevertheless, we do design them, build them, and use them. And there are some features that tend to be nearly universal across the board. Yet nearly every church building has some unique aspects too. And SOMEBODY thought about each of these features when they were designed and built. And then they become the cultural artifacts of the Body of Christ. As such they open up or limit (or both) our Christian imagination.

      Like I said above, and like you seemed to resonate with yourself, the idea seemed novel to me at first, almost too trivial to matter.

      But as I recall a man I met living in Tent City many years ago described to me how he used to be Catholic and loved the church because they did not have locks on the doors. When he was a kid, he said, you could always go in and pray and light a candle and so forth. There was not lock keeping people out. However once he was grown, his church began locking the doors.

      And that is an odd feature I find on every church I encounter today. A feature no one ever talks about. A church door locked up just sounds poetically and prophetically wrong to me. What is that saying? Does it honor Jesus??? Doesn’t a lock on the door suggest we don’t trust somebody? Trust = Faith. Two words for the same thing. Locks tell me there is no faith, no hospitality, the place is empty… and such messages as that. And the lock on the door is just one small feature of the whole place.

      I am so glad you choose to think biblically about it. I encourage you do stick with that. However, I expect you will have to do so with a wider interpretation… however that will be for you to decide. Nevertheless, I hope my feedback here helps you consider it.

      Thanx again,

      God bless…

      X

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agent X · December 12

        Oops. That was supposed to say “precedent”, not “president”. Big difference.

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      • angiemarie · December 14

        Hi Agent X, thank you for sharing this. Very interesting.. Your reply, made me smile. Admittedly, I’ve never thought about the building, however I have had conversations with people about the body of Christ that makes up the Church and along very much the same idea. Sadly the majority of them have a mindset of lack that, as you so beautifully hit the nail on the head, limited… And their imagination, has showed them that it’s ok to be sick and or it’s ok to be in lack.. That Jesus was poor… Poor!?! I think not! His earthly family was not poor by any means, and The Father God is definitely NOT poor. So when I say that I was made for more, and I know God has more for me than what I have currently been accepting.. And that I receive all the things God has for me, people look at me with disbelief and some go as far as to tell me I’m materialistic. I am far from materialistic. I am a woman of faith, and what my Father says to be true, I believe. I don’t necessarily mean that I should have a 2019 Ferrari, etc. However I know I’m don’t have to be in lack either, and it’s not just the material things.. Actually, it’s more about prospering abundantly and in all things. Love life health joy… Jesus!! I also try to get them to realize that as Christians, we’re supposed to represent our Lord and Savior, we are made in His image. What kind of representation or image does that give everyone of the KING of kings walking around in rags and unhealthy when He gave His life so that we would have life and so we could live and live abundantly.! God Bless you

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  2. Debi · December 12

    I think I don’t believe in buildings for churches. At least I don’t believe in spending all the money that congregations do these days on the buildings, upkeep, etc. If I were to start a church, it would meet in an existing building (someone’s home?), or better yet, outside (weather permitting), and if money were collected, it would go to help God’s people, not to pay utility bills or mortgages. It actually hurts my heart to think about all the money wasted on real estate.

    But, IF I were to design something, it would include a space like the church I’ve been attending here in OKC that has bunks, a kitchenette, showers, etc. for homeless youth every night of the week. Or maybe for homeless adults. And the worship space would have no pulpit. Just a circle of chairs where people could gather and speak about Jesus and love and grace. I’d love to see a truly interactive worship service.

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    • Agent X · December 12

      Oh Yeah… I’m lovin’ this. Thanx for this response, Debi.

      Let me just say this:

      When I showed up in Abilene, Texas many years ago now, I joined the AMC, the Abilene Mission Church. It was a very exciting and vibrant group that started as sort of a class project in the missions dept at ACU. Nevertheless, it was a real church plant. But the missions students and instructors started from scratch and planted a church like no other (practically).

      It was a “cell based church” back when that was a new idea, and they purposely did not own property (collectively).

      I was a Bible student there at the time and probably got into a few conversations about it with players on the ground that informed me of things, maybe, the whole public didn’t know. For starts, the two guys who first generated the idea were already kinda against it because as they looked around Abilene, Texas, they figured ANOTHER CHURCH was probably the LAST thing Abilene needed. So, if they were going to go through with this, they were sure Abilene didn’t need MORE OF THE SAME.

      This church met in the Abilene Civic Center purposely, they said, BECAUSE, among other reasons, it was a public space that everyone in Abilene, whether “churched” or “un-churched” was already familiar with. There was a small usage fee, but that was easy to cover, and no loans, no construction, no insurance policies etc… meant that the church would be free to focus way more directly on BEING THE BODY OF CHRIST.

      There is a lot more I could say about that group, which was fascinating to me, but that experience and your feedback intersect about there. And I always appreciated that concept. It makes a lot of sense to me, AND resonates a lot closer to the church of the Bible, I think.

      And so, skipping the building altogether IS, I think, a worthwhile response. And exploring the ideas behind that decision is too. I definitely accept that as one possible way forward on this.

      Yet, I don’t want to close down people’s imaginations at this point either. The fact is… we have church buildings and by far most churches use them. Of course, as you make clear in your response, those facilities in a LOT of cases sit idle all week long requiring climate control for the few hours they are used. It is not only wasteful, but SELFISHLY wasteful! But we have them, we want them, and we really can revamp them.

      I sure hope I get another response or two to this and develop a full-blown conversation on it. I have some of my own ideas about it, but I am saving them for that point when this conversation gets up off it’s knees and starts a steam….

      Thanx so much for your valuable input!

      Like

  3. laceduplutheran · December 12

    I love uncomfortable questions. They cause us to think, to question why something is. I love to ask the question – if you were launching a church today, what would be necessary?

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  4. angiemarie · December 14

    Reblogged this on Andreasavoia's Blog.

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