In the spring of 2005 I lived in England. I went to Oxford University because I’m wicked smart and then moved back to California because I was wicked cold. When you’re from the Colonies and you visit Brit’an you want to visit old castles and cathedrals because the oldest thing you have in your town is that burger place with a “D” rating from the health inspector.
So, a bunch of us went on a tour of this cathedral in such-and-such old city. The ceilings were high, the room was damp, the benches were uncomfortable. All-in-all, very different from the auditorium I sit in every Sunday. Our tour guide told us about how they built these things without power tools, and it’s incredible. They would start at one end, let’s say the east end. They would build the whole east side, and then over the next several hundred years (seriously, like 400 years) they would build west. I promise I’m going somewhere with this story.
In this particular cathedral they had a real-real-old organ on the east side, and then a pretty-darn-old organ on the west side. The art on the east side was renaissance-ish, then the art in the middle was classic, then the art on the west was romantic. You could literally see the progression of art, music, and architectural history from within the building. 400 years after breaking ground they put up a wall on the west.
But what if they didn’t? What if they just kept building? After the second organ you might find a piano, then a choir, then a couple guitars, then a drum set. You’d move from wood floors to shag carpet to linoleum, to stadium seating. You’d always be reminded that whatever is in today will be further east in a few years. Nobody would ever look at the guitars and skinny jeans and think, “now we’ve arrived,” because they see that overhead projector next to the Keith Green album and know once upon a time that was cooler than shaved ice.
Church is certainly more than the building it meets in, but I wonder if you spent a dozen generations building something if you’d think twice before your church broke up. There might be some folks who miss the linoleum, but from a young age they knew church isn’t about linoleum – it’s about organs, shag carpet, stained glass, and the plasma TV all being in the same room. Maybe if you were so invested in a building you wouldn’t be so tied to it.