When I had begun writing this post the day prior, I began by poking at it jeeringingly as I am often sinfully predisposed to do. Many of us must admit that we have joked around the matter of the Most Holy Building Fund and its ubiquity in American churches (especially in Baptist churches), but if we were to step back take the rein of our humor, we would realize that this present matter is not one to be joked about. For, the insistence of leaders in the church to build bigger and bigger barns is not some benign pimple on forehead of the American church, but it is a branch of the deadly cancer that has wrapped itself around the throat of the church from its overexposure to prosperity and Capitalism. The church has become thoroughly American and Western in her practices, and her leaders have whole-heartedly embraced the methods and ideologies that brought this country to its present wealthy state. And while men can debate till they are blue in the face over political and economic theories for the state, this is not a matter for debate in Christ’s church. For the cry of Christ through two millennia has ever been, “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18), and it is not for men to think up new strategies and to test new models of church growth.
And if we were to step back and survey how we in the church have strayed so far from the biblical teachings concerning Christ’s church and its practices and growth, we would surely have a daunting task before us. We could certainly step back to the Medieval church and see the remnants of its thoughts and practices in our own thoughts and practices, and we could follow it through the Reformation and through the Enlightenment and cap it with the business models of the twentieth century, yet in doing thus we would see nothing but from where we have come. In order to understand where we need to be we must become like the Wise Man who holds the seams of the Scriptures together who meditates on God’s Word day and night so that he might not be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewal of his mind (cf. Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1; Rm. 12:2). We need to come back to the Source of our faith, and we must not wander from it, for in it lies what the Lord our God deems as prosperous.
Yet, even before we begin our quest into the hallowed halls of Scripture, we must rightly define our terms. For when we say the word church it does not convey the same meaning to all. To one, the church is a building and a structure that very much visible and has a street address. It is the meeting place of God’s people, and it is a place where we invite non-Christians to come. Yet, etymologically, this is not the proper definition of the original Greek term. For in the Greek, the church is not a building or a place, but it is those persons who are called by God out of the world and out of slavery to sin and death (Gr. ekklesia: ek: out; kle: to call). It is a term that connotes citizenship or an assembly, and it corresponds directly to the saints of God who have a heavenly citizenship–those who, through Christ, have “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God … and to the assembly (ekklesia) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:22, 23). Therefore before we even begin to think upon the subject of building funds and the like, we must dispel our false notions and understand that the church is not a structure with a steeple, but is God’s elect ones from every tribe, every nation, and every tongue.
Yet despite our tendency to doublespeak (a trap into which I likewise fall), we cannot let our misnomers drive our doctrine and practice. For though there are few who can honestly read their New Testaments and come away thinking that the church is actually a building (imagine a steeple-laden building being presented to Christ as his bride), the misnomer nevertheless has wholly infiltrated our doctrine and thought. And because of this, a church building is seen (whether consciously or subconsciously) as a place of reverence (“You had better not lie; you’re in church”), a central place of worship (opposed to Jn. 4:23, 24), a storehouse for God’s tithe, a sanctuary, a bearer of an altar, and a temple. It is a building in which we wear our “Sunday best” or our “church clothes,” and it is one which houses a weekly event for which we purify our hearts from a week of unholy living. It is a reality that is divorced from our normal lives, and it is a place to where we go rather than a citizenship from which we cannot escape.
And for many who preach and lead in churches, since the church is a building and not the saints of God–a flock over whom they are given charge (pastor being Latin for shepherd), they believe and teach that the church of the New Testament is like the Temple of the Old Testament. For instead of rightly discerning the Word of Truth and learning from it that the Old Covenant institutions are pictures and shadows of heavenly realities fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ, they instead reject and neglect this clear truth and take the church back to the realm of shadow and away from the light of Jesus Christ. And it is for this reason that these teachers preach about Nehemiah’s venture to rebuild Jerusalem so that they might propagate the raising of funds for their buildings, and why these teachers promise the curses from Malachi to those who do not bring their tithes to the storehouse (i.e. the church building). These have wholly misunderstood the place and purpose of Israel and his institutions in God’s Redemptive Plan, and because of this, they have wholly misunderstood the church of Christ.
And if this misunderstanding of the church was not enough, the problem has been exponentially heightened by American business growth philosophies. For the American church has with open arms embraced the Field of Dreams model of growth, viz. “If you build it, they will come,” and as such, the church is no longer the body of God’s elect drawn to him by the faithful proclamation of the Gospel, but it is those in a particular locale who have been drawn into a church building by its sales tactics. Thus you will find on signs outside of church buildings catchy phrases (or more likely, moronic phrases) that are aimed to attract an outsider, and you will find billboards advertising how that church can meet a particular person’s needs (e.g. Dave Ramsey financial courses, DivorceCare, etc.). Also, you will find that the person who leads the church (i.e. the pastor) acts more like a CEO than he does a guardian of God’s flock, and his role is not to lead God’s people to holiness and righteousness, but it is to devise plans by which he can increase the membership of that church. For this reason, he will preach “relevant” sermons that give “7 Ways to be a Better Leader” or “10 Steps to Strengthening One’s Marriage,” and, because of this, he is far less likely to faithfully teach God’s people God’s Word. Furthermore, God’s people have been so duped by this misunderstanding through the teaching of other pastors that when they must search for new pastor to fill a vacancy, they look for a person outside of their church who possesses the same qualities that the world would look for in a CEO–charisma, a particular education, experience, etc.–instead of raising up a member whom they know and who has proven himself to them as worthy of that calling.
Taking all of these false notions into account, it is not difficult to understand why a church’s building fund is such a holy topic. For if the church is a building that is a holy place for the worship of God on Sunday mornings, then a building is not a nicety, it is a necessity. Furthermore, if it is such a place, then it does not merely need to be a roof over one’s head and a climate-controlled environment, but it needs to be a building that is a suitable dwelling place for none other than God himself. In addition, since it is undeniably God’s will that every church grow in its membership and that membership growth is a sign of God’s blessing, and since the way to grow a church’s membership is by building a newer, larger, more grandiose building (vis-à-vis The Field of Dreams), then the only way to be in God’s will is to have a building campaign. Thus, if you do not have the vision of the building campaign, you do not have God’s vision.
If I have not made myself clear up to this point, allow me to do so now: To say, “If one does not have a vision for a building a building that he does not have God’s vision,” is a lie from the pit of hell. And why is it a lie from the pit of hell? Allow me to give some reasons:
1. The Church is not a Building
As I have already shown to be clear, the church of God is not a building, structure, or anything that can be pinned on a map. The church might meet in a particular location, but once God’s saints leave that location, the church is no longer there. A church cannot exist where there is no people, and God’s church can be God’s church without a building. If the building where a church meets burns to the ground or is sucked up by a black hole, the church would exist just the same. The church is God’s saints, God’s elect, God’s chosen, and they are comprised of flesh, not wood and steel.
2. The Church Building is not the New Testament Temple
Despite blasphemous claims to the contrary, the church building is not a temple, a holy place, a sanctuary, a bearer of altars, etc., but Jesus Christ is the Temple, and the Old Testament Temple was a picture and a shadow of him and his work. Furthermore, God’s saints are also the Temple of God because Christ is their Head, and it is in them, not a building, where the Spirit of God dwells. It is for this reason that Christ said to the Samaritan woman who asked where the appropriate place to worship was, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth” (Jn. 4:23). In other words, Christ is saying that by his coming he has fulfilled the shadow of the Jerusalem Temple (viz. “It is now here”) so that people will not go to particular location where God dwells, for God will dwell with his people. Furthermore, Christ is pointing to Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit would be poured out into all the world so that the New Covenant promise of God dwelling with his people would come to pass (cf. Jer. 31). Therefore, God’s temple is no longer a building or structure, but by Christ and the pouring out of the Spirit, the shadow has been made obsolete and now God’s saints are his Temple with Christ as their Head.
3. God Builds His Church, not Men
God does not need nor does he desire salesmen. He does not need new and innovative ideas for saving the souls of men, but he has already given the church the appointed means by which he will build his church himself, viz. the proclamation of the Gospel. And that Gospel message which we are to proclaim is a clear message taught to us in God’s Holy Word, and it is not a message that is to be tampered with lest it lose its power. It is not a message that is to be watered down for the sake of getting a person to make some half-witted decision, but it is a message that is harsh, offensive, and divides. It is a message that repulses the reprobate and the wise of this world, but to those who are being saved “it is the power of God” (1Cor. 1:18).
Furthermore, the way by which God prescribes to build his church through the proclamation of the Gospel is not to lure people into the fellowship of the saints, but it is to go out into the world preaching the Gospel. The church–the fellowship of the saints, is ordained by God to be a time of teaching and reproof by sound doctrine, not an event where an evangelistic sermon is preached every Sunday. The reason that our churches are so shallow and have such little spiritual growth is because every sermon that is preached is preached to the lost and not to the redeemed. Because of this, God’s people are starving and malnourished, and they therefore closely resemble the world because they have no foundation and the world in being called into their midst. Therefore, there is no place for discipline (for it is presumed that many who attend are not saved), and there is no place for doctrine. For discipline and doctrine are both unattractive to an unbelieving world, and since our goal is to attract the unbelieving world to our church gatherings and since it is God’s will that we grow in number not in holiness and knowledge, we do not practice discipline or teach doctrine.
4. Building Funds Destroy God’s Will for the Church
James writes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jm. 1:27). Christ put it this way: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). Christ also gave his church another commandment saying:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Mt. 28:18-20).
In these verses, we find God’s clear and undeniable will for his church, and none of them have anything to do whatsoever with a building fund. In fact, building funds, more often than not, detract the church from doing that which our Lord commands us to do. For in having a building fund, we are storing up millions of dollars in funds for something that God has never instructed us to do and, we, therefore, because of the building fund, do not have the funds to do that which God has instructed us to do, namely loving the church as he loved us. Because of our misallocated funds, we do not have money to aid those who need aid (e.g. widows and orphans), and thus we are willfully disobedient to our Lord’s command. Furthermore, by saving up funds for a building, we do not have the means by which to send people into all the world proclaiming the Good News of Christ as our Lord commanded us in the Great Commission. Yet in spite of this, we will preach the Great Commission, and we will say that we are a “Great Commission” people, yet in this we are liars and hypocrites. We prove by our most beloved building campaigns that we do not love God’s church and that we care nothing for the Name of our God being proclaimed to the ends of the earth. We preach it, but God is not deceived.
Furthermore, we, by our building campaigns and church growth methods, do not keep ourselves unstained by the world, but we stain ourselves by the world by drawing the world into us. More than that, we use worldly tactics to draw the world into our buildings, and we try to look like the world so that the world might find us attractive. And by doing thus, we actually destroy God’s church instead of growing it, though on the outside it might look as though it is growing by the number of attendees.
What is all this to say but that we have strayed from and spit upon God and his Word, we who claim to be “a people of the Book.” We think ourselves wise, but we are fools; we think ourselves well, but we are deathly ill. We are the church at Laodicea to whom Christ gives this terrible and terrifying rebuke:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (Rev. 3:15-19).
We are a church who has chased after the world and its methods, and we are a church who is materially wealthy. We think ourselves blessed because we have such monetary wealth, yet we are poor and wretched as is shown by poor use of it. We are blind to our folly, and therefore we desire no remedy. We care nothing for the holiness and the righteousness of our people, we care nothing for the Gospel of Christ, and we care nothing for loving God’s saints, and for these things we will be spit out of our Lord’s mouth unless we are zealous and repent. God does not desire our buildings, our building funds, or our tithes, but he desires that we love him by loving his people, proclaiming his Name, and being holy as he is holy. These are the commands that God gives to his church, and to disobey them by erecting some building that will be burned up on the Last Day for the sake of peddling God’s Word or for making a name for ourselves will not be suffered by the Wrathful Lamb.