Call me conservative or traditional, but I have a problem with people who refer to fancifully constructed auditoriums as the “House of God”! Doesn’t Jesus say in the Scriptures that “my house will be called a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46)? If that is the case, shouldn’t “His house” also look like a house of prayer?
Instead we have churches building outstanding structures of architecture that somehow look less like a house of prayer and more like commercial complexes and star-studded stadiums. Take the Crystal Cathedral Church in California, for example, or Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. The former is a beautiful piece of architecture but the church faced bankruptcy charges and the building has since been bought over by the Catholic Church and renamed the Christ Cathedral. Osteen’s church building is a mammoth stadium.
In Malaysia, we have Calvary Church’s new building called the Calvary Convention Centre (CCC), opened last year. It, too, is a beautiful building, built at a cost of RM 250 million, and has a 5,000 seating capacity auditorium, complete with cinematic effects like neon lights, stage lights, plush seats. Very impressive, but a house of prayer? And will it serve its purpose in the future?
I don’t know. Of course, a church is not a building and one can worship in any building, or, anywhere. Church is us, believers, living in a community of upbuilding relationships. For practical purposes, there is a need for a focal point for the community to meet and worship together and a building serves that purpose.
In that sense, I like the “old” church buildings, like Calvary Church’s original building at Damansara Heights. When you enter, you know you are entering a place of worship, a place of prayer. There’s a quietness inside and the universal Christian symbol of a Cross at the altar draws you to focus on the divine. Where ever you are, when you enter such a building, you get a sense of the community that meets there for prayer and worship. By extension, it is easy to refer to the building as the church because it reflects the real church — the community.
Besides, I am constantly reminded by what Paul said in Acts 17: 24 that “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” He was in Athens at that time and was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. But the point is clear: the building is not the temple of God. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (I Cor 6:19). We, the true worshippers, are His temple.
While our church buildings may not be our idols or temples, they may, sometimes, take more prominence than they deserve. The building, however, should never be more important than the community. If at all there is need for a building, it should conform to our Lord’s description of what His house is: a house of prayer. The character of the building should reflect it.
As Christianity spread, there was a need for more buildings and, hence, the existence of the great old church buildings. In the last days, however, I believe that church buildings would have outlived its purpose. They would either be empty — like the many churches in England and Europe — or become walled in structures away from public view and or to protect worshippers within.
“Corporate church” and especially the mega-church will likely disappear and “corporate pastors” would become irrelevant. Only the community-based churches, functioning in small groups and served by a good number of personal pastors able to relate with their specific small network of Christians will survive.
That’s how I see the end-times Body of Christ existing. If we have a sense of what the end-times Church will face, churches should be prepared to divest their assets into resources that would help their communities survive.