Cathedrals, Christianity, and the Survivability of the Church

Yesterday my wife and daughter and I visited Chartres Cathedral, just outside of Paris. The Cathedral is perhaps the world’s greatest surviving example of medieval Gothic architecture, primarily because it remains much the way it was in the 13th century, including having the original stained glass windows, which are nothing short of stunning![1]

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These amazing works of art (and indeed, the Cathedral itself is a masterpiece), incredibly survived not only the French Revolution but WWII as well, despite all odds. The story of how the Cathedral survived WWII is especially fascinating.

When Allied Forces decided to bomb the cathedral on the suspicion that it might be occupied by German troops, an American colonel by the name of Welborn Griffith challenged the order, and volunteered instead to cross the front lines and investigate to see if Germans were actually holed up in the church. His request was approved, and after making his way to the cathedral, he discovered indeed that there were no Germans. As a result, Chartres Cathedral was saved from total destruction. Unfortunately, Griffith was killed a few days later in the fighting to liberate the town of Chartres.[2]

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Commonly, parallels are drawn between the great churches of Europe and the decline of Christianity there, and the general tendency is to criticize Catholicism for having built enduring buildings but no lasting churches.

Our trip to Chartres though had a different effect on me. Instead, what I saw in this magnificent Cathedral is rather a symbol of the survivability of the Church. God, working through frail and imperfect human agents, like Colonel Griffith, will ensure the survival of His Church. After all, He promised as much when He said the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

And so as we walked around Chartres, taking in its incredible beauty and history, I found myself reminded that the Church will survive the moral decline of western cultures and the propensity of men for war. It will survive terrorism and it will survive revolutions. And most incredibly, it will even survive the theological differences among its members.

[1] See for example http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/chartres-cathedral.

[2] Story here: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/266849/colonel-chartres-jay-nordlinger.

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Traveling, Sight-seeing, Experimenting Missionaries!

In the Oct. 1912 edition of his Word and Witness, E. N. Bell took some of his church’s supported missionaries to task for their, um, methods. Here’s what he wrote:

Our people are tired, sick, and ashamed of traveling, sight-seeing, experimenting missionaries who expect to make a trip around the world and come home. We are not willing to waste a cent of God’s money on such. It is all right when necessary on account of serious illness or to stir up new interest by a visit to come home; but only to return soon. We want missionaries who go out to live and die on foreign fields. It is as near to heaven from there as anywhere, and if you don’t think so, don’t go. ~ E. N. Bell, Word and Witness, 8 no. 8 (Sept. 1912), 2.

Wow! I wonder how that would go over if it were to come from the Executive Director of AG World Missions today! (By the way, not long after this, E. N. Bell stepped down as the one handling missions support!).

Instructions on Giving in the Didache

The Didache is one of the most ancient examples of catechetical teaching in the Church, probably dating to the late first or early second century. It contains some very interesting and telling admonishments. Here are a few of the instructions I find most interesting (and quite helpful!):

 If you’ve ever struggled over when and to whom you should give money, this is for you:

Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.

If you are sometimes captivated by televangelists who constantly ask for money, you might find this worth taping to your T.V. set:

 If he asks for money, he is a false prophet….But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for other’s sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

 That said, you should support those who are genuine prophets and teachers. If you don’t have those, then give to the poor:

But every true prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor.