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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Our Communalized Life in Christ

Paul writes in Galatians, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. (Gal. 6:6).

 The word ‘share’ here in Greek is koinōneō–a verb derived from the noun koinonia. Given Paul’s usage and uniquely Christian appropriation of the word koinōnia as the community of God’s people formed in relationship with Christ by the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit, the word “share” doesn’t seem to quite do justice to what Paul is getting at. “Share” is probably the best English translation, which also seems to highlight the inadequacy of English for certain concepts. When I read this passage in the context of Paul’s usage of this word throughout his writings, wherein he often talks about things like Gentiles sharing in the spiritual heritage of Israel (Rom. 15:27), sharing in the body and blood of Christ through the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10), churches sharing in his sufferings (2 Cor. 1:7), and likewise sharing in the grace of giving and receiving concerning those in need (Phil. 4:15), or sharing in the responsibility of appointing faithful leaders (1 Tim. 5:22), it becomes apparent that for Paul koinōnia relates to the fellowship one has with Christ by the Holy Spirit as an entire lifestyle and attitude. The difference then between Christian fellowship that calls for the sharing of resources and socialistic ideas of common property is that it’s not the things that we share primarily in Christianity that are central, rather its ourselves. We are to “communalize” our very lives because of the undeserved inclusion we’ve found in Christ and the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit, that leads us to fulfill kingdom purposes.

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!).