Saturday, October 9, 2010

Noble Edifices

Through visible beauties and grandeur, they believed, the Papacy would be dignified and the Church exert its hold upon the people. Nicholas V, who has been called the first Renaissance Pope, made the belief explicit on his deathbed in 1455. Urging the Cardinals to continue the renovation of Rome, he said, "To create solid and stable conviction there must be something that appeals to the eye. A faith sustained only by doctrine will never be anything but feeble and vacillating....If the authority of the Holy See were visibly displayed in majestic buildings...all the world would accept and revere it. Noble edifices combining taste and beauty with imposing proportions would immensely exalt the chair of St. Peter." The Church had come a long way from Peter the fisherman.
Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, (New York: Random House, 1984), 61.
Visible beauty & grandeur v. doctrine. For Renaissance Popes, the argument between those two was easy. Build the buildings large & beautiful - and people will come. The awe of majestic art will be more convicting & build a more solid faith than the words of Scripture. Never mind the prophecy of Isaiah 53 (He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him) - the eye had to be appealed to if conversions were going to happen. In reality, the eye had to be appealed to in order to continue the control, status, and power of the Catholic Church. Simplicity & obedience to Solus Christus were not the imperative. Big & beautiful structures were the imperative.

While it is easy to castigate the Catholic Church for that offense, I wonder if the same mindset is not plaguing the current American church. Today, some of the most sophisticated, technology driven, and opulent buildings in America are churches. Building campaigns and pressure to give are being pushed all around the country. While discipleship is verbally being pushed, a core component of it often revolves around a believer's willingness to tithe & give correctly. Churches want to believe that they are winning people by doctrine & beliefs - but the reality is the primary way churches are reaching out is through appealing to the eye. Churchgoers now need to be impressed with a service, in awe of the architecture, and blown away by the amenities. Its a lose-lose cycle as churches spend far too much time & money on being attractive to the eye and churchgoers cling worthlessly to a feeble faith that is based more upon being comfortable than true discipleship.

The foolishness of the Renaissance Popes led to a mighty fall for the Catholic church. What will be the cost of the steps the American church has now taken? Has the church's quest to be attractive come at the cost of its ability to do true discipleship? When does the cost of a building campaign outweigh its benefit? If being attractive & majestic in appearance is so critical - why didn't Christ, Himself, use the same method?