Church A Landmark Presence

Church A Landmark Presence November 22, 2022

Crowds outside church | Indian Express

Church Crowds, Curious and Committed

I am a part of a well-known megachurch in South India, in a prominent city. Sunday mornings, both entrances of the building where the church gathers, would be chockful of people, either entering or exiting, through its two gates. Traffic would tend to pile up or clog the road just outside, since it is a main thoroughfare. The church’s traffic volunteers would have hands full in regulating the crowds, especially at the end of each of the 13 services held on the premises each Sunday. In fact, one time, when I mentioned the name and location of the church to someone in a random conversation, they immediately  said, “Oh the church that holds up traffic on Sundays!” I laughed to hear their way of identifying the church and its location!

Given the crowds that come and go each Sunday, finding parking space is a premium. This is the norm, inspite of renting an adjacent school grounds as parking space to handle the overflow crowds and vehicles. Hiring an Uber or an Ola vehicle is easy when wanting to reach the place, for the church building finds a mark on Google maps. While hailing an auto rickshaw to reach the place, it is quite sufficient to just mention the name, for most drivers recognise it. Thus, our church building is a landmark for the southern part of the city, a name and a location by which people take their directions from to find their way!

Church, Chapel, Cathedral, Basilica

Crowds Outside Church | Indian Express

Church has a two-fold meaning, referring both to the building (or architectural space) where worship occurs, and also to the congregation that meets for worship within the building. Chapel, on the other hand, usually refers to a room within the church or another small space, free-standing or located in a non-religious place such as an airport or hospital. A cathedral is the home church for the bishop or archbishop of a Catholic diocese. It takes its name from the bishop’s chair, called a cathedra in Latin, which traditionally represents the seat of power and authority of the leader of the diocese. A basilica is simply an important church building designated by the pope because it carries special spiritual, historical, and/or architectural significance.

To remember the difference between a church, chapel, cathedral, and basilica, think of who you would see in these buildings. Open up a church, you would see  people or a congregation. A chapel is like a religious event space, unoccupied unless there is a special event. A bishop leads a cathedral, and the Pope fancies a basilica!

Structural Identifications and Differences

In the olden days when formal church buildings had a particular shape, the structure and architecture of the church building would help identify if it was a basilica or a cathedral or simple church.

Common architectural constructs that used to constitute an ecclesiastical edifice: the cross or crucifix (form of Christ on a cross) is the foremost common symbol; a portal (a decorative architectural frame found on the main entrance of the church or cathedral, usually decorated with sculptures and stonework); buttresses (structures built against walls to provide strength, mostly seen in elaborate traditional cathedrals and churches); pulpit (the raised platform or lectern that the minister delivers a sermon from within the church), altar (and/or Communion Table used for Communion, a ceremonial remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross); stained glass windows (telling Biblical stories by images or symbolic figures, shining colorful light through the church when sunlight filters through the window).

Sanctuary of a small church with pews and pulpit | istock @pastorscott

According to MISSI MAYNARD church buildings have been a cornerstone of Christian faith, with their size and construction changing over the years. Throughout decades, many churches around the world have become popular for their intricate structures and designs, each representative of their own story and their own rich history, and have evolved to become important features and tourist attractions!

Church, What It Should Be

Even though church structures have become monuments that mark time and location, the scriptural evidence for a church was not so in the Apostolic times.The early church, as portrayed in the Bible, specifically in the Book of Acts, was never identified with a building, but as a community of people who used buildings for congregating. Early Christians actually met in homes or large public buildings to encourage each other in the faith and to maintain unity of witness. Even when there were several meeting sites in a city, the Christians had the sense of being one church.

Early Church Type |

Thus, the church back then was indeed a landmark, not as an edifice or a location, but as a revolutionary and revolutionizing influence on society. Indeed the common outcry about people who formed church was “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6 NKJV)!

Scholars determine that by the very way God moved Luke, the author of ACTS, to structure and narrate the book when he chronicled in it the history of the early church, it is obvious that the true intent of God for the church for all times was for the gospel proclamation to result in changed lives and local communities. That this was truly the evidence and distinguishing feature of the early church is seen in the fact that those who were disciples of Christ began to be called as Christians. Not just because they followed a sect or a society or a religion called Christianity, but because they were so like their Lord and Master Jesus Christ, the One to Whom they had vowed their fealty and allegiance, both individually and corporately.

Kevin Perotta declares: “The early church was not perfect. But the early Christians followed the Christian way of life sufficiently well that their distinctiveness – along with their bold announcement of the gospel – brought on the almost three centuries of persecution in the Roman empire, and at the same time helped to attract thousands of men and women to Christ, even though commitment to Him could end in martyrdom.

The church was a thus a landmark, not of location or of edifice, but of community of faith and character, with dynamic individuals whose life and relationship provided an accurate interpretation, correct context and undeniable evidence for the claims of the gospel.

Current Condition and Image

In contrast, the church of today – both leaders and members – is becoming incredibly political, extensively sensational, ironically irrelevant, acutely fragmented, badly confused and pathetically partisan. It has lost its light and will, becoming more and more fashioned like the society it has been placed in to be a beacon of hope. It being a landmark  impact is more as a structure rather than as a culture, as a name rather than a community, and as a conformist rather than as stimulus of change and challengers of accepted norms. The church needs to be the herald of reforms and reformation for the individual, family, communities and the society at large, rather than a showpiece or a famed structure.
The church must recover its identity as game-changer and  truly be the landmark, not only of physical presence, but also of being primarily  a community of influence.
It is true that as the church grew, the need for larger buildings designed specifically for the purpose of worship became a necessity. Yet these buildings should not be the only thing that point to the church. Outward edifice should serve to adorn and thus enhance the inward essence and content of the church. Externalities should not serve to cover and camouflage the deficiencies and discrepancies of the church. Rather, once the true character and nature have been recovered and restored, the outward must be made presentable
Church As Community

Prayer for the Church

Without true content and inward depth, edifice would only make the church a recognizeable physical location, rather than an influential landmark community!
May God enable the church revert back to its original image of being the accurate representation of the divine, before caring for embellishment!
May He help the church to retrieve its erstwhile task of showcasing and making plain the eternal in comprehensible human terms and humane language, before paying attention to its housing!
May the church remember the words of Christ her Lord, First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean!
May the church prioritize the right things, setting her mind on things above and may her passion be to stand pure, without spot or wrinkle, before the throne of God and before a watching world, as a witness and benchmark!

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