Displays of riches have long been a feature of Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox church. The local parish priest and the nun may dress and live humbly, but the “Pope” and the “Patriarch” have no such restrictions.
Case in point was a recent article on the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church. The article reads: Russian Orthodox Church enthrones new patriarch. Lets skip for a second the idea of man who is supposed to be a minister of the Gospel being "enthroned". The opulence of this mans attire is obscene.Other pictures of the church leaders at the coronation or whatever it was, along with sweetheart Vladimir Putin (who always is frowning and looks like he is collecting money for the Russian mob) show similar fancy clothing, gold and jewels, elaborate hats and robes and chains around their necks. When you read the Gospels and then look at pictures of stuff like this, and men bowing down to kiss the gold ring of a “pope” who is similarly decked out in fancy garments and surrounded by functionaries who are also wearing a fortune in apparel and accoutrements, you should notice with minimal discernment a disconnect with the simple and humble faith of Christianity. That is unfortunately nothing new. But…
At the risk of being put out of the Reformed camp more than I already am…
Unfortunately, this phenomena of ostentatious behavior is not restricted to Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches or even skeezy televangelists or prosperity preachers. I checked in on the Ligonier Ministries blog and the first post I saw was a defense of the new sanctuary and fellowship hall being constructed at St. Andrews Chapel, the church where Dr. R.C. Sproul, Sr. serves. Check out this pamphlet for St. Andrews Chapel's new "sanctuary". The place is going to be enormous, holding 1400 at a time in the sanctuary and “a covered open air pavilion that will seat 300 and a Fellowship Hall that will seat an additional 360.”
I know that Dr. Sproul is untouchable in many circles, and I respect much of his teaching immensely. But seriously, is this how we ought to be worshipping the Risen Lord? Is Dr. Sproul's teaching that vital that we must enshrine his pulpit in a building like this?
The title of the blog post is “The Unchanging Gospel”. I am pretty sure that the Gospel doesn’t require a massive, brand new building to be preached in.
Now this is all their money, freely given, and they can do whatever the want with it and I don’t want to sound like Judas, complaining about the value of a jar of fragrant oil that was used to anoint Christ but could have been sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor (John 12:5). But really, what is this place going to cost? A couple of million? More? In the midst of horrible economic times, no matter what the motivation, an extravagant building like this is frankly obscene. Heck, even in great economic times buildings like this are extravagant and unnecessary.
When you recognize the linkage between the lavish palaces and edifices of Rome and the massive new structure you are building from scratch, that should set off warning gongs for you. That is not a time for spin control; it is time for prayer and reflection. To use churchy lingo, is this being a good steward? If people are drawn to St. Andrew’s Chapel because of the type of teaching and worship they find there, then plant a dozen more smaller similar churches in the area. I am sure they could find no lack of young pastors to lead those churches under the direction, guidance and tutelage of a luminary like R.C. Sproul. What Reformed guy wouldn’t want to sit at the feet of Dr. Sproul and learn? But if people are drawn because it is “R.C. Sproul’s church” then they are coming for the wrong motivation and Dr. Sproul is not a young man. What happens to this church when Dr. Sproul, who looked pretty frail at Together for the Gospel a year ago, is unable for whatever reason to be actively involved in the ministry at St. Andrews?
When a church is growing, there are two ways to go. One is to build ever larger buildings and the other is to replicate and spread. Think of the influence a dozen small St. Andrews clones could have in the area instead of one huge building with 1000 people trying to leave after the Sunday morning service all at once. Our impulse should not be like the world, bigger and better. After all, what is the object of our worship?