Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Two Million Ton Idol

I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal having to do with the history of the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, The Splendor and the Scandal. Taking over 100 years to complete, this structure played an integral role in the Reformation because of the impact of the selling of indulgences to pay for it had on Martin Luther. I have to say that as an architectural and artistic structure, having never been there, St. Peter’s Basilica is by all accounts a magnificent accomplishment and a wonder. From the standpoint of a place to worship Christ? Quite the opposite. What a completely inappropriate place to allegedly worship Jesus Christ, our Lord who rode a colt into Jerusalem and dined with poor fisherman and other sinners around simple tables. That this place is viewed by so many people as a holy place speaks volumes about the extent of human self-delusion.

There is a quote in the article from historian Edward Gibbon that is a true statement for different reasons than the author of the article intended. He describes St. Peter’s Basilica as:

"The most glorious structure that ever has been applied to the use of religion."

That is exactly right. I can think of no other structure that epitomizes the empty ritual and formalism of man focused worship. St. Peter’s Basillica is like so many other man made edifices that know no denominational boundaries. They seek to create a “worshipful” atmosphere that is so foreign to the life of a Christian and yet so much a part of our culture. The architecture of cathedrals and churches across the world are designed to create and enhance a worship experience that is frankly a false one. The theatrics are more sophisticated but the emptiness is the same. Not much has changed in the thousands of years since the molding of the Golden Calf and nothing exemplifies that better than the white washed tomb of St. Peter’s Basilica built in large part with money stolen from simple people led astray by false shepherds who played upon their ignorance to fleece them.

In the Reformation, the Reformers took down the crucifix, replaced the altar with the pulpit and declared it to be good. The problems with Roman worship did not end with correcting the issues of justification and authority. They went to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, how we should live in the world and with each other, how we worship our God. Those great men of old reformed the doctrine, reclaimed the Gospel but retained the Roman form of worship.

Christ is not found in palatial temples or massive cathedrals. He is not found in empty rituals or rote repetitions. He is found in the simple gathering of His people to pray, to open the Word, to break bread and be in fellowship together. Christ did not seek worldly acclaim or opulence when He sojourned among us. Why would His people seek to honor Him by exalting our own accomplishments, edifices and education?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matt 23: 27-28)

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