Church Building or Building the Church

Newton Robinson United ChurchThere is something unique about old church buildings.  Perhaps it brings back memories, its architecture, stain glass windows, bells, carillons.  Perhaps it is the setting, whether downtown or farm land, or perched on atop a hill.  What captured my family the most, emigrating from India to Canada, was the abundance of churches, sometimes three to four churches on a street corner!  It was my privilege to hold Sunday Services in Ontario suburbs, back in the seventies, at places like Bond Head est. 1853, Bradford, est.1835) , Newton Robinson, est. 1855. (I recall the late Lieut Governor of Ontario Hon. Earl Rowe and his wife were members of this church and had their pew right in the front of the pulpit),  Holland Landing (est.1842).  When we entered those consecrated buildings with my young (then)family, we whispered in hushed tones, in holy reverence.

Then there are places I visited like Grossmunster, Zurich, Switzerland, the starting point of Reformation, where H.Zwingli and H.Bullinger preached, or the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, or the Westminster Abbey.  I should not forget to mention my own home town All Saints Church back in Trichur, Kerala, India.  It was 100 years old then, where I was baptized as an infant, confirmed by Bishop Stewart Smith from Scotland and also my First Communion.  I may put in a little commercial (no charge) here.  It is the most photographed sights in Nova Scotia, Canada; called the Three Churches, on Mahone Bay, south of Halifax.  It is truly beautiful.  As far as I know, all of the above-mentioned buildings continue to hold services.

I wrote this long introduction to convey my feelings when I read the Toronto Star daily Newspaper of 27 May 2013. The heading was “Once Holy Places, Today Homey Spaces” by Staff Reporter Sarah Taguiam.  She wrote, as congregations shrank, these former churches could not afford maintenance, renovations etc. and are left with no option but to join forces with another church or sell to Developers for condos or commercial buildings. According to Sarah, Toronto’s religious population has not grown since 1970.  From 2008 to 2011; the United Church attendance fell by almost 10%.  Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church attendance decreased even further, 24% from 2001 to 2011; the Anglican Church by 29%. It is sad and makes one wonder what contributed to this decline?  That will be the topic for another post.

According to her, Catholic churches are doing well with new immigrants.  According to Research conducted for Bank of Montreal, The Toronto Star of 13 June 2013 reports almost half of Canada’s richest residents are new immigrants or first generation Canadians. This is a new one to me.  It is true that immigration was an absolute necessity for the Canadian economy.  But I have never heard of immigrants propping up churches!  I should not be surprised.  At one time, four Deacons of the old Evangel Temple located then at Church and Bond street, Toronto, in the seventies were from Calcutta!

There are cases where churches with bulging congregations had to move to newer or bigger facilities.  Case in point is Peoples Church moving from Gerrard Street to Bloor Street and finally to Shepherd St.  Were these the beginning of large, mega churches?  In Lakeland, Florida one particular church bought, I believe, a Sears Stores, renovated it and called it The Church on the Mall with lively congregation and music.

here krishnaIn downtown Toronto, on Avenue Road, Just north of Bloor Street, there were two very old imposing and massive churches.  One was once an Alliance Church where the famous preacher and author A.W.Tozer used to minister.  It was bought by Hare Krishna Temple.  The other, almost opposite to it was converted into a commercial building.  My post is not meant to criticize, God forbid, but to ponder on these things.

Should churches, built by faithful parishioners with their attendance, offerings, tithes, Bake Sales and Garage Sales, etc. be sold and vacated?  Can consecration and deconsecration be that simple?  What are the feelings of those who were baptised, confirmed, married, had children grown up and who in turn married and so on?  Many were buried on the church grounds. What value can we place on a sense of stability in their culture, life habits of families and consequently in the community?  If the younger generation left the community for greener pastures, what is the responsibility to the Seniors who cannot move?    Did all churches move because of shrinking membership or some followed only for bigger crowds?  Did ego of the leaders play a part in this, like one mega church in Lakeland, Florida?  The minister was sure the Lord told him to build the biggest church.  It ended up with a scandal and court cases.  I do not know what happened to the famous Crystal Cathedral in California.  All these questions came to my mind when I read Sarah’s article.

I am not in a position to even form an opinion, never mind, giving one.  But one thing is clear, crystal clear; buildings do not make churches, people do.  We do not read of church buildings in the New Testament.  I guess there were none.  Yet they did extremely well; Christianity grew and spread like wild fire.  They met, I take it, in various homes.  In fact, there is a reference to “church in their home” ( 1 Cor. 16:19).   We often hear leaders glorifying the “early church” but seldom mention this particular aspect.  Can there be a “moderation”, a combination of “Home Churches”, blooming where they are planted, however small, serving the particular community but keeping their own identity as well as mega churches?  I do remember few years ago Church leaders going to Seoul, South Korea to study the “Korean Home Church concept”.  Did it materialize?  What is next in view of Computers, Internet, and “Go To Meeting” Apps etc?  Will we see Virtual Churches catered to Home Viewers?

All these thoughts prompt me to look at the origin of Church Buildings.  We go back to the OT with the Tabernacle.  It was a large, strong, decorated tent put together in such a way that it can be dismantled and carried to the next location.  The idea of a building started with David, the song writer King.  But I have reached my self imposed limit of 1000 words and have to leave that for another post.

God bless,  Danny Paul

Oh Calcutta!

ohcalcuttaDo you remember the theatrical called Oh Calcutta, notorious for its sexual overtones?  A Broadway production, I believe, had 5959 shows, making it the longest running revue, featuring scenes of nudity of both men and women, inspired by erotic artist Clovis Trouville.  I will not comment on its obscene caption from French.  My question then and now is, what has Calcutta got to do with it?  Is it a joke or one more kick at a once great city that fell in need, just like many other cities?  Even some Christians did not help the situation either with their promotional photos and videos showing the worst side of it. I will attempt to give a different perspective, in praise of Calcutta!  May I also offer a couple of pointers to those who have a genuine foreign mission in mind.

Calcutta was once known as the Pearl of the East.  Later it was called the Second City, the first being London City! Its cultural heritage, natural resources, fertile land, industries of cotton, Jute, indigo, muslin etc., made it so famous that it was on the “hit list” for Colonizers like Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and Britain.  Remember Columbus sailing to India and getting stuck at the Americas? It was all “eastward ho” then!  Of course, the British successfully progressed from commerce to conquest.  Calcutta was their capital in India.

Calcutta has its own share of Nobel Prize winners.  Scientists now accept that J.C. Bose invented radio two years before Marconi, but failed to register the patent.  A brilliant man, S.C. Bose, worked with Mahathma Gandhi for a while, but parted ways on principle.  Bose wanted to fight the British out while Gandhi determined to win through non-violence.  Many seniors now residing in Canada, USA and other parts of the world lived through the Independence Struggles and witnessed the victory over the British on 15 August 1947.  On a lighter note, the Municipal Corporation washed the streets of Calcutta weekly with water from river Hoogly which is a subsidiary of the holy river Ganges!  The decline of Calcutta started with the partition of Bengal, the creation of East Pakistan and the flow of millions of refugees from East Pakistan.  Calcutta never recovered from it.

mother teresa-timemagThen along came a real mover and shaker.   Mother Teresa loved Calcutta. It was neither commerce nor fame that attracted her.  It was the people.  She came to Calcutta at 18 and taught at St. Mary’s School.  She started working with the destitute and poor and was awarded the Pope Jon XX111 Peace Prize in 1971, the Nehru Prize for International Peace and Understanding in 1972, The Templeton Prize in 1979 and finally, the Nobel Prize.  On a personal note, my wife Grace was born and raised in Calcutta.  I came from Kerala, South India to Calcutta in 1954.  Our daughters were born there too.  We lived just a 15 minute walk from her establishment.  In fact, another nun by name Mother Amy was equally well known.  Mother Amy gave homoeopathic medicine to the sick and needy!   Our daughter Lalitha and son-in-law Jeremy Viinalass led Celebrant Singers Teams to Calcutta three times and held meetings for Mother Teresa.  I believe she wrote to Pope John Paul about the team and they subsequently performed for him at the Vatican.

malcolmMalcolm Muggeridge.   Heard that name before?  He was an English Teacher in Kerala, South India; later a soldier and spy during WW2.  After the war, Malcolm Muggeridge went back to Calcutta to work as the editor of the Daily Newspaper called The Stateman.  He was an authority on St. Augustine.  I admired his book called Christ Re-discovered.  I believe he influenced BBC to do a documentary on Mother Teresa, which propelled her to the world stage.

williamcareyAnother famous man, William Carey, loved Calcutta.  There was a time when the British Government prohibited their missionaries to work in Calcutta.  They said plainly, we are here as merchants to make money, and do not wish any distraction with Christian activities. Christian services were limited to their staff and military personnel.  The ship Captain that carried William Carey asked him to disembark at Odisha (Orissa), just south of Calcutta and find his own way.  Carey was welcomed by the Danish Colony at Serampore, just north of Calcutta.  Carey, a cobbler by trade, with a flair for botany and languages, learned both Bengali and Sanskrit.  He translated the Bible into the Bengali language.  He even translated, with the help of a Pundit, the Hindu epic (their scriptures) stories.  At present, the minister of Carey Baptist Church in Calcutta is a Canadian citizen, originally from India with Chinese background!  God’s ways are mysterious and past finding out.

One more; as an aging former Anglican myself, I cannot help but think of Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826).  He was born a wealthy land owner, studied at Oxford University and travelled extensively.  He was ordained and took a parish in 1807.  Now hear this.  He left England and sailed as the Archbishop of Calcutta.  His Cathedral, St. John, is still there functioning as the Anglican Church.  The exciting part is that he wrote the famous hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” for Trinity Sunday at Calcutta.

Now here are my humble pointers to the aspiring missionaries.  Ego is a great human property; keep it in subjection to the Holy Spirit. Think long term.  Learn everything, their culture, family life, religions and if possible, their language.  Search first for the good things.  There are plenty if you will only look!  Some of them may be dirt poor but they will share their last “Khaki Beedies” (home made cigarettes) with you and will never let you go without a cup of tea. Those planning short term trips, think of the opportunity God has provided and not fun or another item on the resume.   Practice the presence of Jesus when everything seems to go wrong.  Allow me to alter slightly J.F. Kennedy’s one-liner “Ask not what they learned from you; ask what you learned from them!”

Can anything good come out of Calcutta?  Yes, the whole city of joy.

God bless,  Danny Paul

Sacred, Secular or Both in One – Part 2

I wish to make a reference to one of my esteemed friends, Pastor Ken Birch.  He was the President of Horizon College & Seminary.  Later he came to the Mississauga Gospel Temple, Ontario, as their Senior Pastor.  That is where I got to know him.  No, no, I am not name-dropping!  He wrote back in 1990 a very insightful article in the Resource Magazine of the Assemblies of Canada, entitled “The Silenced Majority”.  His usual Columns were called Birch Barks”. It was so profound and prophetic that I kept a copy of it all these years; never thought it would become appropriate for this post.  I tried to call him today to get permission from him to quote few lines for this post.  I was surprised and saddened to hear that he went to be with the Lord.  Oh, what a loss to the Church!

Ken Birch

His opening lines were, “the Pentecostal movement began with a revolt of the Laity.  Could it end the same way?  In Canada we can think of people like A.H.Argue, the Hebdens and C.M. Wortman, to name a few.  These dedicated and gifted people from the pew were in the vanguard of those who followed the leading of the Holy Spirit in the early 1900s.  They led a small but mighty army of newly Spirit-Baptized believers out of the traditional churches that had become spiritually dead under the leadership of professional clergymen.  One thing was certainly true in the beginning:  We were a people movement.  We were grass roots.  We were suspicious of organization, education and professionalism.  Some of this, of course, was reactionary and unbalanced.  But the life of the Holy Spirit was everything in those days.  And we knew He did not limit His work to the Pastor’s study or pulpit.

Much has changed over the last eighty years, but none more significant than the fact that the power centre has shifted from the Laity to the Clergy.  The movement started by the Laity has now shifted to the Pastor’s movement…… If that is true, then we have abandoned an important Scriptural principle and we face real dangers.”

Pastor Birch then quoted Rev. James Kennedy.  I believe he was referring to the late Pastor James Kennedy of Coral Ridge, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  (I could not confirm this from Google)  Here is the quote: “We have told the ordinary people to go home and let the Generals and the Admirals fight the wars”.

Pastor Ken Birch maintained that “it is a well established fact that the distinction between Clergy and Laity developed in the fourth century with one of the main reasons being to keep the power in the hands of the ecclesiastical establishment.   This distinction has no basis in the teaching of Scripture, although the seeds of it were beginning to appear in the Pastoral Epistles.  The fundamental truth of Scripture is that all Believers –all who are members of God’s kingdom through faith in Christ and the miracle of the new birth -are the people (Laos) of GodWhile there are different giftings and callings, some of which imply public leadership and authority, God attaches equal status and importance to all members of the body of Christ.  All members must function for the body to be healthy which means all members must be allowed to function.  The end result is Lay people are assigned to and often restricted to Men’s fellowship or Women’s ministry”.  Wow, quite a statement from a well-known, experienced, greatly respected Bible Teacher, Minister and leader!

I have already written about Stephen (Acts 6).  The Table Waiter gave the longest recorded sermon in the New Testament!  He remarkably combined the qualities of both Martha and Mary, which in Christian work, is important.  We need both the thinker and the tiller!  If not, it is imbalanced and using my previous analogy, if one foot is longer, not necessarily shorter, that person is lame.

E. Stanley Jones wrote about the church at Antioch.  “There was the sense of the worth of a person as a person-class was abolished.  In the naming of those who constituted the prophets and teachers of Antioch, Barnabas was named first and Saul (Paul) last; they were not headlined at the top. In the midst of the list is Manaen, a foster brother of King Herod.  To catch the brother of a king was a big catch.  We would have displayed it. They tucked Manaen in the centre with a man from North Africa and a Negro above him (Acts 13:1).  Evidently all class distinction was wiped out, and a person was a person – a man for whom Christ died.  It was a vast levelling process.  A new worth and dignity came into every human being as a child of God and therefore equal to everyone else. A classless society emerged.  Had this spirit been maintained it would have captured the earth.   The account says that when a famine befell the church at Jerusalem, the disciples at Antioch put aside money, as each of them was able to afford it for a contribution to be sent to the brothers in Judaea (Acts 11:29).  The Christians drew no line between the spiritual and the economic.  Life was one”.  In short, they ministered not only by preaching but also with their means – cash!

I believe with all its faults, the church is the best serving institution on earth.  It has many critics but no rivals in the work of human redemption.  The church changes society.  The word Christian was first introduced to the world, not from Jerusalem, but from Antioch (Acts 11:26).  There were no Seniors and Juniors, black or white, Saints and Aints, as Frank Juelich of Nagpur, India used to address his friends in his letters.

I feel I have written enough on this important subject. Besides I am trying hard to restrict my post to 1000 words!  After hearing your comments, I may get back to it.

God bless,  Danny Paul