This photograph fascinates me. In the foreground is a parking meter, a symbol of the power of money in our culture. In the background is a church building, which is supposed to be a symbol of the power spirituality, specifically Christian spirituality, has on our culture.
It would be easy to talk about the contrast between the world of material possessions and spiritual calling in the image, but the reality is not so simple. In fact, many of our Church buildings are every bit a representation of the power of money in our culture as the parking meters. After all, they indicate a certain level of wealth and “success” in a community. Central Baptist’s own building is a legacy of this mentality. It was built during a time when having a big, ornate, building meant that a church had “made it 1.”
The reality depicted in the image is more than simply a contrast between worlds. In actuality, it reveals how much the pressures of financial power can blur the focus of the Church’s calling. Money becomes more than a tool, it becomes the tool – and success in ministry begins to be defined as how many staff and programs a church can fully fund. The more money brought in, after all, the more expansive our staff and programs can be. The problem is, the more money becomes a focus of the church, the more toxic it becomes to our witness – until what really matters is the amount of dough one brings into the church. Jesus then becomes a means to an end – an end he, himself, actually warned against 2. The full extent of this toxicity can be seen in this excellent diatribe on televangelism by John Oliver, or a recent post about a woman being booted from her church for not paying her tithe, even though she is currently homebound and fighting cancer 3. In Christian theology, Jesus is not a means to an end. Rather, Jesus is lord – the one who is supposed to direct the steps of the Church. When we blur the call of Jesus with money so much that the thought of money takes focus over even our material images of our faith, we’ve already lost the path upon which we’re supposed to be walking.
- Nowadays, at least for low-church Protestants, we just go for “big.” The ornate bit has been replaced with in-church coffee bars. ↩
- See Matthew 6:24 ↩
- I’ve really had a difficult time researching this story, as the news report leave some holes and there’s not much else written about it yet (other than some posts on a couple of anti-“institutional church” blogs). Apparently this isn’t an isolated occurrence. ↩