Churches used to be xenodocheum. That means that they were houses for the care of the poor, strangers, pilgrims, or the sick. There was nothing like them in the world before there were Christians because Jesus invented a whole new thing and that was His Body that cared for others more than it cared for itself. The place where people met for worship could house lepers or orphans or indigent women or the blind. That was before the church lost it’s first love and fell in love with the buildings themselves.
There are churches in the Western part of the State of North Dakota that are becoming what they were meant to be -houses not only of prayer – but places for the care of those who have no where else to go. Guess what? Some of the folks that go to those churches don’t like it much. “We didn’t build these churches to take care of indigents”, they say. My question is “why did you build them?” If you say “to worship God”, you have, as Desi used to say to Lucy, “some ‘splainin to do”.
As Luther says ” Observe now from this how far those have gone out of the way who have united good works with stone, wood, clothing, eating and drinking. Of what benefit is it to your neighbor if you build a church entirely out of gold!? Of what benefit to him is the frequent ringing of great church bells? Of what benefit to him is the glitter and the ceremonies in the churches, the priests’ gowns, the sanctuary, the silver pictures and vessels? Of what benefit to him are the many candles and much incense? Of what benefit to him is the much chanting and mumbling, the singing of vigils and masses? Do you think that God will permit himself to be paid with the sound of bells, the smoke of candles, the glitter of gold and such fancies? He has commanded none of these, but if you see your neighbor going astray, sinning, or suffering in body or soul, you are to leave every thing else and at once help him in every way in your power and if you can do no more, help him with words of comfort and prayer. Thus has Christ done to you and given you an example for you to follow.”
Historically the church itself was the xenodoche. As churches got bigger and the clergy got fancier the xenodoche became a room in the church somewhere. Sad really. Maybe in stead of hiring architects to help with our fancy buildings we should invest in a visiting Xenodocheionologist who could explain to us the history of inns and hotels and where they came from.