church saleThere are entire websites devoted to the sale of churches.

We have in the last year or so heard a lot of talk about the sale of churches.  I recently heard of the sale of a church in which the intention is not to sell to another church body or another congregation, but to an entity that intends to knock it down and use the empty space for something.  In my short history I do not believe that I have ever heard of this.  Usually churches are sold to other churches or congregations to use.  Sometimes they become community centers or education places, but I have never heard of one being sold to be razed.  I even heard of a Baptist church that was basically defunct revitalized after renting their building to Lutherans that wanted to buy it and start a new congregation.  “If those Lutherans can do it, so can we” seemed to be the thinking.  I don’t believe that I have ever heard of a church being sold to be torn down.  There is something “off putting” about that, and I don’t know why.  I am after all someone that has gone on record with “mission starts” as saying that once they begin thinking about building they can forget about “missions” because their building becomes their mission.  I have always been dubious about church buildings because they become the ‘church” rather than the members who really are the church as the body of Christ.  I am dubious about that fact that congregations that happily spend $60000 on carpeting won’t give a dime to a mercy project or mission endeavor.  So here are some thoughts on church buildings, the Church, the concept of church and some of the issues that may be causing some of the rub in our “life together”.

If you asked, “Where is the church?” in any important city of the ancient world where Christianity had penetrated in the first century, you would have been directed to a group of worshipping people gathered in a house church. There was no special building or other tangible wealth with which to associate “church,” only people![1]  Only people! What a concept.

In our day of liturgy wars and constant fights about the uses of the ‘church building’ and having a church wide entity that exists to supply space and place for worship, it is interesting to note that  Luther discussed in his life and writings, three types of worship services.

In the preface to his 1523 treatise “The German Mass and Order of Service, he defines the services.  ” First, the Latin Mass, to keep the laity sharp with their Latin and to maintain continuity and good order. He goes so far as to suggest the inclusion of the Greek and Hebrew languages, if suitable hymns and musical arrangements can be written.

Second, he urges the use of a German Mass for the unlearned and simple folk so that they might hear and more fully understand. This would, he says, provide an opportunity to evangelize those who “stand around and gape, hoping to see something new, just as if we were holding a service among the Turks or the heathen in a public square or out in a field.” The third type of service was a shock to me. I had never heard that Luther addressed the subject of house churches.

I will quote at length.

“But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do other good works. According to this order, those who do not lead Christian lives could be known, reproved, corrected, cast out, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ, Matt. 18 [:15-17]. Here one could also solicit benevolent gifts to be willingly given and distributed to the poor according to St.Paul’s example, II Corinthians 9. Here would be no need for much and elaborate singing. Here one could set up a brief and neat order for baptism and the sacrament and center everything on the Word, prayer, and love. Here one would need a good short catechism on the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Our Father.’[2]

He goes on to explain that he had neither the time nor the people to start such churches, nor did there seem to be a demand for such services. However, if the demand arose he said he could not in good conscience fail to implement them.

We are going to be talking about this more.

[1] Walter Oetting, The Church of the Catacombs (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1964) 24.

[2] Luther’s Works Vol. 53, p. 64