By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA (ANS – March 18, 2016) — I just got back from my first visit to Mount Rushmore. To say the least, it was impressive. From the sculpture of the four presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln), to the surrounding geography (Black Hills), to the approaching arches, every thing about the experience bellowed — National Monument. I was smitten.
In Rapid City — the main urban center at the feet of the Black Hills where Mt. Rushmore resides, my family and I walked the presidential sculpture tour — an outdoor museum of all the nation’s leaders. Again, it was quite impressive. I tracked down my ol’ distant cousin, Richard Nixon, on 5th and Main.
Both sites got me thinking about the importance of monuments and museums to a people and nation.
On our way back to New Mexico, we stopped in Vail, Colorado. And, as is my custom when away from home, I try to attend churches outside my own denomination, and this time it was a Lutheran Church. Here I was excited to take part in communion with people I didn’t know. Why? Because communion is the one practice all Christians hold in common; there are no strangers at the table of Christ. Communion is a beautiful memorial of the Lord, a time to celebrate Christ’s presence with His people.
For some reason, these three things — a monument, a museum, and memorial — caused me think about the universal Church. I asked myself what is the state of the Church today? What category does the Church fall within? Is it a monument, a museum, or a memorial? I’ve heard many say that they don’t see the Church as a museum, but a membrane of living members. And to a certain extent I agree: we don’t need dead donors, but alive doers. However, when you look at the totality of the definitions, all three words can apply to the living, contemporary Church.
The Google dictionary defines a monument as a “statue, building, or other structure erected to commemorate a famous or notable person or event.” In a way, the Church — at least the building — does commemorate a famous person, Jesus. The Church — the physical building and the people — stand as testimony of a treasure: the life and teachings of Christ. Furthermore, the church celebrates an event: the death and resurrection of the Lord. True, people are, Biblically speaking, “The Church.”
The Apostle Paul reminds us of this: “Your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).” But the building is where the people congregate to celebrate the risen Christ. Put another way, God’s people — and the building they reside, however humble or grand — can be seen as monuments of God’s goodness, His saving grace within a person and place. So both the people and the building are a testimony of God’s acts within the world, monuments of the Maker.
The Google dictionary defines a museum as “a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.” Though not as easy a connection, there are parallel’s between a museum and the Church. In a museum one finds objects of historical and cultural interest; I dare say we find objects of interest in some churches as well: Bibles, stained glass (at least in traditional churches), libraries (some with fine old books), architectural delights, artwork, and more.
Church building are important edifying markers, giving insight into the people, beliefs, and cultural of a particular community. And though it pains many to say their church is a museum, the larger understanding of the word — as conduits of cultural significance — shouldn’t cause one to stumble, but celebrate; a church is a building where we keep items of importance. And nothing is more important than the things of God.
Furthermore, churches can be — and should be — cultural points for the community. I think of the church that I visited in Boston — the Old North Church, where Paul Revere saw the signal that caused him to proclaim, “The British are coming” — or the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Taos, New Mexico, which has been an inspiration for artists and photographers over the years; or any local community which has a church that houses the Scouts, classes, or help groups.
Churches serve the community and thereby act as cultural reminders of the importance of the church within society. And though some see churches as strictly museums, the people that attend the services, I hope, see the church as an Ebenezer stone (see 1 Samuel 7:12), whereby Samuel took a stone and set it up as a reminder that the “Lord has helped us.” The church building does highlight cultural artifacts, but none more important than its message — the Gospel — concerning the Lord. To this extent, churches are museums, gatherers of grand things.
Finally, the Google dictionary defines a memorial as “something, especially a structure, established to remind people of a person or event.” How a memorial relates to the church is obvious: the church is a living memorial to what God, in Christ, has done for the world. And as pointed out above, communion is one means by which most churches remember – memorialize — the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But churches can be memorials in other ways: weddings, baptisms, funerals, celebrations, and community builders. Church is community in code. What I mean by the word, code, is not some secret society, but that there is a special language — the language of God, a code, the Bible. And it’s this code that guides the people, place, and provenance of the Church.
The Church is a place to remember what God did and what God will continue to do through people submitted to Him; through places, buildings, dedicated to Him; and through provenance — the source of our life, worked out by power of the Holy Spirit. The church is a living memorial to the activity of God.
So next time you’re at a church, remember these three things — that the church can be a monument, a museum, and a memorial. And, do yourself a favor — learn about the community of people that dedicate their lives to impact the culture for Christ, the history and the honor that the church holds. And when you do, thank God for His Church — the people and the place. And dedicate yourself to being an active member wherever God has positioned you — be it a cathedral church or a home church — to further His Good News in the world.
For, in the end, you — the Church — house the most precious item known to humankind — the love of God in Christ. So make Christ the monument (a place to celebrate), the museum (the place to “come and see”), and the memorial (a place to remember) of your life.
Photo captions. 1) Mount Rushmore. 2) President, Richard Nixon, statue, Rapid City, SD. 3) A front view of San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Taos, New Mexico. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer:BrianNixonis a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon or https://twitter.com/BnixNews.
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