I love my home church; it’s my local family. But I also enjoy visiting other churches during my travels – seeing other sanctuaries, experiencing other worship styles, meeting other congregations within our extended family.
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to visit St. John’s Church just outside St. Louis, MO. The people were welcoming and the teaching was great, but the lesson God sent home with me had to do with… are you ready for this? The building.
My first impression was that the building looked more like a convention center than a church. There was nothing overtly church-like about it. The sanctuary itself was expectantly large, but the thing that struck me the most was the giant wooden cross at the front. Even though it was the largest structure in the room, I almost didn’t notice it. It was integrated into the framing of the room in such a way that at first glance it looked like nothing more than a supportive cross beam. It seems like that should be more prominent, I thought.
I should have known right then that God had a lesson for me.
It’s easy to think of the cross as an important central feature of a church. After all, the cross is the primary symbol of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. It is a tangible representation of our connection back to God. But in its original form, the cross was never just a symbol. The cross was real. Jesus was real.
Sometimes we hold out the cross as something separate and shiny to be given a place of prominence, and to some extent it is. But Jesus does not want to be merely placed on a shelf to be worshipped from afar. He could have stayed in heaven for that. Instead, Jesus came to us, becoming fully human, so that He could live among us. He took our sins upon Himself and nailed them to the cross so that He could live with us. He sent the Holy Spirit so that He could live within us. Jesus and His cross are more than decoration. They are structurally essential.
There is nothing wrong with shiny crosses; it is good to have Christ’s cross before us. But what’s more important is that we have Christ’s cross within us. When others look at us, do they do a double take, suddenly recognizing the reflection of a cross? Within our own lives, do we merely wear the cross as a decoration, or do we cling to it as our main support?
Indeed, the cross is more than a decoration. It is functional, structural, and actionable.
Thank you, St. John’s architect, for that lesson.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)