The Revered Doctor Norman Nagel was a pastor in post-WW II England. He said of those standing in line at churches to get help for physical needs that they were standing in the wrong line. That sounds harsh, but just because something sounds harsh or even is harsh doesn’t mean it is untrue.
People come by our urban church looking for physical help frequently. Only once in 15 years has anyone ever asked for spiritual help. This is the wrong place for physical help. The government has taken on that responsibility by taxing its citizenry to provide a social safety net. But they have cast the net too wide. Since 45% of the population doesn’t pay any taxes, they can hardly tax the remainder much more. So how can they pay for this net that is too big?
For starters the City of Austin raised our electrical bill by 80%. Now they want to use our church for a cold weather shelter. And why not? What good is that big empty building doing? Why they don’t even pay taxes on that property! The state should get some benefit from it. Secular government and a secularized people wrongly link the church with helping the poor and downtrodden. To them doing these is the one sure sign of the church.
No so fast; there are philanthropists who know nothing and care nothing about Christ and there are great pagan money mangers. Likewise, there are Buddhist, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, and Wiccans who are tremendous, selfless helpers of the poor and downtrodden. Good stewardship and/or works of mercy aren’t marks of the Church. The Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments rightly administered are.
As the facts above dawn ever brighter in the dark souls of the secular humanists, agnostic, atheists in America, they are going to look for more practical benefits for their tolerating us in their society. Use our buildings for shelters, for polling places, for something in real service to the community.
From our point of view we have this big building to testify to the invisible majesty of the God’s Real Presence in our midst. The Old Testament Church had a pillar of fire towering over the Real Presence. We build one. And in doing so we do what Noah was specifically said to have done in building the ark. Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
To the righteous the church building is a beacon of hope, a “dwelling place” of God on earth, a standard to be rallied around. To the unrighteous, this building built with money that is visible for an invisible God is not only irritating, it’s condemnatory. They look and look for the reason we would engage in such madness as throwing away visible money for an invisible God. And the question gnaws at them: “What if there is something here that I am not seeing? What if things really are as these people act like they are? What if the invisible is more real, more eternal, and more powerful than the visible?” How much more comfortable these secularists feel when they see us acting the way they think we should owning their gods of social justice, of food for all, or of green living?