One of the things that saddens me greatly in the Christian church, is the use of its consecrated buildings for purposes other than for which they were intended. Television programmes like the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow are periodically filmed in the Cathedrals around Britain. Elsewhere, it is not unusual to hear of the church’s consecrated buildings being used for a variety of other non-religious events, including: secular concerts, organ recitals, plays, floral festivals, etc. etc. In addition the use of consecrated buildings for multi-faith services is not unheard of. As a consequence, you could easily wonder why such buildings have been set apart for God at all.
After all, the Old Testament describes God as being holy (Leviticus 19:2). It also details his instruction to the Israelites to build him a Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8); and to consecrate it to him (Exodus 30:26ff). And what that meant was that the structure was to be used for only the purpose that YHWH intended, and for no other purpose. As a consequence straying from the very precise instructions that YHWH gave, resulted in some very serious consequences, as Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, found out when they offered a different incense to what was prescribed (Leviticus 10:1-3).
From the outset, then, we have an example of what it means for a structure to be consecrated to YHWH, and the importance of being true to its intended purpose. And this theme is demonstrated time and time again throughout the books of Kings and Chronicles, when the Temple was either neglected, or used for the worship of other gods.
If God is holy then, and a building is consecrated to God, then that building becomes holy too. And that includes all of our churches that have been consecrated to God. Furthermore, the Old Testament is very strong on the need of the faithful to keep the vows they have made quite freely and without compunction to God (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Which surely is the case in regards to all of our consecrated buildings.
Now in the Old Testament, God was concerned not only that the Tabernacle/Temple was holy, but that those using it should be holy too. As a consequence he provided instructions to help those using the structures to be acceptable to him. Indeed YHWH only allowed members of the worshipping community to come before him. And that is probably why by New Testament times, in Herod’s Temple, that an outer court had been added – The Court of the Gentiles. Even so, there were strict warnings about Gentiles entering further into the Temple complex.
Now, as can be easily seen, there is a marked difference between the practices of Biblical times(old and New) and the practices of today. Indeed, it seems that today “consecration” has taken on a whole new meaning. So what’s going on? How can we reconcile the differences?
Well it would be easy to say the differences are because Christians now live under a new covenant, whereas the Hebrews lived under the old. But it’s not that simple. Because If we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our saviour, and want to learn more about God, then we would be totally negligent if we didn’t use the wealth of material waiting for our use in the Old Testament. And if we learn what God is like from the Old Testament, then shouldn’t that affect our attitudes and behaviour to him today?
So what are we doing when we use our consecrated buildings for other purposes – secular or inter-faith? Well I believe that we are dishonouring God. We are lowering God, who is supposed to be holy, into the realms of the secular. Even at times putting him on the same level of (so-called) other gods. In doing so, we are effectively turning our backs on our commitment to God, and saying that consecrating things to God is meaningless.
It’s not rocket science to know what God thinks about the misuse of buildings consecrated to him. It’s also not rocket science to know God thinks about not keeping our vows. As a consequence it is mystery why we let it happen.
So, if we know how God thinks, and we still use our buildings for other purposes, then why do we do it?
Well I think there may be a tendency to rationalise the use of our buildings, in terms of inter-faith understanding, outreach to the community or even fundraising for God. Further, consecrating a building may also give us a warm fuzzy feeling. However, I wonder how much we think about what we are intending to use the building for, before we actually consecrate it.
Of course the solution to the problem is simple. We could (and should) restrict the use of buildings to the purpose to which they were consecrated. Or we could deconsecrate our buildings, so that we can continue to use the buildings in the way that we like to have them used. The choice is ours. But if we do the latter, what does that say about our relationship with our creator?
© 2015, Brian A Curtis