Two years ago, as we were walking among the ruins of castles and churches in Scotland, my kids got tired of my oft repeated refrain of amazement: “We are living as many years after Jamestown as this building was built before Jamestown.” The idea, of course, was that we’re living 400 years after the Jamestown settlement in the New World, but walking around a castle that was built in the early 1200s.
But that was Scotland. The story is different in Italy.
The Complex of Seven Churches in Bologna (too much to explain here, but literally seven different church buildings all built with shared walls over the course of 700 years) was completed around 1000 AD. St Peter’s Basilica was being built in the early 1500s as Martin Luther was coming to grips with the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence (we typically just call it “The Duomo”) was completed in the middle of the 15th century. There are even churches that were technically never completed that are still standing and in use. It’s Italy; I could multiply the illustrations.
Buildings are, of course, subject to decay. The Church is the only permanent, perpetual institution on earth. When Christ returns and consummates his kingdom and we enter the New Creation, the Church will remain. As unbelievers are cast into the lake of fire, believers will be welcomed into the very presence of Christ for eternity. Thus “the Church is permanent and perpetual.”
I realize, of course, that no particular individual church is guaranteed to exist forever. I realize that there may come a day when Grace Covenant Church ceases to exist for whatever reason. But the Church as the Body of Christ, as the Bride of Christ cannot fail.
This truth makes me wonder something about the church architecture of today. Why don’t more churches today build buildings designed to last? Now, I know, we don’t have the money that the Pope has. I know, it’s far more difficult to get marble blocks we can use as foundations and walls of a new church, but if the church is the one permanent entity in the world, the only organization guaranteed to continue into the New Creation, why wouldn’t we build church buildings with that in mind?
How exciting and encouraging would it be to think that in the year 2819, people might be walking around Athens, AL and standing amazed that Grace Covenant Church was built with an eye to future generations.