Catholic Churches are usually beautiful. They definitely know where to build too– if there was to be a contest between Catholics and protestant evangelicals on architecture, I’m not sure what we protestant evangelicals would even put in to compete. Evangelical protestants have traditionally spent money on missions and programs and staff rather than buildings, and when they do build, they build pretty functional buildings– thats why so many of them look like giant machine sheds.
There are so many things I am thankful for from evangelical protestant church– like strong Bible focus and the community of love and the steadfast devotion and commitment to personal relationship to God. But I am also thankful that God gave us good architecture through our Roman Catholic brothers.
Holy Hill is about 45 minutes from Milwaukee. Its a gorgeous church up on a hill from which you can see (up in the tower) the towers of downtown Milwaukee. We up the tower, of course, to see what we could see. We also went into the church sanctuary for as while, and a woman was singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and so when I went home I looked up that hymn in my book on the stories of old hymns (101 Hymn Stories). It was by Issac Watts, who lived from 1674-1748. Watts was a bright kid, learning latin by 5 and greek by 9, french at 11 and Hebrew by 13. And he started writing hymns because he thought the songs at his dissenting Congregational church stunk. An example of a hymn from that day is given in the book, so show how awful they were:
Ye monsters of the bubbling deep, your Master’s praises spout; Upf from the sands ye coddling peep, and wag your tails about…
(Remember that next time you even think of thinking negative thoughts about singing “shine jesus shine” or some other chorus you aren’t too fond of…)
So this young kid Watts wrote
When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it Lord that I should boast, Save int he dealth of Christ, my GodAll the vain things that charm me most– Isacrifice them to His blood.
Were they whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
For a while Watts wrote a new hymn each Sunday, and eventually composed 600 hymns. So this kid from a Congregational church which had dissented (broken away) from the Church of England (which had broken away from Rome, Obviously).
On Saturday, I got to hear this hymn of a doubly-protestant teenager from the 1600’s in a beautiful Roman Catholic church atop a hill with Milwaukee in the distance. Afterwards, we walked down and around the hill past the 12 stations of the cross– each with a beautiful relief carving of Jesus from the sentencing by Pilate to his burial. A good reminder of the story of Christ’s crucifixion.
The experience made me appreciate again the diversity of the Body of Christ– the many components of Christianity. God uses us in our own churches in various ways, and who knows what good God is going to bring us from one of these other churches we don’t regularly go to?
I remember going not infrequently to the Church of the Holy Seplecure in Jerusalem when I was studying in Jerusalem for a semester back in college. That church has at least 7 different denomenations who have a part of it, because it is thought to be on the site where Jesus was buried. The Roman Catholics call it the Church of the Holy Seplecure (holy grave) while one of the Eastern Orthodox churches there call it the church of the Risen Saviour. It was a massive vaulting and ancient structure, so different than Monroe where I grew up in the cornfields of Nebraska. We know God is not contained by any structure, but I know he is glorified through them, and I thank God for such beautiful places like that, like Holy Hill, and like our living room where we meet on Wednesdays. Simple Free sure doesn’t have such a nice building, and its nice to not have that maintenance expense. But we also don’t have any monuments to our saviour on this earth made from brick and stone. I am thankful some churches can provide such places of sanctuary for the rest of us to go to. God blesses us in so many ways through so many different churches.
May God have mercy on us all.