Picture Time’s Square, New York City. The square is surrounded by neon invitations. Pictures move on giant outdoor screens. Coloured lights flash and travel, sparkle and shout silently, look here, believe that, buy here! These stimulants draw you to the restaurant, theater or brand name. Companies pay thousands of dollars per day to have their ‘pitch’ in front of the teeming throng of denizens in Manhattan. Can a church do as a theater does?
Within a theater, there is a performance. Perhaps a play, concert or a solo performance of readings is attracting its audience. People pay to be entertained by costumes, by music and singing, and by an interesting, exciting story. The audience sits quietly, absorbing the performance from all its points of view. At the end of the performance, the audience files out of the theater in an orderly way. Intellectually and emotionally fulfilled, the audience members go their own ways to continue with their daily lives.
Most churches have quite an attractive advertisement. Even in small villages, the church presents a tempting front. Walking on a trail through the forest at the edge of town, one can see a shining, silver steeple, sparkling in the sun, towering over the main village street. At the other extreme, one can imagine the imposing face of Notre Dame in Paris. Huge bells calling out, towering parapets and ornate stonework in stunning detail. Even an atheist, taking in the imposing structure that is Notre Dame, feels the pull of the external attraction.
I don’t believe that God demands a magnificent structure, like a huge work of art. I believe the church needs it, to bring in the audience. In the true simplicity intended by the bible stories, a thatched hut, a scruffy storefront or a log in a forest would suit God just fine. Many believers in God feel that He is everywhere and within them. These people need no splendid edifice in which to worship. They can do it while washing dishes, while standing at a traffic light or while sitting at their office desks. Obviously, the only purpose for churches splendid buildings and bells is advertising.
The performance within the church is similar to commercial theater. There are splendid costumes in the flowing, glowing gowns of the clergy people. Sometimes hats, tall, pointed and ornate is part of the costume. There are glowing candelabras, beautiful textiles draped over polished mahogany railings, and many books that detail the programs. Of course there is music, beautiful, soaring choral arrangements and the wholesome melodies of the organ. It is all merely theater of the church. There might not even be a God.