Pastors are sometimes accused of having an edifice complex. They like to build buildings. It is an understandable phenomenon. Much of what a pastor does cannot be measured concretely like other jobs. If you are a carpenter, you can walk away at the end of the day and see that you built a table or a garage. If you are in business, you can see what your earnings are in your cash register. Pastoral work is spiritual in nature. You can spend years with a congregation and not really see much growth. The church may even spilt due to conflict or when one pastor leaves. Pastors can invest large amounts of time in persons, only to have them walk away from their faith, their family, or their church. Some missionaries have spent years in foreign lands with only a few converts to show for a lifetime of work. There is a real temptation to measure, calculate, and quantify pastoral work concretely. Some pastors do this by measuring income, attendance, programs, staff, conversions, baptisms, and building expansion.
Pastors are not the only ones who can suffer from edifice complex. Many lay people take great pleasure in showing off their church buildings. I was visiting a well-known mega-church and the tour guide guy was beaming with pride to show each part of the church campus. This church had a mall-sized food court and a nice sized bookstore within it. When we got to the newly renovated sanctuary, he proudly told us that the congregation paid for it with cash – some $83 million. It was humongous. Fine stone, beautiful architecture, waterfalls cascading beyond the large windows. This church even has it own lake (for baptisms of course!). There is no doubt that the people who attend this church glory in its properties and its physical beauty.
In Revelation 21, an angel also shows off a church to John. It, too, is decked out in all its glory and splendor. It has high walls and twelve gates and a beautiful sanctuary. It can be measured. It is 1,500 miles wide, long, and high. Now, that is some big church! The inside of the church is pure gold and it is decorated with precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, ruby, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, turquoise, jacinth, and amethyst. It has gates made out of giant pearls and streets paved with gold. Now we know where pastors get their edifice complex from – God!
There is a significant difference, however. Whereas in the modern world a spiritual reality (the church as the body of Christ) is associated with a physical reality (a building), in Revelation 21, a physical reality (a cubed building) is associated with a spiritual reality (the church as the bride of Christ). The word “Church” is mostly used these days to denote a building, something early Christians other than John would not have thought to do. “Church” to early Christians always meant a called out body of people. Most people met in private homes to worship God in community. A church building would only reveal to those persecuting Christians where they are located. Who would want to worship in a church building under these circumstances?
The cool thing, however, is this – in the same why people today love to show off their church buildings to others, so, too, does God love to show off His Church. God gushes and woos and awes over her. “Look how pretty she is!” muses God in Revelation 21. “That’s my wife, my bride,” God boasts, “isn’t she hot!” Only God is not talking about a physical building. God is talking about you and me and every other Christ-follower who ever lived. Next time you look in the mirror, say to yourself, “Don’t you look pretty!” Smile. And strut your stuff!