Through a Glass Darkly
Robert Schuller may have found something beyond the power of positive thinking. Sunday he begged his church for money as his Chrystal Cathedral filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. I know that churches do go through cyclical financial issues from time to time. We just had to ask our people at Denbigh to give more than usual to pay for a new roof over our family room (when it starts raining inside, it’s time to get the work done). So I guess I shouldn't be critical of a tearful Schuller as he asked his church "If you are a tither, become a double-tither. If you are not a tither, become a tither." But their problem wasn't a new roof or a specific need to keep a specific ministry going. No, the church was in debt to the tune of somewhere between $43 and $55 million dollars.
While Schuller points to the recession as the cause of the church's money woes, there were deep problems well before this present financial darkness. Some of it was caused over a power struggle for control of church leadership among Schuller’s children after his retirement as senior pastor (nepotism is OK as long as you keep it in the family). But mainly there was the overreaching and overwhelming burden of the magnificent church edifice, literlaly a Christal Cathedral with 10,664 panes of glass. Schuller built one of the first megachurches on the premise, “If you build it, they will come… and pay for it.” Now people are doing neither. While the church has 10,000 members on its roles, only 1000-1500 actually attend services. And people that don't come to church usually don't give to the church.
One of the things I remember thinking on a trip to Ukraine was about the contrast between the grand cathedrals (ones that survived communism) with their glittering domes literally covered with gold and the abject poverty of the people that lived right around them. If those were truly God’s houses, don’t you just have to wonder that God would rather his roofing material chiseled off chunks used to care for the poor? One wonders the same thing about Schuller and his cathedral. Was this really something to further the kingdom of God or was it a monument to one man and his idea? Contrast this with today’s reading today from 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.
Denbigh will never have a Crystal Cathedral and I will never have a following like Robert Schuller (even including the literally tens of people that read this blog). But it is nontheless possible that me and my church on a much smaller scale will get just as wrapped up in ourselves and focused on the wrong things. Paul wasn’t into building cathedrals or attracting attention to himself. He simply wanted to point people to the gospel of Jesus, and he was perfectly happy hiding himself behind the cross as he did so. May God protect us from ourselves and our pride… to God be the glory.