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Big, beautiful churches aren’t always built just to glorify God
Bible Speaks
By Rev. L. Althouse

October 22, 2006
Background Scripture: 2 Samuel 7. Devotional Reading: Psalms 5.

Recently I returned to preach at my first full-time pastorate near Harrisburg Pa., Charlton United Methodist Church. The occasion is the congregation’s celebration of its 200th anniversary. When I arrived there fresh from seminary in 1955, I was immediately immersed in a project to replace the historic ”Old White Church,” which the congregation was outgrowing, with a new brick edifice. The design of the new sanctuary/fellowship hall structure was modest, yet attractive. In the 46 years since I left there, they have probably doubled the church’s size to meet the needs of their growing program and congregation.

When I was there in July, I was pleased to see that their expansion funds have gone into providing more space, rather than to make the church the most beautiful or most imposing in the surrounding area. The church today is attractive, but not in any way ostentatious. Charlton Church, I was happy to see, has avoided the “edifice complex” and “cathedral psychology.”

This is one of the themes of 2 Samuel 7. King David approached Nathan the prophet with a proposal to build God a house to replace the tent/tabernacle that has been the locus of worship for the Jews since their exodus from Egypt. Nathan tells David to proceed. “But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, ‘Go and tell my servant David, thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day…’” (vs. 4-7)

God has not asked for a temple to be built and it seems obvious that he does not want one - at least, at this time.

In this one chapter the word “house” is used 14 different times. In the passage above, “house” means a “temple” (also v. 13). In vs. 1,2 it means a “palace.” In v. 18 it means “family status,” but in vs. 11,16,19, 25-29, the “house” referred to is David’s “dynasty.”

Through the prophet Nathan, God reminds David of what he has already done for David, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you. (vs. 8,9)

He then recounts what he will do with David: “I will make for you a great name…” (v. 9) and “I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover,” through David’s son, “the Lord will make you a house [dynasty].”

Two notes: first, when the prophet Nathan told David to go ahead with his plans to build a temple, he was wrong. God quickly told the prophet that he must correct the message given David. That’s tough: a prophet had to admit he was wrong when he spoke for God.

Nathan was neither the first nor the last prophet to be wrong. I am not saying that one should never say, “Thus saith the Lord…”, but it is not to be said lightly. I am often amazed at preachers and writers who in spelling out their views do NOT say, “I believe this” or “This is what I think.” Instead they pontificate as though they had just received their message directly from Heaven. Nathan was certain he knew God’s word on this matter, but he was WRONG.

Secondly, I believe that these words subtly suggest that David’s concern for a temple is not wholly to glorify God. Unfortunately, monumental building projects are often the result of monumental egos, more about glorifying the architect, the builder and those paying for it. I quite understand the appeal of memorializing ourselves with a plaque, but, no matter how generous the gift, it hardly is in harmony with Jesus’ teaching, “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets.” (Mt. 6:2)

I believe God says to David, don’t worry about your posterity; you don’t need to build a great temple that will forever be known as “David’s Temple.” I’m giving you a house that isn’t a temple, but a dynasty.

This farm news was published in the Oct. 18, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.