This summer my wife, Margo, and I attended our son’s doctoral promotion at the Free University in Amsterdam. We couldn’t resists mugging for a group photo with the stern, imposing bust of Abraham Kuyper, renowned Reformed theologian, statesman, writer, and co-founder of “The Free.”
Kuyper inspired generations of Reformed Christians to let our belief in Christ’s sovereignty fill every nook and cranny of our lives, both private and public.
That challenge stayed with us as we subsequently did some sightseeing in Delft, Brugge, and the towns of Normandy. We explored many cathedrals—there wasn’t a town that didn’t have a stately old church at its core.
No cathedral can outshine living, confessing Christians.
Sadly, tourists outnumber worshipers by an overwhelming ratio. The towering monuments to the glory of God (and to those who commissioned them) portray the past, not the present. They were erected more for social, political, and personal purposes. But visually they give elegant witness that, for a long time, God mattered.
We saw architecture harking back to the Roman Empire—round arches, fat columns, massive walls with small, deep-set windows that speak of the solidity, strength, and gravitas of God.
We saw more of the later Gothic style, often built right on top of, and around, the remains of the Romanesque structures: thin (“church window”) arches and skeletal walls soaring to incredible heights with columns branching off at the top into a myriad of graceful arches stretching in all directions to support a vaulted roof.
The thinner walls allowed for massive windows through which light streams, reflecting the sheer brilliance, magnificence, and majesty of our God.
In our culture church buildings no longer provide the central focus of our communities. High-rise towers and sports domes do. And shopping malls and factory complexes compete with the downtown to woo us away from the center to the periphery. The unavoidable message: God doesn’t matter anymore, commerce does.
One Norman cathedral we toured was started a millennium ago. A team project, it took all the genius, innovation, technology, and resources of seven centuries. In our day our best minds invest their efforts in gadgets that will be obsolete within a decade. And those no longer speak of God.
That’s a sobering thought when pondering Abraham Kuyper’s famous challenge: “There is not a square inch [“duim breedte”] in all creation of which Jesus does not say ‘Mine.’”
We can no longer rely on our society, culture, or architecture to proclaim that message. We Christ-followers have to do it ourselves.
That’s really not so bad; it’s how it was when the Spirit was first poured out. Believers spoke and lived their faith. They met where they could, in homes, public places, synagogues—wherever. They didn’t rely on stone and mortar to speak for them. They knew they were the temple of God.
No cathedral can outshine living, confessing Christians in demonstrating how God matters—if we will just throw open the windows of our hearts and lives to let the light of Jesus shine on our society of “spiritual tourists.”
Listen, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).