Steeples, Spires, and Monuments

By Ronald D. Howes

As a child at my mothers knee I was accustomed to repeating little nursery rhymes. All of us can remember the one where by a proper manipulation of the fingers we could say and do “here is the church, heres the steeple, open the doors and heres the people.” A similar recitation, a slightly altered finger manipulation, and you come up with an empty building. Most of us, however, grew out of the habit of learning doctrine by nursery rhyme, and have since dedicated ourselves to a study of the revealed will of God for authority in practice. It seems though that some have not.

On a recent trip through the states, it was our pleasure to meet with old friends of college days and visit brethren in different parts of the country. One of the congregations I used to visit on occasion while in school had outgrown their old building and had moved a couple of miles away, and finding them required some map work. Eventually though, we were successful and soon rolled up to a magnificent piece of contemporary architecture with a 30 foot steeple adorning the crest of its majestic roof.

I said to myself, “This must be the wrong address!” Certainly, we had run across an edifice of the Baptists, Methodists, or perhaps Mormon persuasion where steeples were a mark of the church, meaning in their terminology the building, not the people.

Much to my sorrow, the large florescent billboard out front read “The Church of Christ meets here.” The traditional meeting times were listed, and in the distance I could see people I had known to be members of the sought after congregation entering the building. Nervously clutching my Bible, I began to run over in my mind the laws of authority which govern the expenditure of the Lords treasury for church buildings. Not finding one for steeples, I crossed the foyer and took my seat with the faithful. Phrases and snatches from a sermon by an old soldier of the cross on “Looking like the nations around us” and “Playing the denominational game” and “Wasting the Lords money,” came to mind.

The building was a good example of the progress of the Lords church. The floors were richly carpeted, the pews thickly padded, and the windows adorned with simulated stained glass. This congregations pulpit was self adjusting, raising and lowering itself at the push of a button. There I sat in the middle of all that, thinking about primitive Christianity, when the sight of the hand-carved Lords Table caught my eye. During the evening lesson, my mind continually strayed from the topic, “The Simplicity of the N. T. Church,” to trying to figure out just bow many gospel preachers could have been supported in the Philippines or Nigeria with the foolish waste and strain for comfort that lay before my eyes. There were two months of preaching in the padding on my pew alone.

After the lesson one of the brethren, a deacon if I remember correctly tried to point out to me the scripturality of the scene. We traded verses on following apostolic example, abiding in the doctrine of Christ, and not adding to or subtracting from the word of the Lord. Needless to say, our discussion quickly resolved itself to expedients. Not finding justification for such a building there, I soon found that the preachers who bad brought me up on 2 Tim. 3:16, Jude 3, and 2 John 9 had missed a rule of authority: The Law of Aesthetics.

Since that dreary day preachers and others have justified their -steeples, spires, and monuments to me on the basis of this Law. They say, “It adds to the good looks and symmetry of the building,” and makes it look Uke a church, building. No doubt they visualize the hall of Tyrannus with a steeple also.

My shock has since passed to sorrow to think that brethren who had fought so long and hard for the New Testament order would court disaster with wanting to be like the people about them. Our meeting houses do not really have to look like cathedrals in order for us to assemble,

And now a confession, the building described arose from an over-active imagination. But, each part of it now exists on one of our meeting houses across the land. It should not be lour before someone gets it all together. Really makes you wonder, doesnt it?

September 14, 1972