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The city needs the cathedral

Posted September 23, 2017

The announcement that the Christchurch Cathedral would be re-built was met with joy among the city’s residents. Mayor Lianne Dalziel was visibly relieved, calling the Cathedral the ‘heart and soul of the city’, and even going so far as to say that the building ‘means more to the city than it does the church.’

She is absolutely right. The Cathedral is a beautiful old building that symbolises the city’s heritage and prosperity. What, for most people, it doesn’t symbolise is personal faith, or—dare I say it —Jesus Christ. We worship the building more than we worship the person in whose name it has stood.

I was intrigued to hear an Anglican vicar recently say that the brave decision would have been to gift the Cathedral to the city as a ruin. ‘Wouldn’t that be a prophetic statement about where the Church is today?’ she said. Let tourists pilgrimage to see the ruins—a curiosity from a forgotten era. Vast, imposing and intriguing—but ultimately irrelevant. 

Like the prophets of old, these ruins would cry out to us: ‘Where are you, O Church?’

It would be a call to God’s people to rise up from the ruins as ‘living stones’. ‘Christ cannot be contained in a building!’ we would say. ‘He is found in the living, breathing, beating hearts of people.’

In The Salvation Army, we often talk about ourselves as both a church and a charity. But the true Church is charity. There is no divide. The Church is built through love for each other and for our neighbours. That is how Christ asked us to worship him. Without charity, we are just a resounding gong—annoying and fairly useless!

In vast contrast to Christ’s imperative of love, we have sometimes used the excuse of ‘church’ to build walls that keep people out. Maybe that is why, in the eyes of so many, the Church now lies in ruins. But God, in his grace, can bring life out of the rubble—calling us to become the Kingdom of God, without walls.

‘What would a Church without walls look like?

I think it might look a bit like Jesus, going wherever the Father was at work, healing and restoring. To be honest, I can’t imagine it, we are still far off. But I think the whole world would want to be part
of this Church.

The Bible speaks of Jesus as the ‘living Stone’, and we—his people—as his building blocks: ‘As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him —you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ (1 Peter 2:4–5)

Reinstating the Cathedral was probably the right thing to do. After all, who would turn down a hundred million dollars in funding? (I can only think of one person with the divinity to be so scandalous.) The city needs the Cathedral. But the people need Christ.

by Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 23 September, pp3
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.