February 21, 2022 by Linda Opp
The house I grew up in was built by my great-grandfather in 1902. It had many tiny rooms and a dirt basement. My grandfather, my father, my siblings, and I were all raised in that house. Now my nephew lives there with his wife and children. That's six generations.
Over the years the house has changed a lot. My grandparents removed walls to make tiny rooms into bigger rooms. My parents added plumbing when I was five years old. I remember standing around the new commode with my mother and little brother in the pantry that had been converted into a bathroom, watching the local plumber pour in a glass of water for the first flush. Exciting stuff! Later, my parents had a new basement dug behind the house and moved the house onto the new foundation.
And the changes keep happening. Recently there was another major remodel, which involved enlarging the kitchen and adding a whole wing to the lower story. The front door is in a different place than before, the roofline has changed, and the house is now unrecognizable from outside.
It's still my home, though. I know this because the living room remains almost unchanged. In that room, I'm aware of the core of the house. No matter the cosmetic and structural changes, the house built in 1902 still stands.
The church, God's people, is like my family's remodeled house. Through centuries of cultural and political change, it still stands. The way the church has done that is by holding up the banner of truth while simultaneously finding ways to thrive and carry out its mission.
In our present culture, church attendance is at an all-time low. It's obvious that the traditional stance of “if we build it, they will come” is no longer effective. We will need to find new and different ways of bringing the gospel to our neighbors. This might mean small house churches. It might mean going to the places where people hang out - like parks and restaurants and gyms - establishing relationships, and meeting there in small groups. It may very well mean meeting on a different day than Sunday, to accommodate work, family, and sports schedules. It will mean more of us getting involved in community service and events, in order to bring the fragrance of Christ to where the people are.
Jesus was good at this. He wasn't one to hang around the synagogue, waiting for people to come to him. He went out to where the people were, and he spent time with the worst of them, which in those days were tax collectors and prostitutes. He even chose one of those despised tax collectors, Matthew, to be one of the twelve, then topped things off by going to his house for dinner. This horrified the Jewish religious leaders, but Jesus stuck with his tactics. He was remodeling the house.
This is all very uncomfortable to contemplate. Remodeling is messy, expensive, and inconvenient. Surprises happen and mistakes are made. But there are times when tiny rooms have to give way to the spaciousness, doorways have to be moved, and the overall shape has to change. It just makes for a better house.
Accommodating culture doesn't mean compromising the essentials of faith. No matter how unconventional the time or place, wherever Jesus is proclaimed and worshiped, where the Bible is taught, where believers are discipled and the sacraments practiced, where Jesus' followers are bringing transformation to their neighborhoods, that is the church. Jesus is the core of who we are, just as the living room is the core of my childhood home. That doesn't change with the remodel.
“... you are ... built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).