I've watched a lot of Christians mourn the damage the fire did to the Notre Dame cathedral. It's sad to see a national monument in flames, especially that one. The history is not lost, but the present reminder of it is, meaning we'll have to depend on the stories, unable to see and touch it ourselves.
But more interesting is what the reaction exposes in our own hearts and minds regarding the Church. No, not the cathedral or even other church buildings. Not even systems and services and branding. Not history or tradition. The Church. The living stones Peter talks about in 1 Peter 2:1-12.
Do we mourn the loss of local churches like we mourn the loss of wood and stone?
Many years ago, I was part of a church family that hit a hard spot. It often looked like that local faith-family would disband and then reband with other Christians in other parts of Christ's Church. I moved away and years later I was a part of a church that was helping the still struggling local church; however, the wrongful death lawsuit proved too much. Although the courts sided with the local church, the legal fees meant keeping the building open for that group of believers' use was not possible. They disorganized, scattered, and joined local churches elsewhere. Almost nobody mourned the loss of the building, or the local organization of that faith family, or the witness and mission work they were doing in the area.
I've seen many church plants come to the end of the season God has had for them. They give their resources to other churches and scatter. They morph into the fold of other local flocks. Although sadly, some also fall away. I've seen the same thing happen to older, established churches. In fact, it happened to all the churches we read about in the New Testament. It's just a part of God's plan for his Church and the mission to the world, I suppose. I've also seen churches in the midst of poor health, disunity, or a split die or nearly die. In some cases, men and women professing to be doing the will of God try to kill local churches, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Few mourn.
Thousands of churches around the world disappear every year. Both the physical structures and systems as well as the local organization of groups of believers. The local church I pastor could be in this spot at any moment. So could yours. So are all of them. It's just the reality of those who are living in this world for the sake of the next.
It might be helpful to examine why we mourn so heavily over the Notre Dame Cathedral. Why do so many make the commitment to rebuild? What drives that? And the investment it will require, what makes us so willing?
When we come to the end, none of the world's best Cathedrals and none of the warehouse buildings used for worship services, and none of the hidden cellars where believers in persecution meet will last. What will last? The witness of these structures leads to things that might last. The resources of these buildings and local organizations serving a specific mission in the community lead to things that might last. Maybe we should mourn of those things more than the wood and stone and tradition and history. Maybe that's what we should seek to build, rebuild, and build some more. Maybe that's where we should invest our energy and prayers and money and tears and attention.
The fire at Notre Dame is a great loss. It's sad. But what might be worse is our loss of concern for the greater things that will last into eternity.