Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 21, 1956

"Building Sanctuaries"

Pryde E. Hinton, Dora, Alabama

In "The Atlanta Journal," June 9, 1929, page 28, Bishop Warren A. Candler, of the Methodist Church, had an article under the above title. He had many warnings for the Methodist denomination, which, I think, are timely in 1956 for the churches of Christ. He writes about David's desire to build a house for God, of Solomon's doing it, and later of the exiles from Babylon rebuilding the Temple. He says: "Religion can not long survive in the hearts of men who dwell in palaces and worship in shanties. Piety thus depreciated perishes in the disrepute put upon it by those who profess it while cheapening it." This is one side of the question.

"But there is an opposite extreme which is equally injurious to religion. Out of vanity, or out of the mere mania for magnificence, men may build temples by which God is not honored nor human souls blessed." Then Bishop Candler tells of the building of the great Temple of Herod, and says: "It became an object of pride and a means of covetousness. Twice Jesus cleansed it by driving out of it the traders and money-changers, whom He charged with making the place of prayer a 'house of merchandise.' (John 2:13-17.) But the evil infection was incurable, and when He had cleansed the Temple the second time, He denounced the traffickers in holy things for making it a den of thieves.' (Matt. 21:45, 46.) Then He departed from it, never to return to it, and renounced any claim of His Father to it as a 'house of prayer.' . . . . It was no longer God's house, but theirs, and with it He would have nothing further to do."

Then Candler tells how that Jesus had little to do with the Temple, but rather sought the synagogues where the Word was read, and the fields, the sea, and the other places, to teach His good news to the poor, to sinners, and to the humble. He reminds us that the apostles and disciples followed His example, and preached at every opportunity, to few or many, to rich or poor, in synagogues, in courts of law bound in chains, by a riverside, in private homes — everywhere — anywhere. They did not think that we must have a building "that is a credit to the Cause of Christ" in order to succeed in His work.

The bishop mentions Paul's preaching in the "school of one Tyrannus," in Ephesus; but he does not attempt to prove thereby that we should have Bible colleges. Bible colleges are all right, and individuals have a right to build and operate them; but they are neither necessary nor indispensable. And if they become a matter of pride, or are considered a necessary part of the "the work of Christ," they will become a snare and a means of apostasy.

Bishop Candler further says: "Primitive Christianity did not make its appearance in imposing temples and magnificent cathedrals. In the heavy atmosphere of such places it could not have breathed freely, or have delivered its message in forceful tones.

"Evangelical Christianity, following in that apostolic succession, preaches in edifices made for easy assembling of the common people and adapted to the hearing of the Word of life. It loses its prophetic voice when housed in buildings of extravagant cost and 'dim, religious lights. It falls into servile subjection to opulent patrons, and suffers much loss of its preaching power.

"That great evangelical preacher of the eighteenth century in England, John Wesley, perceived clearly this peril, and gave to his followers this wise direction: 'Let all preaching-houses be built plain and decent; but not more expensive than is absolutely unavoidable: otherwise, the necessity of raising money will make rich men necessary to us. But, if so, we must be dependent upon them, yea, and governed by them. And then farewell to the Methodist discipline, if not doctrine, too.'

"The great man knew what could, and what could not be done in 'long drawn aisles and fretted vaults.' He wanted among his people no excessively costly edifices in which congregations of selfish worshipers pay to have themselves entertained by pleasing discourses, and well-executed music, on Sundays when other places of amusement are closed."

Just before Bishop Candler wrote this article, an Atlanta congregation of "the Christian Church" had completed a great edifice at a cost of well over a half million dollars. The minister, I was told, said that he had always dreamed of building a church house that would be as much like heaven as possible.

Then our own brethren caught the "mania" for extravagant buildings, and large, powerful churches, in which rich men became necessary. We praise rich men who give their thousands, the gospel (?) papers among us give glowing write-ups of them; but nobody mentions the poor man, or woman, who gives his dollar, or half dollar — almost the last one he has! When I was in a meeting a long time ago, nearly everybody asked me if I had been to see "a certain rich man," who lived there, and who was a member of the church. I said: "Is he sick?" "No," I was told. "Then," said I, "Why should I go to see him, whom I do not know, any more than I should go to see hundreds of others in the county whom I do not know?"

Also, just before Candler wrote the article, many brethren from other places said to me: "What East Point needs is a new brick meeting-house," and some would say, "a credit to the Cause of Christ," and others, "you cannot ever hope to succeed without a new building," etc. And I thought we had succeeded! I remember distinctly that there were 75 in Bible school the first Sunday, sometime in October, when I began regular work at East Point, Georgia, 1925. About the time Candler wrote the piece, we always had over 200, and still in the old house!

Meeting houses should be adequate, comfortable (if possible), substantial, and as beautiful as possible without spending extra money just "for show." The gospel, lived in the lives of the church, and preached in its simple fulness, is still "the power of God unto salvation"; not fine meeting houses and "the wisdom of men."