Forgive the hyperbole.
I’m sorry…but not.
Initially, the news of Notre Dame’s burning generated little more than mild ambivalence for me. I love history and I love old buildings, not to mention the sheer loss of property, the damage in dollars, well francs anyway.
People’s responses pushed me over the ledge.
“Praying for Paris.”
“Praying for Notre Dame.”
And, “We will rebuild!” amid Macron’s defiant pledge to rebuild the historic cathedral within 5 years, though most experts predict it will take at least a decade. Many cathedrals took more than a century to complete.
One thing the effort won’t lack is resources. Before the ashes even cooled, they raised more than $1 billion dollars in donations…for a building. Let that sink in. Less than a week.
I have a much simpler and more cost effective solution.
Burn it the rest of the way down.
Institutionalization of the Body
It’s not so much the dollars (francs), it’s the principle.
Notre Dame epitomizes the institutionalization of the church.
Jesus tells the parable of a mustard seed that grows into a tree, larger than all the garden plants, where birds come and make their nests. (Matthew 13:32-32) The problem is that a mustard seed is only meant to grow into a bush, 9 feet at its highest. A tree is an unnatural growth of the seed…and the birds come and eat the sown seed that is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.
The church was never meant to be Notre Dame.
I’ll resist a libertarian urge to denounce the actual construction of the building. Although the exact amount is unknown—one study predicted $280,000,000 in adjusted cost—it took nearly 200 years to complete, starting in 1160.
During this same period, the average European could barely survive. Famine, disease, rampant illiteracy, and dire economic prospects were the norm. Amid this squalor, the church constructed no less than 1400 Gothic cathedrals in the Paris Basin alone, an estimated 21% of the GDP…on cathedrals.
Ignore this though, the poor stewardship of God’s resources.
In Notre Dame, we see the culmination of process, the rendering of the faith into a procedure. This is what men do, slander the grace of the Lord Jesus in such a manner.
Notre Dame represents the unattainability of the faith for the commoner, the purported denial of grace but by the hand of the church as administered by the hierarchy.
Deny common men the word of God. Speak only Latin as the average man could never understand Scripture anyway. Restrict them to grace via the sacraments, administered exclusively by the church of course. Confuse them with rites and rituals, deemed necessary by a superior authority. Leverage grief for deceased loved ones in generating revenue. Leverage guilt for base lusts and sell indulgences, generating further revenue.
Build more cathedrals. Simple.
I find it highly appropriate that 700 years later, Napoleon Bonaparte chose Notre Dame as the sight for his coronation, validating the sacralistic blend of church and government.
Today, European cathedrals sit as white-washed tombs, beautiful and ornate on the outside, dead and decaying on the inside. The European church wilts under secularism, postmodernism, progressivism and several other -isms I’ve forgotten to mention. The cathedral is the tombstone for a dying European church.
Also highly appropriate—nearly 20 million pilgrims (tourists) visit Notre Dame each year. With not so subtle irony, tourism supplanted church business in generating revenue, a reality for countless other European churches and cathedrals. Hundreds of others are rubbled each year due to lack of interest.
Lest you think the west or even Protestantism is immune to such institutionalization, have you taken a look at the western church lately and the gaping fissure.
Many of the traditional denominations cling to Romanesque rites and rituals, immersing the attender in processes and confirmations and other extra-biblical proceedings. For others, the Walmart effect is in full force. Build it bigger and better with a great coffee shop, awesome children and youth programs, and entertaining worship services.
The evidence that it’s not working…is that it’s not working. Each subsequent American generation is more unchurched than the previous. Generation Z will supplant the Millennials as the most unchurched American generation in history.
Veneration of the Worthless
“What about the crown of thorns!?” someone pleaded.
Institutionalization generates wealth; idolatry is a by-product.
The church pushes the worship of numerous competing things to include, but not limited to, Mary, men (saints, sigh), relics, tradition, and celebrity pastors (ouch).
Notre Dame housed the famed crown of thorns. Gifted to Louis IX, King of France, in 1238, it found its home in Notre Dame following the French Revolution in 1801. A twisted circlet of Juncus balticus rushes, the crown is protected and contained by a special glass tube.
On the first Friday of each month, they wheel it out for a special veneration mass, as well as each Friday during Lent. There you can wait in line to kneel and kiss the thorns in reverence, well, the glass tube around the thorns anyway, after an attending official has dutifully wiped the glass with a sanitizing napkin. Piety is no excuse for bacterial recklessness.
In case you weren’t paying attention, this is the actual crown of thorns that Roman soldiers fashioned and smashed unceremoniously onto the head of Christ, mocking Him as the King of the Jews. Hmmm.
Erasmus once quipped that there were enough pieces of the crown around, all demanding veneration, that they could fill a merchant ship. That’s quite a crown.
Thank God a French chaplain saved it from the fire.
We ought to use it as kindling to restart the fire.
Veneration is characterized by reverence. The Bible is quite clear in that we worship or venerate one thing and one thing only, the LORD our God. Angels refuse worship. The Apostles refused worship.
Let us suppose for a second, a brief one, that this actually is the crown of thorns from the head of Christ…so what? It’s a plant, an inanimate object. The Bible gives no basis for the worship or reverence of anything other than God Himself.
As a Christian, indwelt of the Holy Spirit, I have Christ. Period.
I have no need nor mandate to worship another.
“This is holy ground,” argued a priest in speaking of Notre Dame. Really? Says who? What makes it holy?
Is it more holy than the basement house church in China? Is it more holy than the rural assembly in southern Illinois or Liberia? Is it more holy than the living room where a man sits and quietly teaches his sons about Jesus?
One woman even claimed to see Jesus in the flames. Good grief.
Will our desire for veneration outside of Christ ever end?
Response of the Believer
We ought to grieve.
In Notre Dame, we ought to grieve for the institutionalization of the Church. We ought to grieve at the veneration of that which is worthless, the idolatry.
In our grief, we ought to repent. We ought to examine ourselves and see if we ourselves venerate another, if we harbor an idol, if we slander the grace of the risen Lord Jesus with process and ritual.
Let us burn this affront to a holy and righteous God to the ground…
…salt the ground while we’re at it.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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