This last week Zach and I had the chance to walk through cathedral of Notre Dame, and view it stunning stained glass windows, its incredible architecture, and beautiful paintings and religious relics. We waited in a long line that went out the doors and began in the square. As we entered, I saw informational items, trinkets and tickets for different viewings available for purchase. There were brightly-colored machines where you could place a euro coin in and receive a notre-dame-embossed coin in return as a souvenir.
As I remembered that the building I was in was not simply a tourist attraction, but rather it had once been a dedicated temple of worship, I was reminded of a story found in all four gospels (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 19:13-17). It is the story of Jesus entering the temple courts and driving away the merchants and money-changers. It is the passage in which Jesus told the people “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” (Matt 21:13 NLT).
I began to pray as I walked, asking God to use it as such, but as I continued round the church, I instead began to cry and found myself apologizing to God – over and over again – for what had become of his temple. Of the house of God.
This scene is so commonplace in Europe. There are countless cathedrals that were once built to display and symbolize the beauty of God, but are now attended by only a few church-goers, or the occasional person who thinks it’s probably time to go “light one of those little candles” (to a friend’s coworker when church was brought up). Many of these beautiful temples are no longer churches at all. Some are museums, coffee shops, or even rock gyms.
It is so easy to get swept up into the culture of it. They are beautiful buildings! It is a neat idea that you can visit, and hang out in these gorgeous, historic buildings, but the trouble is, this scene is a picture of so much more.. These are the places where religion died. And with it, the spread of Christianity.
We recently spoke with a friend of ours from Belgium who is now a Christian. She spoke of the older generations that stopped going to church long ago, and of the new generations, that as a result know so very little about God or Christianity. We truly believe this means that the harvest is ripe, the time is here, and the place is Europe.
This may seem dramatic, but it truly is heart-felt. Please continue to pray with and for us that God will give us the wisdom of what and when to speak, and the boldness to do so.