Several years ago the Roman Catholic Southern California Diocese announced plans to build a new cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, right next to the famous skid row area.
The building was to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it wasn’t long before the Los Angeles Times ran a series of stories contrasting the poor residents of skid row dressed in rags and sleeping in cardboard boxes with the glamour and expense of the new place of worship.
The controversy blew hot for a few weeks on talk radio and letters to the editor, but what caught my eye was the statement made by the Archbishop Mahoney, the Diocese’ spiritual leader. “Why,” the television reporter had asked, “did the church intend to spend so much money when right around the corner there were so many people who needed help? Why did this proposed building cost so much?”
Mahoney responded: “You build a church building to last a hundred years; you build a cathedral to last a thousand.”
I appreciated the point he was making. A church building, made of framing and sheetrock would probably need to be replaced in one hundred years, but a cathedral, at least as conceived by the arch bishop, would be made out of stone and other long-lasting materials, and be utilized by devotees for generations.
But another thought crossed my mind. It might be true that one builds a church building to last a hundred years. It might be true that one builds a cathedral for a thousand. But we’re in the business of building the church itself, and it will last … an eternity!
Jesus expressed this truth when he declared that the church he planned to build was so long lasting, its foundation so sure, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV). This was the kingdom Daniel declared God would build and it would “stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). The kingdom we serve “cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
The church is comprised of “living stones,” being built for a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).
Compared to a mere thousand years, our work is for the long haul! Remember this: When you influence a young person to serve God, when you encourage an elder to continue in his work, when you edify and encourage your brethren, you’re building for an eternity!
This helps me in two ways. First, I know that when I help build the church, I am engaged in the greatest endeavor on earth.
Second, I take great care not to tear down or discourage, for that effort, too, would have eternal and tragic consequences.
It takes skill and patience to build; any fool can destroy.