God is not nostalgic. I’m reminded of this every time I pass an old church building that’s been turned into an art gallery or a cheese museum or any number of alternate purposes. Seeing it churns my stomach. Knowing that God is not moved by it has the same effect.
“God, how can you let this happen?” I’ll pray. “Why have you allowed something built for your glory to be debased like this?” Truthfully, I’d rather see the old building destroyed than see it debased.
But God is not nostalgic. He isn’t distracted by things, even if those things once served a great purpose. “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) The great purpose those buildings once represented left them long ago, thus making them what they are today: nostalgia.
As the Church in the Netherlands has suffered the loss of her buildings, her people and her influence in society, she has struggled to find her place in this new, unknown, secularised world. Unfortunately, her leaders had not sufficiently prepared her to look beyond the forms to which she was accustomed when everyone was comfortable. For too long the church found her identity in her buildings, membership rosters, programs, services, speakers, music, cultural acceptance, etc.
The great cultural shift that is secularisation has hit her where she was weakest – her comfort zone – and the blow has been almost devastating. She found her identity in all those things and all those things are breaking apart. The church has suffered an identity crisis. The old buildings are almost altogether lost. Programs aren’t enough to bring new people in. No one seems to want to listen to what the preacher has to say anymore. The things which she spent centuries mastering no longer serve any purpose apart from placating those within her walls. Yet she has been limping along for decades in the faint hope that something, somehow will change and all will again be as it used to be.
There is nothing more truly pathetic than the person who clings irrationally to remnants of “the good old days”. Like the old lady who, amidst shouts of “No! Come back!”, ran into the burning sanctuary to save the old organ only to die not having moved the massive instrument a single meter. Poor, foolish woman. The music did not come from the organ. It came from you! But you cherished the memories of your past more than the possibilities of your future and all the songs that could have been died needlessly with you.
The sanctuary of our nostalgia is burning down. And while it burns, many are running into the fire, trying to salvage some remnant of those things that once held so much meaning for us.
I believe the Spirit is saying to His Church in the Netherlands: let the metaphorical building burn. Or in our case, let it become a cheese museum. Let its once great but long lost purpose fade into the pages of history and with it our reliance upon all our things.
From the very beginning, Christ’s church was meant to be a movement of pilgrims, strangers, exiles, those rejected by the world but at home in Christ wherever they went. We were meant to be people who were just passing through, bringing the signs and the hope of the Kingdom of God and thereby making an oasis of life and renewal everywhere we go.