There are more than a few, in fact way too many, Christians who view the church as a great and magnificent fortified city, the very seat of God, in words so much like the psalmist who wrote:
count its towers,
13 consider well its ramparts;
go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
14 that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will be our guide forever.
What a magnificent sight, a site so impressive, says the psalmist that the kings of the earth were scared to death when they assembled around it. But consider also that it’s a defensive site designed to keep the bad guys out and provide a safe haven for the authorized good guys, be impervious to the inevitable attack, and a sign of invincible domination over all others. Wow!
The odd thing is that God never seemed to care much for symbols like that. The great prophets who preached within the walls generally preached against the city, even as they sometimes lauded the temple that lay within. Time and again the city was destroyed and the temple ravaged. Consider that most of Jesus’ ministry was out in the open air of Galilee, and that even when in Jerusalem he appeared to be more comfortable sleeping under a tree in Gethsemane or maybe at a friends house in Bethany. Although his trial was within the city, his crucifixion, burial and resurrection were outside the walls.
With that thought in mind, look at what God says about his city through the prophet Isaiah as recorded in the 60th chapter. It is full of light, God’s glory shines over and through it, nations and kings stream to it, there is no violence in it, no destruction anywhere around it, sun and moon are not needed because God provides the light, and its gates are never shut. No doubt laughing all the time, he gave Ezekiel explicit directions for its blueprint with dimensions that make no sense in the human way of measuring. What a difference! Think of that as the image we Christians should have for the church.
With that image in mind we no longer need fear any adversary, we can dare to be open to all with gates that are never shut, we can be repositories of God’s eternal light remembering that even a flickering light in a broken pot is stronger than the darkest dark. It’s an image that applies in part to the buildings that serve the purposes of the church, but even more to the church as the gathered saints who are gathered not to be separated from the world but to be lights in the world.
For me, that’s an icon worthy of adoration.