(The following is from the May 2013 issue of St. Alban's Church parish magazine, The Centurion. I apologize for not publishing anything recently, but I have been very busy with family. JGA+)
Someone recently told me that one of the problems with Anglicans is that we have our priorities all mixed up when it comes to spending money. Why do we Anglicans insist on beautifying the house of God and ornamenting our worship at such great expense, especially in these tight financial times? Instead, shouldn’t we take what little money we have or can raise and funnel it entirely into benevolence ministries, or to giving staff members raises? The answer to this question is simple. While God has always commanded his people to take care of the weak and the poor (e.g. Gal. 2:10), and while God has always required those who preach the gospel to live by that work (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:14), God has also revealed that we are to worship him (Psalm 95:1-6). More specifically, we are to worship him sacrificially, and “in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 96:9).
The worship of God quite obviously requires certain supplies and items, such as eucharistic vessels, bowls, containers, books, stands, furniture, etc. Because these appointments are for the worship of almighty God it is fitting that they be of the highest possible quality, and designed and manufactured by skilled artisans who understand the nature and purpose of the various items.
In Exodus chapters 25-30 God himself reveals to Moses how the various items for the divine worship of the Israelites were to be designed and crafted. Even a cursory overview of these chapters shows that no expense was to be spared for the worship of almighty God. The finest precious metals, textiles, and gems were to be used to construct the Ark of the Covenant, the candle stands, vestments, altar, and other objects to be used for the worship of God. In Exodus chapter 31 we read that highly skilled craftsmen, under the leadership of man called Bezaleel, was to design and craft everything according to God’s plan that he revealed to Moses. All of this, mind you, was for the portable Tabernacle that was used by the Israelites while they were wandering in the wilderness. By the time King Solomon comes along and begins building the great Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5 ff.) we see, once again, and on an even grander scale, that no expense is spared when it comes to the worship of almighty God. The lesson in all of this clear. Worship means giving God the best that we possibly can because he is our creator, and “the high and mighty ruler of the universe.” (BCP p. 17)
This reverence for the proper and fitting worship of God was carried into the ancient and medieval Church, and from there into the Anglican tradition. In the sixteenth century the great Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, found himself contending with Protestant radicals known as “Puritans” who not only had zero interest in adorning churches with beautiful objects but, in some quarters, maintained that the great cathedrals and churches of England should be razed! Book 5 chapters XII-XVII of Ecclesiastical Polity is a sound defense the time-honored practice of building and adorning churches for the glory and worship of God. At one point he writes, “Touching God himself, hath he any where revealed that it is his delight to dwell beggarly? And that he taketh no pleasure to be worshiped saving only in poor cottages?” (Eccl. Pol., 5:xv)
While no one is suggesting that the church go overboard and recklessly spend or borrow money to purchase all sorts of opulent and ostentatious appointments that are beyond her her means, what is being suggested is that the church should not shy away from spending money on needed accouterments or appointments as necessary for divine worship. God wants the best to be given and used for divine worship. And he wants us to offer sacrifices of ourselves and all that we have to this end.
There is a very interesting section of St. John’s Gospel (John 12:1-8) where a woman anoints Jesus with a large amount of costly perfume. Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed Jesus, said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?” But Jesus replied, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying has she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” That the Church has a ministry to the poor and needy, and many temporal concerns relative to the cost of doing business to take of is a given. But let us remind our brethren from other traditions that the Church also has an obligation to spend money on her ultimate purpose: the divine worship of almighty God.