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The Loss of Notre Dame Reminds Us Sacredness and Doctrine Matter and Matter Together

Let me make a point that should be utterly without controversy. To be a Christian, a person must believe in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is not opinion. It is scriptural. 1 Corinthians 15 is Paul’s dissertation on the subject. It is Christianity 101. Jesus himself talks of his resurrection and reveals himself as physically living after the resurrection. He was no ghost.

Now let me offer another point that should be utterly without controversy. To be a Christian means to believe in the trinity. There is one God in three persons. It is one reason why our Mormon and Jehovahs Witness friends fall outside orthodox Christianity. While scripture never uses the word trinity, it is woven throughout scripture and is one of the earliest doctrines derived from scripture.

The New Testament writers repeatedly used the same word for Christ that they used for God. John 1 tells us “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word, Jesus, was Yahweh. His name, Immanuel, means “God with us.” In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses change it to “and the Word was a God,” which is not reflected in any of the ancient manuscripts. John is very precise in his Gospel, quoting Jesus saying “I and the Father are one.”

This was settled by the church at the Council of Nicea and more fully set out in the Council of Chalcedon, both councils adopting creeds accepted by all branches of Christianity.

The walls and stained glass of Notre Dame, now so badly damaged, depicted stories from the Bible and these doctrines that are foundational to the faith. The faithful, at the time, were mostly illiterate and the pictures instructed and provided awe and wonder.

The sacred spaces formed, in part, as a reflection of church doctrine. The Protestant Reformation, which simplified and reformed Christianity, saw a simplification of the churches, but still worked to maintain a feeling of the sacred in the sanctuaries.

Now, in the 21st century, we have industrial church complexes that deprive us of sacred spaces and the sense of awe and wonder. We go in to hear the band and the silver-tongued pastor and lose the sense of the sacred. Correspondingly, as churches have opened doors to those likely to open checkbooks, churches have dumbed down or deleted doctrines. The rich young ruler is more easily parted with his money when he is made to feel good about his wealth and unburdened of the need to repent or acknowledge the existence of sin.

Frankly, many of the illiterate peasants of thirteenth century France had a greater knowledge of Christian Doctrine from studying the walls and windows of Notre Dame than many 21st century church going American Christians.

The doctrines of the church matter. They matter because our faith tells us that if we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior we shall have eternal life. But a great many Americans in a great many churches are not accepting as their Lord and Savior the Jesus Christ of scripture, but one invented by the niceties of late twentieth and early twenty-first century American commercialism. The Jesus of scripture spoke of damnation, violently chased the money-lenders from the temple, and will return to judge the living and the dead. The Jesus of commercial American Christianity is love and tears and accepting everyone and taking everyone to a Heaven that doesn’t exist as long as we aren’t judgey. The doctrines on the hypostatic union, the trinity, the resurrection, grace, and the rest matter in understanding who the Jesus of the Bible really is.

Doctrine matters. Sacredness matters. The sacred space in which we feel in awe of God and his wonders matter. There are many churches that cannot afford a Notre Dame. There are plenty of formerly Christian Episcopal Churches that are crumbling onto the ash heap of history with beautiful stained glass and flying buttresses. The doctrines and the sacred spaces work together and must go together.

The churches of American Christianity could stand to foster more sacredness and a sense of connecting with the divine. For those that cannot do so through architecture and art, they should do so through the community of believers who reflect Christ’s love to each other and the preaching of sound doctrine. Create the sacred through the community caring for each other.

But Christians should not abandon doctrine any more than they should abandon a real need for sacred spaces that lift the soul and inspire awe. We need Notre Dame. As a Presbyterian, I disagree with my Catholic brothers and sisters on many doctrines, but I need them and their ritual and wonder that inspire so many even in the secular world as much as I need the sound doctrines of the Christian faith.

The resurrection and the trinity are not controversial subjects. But we have allowed them to be by failing to preach them and teach them regularly and with reverence.

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