Jim Denison: The Fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral Cannot Destroy the Church

The fire that devastated the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was an accident, according to the president of the Paris region. Donors have already pledged millions of dollars to rebuild the medieval landmark, one of the most iconic in the world.

The Cathedral was begun in 1163 with the laying of the cornerstone and largely completed by 1345. The cathedral towers are both 226 feet tall. They were the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

Around four hundred firefighters battled the blaze for nine hours before extinguishing it. The cathedral’s iconic spire fell, but the towers were saved.

People in Paris lined the streets as the cathedral burned, praying and holding vigils for the monument.


The Notre Dame Cathedral is a significant metaphor for religion in our times.

French President Emmanuel Macron described the devastating fire as the “emotion of an entire nation.” Thirteen million people visit the cathedral each year, making it one of the world’s most beloved structures.

And yet, practicing Catholics make up only 1.8 percent of the French population. According to a recent study, “the practice of the immense majority of French Catholics is limited to life events such as baptism, marriage, death, etc. and to the major feasts of the Church.”

The French are by no means alone in their view of the church’s relevance today.


The oldest church building in the world is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Begun in AD 327 by Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, it marks the location of Jesus’ birth. The second-oldest church building is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, also begun by Helena and intended to mark the location of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I have visited both many times over the years. Each time, I am struck by the beauty of the structures and the way they draw my attention vertically to the Lord they are intended to serve.

However, the fourth-century decision to begin constructing church buildings across the Empire marked a major shift in the way Western culture understood the nature of the church.

If you had asked a first-century Christian, “Where is the church?” he or she would not have known how to answer your question. It would be like asking, “Where is the Republican (or Democratic) Party?” or “Where is the pro-life movement?”

Early Christians knew that they were the church. Buildings they used to gather for worship were just that—buildings. Jesus launched the church as a movement intended to attack the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). The church is not a location but an army that marches on its knees as it makes disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

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Source: Christian Headlines