Building stuff is very Biblical: Jesus our Lord and Saviour worked as a carpenter, Paul was a tent-maker and the whole people of Israel were commissioned to build cities and villages across Canaan after they had colonized it in a not very pacifist way (I’m really looking forward to Greg Boyd’s book on how to deal with Old Testament violence that’s coming out soon). God realizes that shelter is important, He does not want us to be homeless.
1 Tim 6:8 is often translated as “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that”, and even though Paul’s point clearly is that we should live simply and reject wealth, he isn’t saying that we should be content with homelessness. The word used for “clothing” is in Greek skepasmata, which literally means “coverings”, which can both refer to clothes and shelter. Similarly, the word translated as “food” literally means sustenance.
Historically, the church has indeed built a lot of stuff, but have we really built the right things? As you may know I’m very critical to church buildings, for various reasons that I give in the video above. In Europe where I live, we have hundreds of thousands of church buildings, most of which stand empty at night. We also have four million homeless people, and millions of refugees are expected to seek refuge in our rich subcontinent during the coming years.
In Sweden, the authorities find it difficult to house all the newcomers (even though we’re one of the richest countries on earth and the 150 richest Swedes own a quarter of the Swedish GDP). The pope has exhorted European Christians to open their churches and houses for refugees. I support that whole-heartedly, and think that we should also start to build more eco-friendly houses.
See, besides showing hospitality we Christians are also called to care for God’s creation, which European Christians generally suck at doing. If everybody lived like the average Swede we would need 3.7 planets! Our consumption of electricity, fuel, meat, electronics and stuff is not sustainable. What if we could build simple, cheap houses that are good for the environment and that can house Christian communities that live like in the book of Acts with community of goods, and/or house refugees and homeless people?
The concept of eco-villages is not a new one, many exist already around the globe. Eco-villages are intentional communities that seek to be self-sustaining, organic and healthy. There are many different designs of facilities used in eco-villages, and one of the most interesting I have found is the Earthship design. These houses are to very large extent built by re-using materials like tires and bottles, and decreases the need for external providence of electricity and water by using renewable energy, smart ventilation, filtered rain water and a greenhouse.
Earthship houses are also built to be resistent to natural disasters, and this combined with the low price for building them due to the materials mainly being recycled, has made them popular in for example Haiti:
Church leaders should defenitely look at this. What if Christians became known as standing in the frontlines for social, sustainable communities that both help the poor and care for God’s creation? I think it’s a problem that we often talk about (church) buildings as “glorifying God” due to their aesthetics or how much money we’ve put into them. What if the practical tents that Paul constructed for his fellow human beings carried more of the glory of God than the temple of the old covenant? What if an earthship that houses a Christian community is more glorious than a cathedral?
Update: Here’s a list on cheap house models than one can build.