Today marks the grand opening of an ark: a San Antonio megachurch's 24,800-square-feet replica of the apocalypse-surviving boat of Genesis 6, 7 and 8. The structure is two-stories, has 13 classrooms and is designed to hold 850 children. It also houses a number of animatronic animals including a talking macaw and a giraffe that raises and lowers its head.
The animals have names like "John Bunyan" and "Dietrich Bonhoeffer."
A facebook page dedicated to The Ark calls it a "place of fun, learning and worship" for toddlers and Kindergarten-age children.
My San Antonio reports:
Called The Ark, it cost almost $5 million and will open to the public Saturday and for church programs the next day. It aims to spur wonderment but also to underscore the Bible's authenticity, said Matthew Hagee, executive pastor.
"I want them to say it happened," he said. "The Ark was real. Salvation is real. What God desires for Noah, God desires for me. For Noah, it was a boat. And for me, it was Jesus Christ."
In recent years, churches nationwide have ramped up resources for innovative children's buildings, mindful of their appeal to young families, and Noah's Ark has enjoyed longstanding popularity for such spaces. A Christian theme park in Kentucky is building a full-scale replica.
But the scale and sophistication of Cornerstone's new facility -- and particularly its collection of electronically controlled animal replicas -- might be unmatched nationally, say experts in Christian children's ministry.A children's minister at the church told the media the ark is meant to compete with the "whiz-bang Disney stuff," and to send a message to parents: "We don't just want your kids to come here and learn. We want them to experience God."
The imitation boat manages to symbolize a lot of the distinctive messages of the megachurch, including its emphasis on the historicity of such Bible stories as Noah and the ark, and also its emphasis on apocalypticism.
Cornerstone was founded in the 1970s by controversial Pentecostal pastor John Hagee, who is still the senior minister of the 20,000-member church. The biblical character Noah has figured into the teachings of both the older and the younger Hagee. Mathew Hagee preached a sermon series called "Build an Ark" about "the divine warnings the Word of God gives us about the day an age in which we live." Noah's ark, he said,
tells us that the wise pay attention, they make a plan … they are prepared. When something changes in their life, they are not affected.
I pray that you will become aware of the situations surrounding you and that you will begin to build yourself an ark. I want you to build yourself a spiritual ark for your family to take refuge in, a financial ark to provide for your children and your grandchildren, an ark for your marriage, and an ark for your ministry. Ultimately, in every area of your life, I want you to consider how you can be better prepared for the things that are coming your way so when they do come, and trust me they will come, it is not a matter of if you will be victorious, but for certain that you will live in total triumph.The elder Hagee also mentions Noah and the ark in a recent book where he suggested the apocalypse could begin on December 12, 2012. John Hagee opens the book, Can America Survive?, by comparing the nation to another gigantic boat, the Titanic. He writes:
Why do I belabor this point?
Because America, believed to be the most powerful and 'unsinkable' nation on the face of the earth, is now racing across the stage of history in a similar perfect storm -- this one driven by the winds of political correctness, economic meltdowns leading to the death of the dollar, the rejection of Israel, the maniacal nuclear ambitions of the theocratic dictatorship in Iran, the ten prophetic signs that we are the terminal generation now being fulfilled in Biblical prophecy for the first time in world history, and the very real fact that in the near future planet Earth is going to experience, on a specific day, global ecological disaster in which a third of humanity will die.The tenth "sign," according to Hagee, is the similarity between the world today and the world "in the days of Noah."