Museum or Zoo?

Take a look at 1 Peter 2:1-12 in the New Testament section of your ESV Bible.

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the White Which had turned several of the inhabitants of the fictional world of Narnia into statues. Aslan, the lion, defeated the White Witch and then went to the courtyard were all the statues had been placed. He breathed life into them.

To quote from the book,

“The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colors; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, New York: Collier, 1950, p. 137)

Take note of that first line: “The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo.”

The thing about museums is that if they don’t keep changing their exhibits and holding special events, who’s going to come visit a second time? Also, who tends to favor museums? Adults, right? Older adults, especially. Museums are quiet, consistent places dedicated to learning about the past. But, they’re not the kind of places who receive a lot of younger repeat visitors. They hold artifacts of bygone days, some of which are so foreign to modern people that they might as well have been made on another planet!

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at zoos. Who tends to favor a zoo? Children and younger adults, right? Do people repeatedly visit a zoo? Probably more often than a museum, because you never get to see all the animals in a single visit at the zoo. Zoos can be loud and smelly places, and not just because of the animals that live there. Life at the zoo can be a little unscripted; you may see some sides of animal life you didn’t really care to see. But at least at the zoo, the exhibits are alive.

So – is your church a museum or a zoo? Is your emphasis on the trophies of the past, or do you exhibit a living faith? That’s one thing that both zoos and museums have in common; they both have exhibits. Let’s take a look at what Peter taught about the kind of people who ought to be on exhibit in churches.


In Ephesians 4, Paul uses infants as a symbol of spiritual immaturity. He says the church there was subsisting on the elementary truths of our faith in the way that a child depends on his mother’s milk. He urged them on to the “meatier” truths of the spiritually mature.

But Peter’s symbolism is different. NEWBORN INFANTS are morally innocent. Peter urges them to a diet of PURE SPIRITUAL MILK, with the emphasis on PURE. The truth of the Bible encourages us to moral purity and sustains our growth INTO SALVATION.

The Bible writers do not always use symbols in the same way. This may be a little confusing, but being careful to study the passages in context, we can keep them separate.


Followers of Jesus try to follow His example; as He is a LIVING STONE (4), so we are LIVING STONES (5). Together, we make up a SPIRITUAL HOUSE, a temple, a place in the world where God dwells. It is a place in the daily world where God may be found by those who seek Him. Note that individual stones aren’t as useful until they are brought together to build up the temple walls.


The word “chosen” speaks to divine initiative; God chose us first, provided salvation w/out our help. As He chose Israel before her, God chose the Church for salvation, obedience, and service. This is never a point of arrogance.


The Latin word for “priest” (pontifex) means “one who builds bridges.” Peter’s symbolism changes from building SPIRITUAL HOUSES to building spiritual bridges between God and people, and between people, to join us all together in Christ.

The first modifier of our priesthood is HOLY (5). Remember, this means set apart from worldly uses to God’s specific use AND morally pure.

The other modifier is ROYAL (9). In this world we rightly understand that putting the government and the Church in the hands of the same people is a mistake. But in the New Creation, sin nature and human nature are forever destroyed and we’re promised that we will be able to rule as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10 + 20:6). Our royalty comes from being adopted into/t family o/t King of Heaven.


We were once loners. Now we are family. In our own world, sometimes the value of an object is not determined b/t object itself, but by the person who owned it.


We do not conform to the world’s standards or make up our own; it’s not ours. Have you ever sung, “This world is not my home, I’m only passing through…?” That’s what a “sojourner” is, a traveler who’s passing through. The journey is important and so is the destination; they are both one and the same. This word is also translated as “strangers;” the word used for Abraham in Canaan (see Gensis 23:4).

EXILES (11).

Worldly-minded people do not understand or like heavenly-minded people. It is their rejection of us that makes us EXILES. Think “green card;” God’s people are in this world on a temporary visa and work permit. This word can also be translated as “pilgrim;” a traveler for religious reasons. “Just visiting;” like the outside border of the jail square on the “Monopoly” board.

Whenever someone asks you – on any subject – to choose either…or? Ask, “Why not both?” Why can’t we be both a museum AND a zoo? Why can’t we continue to celebrate our history and traditions and at the same time tell the story of Jesus in a way that is compelling to modern audiences?

In Sioux Falls, SD, they have an attraction called the Great Plains Zoo, which is a combination of zoo and museum. The museum portion exhibits a collection of stuffed animals and other natural artifacts that describe the science of our world. The zoo exhibits live animals that are displayed in various buildings and outdoor enclosures. I’m not sure what African animals think about South Dakota winters, but they do a good job of surviving. The Great Plains Zoo is a place people want to visit again and again.

Perhaps it should be our ambition to be both a museum and a zoo! A people whose purpose is to be rooted in the past but spreading branches into the present.


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