Our friends over at Get Religion posted an interesting news story about church architecture: small, rural churches whose buildings are in need of repair, what their choice of architecture indicates about their place in the community, and how new churches are making different choices when it comes to the buildings in which they worship.
Theology is practical, and there is no better testing ground than in the so-called “worship wars.” But, with few exceptions, such debates rarely address one of the most important questions: If matter matters, why don’t our church buildings?
“It’s just a building,” we say of the church-and so it is. “The church is the people, not the brick and mortar.” Right again. According to Scripture, worship is no longer bound to the ceremonies of Mosaic covenant, types and shadows of the reality to come; namely, Christ. He is, after all, the true Sanctuary and Temple of God’s dwelling among his people, and we worship “neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, for the time is coming and now is when people will worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24). God commanded the old covenant worship, with its elaborate regulations governing liturgical, ceremonial, and sacrificial rites, but when the “temple greater than Solomon’s” (Matt. 12:42) arrived and, after being reduced to rubble was rebuilt after three days (John 2:19-21), the Holy of Holies could not be located in any particular earthly structure. Instead, as Jesus promised the Samaritan woman, new covenant worship is eschatological-that is, it takes place in the heavenly sanctuary in which believers are already “seated with Christ” (Eph. 2:6).
Calvin’s impatience with liturgical extravagance and novelty focused on just this concern. Like the covenant people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai around the golden calf, we are all inveterate idolaters. We want to worship “our way,” and our minds are “idol factories,” so “our way” always ends up at odds with God sooner or later. The greatest tragedy in all of this is that, in our impatience with God’s redemptive time-table (like Israel at Mount Sinai), we create our own “image of the invisible God” instead of waiting for the advent of the only legitimate incarnation of God (Col. 1:15).
We’re also making a special article from Dr. Donald Bruggink available. Dr. Bruggink’s article traces the meaning and loss of many of the visual elements of church architecture. His article first appeared in our May/June 2007 issue.