Over the past few months I been having a lot of e-mail correspondence with a couple of younger seminary guys. They were entering seminary about the time I was leaving, and we have kept in touch. Both of them recently launched into churches over the summer (one a church plant and one a traditional church). They have peppered me with tons of questions, so I've taken some of the better ones and will be posting them over the next few weeks.
Our church plant has just bought property and are now planning a building. Our leadership team can't decide if we should build a traditional-type sanctuary or something that doesn't look so traditional. Thoughts?Josh's answer: Yes I have a few thoughts. First, what in the world do you mean by "traditional"? Certainly you can't be referring to biblical tradition. The "traditional" church comes to us from our Protestant forefathers who simply took the architectural styles of the Medieval Roman Catholics. The Catholic church had a seriously flawed view of the Church--equating it with the Kingdom of God and viewing it primarily as institutional and geographical. Thus, in Catholic thought the "sanctuary" is the spot where we gather to take the mass and worship (whereas in Scripture the sanctuary is the people of God themselves). The Reformers, in a slightly better though still misguided move, redefined the sanctuary as the place where the congregant encounters the spoken Word (e.g. bible preaching). Though better, they still misunderstood the whole idea of "Church"--which biblically means "an assembly of believers".
I personally think the absolutely worst thing a congregation could do is to build a church building that looks anything like a "church". Any argument in its favor must necessarily abandon scriptural definitions and examples. Arguments in its favor generally are one of the following two:
1. It won't feel worshipful unless it looks like a traditional church - The person uttering this comment has a woefully unbiblical idea of worship and frankly a very, very legalistic outlook. Legalism is simply trying to produce religion on our own terms. Instead of being able to bask in the presence of God in the company of other believers--wherever that may occur--this individual won't "feel worshipful" unless they have some man-added thing to grasp.
2. People won't understand and they need a traditional looking church to be drawn in - Really? In Paul's day temples and houses of worship were all over the place, in whatever religion happened to meet your fancy. What was unheard of was the biblical idea of "church". The Gospel--and the very concept of church--is by definition countercultural. We can't build the Gospel--the emphasis is always on living it.
On on practical note, why would you spend so much money on a single use structure like a sanctuary? You will get to use it only one day a week (maybe two), and the rest of the time it sits taking up space unused. It's hard for me to imagine how that brings glory to God. Why not simply build a gym or reconvert a warehouse? You can use the space for all sorts of things: weddings, funerals, services, bible studies, basketball, fellowship dinners, outreach events---whatever you can dream of!
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