f The Wittenberg Door: Reforming Church Architecture

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Reforming Church Architecture


Call me old fashioned, but I think churches should look like churches. Not like shopping malls, coffee houses, or amusement parks. I recall when I moved to San Antonio, TX, (before I moved to the Texas hill country), coming over the hill on the 10 freeway, I saw a brick building with a high roof and a jutting steeple; a true architectural antithesis when compared to the large retail stores and auto dealers around it. I told my family, “I bet that’s our new church”; and sure enough I was right. Easily recognizable, it was set apart, distinct, a true statement of contrast. It looked like a house of worship, not a house of commerce—it looked like a place where God met His people.

David Gobel weighs in by contributing to a series at the The Gospel Coalition Web site on church architecture. Here’s an excerpt:

I suggest that we approach church architecture in terms of worship and witness. Worship is the purpose of the church. Worship, as we understand it from the teaching of Scripture, consists of the reading and preaching of the Word, public prayer, congregational singing, and the celebration of the sacraments. The building in which we worship is the physical setting for this supremely important activity, but it is not to be worshiped itself, nor should it distract us or lead us to worship any created thing. A Reformed church architecture should be, at the outset, supportive of and subordinate to Christian worship. But this does not mean that it must be unattractive or drearily utilitarian.

According to John Calvin, the chief principle governing public worship is decorum, a concept that describes how we are to behave, dress, and, I would add, build. Decorum is a general principle that encompasses propriety, gracefulness, dignity and, yes, beauty. Indeed, these are the qualities that should be sought in church architecture. The dignity, decorum, and beauty that we seek in designing places for public worship should extend also to the external witness of the church. We must not forget that, besides being a gathered body of believers, the local church is also an earthly institution. Like all civic and commercial institutions, when churches construct buildings, they are building public statements about their identity. All buildings—whether art museums, gas stations, big-box retailers, or churches—bear witness to the institutions they serve.

Churches cannot ignore their civic role. The location, site planning, quality of materials, craftsmanship, and design of a church building either contribute to or detract from the overall quality of the built environment of a community. Churches must consider, not only the architectural design of their buildings, but also their relationship to the streets, blocks, and neighboring buildings of the surrounding community. Like all of society, our culture’s built environment is in dire need of reformation. Sprawling landscapes of multilane highways, disconnected developments, and warehouse-style buildings are indicative of a self-absorbed society that is far from pursuing the true chief end of man. The automobile-oriented, big-box, entertainment-style worship centers built by many churches today seem only to perpetuate such culture. How we build our churches is a matter too long ignored. Refor med churches should build buildings fit for the supreme task of corporate worship while contributing to the beauty and welfare of the city of man.

You can read the rest here.

PS. The church pictured above is the one of which I am currently a member, Christ Presbyterian Church of New Braunfels, Texas (PCA). I believe it examples David Gobel’s insights: In contrast to the medical and retirement facilities around it, it’s clearly discernable as a church. Moreover, it exemplifies dignity, decorum, and beauty, all the while remaining consistent with the Alamoesque architecture popular in South Texas.

Click here to see some amazing—and sometimes strange—examples of church architecture.

--The Catechizer

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