The Rock of Catastrophe

When Peter describes the church, he describes us as living stones, built up into a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5). This house is a holy priesthood, set apart to offer up spiritual sacrifices, sacrifices that are made acceptable to God through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He goes on to say that there is a basic distinction between people, between those who are living stones, built up upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, and those who treat the cornerstone as a stone of stumbling and rock of offense. So Jesus is either the living rock upon all other living rock derives its life, or Jesus is the rock of catastrophe for those who were appointed to their epic disobedience. When they stumble, the text says that they stumble at the Word. This Word is what we build upon, and this Word is what they stumble over. It is the same Word, with two different responses entirely. Now everything we do as a Christian church should be done in such a way as to testify to this glorious truth, … [Read more...]

A Time to Build

The preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything. There is a time for birth and a time for dying. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance, and so on. Of interest to us here is that there is a time for tearing down and a time for building. When “the time” for something arrives, there is nothing whatever that can prevent it from occurring. This means that when it is time for building, all the apparent obstacles will be manifested as just that—apparent. They will look formidable when they first present themselves, but when approached by men and women of faith they will give way in a most natural fashion. Why? Because it is time to build. If it is not time, the most trivial things can prevent it from happening. When it is time, the most monumental obstacles will be overcome and it will seem to be the most natural thing in the world. So the challenge is to read the times correctly. What separates presumption and faith? It is the ability to read the … [Read more...]

Adorned Clean Through

The Bible teaches that the woman is the glory of the man. This is why she takes what the man provides and glorifies. She is a glory, and she is a glorifier. The man brings home a paycheck, and she turns it into a living room, or bacon and eggs in the morning. Adornment is not a mere add-on extra; adornment is what the universe is driving toward. The woman therefore is the crown of her husband (Prov. 12:4). But what about the Church? If this is true of wives generally, is it also true of the bride of Christ? It is true. The Church is described as the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way (Eph. 1:23). Christ fills the cosmos, and the Church fills Christ. Yes—just as women are called to adorn themselves, and not just externally, so also Christians are called to adorn the doctrine of the gospel (Tit. 2:10). The Church is a woman, and is called to adornment. But she is called to adorn herself the same way individual Christian women are called to adorn themselves—with a … [Read more...]

More Growth Problems

When real ministry is occurring, one of the things you can expect to see is something of a mess. “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: But much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Prov. 14:4). Dying churches are usually clean and tidy. Growing churches, flourishing churches, are characterized by “situations” that crop up, quite regularly. In the book of Acts, the church enjoyed a rapid explosion of growth. The result of this growth was a ball drop in their mercy ministries. The Hellenistic widows were overlooked in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1). When the problem was voiced, the church addressed it forthrightly, carefully, and scripturally, appointing seven godly men to oversee the distribution. What was the result of this godly response? Well, the result was more growth (Acts 6:7). In other words, if you address the problems caused by growth scripturally, the solution is going to be more problems caused by growth. Building a sanctuary can be seen in two ways. One … [Read more...]

The Barnacles of Devotion

We have noted that simplicity is an aesthetic value, and should not be regarded simply as a theological value. Too many times believers assume that if one’s good, then two’s better, and over the centuries the worship of God gets progressively encrusted with the barnacles of devotion. But it is not enough simply to develop an aesthetic sense in the abstract and then go build a building that is like that. This is because the sanctuary itself, once built, will have a didactic role. Once we have a church building, and we have a generation of children who grew up worshiping God in that building, we will discover that their aesthetic sense has been trained by their surroundings. The reason this is sometimes obscured is because of other factors. If you have an elegantly simple church structure, but the children growing up in it are surrounded by doctrinal and moral hypocrisies, those of them that still retain any genuine faith are going to want to get away from “all of that” as fast as … [Read more...]

Beautiful Simplicity

When making our aesthetic decisions about our church building, we have to remember that simplicity is an aesthetic value. We have to remember that less is more. Some want to say that if one’s good, then two’s better, and that more is more. Balance is always difficult. Some have adopted simplicity as a moral value, and have wound up insisting on more of it than the Bible insists on, and for the wrong reason. But nevertheless simplicity remains an aesthetic value, which is why an odd religious group like the Shakers could wind up producing beautiful furniture. They went there for the wrong reason, but they got there – at least with the end tables. Others have adopted difficulty as a moral value, and they have produced some very impressive (and overdone) results. We want our worship of God to be reverent, joyful, balanced, harmonious, scriptural . . . and simple. But when you set yourself to such a goal, you soon discover that it’s complicated. Keeping it simple takes discipline and … [Read more...]

Balanced Worship

A dedicated space for worship has a shaping and disciplinary effect. When we meet in an informal setting, as we have been doing for years, we have had to make a point of selecting music that helps us swim upstream. Because the informal surroundings make it easier for the worship to become breezy and casual, we have deliberately leaned against that. This is because the Bible tells us bluntly that our worship should be offered up with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28). God is a consuming fire. But when we have a sanctuary, and find ourselves meeting in a space bounded by classic church architecture, we are going to have to make a different set of adjustments. Hopefully, there will be no adjustments in our theology of worship, music, and liturgy, but we will notice—if we are paying the right kind of attention—that the natural pressures will at that time be coming from another direction. The outside Christian culture, and our rented space, push us toward greater informality. But … [Read more...]

Presumption and Timidity

When undertaking the construction of anything, but particularly a sanctuary, it is important to balance two things. The first thing is that you do not want to be presumptuous about the future. The second is that you must walk in faith, in full confidence about the future. If you are reading the story you are in, then you should be anticipating how the next chapter is supposed to go. With regard to the first, the Bible is very plain. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Our lives are a mist, a vapor, a bit of cloud in the mountains (Jas. 4:14). Why then do we make confident pronouncements as though the future were held by us? To behave this way is presumption. So what is faith? To a secular observer standing off to the side, faith can look an awful lot like presumption. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). On the one hand, you don’t want to run on out ahead, writing faith checks on the assumption that something … [Read more...]

A Choice Triangle

One of the things our elders learned from our architect is what might be called a choice triangle. For any new construction, there are three basic elements to the project. Take the square footage, take the quality of design and materials, and take the dollar amount to be spent. Those are the three corners of your triangle. As you look at those three elements, you may pick any two, and the two you pick will determine the third. If you have this amount of money and no more, and you want this square footage, then that will determine the quality of construction. If you want this quality of construction, and to spend this amount of money, that will determine how big it is going to be. You get the picture. The two you pick determine your priorities, and the one that remains for you is the cost you must pay for your priorities. If costs must be limited, but high quality is essential, then the cost you must pay is in size. Any one of the three of them can be the cost you pay, and any two … [Read more...]

A Duddy-Dead One

Biblical wisdom literature often encourages us to prefer one of two offered paths, when there are actually four possibilities. For example, we are told that it is better to have a little money and fear of the Lord than to have lots of wealth and big trouble with it (Prov. 15:16). We are also told that thin soup and thick love is better than a sumptuous meal and hatred around the table (Prov. 15:17). It is better to be humble and with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud (Prov. 16:19). The old gospel hymn frames it this way: “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” And this is very much a biblical way of thinking. But remember there are four possibilities. 1. You could not have Jesus and not have silver or gold. 2. You could not have Jesus and have silver or gold. 3. You could have Jesus and no silver or gold. 4. You could have Jesus and silver or gold. It is the point of the wisdom comparison to make us realize that this fourth option is not nearly as easy as it … [Read more...]

Wineskin Memorial

As we are preparing for a sanctuary of our own, we have to remember that we are not the only ones doing the preparing. Not only are we preparing in all the ways we know about, so also God is preparing us—in many ways we don’t usually know about. When denominations form, and when church buildings are built or occupied, what we are seeing is the institutionalization of the church. This is not a bad thing—it is necessary in the very nature of the case—but it can easily become a bad thing if we are not being prepared by the Spirit of God to take our place in wisdom. There is nothing that can be done to keep new wineskins from becoming old wineskins. If you have a new wineskin in time and in history at all it will at some point be an old wineskin. That is the role of the much disparaged “institutional church.” The institutional church is the wineskin. There are temptations that come with this, sure enough, but you can’t opt out of that temptation by rejecting wineskins generally. … [Read more...]

Hope Deferred and the Tree of Life

The gospel gathers us, and our subsequent worship consists of what we say and what we enact. We say, we confess, that Jesus is Lord and we believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. But Jesus said that if we love Him we will do what He said, and the very last thing he said for us to do is disciple the nations, baptize them, and teach them to obey all that He commanded. There it is—our marching orders: disciple, baptize, and teach. Pretty straightforward. We are doing this in a world full of physical people who have immortal souls. In order to speak to their souls, we have to send bodies. We enact what we believe, with words, with water, with bread and wine, and with brick and mortar. In order to reach people who live in this world, we have to establish patterns of true worship in every place on this globe, and we have to do this in a way that does not interfere with the genius of the mission. If we deliberately build a sanctuary that is just a glorified big box … [Read more...]

Glory Gift

One of the central things that a place dedicated to worship should do is frame a space that is conducive to true worship, and to do so in a way that does not tend to draw “worship” to itself. With regard to the first, we have to ask ourselves what a Christian worship service should be like. Contrary to the operating assumption of many Christians today, it should not be a breezy and informal affair. First, worship should be disciplined and orderly, as Paul commends the Colossians for having just a worship service. “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5). Not only must it be orderly, it should be attended with reverence and godly fear. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). The word rendered serve here is worship. This means that when churches strive … [Read more...]

Testify or Die

The people of God are the congregation of testimony. We worship and serve the God who intervenes in human history, and we are among those who testify to what He has done. We are to do this with our lives, with our families, and with our collective and corporate worship. We testify, and we are to testify in all that we do. This includes whatever sanctuary we might build. Is the testimony true? If there is no true testimony, there is no true sanctuary. The ark of the covenant was called the ark of the testimony numerous times (e.g. Ex. 26:34). The two tables of the Ten Commandments were called the “tables of testimony” (Ex. 31:18). The tabernacle was called the “tabernacle of testimony” (Num. 1:53). Our task is always to testify to God’s testimony, responding to it faithfully. God says “I have acted here,” and we say “Yes, He did.” And remember that when we seek to build a testimony, there will be those who don’t want us to—like Sanballat and Nehemiah’s wall. The philosophers Hume … [Read more...]

Celebrity Chefs and Raw Foods

Architecture needs to be, like all other forms of human expression, honest. There must be no pretense, no sham, no attempts at misdirection. Centrally, when we are talking about the architecture of a church, the honesty must be of the kind that plainly recognizes that God is God, and we are not. When you come into a church to pray, it must be the kind of place that helps you tell the truth, instead of the kind of place that aids and abets in the telling of lies. There are many examples, but here is just one. It is easy for a traditional church with a very long nave to tell all the people that God is distant, down at the other end. This is not said in so many words, but it is said. And we acknowledge that God is transcendent, utterly beyond us, but in Christ through the gospel, He is the God who is with us, who has come down to us, who is present with us in our assembly. And this is why our seating is in a landscape layout, and not a portrait layout. Picture the people of God … [Read more...]