Thursday, April 6, 2017

Living room or temple. . .

We spend a great deal of time and money trying to make church comfortable -- both for those who are there every Sunday and those who walk through the door for the first time.  We have formal programs of welcome.  We make what happens accessible to those who have never been there before as well as those who are there all the time.  We arrange the church in the shape of a movie theater so that everyone has a good line of sight.  We put in comfortable seating and even cup holders so that those with the ever present bottled water or Starbucks have a spot to put them.  We turn pastors into MCs who narrate and direct a variety show filled with entertainment.  We preach current needs and make the message relevant to their felt needs and wants.  The typical church has become a living room or family room in which casual living and relationships are the most important things of all.

Now there is nothing wrong with being attentive to the visitor or formal programs of welcome or making sure that the facility is in good shape.  There is nothing wrong with making sure that what is done on Sunday morning is done well -- from preaching to music.  There is something wrong with the idea that people's mental, emotional, or physical comfort is the prime concern.  There is something wrong with taking the cue for preaching and teaching from the expressed needs or desires of the people in the pew.  The church is a temple, a holy place where God comes to us where He has promised to deliver to us what we need (even when we may not recognize those needs).  No encounter with the mighty God is ever casual.

Some are beginning to rethink the modern shape of churches, with everything from low ceilings to plush carpeting to theater style seating.  The older and more formal shapes of the worship space are being looked at again.  It is none too soon but the damage has already been done -- not only to the older buildings which were remodeled in ways that conflict with their architecture but in the minds of people who have come to believe that their comfort and their desires are the primary things front and center on Sunday morning.  The temple is holy ground wherein we acknowledge that we are standing before the most high God.  The agenda is His. 

Look at what one parish has done, moving from a very modern structure when an emphasis on the horizontal relationship to a new structure that is very old in style and with a focus on the horizontal emphasis.  Note also the role of art in mirroring what happens in the liturgy.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Pastor, it is really not all that bad. Most LCMS churches are not focused on the superficial comforts of the congregation as a main theme, nor are they unduly entertainment oriented. As for the architecture, some of the earlier churches were much more garish and stately in some older cities, but most reflected the practical German values and pragmatic styles. However, there are indeed some US churches which are constructed like stadiums and theatres, and most are non liturgical and maybe too contemporary. But they do not view themselves negatively, as they would describe themselves as "vibrant" and relevant to the fast moving world of today. God will judge the churches, but the main issue is the substance of the Gospel message and the faithfulness of the people and clergy, not the architectural style. I think most observers would agree that Solomon went overboard with the Temple he much ivory and gold embellishments.

Kirk Skeptic said...

I wonder how much it will cost the congregation to heat, air condition, and generally maintain their new digs. The early church often met in tabernae; were they missing something? Without all the architectural and artistic contrivances so valued by the high church set, the first Christians were able to liturgically worship in Spirit and in truth. Methinks high churchmen confuse the besuty of holiness with the holiness of beauty.