Recreating the Tower of Babel

from Jul 05, 2009 Category: Articles

There are church buildings that are designed to give no hint of the building’s true purpose as a house of worship. They’re built to look more like town meeting halls. The chancel is no longer called the chancel, it’s called the stage. The pulpit is not called a pulpit, it’s called a lectern, and the congregation isn’t called a congregation, but it’s called an audience. Part of this is a desire to break through the old traditions that people have become inoculated against and no longer want any part of. In at least some cases, it is due to an abiding antipathy to beauty in worship, based on a desire to avoid an empty form of worship that is merely external. The church wants to exhibit that worship comes from the heart, not from external stimuli.

A crisis arises every time a congregation goes through a building program. Perhaps more people leave the church over what color the church basement is painted than over correct doctrine. Often, somebody will say, “We shouldn’t spend money on our sanctuary. It would be better to give it to missions or to feed the poor,” and how can one argue with that? On the other hand, some say, “We want the sanctuary to be beautiful. We want it to be a place that expresses our desire to honor the magnificence of God.” That tension is always there.

It’s easy for us to make our churches and our sanctuaries not so much a reflection of our desire to honor God with beauty, but rather an attempt to recreate the Tower of Babel and to build a monument to ourselves, to our affluence and our status. That’s a precipitous danger anytime we’re building a church. So we need to remember that when God built a church, He was concerned that it communicate not just His beauty but His glory, and His glory alone.

No church going through a building project has unlimited finances, but new buildings don’t have to be overwhelmingly expensive. Whatever we do, with whatever budget we have, should be done tastefully and with a view toward making the church building a visible expression of our desire to honor God—in the architecture and in the adornment. Everything ought to be weighed and considered, even down to the matter of whether the pastor should wear a robe and, if so, how it should look; for what he wears will have an impact on the worship experience of the people. I sometimes wonder if we are more concerned about our own appearance, decorating our own bodies and our own homes, to a greater degree than we are of honoring God in worship. This should not be. Our church buildings and our church services should be marked by visible beauty, so that we might be reminded of the glory and beauty of God.

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From A Taste for Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity by R.C. Sproul.