Dr. Carl Trueman, who is both a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church and a professor of church history at the Westminster Theological Seminary, has permitted the on-line publication of a series of nineteen of his lectures on the history of the Reformation. I’ve watched five and a half of these lectures to date and although I am sure that I have learned a lot about the Reformation itself, it seems that- as is so often the case – the best things Trueman imparts are the little, incidental asides that he darts onto from time to time.
In one such digression, he talks for a moment about church architecture. He is making a point about the sacraments and how they are viewed in the Roman Catholic Church. He says that in the best Roman Catholic Cathedrals, the center of attention, the focal point of the sanctuary, is the altar. This, he says, is consistent with Catholic theology because there the “Mass” is the main thing. The Roman Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation” dictates that the elements of the Lord’s Supper actually, physically become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, God is present with and to his people in the Lord’s Supper.
That by itself is informative and interesting enough, but Trueman goes on to make a point about Protestant church buildings. Trueman confesses that his own church meets in an abandoned bowling alley, since that was the only building available to him that could accommodate his church at the time. But he admits that church architecture is important and may either foster or impede the message and mission of the church. Trueman’s statements on this point are repeated, in essence, in this article
He says that if money were no object and he were allowed to design a sanctuary for his church, he would first find an architect who was familiar with Protestant theology, since the theology of the church should, ideally, be reflected in the structure and design of the building. Trueman says that in Protestant sanctuaries the focal point is not the altar, but rather the pulpit, since in Protestant theology God is present to His people in the preaching of the word. Thus, preaching is not merely the imparting of information, advice or even theology. It may be all of those things, but it is first and foremost, God meeting with His people. Here are two verses from the Protestant hymn, Break Thou the Bread of Life:
Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with Thee above;
Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.
O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:
Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.
As we consider the subject of worship, we should give thought to our own sanctuary. How often we here the old saw “the church is not the building.” We know that, but that truth does not mean that a building may never be designed for worship and it does not mean that no thought should be given to the architecture and design of such a building.
What have we inherited in the building and sanctuary of First Baptist Church? What sort of attention and stewardship should we invest in it?