August 18, 2008

Church Architecture

Every now and then I get a strange look. Okay, actually I get a lot of strange looks. But the kind I am specifically thinking of right now is a look of confusion when I insist that we do not worship in a church, but in a church building. Maybe I sound like the English teacher that was always correcting you when you said ‘who’ instead of ‘whom’ … or ‘brung’ instead of ‘brought’. But she served a good purpose, and I hope my linguistic pet peeves might do the same. Let me mention a few of them, by way of definition…

church (church) - Translated from the Greek word for ‘assembly.’ Not to be confused with a church building, a church, then is a gathering or assembly of people – in this case, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They may meet in a cathedral, a little white chapel, a multi-building campus, a store front, a school gymnasium, a home, or under a mango tree and still be said to have ‘gone to church.’ That is, they have gone to be with God’s local assembly of Christian believers.

sanctuary (sangk’ ∙ choo ∙ er ∙ i ∙) - Another name for the Old Testament’s Holy of Holies – the place of God’s dwelling among his people. Not to be confused with a church auditorium which merely houses God’s people. In the New Testament, the sanctuary is not a particular room in a building, but the human heart of the believer in Jesus, where the Spirit dwells.

altar (awl’ ∙ ter) - The Old Testament place of animal sacrifices … where atonement was made for the sins of the people. In the New Testament since “Christ died for sins once for all”, “there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins”. Therefore, there is no longer any need for an altar. Thus, Christian church buildings do not actually have altars at the front of the auditorium, but platforms.

Now, which terminology we use is not the be-all and end-all of Christianity – not by a long shot. But the distinction, for instance, between altar and platform is significant enough, I think, to be intentional in the way we speak. If we replace the word altar with platform, we will, every time we say it, be reminding ourselves that we don’t need to bring anything to God in order to be saved. That no amount of tears or prayers said at an ‘altar’ are of any avail. Nor are they necessary. “Christ died for sins once for all.” Similar theological reminders would come if we replaced church with church building and sanctuary with auditorium or chapel.

Again, not the most important things in the world. But words do have meanings. And we should, for the gospel’s sake, squeeze the most and the best out of them that we can.

1 comment:

andytalks said...

I've been discussing this very issue with Kimberly on an ongoing I know I'm right...;)