You can have an ideal sanctuary and still be a synagogue of Satan. The Pharisees had the Temple, and their worship was unacceptable. They contributed to the building fund and did not take care of their parents. They tithed and were proud of it. They were careful to cherish their building while hating the Messiah. But that didn’t mean that the Temple was at fault. The temple itself was arranged to guard against false worship. That is how architecture can help God’s people – by creating an environment that encourages and facilitates true worship. It is an expression of theology and a safeguard against error.
The preached Word is the ordinary means by which God brings sinners to Himself. Having a central, prominent pulpit visually emphasizes its importance. The gospel is made effective to salvation only by the Spirit. And arranging the sanctuary around the pulpit makes it harder to ignore or deny the need for preaching.
The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper “become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of Him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted…” (WLC 161). Having the table and font in architectural submission to the pulpit underscores the need for a biblical understanding and use of these means of grace.
Singing, seeing, and listening are all needed if we are to worship God as He has commanded us to in His Word. Our use of instruments, lighting, and pews all detract from or encourage biblical worship. Having instruments, windows, and pews which do not detract audibly or visually from worship encourages the congregation to focus on the preaching.
The hollow buildings standing in the centers of so many cities remain as a warning to the faithful people of God: doctrine matters. Guard it. Your theology will direct your church; Who you worship will dictate how you worship, and in what sort of setting. There is a reason that churches are built the way they were – the builders have a particular theology.
Historically, Protestant theology and the buildings it spawned were centered on the Person and Work of Christ. The sanctuaries were designed to facilitate congregational worship of a holy God. When individuals, pastors, and congregations depart from biblical teaching about the triune God and biblical worship of the triune God, their buildings must accommodate those departures, whether manifested in side pulpits, altars, or other ways.
Theology matters. And your sanctuary will show it, just as all the empty church buildings in Europe and Canada do. Theological convictions and church architecture are inseparable. Does your sanctuary support or contradict what you believe? Does it facilitate or hinder how you worship the one true, and living God? Puritan George Swinnock said, “Our work is not to make laws for ourselves or others, but to keep the laws which the great prophet of His church has taught us; that coin of worship which is current amongst us must be stamped by God Himself.” Does your worship have God’s stamp?