Ecclesiastical Architecture

We’ve received questions about sources on the connection between theology and church architecture. They are scarce in the Protestant world, and as far as I am aware, Bruggink and Droppers Christ and Architecture is the best (and most recent) resource out there.

Often, the best sources are church buildings themselves, especially older ones that have not been changed too much, or have been restored to their original condition. If you really want to see the connection between the theology and architecture of a particular building, the ideal is to contact the church archivist Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Pews or other seating have the biggest visual impact in a sanctuary. They also say something about the congregation’s theological convictions. How we sit in church is not as important as what we are there for, but it does say something about us, and can detract from or add to the essentials of preaching, the sacraments, prayer, and singing.

Originally, churches had no seating. In Roman Catholic cathedrals and early Reformation churches, people remained standing. That is remarkable, when services could last hours. Elderly, disabled, or other physically impaired people brought their own stools so they could participate. Continue reading

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Lighting and pews are the last two major aspects of a sanctuary’s architecture. Although they may seem more like necessary incidentals, they actually make strong theological statements. This week, we will look at lighting.

Pagan places of worship are typically dark places. Look at the window-less Aztec temples, the after-sunset Druid ceremonies, the dark interiors of Bhuddist temples. They are all architectural expressions of a spiritual reality: Continue reading

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Music is another element of worship that effects the architecture of a sanctuary. The congregation’s beliefs about this aspect of praise is one of the most clear and immediate identifying marks of denominational affiliation and theology in the building.

The Reformation reclaimed congregational singing, insisting that the corporate body gathered for worship was to sing as part of that worship: choirs were a mark of Romanism. Organs were often classified as papal instruments as well, especially in the United Kingdom (where many were removed from churches during the Reformation), and in the American Colonies. Continue reading

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As one of the two biblically mandated sacraments, baptism merits an architectural manifestation just as the preached Word and the Lord’s Supper do. But how this sacrament finds architectural expression must flow from a theological evaluation.

Roman Catholic churches often placed (and still place) the font at the back of the sanctuary, reflecting their theological position that baptism is required in order for “entrance” into the church. Baptism is the symbolic door by which babies and adult converts to Catholicism join the body of Romanism, and so it makes sense to place the font at the physical door of the nave. There, private ceremonies often mark the christening.

The Reformation brought fonts from the back of the sanctuary to the front, often beside the communion table. Continue reading

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If the preached Word is the most important aspect of public worship, and therefore the sanctuary’s architecture, Reformed Protestantism recognizes that biblically, the sacraments are the second most important aspects. Part of the “outward and ordinary means” of grace, they are especially important in communicating “the benefits of redemption” to His people (WSC, question and answer 88). The Augsburg Confession states that a true church is one where “the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” And both sacraments must be administered only “by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained” (WCF 27:4). Theologically, use of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper, must be in accordance with and under the authority of Scripture. Continue reading

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Question 88 of the Shorter Catechism asks, “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” The answer comes, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his Ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer, all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” It is the preaching of the Word that God uses to draw sinners to Himself and to feed and sanctify believers (Rom. 10:14). Fisher comments that every other means and dispensation is “always to be considered in a subserviency to the word, Acts chap. 16:25-33.” The Principles of Christian Religion that the Scottish Presbyterians held to argue that since “God is the author of these writings [the Scriptures]…therefore they are of most certain credit and highest authority.”

So, “because the Word is indispensable, the pulpit, as the architectural manifestation of the Word, must make its indispensability architecturally clear” Continue reading