Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Building - Advent Midweek 3 - December 16, 2015 - Text: 1 Kings 6:1-6
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we are addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent, we are addressing the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. Last week we took up the topic of education and were reminded that children are God’s gifts to parents and that parents are the first teachers of their children. We also were reminded that when God is absent from education and He is replaced by what is called secular humanism, that there is truly no knowledge. Indeed, outside of God and faith in Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life there is and can be no surety of anything in the world, thus all things are called into question. This evening we will address the subject of the building of a church. Does the Bible speak to us about what a church building should look like? If so, where and how?
In the Old Testament, as soon as the Children of Israel have been delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt God gives a detailed description of what the tabernacle, what was in essence the temple, should look like, including all the specifications to its parts. Later, after Israel was settled in the Promised Land under King Solomon, God gives instructions about how to build the temple. We read in 1 Kings, “1In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. 2The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. 3The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. 4And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. 5He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. 6The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house” (1 Kings 6:1-6). Certainly this is just the beginning of God’s description of the temple and indeed He gives very specific details concerning all the parts of the temple and all the instruments to be used in the temple.
So one question we might ask is this, “Does this mean our churches should look like the temple?” Our first answer is probably not, and yet at the same time I would say, would it not be nice if all our churches did look as grand as this temple? Indeed years from now when archeologist dig up our cities what will they find, awesome temples to the great God we worship or something else? Indeed they might surmise that the great god we worship is money as we build great buildings to the god of profit.
The second answer to the question of should our churches look like the temple is that the local synagogues were not prescribed but some descriptions tell us a little about them. In the account of Jesus preaching in His hometown we are told that there was a place to read scripture and preach the word. But that does not give us much to go on.
So, our best answer would be that our churches our church buildings should reflect our theology. What does it mean that our churches should reflect our theology? But let me pause here a minute and describe some “church” buildings that we see today and try to figure out what the building says about what is going on inside, in other words, what is the theology or beliefs. If one would venture into Houston and stumble across Compaq center would the first thought be, “Oh, this is quite a church building?” Or would one wonder, what type of sporting event or entertainment might be happening inside? When we enter a building and see a stage with screens, what does that tell us about the focus of what is going on? Again, would we surmise that this would be a place where one is entertained? When we enter a building and look around and see that there is no cross or baptismal font, what is our impression of what is or is not important? Indeed, our building does say something about what we believe, teach and confess.
A church building that has been dedicated to be a place to worship our Lord, that is it is dedicated as being a place to come and be given the gifts of God and to respond to those gifts, should speak well of those gifts and the means through which we are given those gifts. Because Holy Baptism is important to us and is a means through which our Lord gives us faith, should not our church have a prominent place for our baptismal font? I might be so bold as to suggest that because we believe that Baptism is our entrance into the Church (capital “C” as in Holy Christian Church) would it not be most appropriate that our Baptismal font would be at the entrance of our church building, as is the case in some churches? Moving on, because confession and absolution is a means whereby our Lord gives us forgiveness, perhaps a sign of such confession would be kneelers in the pews, or at the least a railing in the front where one might go and kneel before the Lord in order to submit in humble confession? Because the Word of God is the means through which our Lord gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith, should there not be a place where that word is boldly proclaimed, perhaps a pulpit designated for such proclamation? And because the Lord’s Supper is another means through which our Lord gives us forgiveness and strengthens us in faith, should this not have a prominent place, including an altar where the elements are kept as well as a place where the elements are distributed? Because our Church, as well as all history focuses on and has its center as Jesus Christ and Him crucified, should not the cross have a prominent place in the church? Indeed, the cross, the reminder that Christ is the focus as well as the symbols of God’s means of grace should be prominent in a place that is fit for worship. Worship, or Divine Service means we come to be given to by God and to respond to His gifts, thus the place of worship should be reflective of, not of a mall or place of entertainment, or a sporting event, but a place of worship.
I have seen church buildings that quite well speak volumes of the theology, the doctrine of the people who worship in the building. I have seen churches in which the baptism font is at the entrance. I have seen churches where the Baptismal font, the altar and the pulpit are the main things in front and center with a cross as a focal point, all focusing on what is important. I have also seen churches where one cannot find a cross, nor a baptismal font, nor an altar or pulpit, instead they find a stage and a band, a screen and amps, bringing one to wonder what is the focus of such church? Indeed, how we practice building our church building, the style of the building says a lot about the substance, the doctrines and teachings of what goes on in that building.
So, to tie this in to our Advent season, how does our building speak of Christmas? Our doctrine shines through during Advent and Christmas season through various changes within our worship facility. The changes that should be most obvious are those that we should notice such as the change of paraments. The paraments for the Advent season are blue symbolizing the hope that we have in looking forward to our celebration of the birth of our Messiah. There is often a change of banners which emphasis the season of Advent and Christmas. Many, not all, but many congregations add an advent wreath. You may have noticed and certainly I take the time for instruction on Sunday morning concerning the message of the Advent wreath, but we change our Christ candle to be the Advent wreath as the middle candle of the wreath is the Christ candle. You may or may not have noticed that the Christ candle is lit from Christmas Eve through Ascension day symbolizing Christ’s living among us. After ascension day it is no longer lit, except for Baptisms, until Christmas Eve again, symbolizing Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Also during the season of Advent to Christmas there are various local seasonal customs which might include such additions as a Christmas tree, greenery, candles, lights and so forth.
The purpose of these changes and additions is to make sure our focus is on our celebration of Jesus’ birth. We can either focus on us and the things of this world, on our being entertained or even our being amused, or we can focus our attention on our Lord, what He has done for us, what He does for us and what He continues to do for us. As we approach our celebration of the birth of our Messiah certainly we will want to focus our attention, not on things temporal, not on the things of this world, but on things eternal, on preparing our hearts and minds in as many was as possible to celebrate, to be given the gifts of God and to give praise and glory to His holy name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.