Friday, December 19, 2014

More Than a Building?

The above toasty holiday image—a promotional graphic for my book Playing Saint—has gotten a lot of shares, retweets, and “Amens.” And I stand by old Rev. Dr. Carlson’s statement. (What does it say about me that I basically used the elderly, inflexible retired pastor as my mouthpiece in the book?) The CHURCH is the ἐκκλησία, the ASSEMBLY of the saints*, not a building.

But here's the thing: Christmas Eve is next Wednesday. And that's relevant to the above image, not only because a bunch of people will be holding burning candles in the sanctuary of my church (right, right—Christ's church, of which I am the pastor), which always makes me a tad nervous, but also because, fire hazard aside, Christmas Eve is always a reminder to me of the solemnity of the church's gatherings.  And, in a sense, (by extension?) of the place where we gather.

I tell my son not to run in the nave of the church. There are things I would say in the parking lot that I would not utter in the sanctuary. Why? It's a sacred place. Does that contradict the idea that the church is the assembly of the people? I don't think so, but you might.

In the Reading Group Guide at the end of Playing Saint, the penultimate discussion question asks, “How important are physical church buildings to your faith? Is a church building simply a convenient place to meet or is there more to it?” 
What do you think? Is our tendency to treat church buildings with added reverence (beyond simple good stewardship) a carryover from superstitious Medieval ideas, some false dichotomy of sacred and secular, an outdated cultural convention, or something biblical?

Extra credit: if sacred, is the place only sacred when it is actively being used for worship and sacrament? Does it make sense to consecrate and de-consecrate buildings?

*Be careful with this whole “CHURCH means CALLED OUT, because ek-kaleo” thing . . . not that there's nothing to it, just be careful. Remember that the root of the English word nice is a Latin word meaning “ignorant” and that ἐκκλησία had come to simply mean “assembly” long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.


  1. I lean toward sacred, but (as you know) I sometimes neglect to remove my hat in the sanctuary of Almighty God. Blessed are those who observe, and blessed are those who don't.

  2. i am a fan of the buildings. they are not necessary, but they are exemplars of how we see the gathering. I think your post is on the money.

  3. I'm going to go with just a building. The church is the members bonding together as a family. They can meet anywhere.

  4. Zach, I did enjoy the book and am looking forward to the next one. The question is an important one and I have a new perspective since I began serving a church as interim pastor. The church is 15 years old and has made the conscious decision not to be burdened with a mortgage, utilities and upkeep of a building. They meet in a local High School and have built a great relationship with the school and community. The church is known for its community involvement. Not having the expense of a building allows them to invest more in mission to the community. The church has about 175 members and average attendance is 120-140. Average age is under 40. Just my thoughts and thanks for the opportunity to think and reflect.

  5. Older Russ That depends. Wher e two or three are gathered in Jesus' name He is there with them. God dwells within His believers now, unlike when He dwelt in the Temple before the Cross