Church Architecture: Our Heritage

Why is our church architecture configured the way it is? Did you ever stop to think about that? Occasionally I have had the privilege of leading an adult Sunday seminar class within my own home church community. It's always a pleasure partly because the attendees are often the older/wiser type and I adore their company. Secondly I am usually academically stretched when preparing these one hour talks. And this is a good thing. This past week I was really challenged with the subject matter of how the Reformation changed church architecture. I'm not an expert on this topic...I know the art component. But I do really enjoy research and am grateful to have opportunities to dust off my "teacher" hat. Here's a synopsis of the presentation that kicked off a four week series on sacred space....
A stone altar discovered south of Isreal. Might this be what Noah's looked like?
An early Old Testament example of worship was when" Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it." Genesis 8:20 (God was pleased and Noah was blessed.)

      Another Old Testament worship setting is in Numbers 9:17, ‘Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped’.…the tent was continually being re-pitched… and this was unique to other religions of the time that had to pilgrim to one set location to worship. Having worship today in the communities we live in is a blessing. The Old Testament way remains today. Thank you God. 

T   The New Testament tells of Jesus and then the early Christians worshiping in each other's houses.
This is what we think house worship might have been like.
It makes me think of what many of our worship spaces represent today also!
After the early Christians there was much growth and development including the reason why church architecture developed the way it did.

At one point it was believed that you needed to be a monk to get to heaven.
 It was difficult being a monk and it was difficult even getting to some of the monasteries as you can see in this image.
Gothic architecture was very vertical so that the building actually pointed toward heaven.
The beginning of the Protestant Reformation saw an outburst of iconoclasm....the removal of statues and images from churches. Because Reformists couldn't instantly build their own churches they made modifications in existing architecture.
This Roman Catholic cathedral in Grossmunster, Zurich is an example of a church who had their walls whitewashed of murals when the Protestants started to worship in the space.
The major message of the Reformists was people gathering in a spirit of intimacy for a shared ministry of word and sacrament. Therefore pulpits became large and often had a sounding board above them to give visual emphasis to the word and to help improve the acoustics.
This is the pulpit at Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. What a prominent figure it makes within the architecture!
The Puritans were Reformers who in America built meetinghouses for their worship spaces.The image of the Sandown Meeting House in New Hampshire is another great example of how important preaching the Word was.

Reformed theology can even translate into the architecture of a mega-church. This is Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Florida. The pulpit with it's large sounding board is given major emphasis and the seats are arranged in a way for every participant can see and hear. The Reformers believed that Word of the Lord was for everyone and the architect of this large church kept that in mind

Sometimes great architecture has to be modified as time evolves. Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary as seen here in its current state has gone through three transformations and renovations since being built in 1834. The first converted the meeting house into a basilica. The second removed much Victorian era decorating and added a chancel. The last in 1999 allowed the Communion table to be placed forward in front of the pulpit.

Given that this post is from Carrot Top Studio, I suppose you're wondering what the Reformists would say about our worship banners and ministry stoles? We'd like to think that our works are not icons but merely pieces of fiber art that are used to enhance worship and help the people make a visual connection to the Word. Wouldn't be fun to have John Calvin or Martin Luther chime in on that subject?