This past Sunday afternoon, my wife and I decided to take a little R&R. So after making arrangements to leave the evening service in the capable hands of Bro. Jim Core, and inviting our friends (Louie and Cathy Human) to go with us, off we went to St. Augustine, Fl.
St. Augustine is the nation's oldest city and a popular tourist spot. The city was named for... you guessed it! Augustine, bishop of Hippo and one the heroes of those of us who love the doctrines of grace.
On Sunday evening, we went to the Ancient City Baptist Church. We didn't know anything about the church, so we didn't know what to expect. However we were greatly blessed as we heard the pastor, Dr. David Rice,preach an expository sermon on the 31st Psalm.
On Monday morning, we took one of the trolley tours through the old part of the city.At one point we got off the trolley and walked through the Memorial Presbyterian Church. This church was estabished in 1824 and the present building was dedicated to the glory of God on March 16th 1890.
I am always impressed by these old church buidings. The architecture, design, and lay-out say so much about the congregation and their leaders' perception of God as well as their attitude toward worship.
The sanctuary of this particular church is arranged in the shape of a cross. The the pulpit is to the right side while the lecturn (where the Bible is always present and always open, and from which it is read) is in the center, indicating the centrality of the Word of God. These are subtle, or not so subtle indications of the focus of the original planners and builders of this edifice. No expence was spared in their efforts to make it beautiful, for they obviously believed that the God they intended to worship in this place, deserved the very best they could give Him.
Although there was no congregation in attendance on a Monday morning, no choir singing praises, nor was there one reading or preaching the Word; there was no doubt about the purpose for which this building was designed. Just to walk in and look around, you know that this place is meant for the worship of a high and holy God.
This is a far cry from the design of many of our modern church buildings. Some are more reminiscent of a movie theater or a play house than a place of worship. Some congregations build a gymnasium that they use all week as a recreational center. On Sunday they retract the basketball hoops, set out the folding chairs, and bring in the portable pulpit and PRESTO! It's a church! This too speaks volumes about the congregation's view of the worship of God. The testimony of their design and architecture can be boiled down to this: They deserve the best and God gets what's left. It often appears, to me at least, that it is more about pragmatism, seeker friendliness, and great fun than about worshiping the God of the Bible.
I am not so naive as to believe that all congregations that meet in circumstances like those described above are failing to worship God. Nor do I believe that every congregation meeting in a perfectly desingned edifice is truely worshiping God. There is much more to true worship than just the design of the building in which we meet. However, the way we arrange our worship space does say something about us and our view of God.