The Question of Sacred Space

This may be a long one.

This blog contains another Legacy Worship Center Construction Update with new, never-before-seen photos; a Mark Teixeira reference; and the number nine. Hang with me.

My family and I had the pleasure of attending the Celese Courtney – Randall Roseberry wedding at TCU’s Robert Carr Chapel Saturday. (It’s always seemed to me that everybody here at Legacy was related to somebody else at Legacy. And that wedding made it official. Now we are all truly a church family.) Yes, the girls love attending weddings. And Carrie-Anne and I always try to use opportunities like that to teach them about marriage and commitment and love, even though sometimes it seems they’re only interested in the wedding mints and throwing birdseed.

CarrChapelBut I was struck by a couple of things at that wedding that I’ve been wrestling with since Saturday. And it may take a full week of blogging and your comments and suggestions to work them through.

The chapel, built in 1953 on the TCU campus, is gorgeous. Simple, but elegant. And it just feels holy. It just feels sacred. As soon as you walk into the place, you know without a doubt you are in a house of worship. You feel like you’re in the presence of God and people who belong to God. It looks and feels like a church. Not like a gym or a performance hall. You know what I mean?

The Carr Chapel is sacred space. It is holy. It is set apart. And it’s done intentionally.

Because it is designated, holy, set apart space, they’re very picky about what happens and what doesn’t happen at the Carr Chapel. And how it happens. Check out some of their rules and regulations for those using the chapel for wedding services:

“Chapel furniture, including the communion table, the kneeling bench, and the cross may not be moved or have decorations placed on them. A floral arrangement may be placed in front of the cross if it doesn’t exceed 40-inches in height.”

“All weddings held in Robert Carr Chapel are religious services and as such certain protocol is expected.”

“Professional photography and video may only be conducted from the balcony. Guests are not allowed to take pictures from the sanctuary during the ceremony.”

“Only music that is of a religious or sacred nature may be used in the chapel. The mention of God or Jesus does not necessarily make a song religious. Love songs are not appropriate.”

“Electronic amplifiers, recorded music, and electronic keyboards are prohibited.”

I think we in the Church of Christ have rightly taught that the Church is not the building, it’s the people. We rightly hold that we worship in spirit the One who is Spirit and that wherever two or three are gathered in his Name, the Lord is present. We teach and believe — again, rightly so — that God is no more present with me in a Christian assembly of a thousand disciples on a Sunday morning than he is with me in my closet at home.

But I’m afraid we’ve taught that and held that and pushed that to the extent that we’ve lost the Biblical concept of sacred space.

Bethel. Mount Sinai. The burning bush. The Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies. Shechem. All holy. All sacred places set apart from the other places because that’s where God meets with his people. Can you imagine the Israelites ever holding a garage sale inside the Temple? Can you imagine Carr Chapel bringing in a big screen and showing the Super Bowl?

Robert E. Webber, in a chapter on the environmental setting of worship in his book Worship Old and New, says that our worship space is the “stage on which the redemption of the world is acted out.” And that truth is expressed in the signs of redemption all around the worship area such as the table, the pulpit, the baptistry, and the arrangement of the chairs for the congregants who also enact the Gospel. According to Webber, this tells us that all material things belong to God and can be used to communicate truth about God. The repeated emphasis in our Scriptures that God dwells in the tabernacle or the temple also shows us that we can symbolically communicate the presence of God in the Church and in the world. And the dozens of references to “God’s glory” filling the space acknowledges God’s real presence in that space with his people. Webber points to Solomon’s dedication of the temple as providing the model for consecration of sacred space, “not to be regarded as an exercise associated with magic, but as an act that sets apart a particular place for the community to publicly meet God. The Christian church has continued to use the practice of consecration and recognized that the place where people gather to worship is special.”

Again, I think you can get carried away with that.

But I’m afraid we sometimes plan worship space and use worship space in theological error and, worse, with theological indifference. We don’t think about these things. Or we think these things don’t matter.

I think we’re hurt here at Legacy by being forced to assemble together for the expressed purpose of meeting God and worshiping God in a place that’s also used as a basketball gym and a dining hall and a variety of other activities that have very little, if anything, to do with the holy presence of our holy God. Our gym / fellowship hall doesn’t have a look or a feel that’s any different from a recreation center or cafeteria or exercise space or school auditorium you could find in any part of our city. I may be overstating this, but I’m not sure there’s an overwhelming sense of a separation between the sacred and the profane in our current setup. And that certainly creeps into our view of worship, our view of God, and our view of what’s really happening on Sundays: God’s holy people meeting with their holy God.

Having said that, I’m so excited about our new Worship Center, currently in the beginning stages of construction here at Legacy. I’m thrilled for this body of believers to have a space set apart, a sacred space, a holy place, where we can meet our God. And I’m interested in your thoughts and your experiences as they relate to this question of sacred space.

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Legacy Worship Center Construction Update

ParkingSpaces  MoreParking  Youth  WorshipCenter

The mountains are gone. They’ve either been smoothed out, hauled out, or a whole lot of both. It’s very clear now where the additional parking spaces are going to be. And the ground where the new Worship Center and the Youth and Benevolent Centers are going to be is smooth and flat.

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SonnyJurgensenOnly nine more days until football season. And the all-time greatest #9 is old Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. He started with the Eagles as a fourth round pick out of Duke University in 1957 and peaked with them in 1962 with 32 touchdown passes. But he went to Washington in 1964 in a trade for Norm Snead and went on to lead the NFL in passing three times over the next ten seasons.

As a Redskin, Jurgensen threw for over 3,000 yards five times, he had 25 games with over 300 SonnyJyards passing, and five more games with at least 400 yards. He went to five Pro Bowls and finished his 18 year NFL career with a QB rating of 82.63 and as the 9th all-time leader in passing TDs. Jurgensen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Don’t give me Tony Romo. Sonny Jurgensen was the best to ever wear #9.

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What else would you expect from a superstar traded away from the Texas Rangers? He’s killing! Mark Teixeira hit two more homeruns yesterday, giving him nine HRs and 25 RBIs in his 18 games with the Atlanta Braves. They’re still five games behind the Mets in the NL East. But he’s killing! Good for him.

Peace,

Allan

9 Comments

  1. Allan,

    I like the idea of a place that is is set apart for worship. Such a place helps us in our human weakness by reminding us as we enter it that we are about to worship the almighty God with those who belong to Him. It reminds us that God is worthy. It reminds us that we are to leave the thoughts of this world outside our assembly.

    It is just a place, but the purpose of such a place is to facilitate and encourage worship. Having this kind of place would be similar to us choosing a place that we go to each day for personal time in prayer, Bible study, etc. There is nothing by itself that makes the place special. What makes the place special is who is there and what is being done.

    Jeff

  2. You are right. This may take all week. The first thing that came to my mind was John 4:19-26

    John 4:19-26 (New International Version)
    19″Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
    21Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
    25The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
    26Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

    John 4:19-26 (The Message)
    19-20″Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
    21-23″Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
    23-24″It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
    25The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
    26″I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

    What makes any place or space holy is not physical features or location but the presense of God. Before the bush Moses was standing on holy ground.

    One other morsel to chew on. I sometimes shudder at the amount of money and time that has been and is devoted to a particular space and place that will only be used 1 time a week. Seems to me this may be more a ‘tradition of men’.

    Maybe Allan, you need to give us your understanding of “in Soirit and Truth”.

  3. Hi. Interesting question. This is one that has always bothered me. When I was young, we were told to go in to the auditorium quietly and sit quietly and prepare for worship. (We did understand that the place was not the “church”) However, now we visit to the point that the first person to stand in front of us has to do something to get our attention. We sing a song or two to get our minds on worship, then many congregations take a time to get up and greet the visitors. To me, that is distracting from the time of worship.
    On the other hand, we are there to fellowship. We need to visit, greet one another, greet the visitors, etc. I seems that there has to be a middle point where I can come from my classroom full of 4th and 5th graders, greet a few people and have a quiet time to reflect on what is about to happen in this place. Worship should be a time of profoundly feeling the presence of God and I’m afraid that we push him out of our worship place with all of the other things that we do. Sometimes we are well into the worship before our minds are there.
    The surroundings in the building don’t seem to bother me so much as what we are doing at the moment. I think we can worship in a gym if we remember that that is why we are there at that particular time. There are holy places, but that is because of our attitude and the definite presence of God — and that can be anywhere, at any time.
    love, Mom

  4. Carr Chapel is a very special place. I’m okay with a gymatorium as an interim place because I look at in a “..where two or three are gathered together…” way, but for anyone to use it on a regular basis takes away from the specialness. Worship should be special but that doesn’t mean it has to be stuffy. Having a place of worship that is only for worship or an associated ceremony such as marriage, baptism, funeral etc helps everyone get their head right with ball.

    Agree with Sonny and those were the best helmets the Skins ever had. Remember the ridiculous ones with the “R”?

    Tex – glad to see he is gone. He had a great glove but what a wet blanket.

  5. Ok- I’ll probably give you another front page quote with my 2 cents, but here goes:

    I’ve had the privelage or worshipping in several different church facilities in all of different places I’ve lived. Super nice places like Golf Course in Midland, older buildings like Tomball CoC, and a high school lunch room in Georgia. While some of the places were ideal and some were not, I don’t think that any were more or less sacred places than the others. To me sacred places are less a factor of the implied scaredness (i.e. the type/design of the building), rather the most important factor is what happens when the body is gathered together in worship. The sacredness comes from meeting our God in worship, the place is secondary.

    I bet those baptized in the current facility don’t feel their experience was lessened by where their immersion took place. I was baptized in the Gata fountain at ACU not in a worship facility, and it wasn’t any less special.

    An ideal facility is good for many reasons: brighter lights, better visibility, and improved acoustics. These things will improve our current experience, but they aren’t going to make the worship experience any more sacred. I’ve been to cathedrals 1300+ years old in Europe that are beautiful to behold, but I don’t see those places any more sacred than where we currently meet. In fact because of what goes on in our worship combined with the Word you bring weekly makes the experience much more sacred than a fancy building.

    Combine the two (nice facility and a God immersed worship) and you have an incredible combination.

  6. Jason, if you haven’t been to ACU in the past 15 years or so, you’ll be disappointed to know that the GATA fountain has been ripped up and replaced with a real fountain. Just five jets of water spraying up with no pool anymore. Sigh.

    Allan, your comments on a sacred space definitely cause me to stop and think. What you say seems to have some wisdom to it.

    But should our assemblies be for the purpose of worship or for one-another-ness?

    I was surprised to realize a couple of years ago that the New Testament doesn’t indicate that Christian assemblies are for the express purpose of worship. Instead, they seem to be for the Lord’s Supper (which could possibly be considered a stand-in for the whole concept of worship) and for the building up of one another, for edification and encouragement. In other words, the term “Worship Service” (or “Worship Assembly”, etc) in reference to Christian assemblies is not, as far as I can ascertain, Biblical.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we should not gather together and worship, as it seems clear that worship was a function of the early church assemblies, but the NT never actually defines an assembly as a “worship” time, as far as I can tell.

    Since we’ve generally held to the idea of “calling Bible things by Bible names”, I have to question the practice of calling our assemblies “Worship”. (Note, I’m not saying it’s wrong; I’m just questioning it.)

    What does it mean to build one another up? What does it mean to worship? I’m not sure. It seems to me to be a great idea to have a sacred space for corporate worship because it helps to develop a reverent, worshipful attitude, but on the other hand, such a space may not be as conducive to edifying one another. I just don’t know. But thought I’d mention it.


    Kent

  7. Kent, you’re on to something pretty big here, I think. You’re correct that Christian assemblies mentioned in the NT were mainly for the edification of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Worship acts are mentioned prominently in a lot of Paul’s letters, specifically 1 Corinthians. But, again, the prophesying and praying and singing is said to be for the purpose of building up the church, not for the worship of God.
    That’s one of the reasons I worry about the singing of contemporary praise songs TO THE EXCLUSION OF the hymns that serve specifically to encourage and teach one another. We don’t sing to each other anymore. We only sing to God. And I think, again based on the directives we have in Scripture regarding what happens in a Christian assembly, the worship of God is just as important — not more so or less so — than the edification of the church family.
    I’m careful to just use the words “assembly” or “Christian assembly” when I’m speaking of what we do together on Sundays and Wednesdays.
    Thanks for the comments. Interesting thoughts.

  8. The one distinction that seems to be missed here is who gets to declare anything sacred or holy?

  9. Good point. God declares the ground at the burning bush holy. The people and God in cooperation set apart the tabernacle and temple as holy. He confirms it, I suppose, by filling it with his presence. The altars at Bethel and Shechem and at the Jordan River were declared sacred by Israel’s leaders.

    We are the ones who set apart our buildings here at Legacy to be used for God’s purposes. Hopefully that’s why every single one of the walls here were erected. And then God confirms it by showing up.

    And he does. Every day.

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