Sacred Space Part Two

I don’t want to throw Jason under the bus but…..

Just kidding. Your comments on the question of sacred space are all wonderful and they all represent deep thought and experience and reflection. Even mom chimed in. Excellent.

Let’s keep going.

I made the assumption in yesterday’s post that we all agree that disciples of Christ can meet anywhere at anytime and be in the holy presence of our God. Your comments all speak clearly to that. Wherever God’s people gather in the name of Jesus, God is there and it is sacred time and space. As my mother so perfectly and directly put it, there are holy places. But they’re made holy by the presence of God and the attitudes of those gathered. And that can happen at any place at any time. Agreed.

But there is something of a tension in most of your comments that reflects the tension I feel: where we meet our God as a church body every week is just a place; at the same time, it’s certainly not just a place.

Let’s keep in mind that no space, no place, no nothing, is neutral. Everything communicates something to everybody. A kitchen table communicates something. A tent in the woods communicates something different. A park bench, a construction site, a convenience store, an art gallery, and a library are all different. A gymnasium, a European cathedral, a shopping mall, and a school cafeteria each communicates something and facilitates a distinct set of feelings and emotions and even expectations in, I would say, almost 100% of everybody. If we go back through our lives, as Jason did, and recall several different worship settings we’ve experienced, I think we’d find, not surprisingly, that the setting did have at least a little bit to do with what happened there.

And, as Jeff points out, that setting should encourage and facilitate worship. Chris uses TicketLingo — that demon can come out only by prayer — to correctly observe that the setting gets us in the right frame of mind to do what God has called us to that setting to do.

So it’s not just a space.

Married couples are told all the time by professionals not to argue in the bedroom. If you’re arguing or fighting about something, never do it while you’re in bed. Go argue out in the garage or somewhere else. The bedroom is for intimacy and nurturing and love and feelings of security and unconditional acceptance and complete surrender to each other. To argue in the bedroom is to destroy the sanctity of the setting. The dynamic of the room is changed. The signals are mixed. The message of the space is conflicted. And we all try to adhere to that advice because it’s true. (I’ve joked a couple of times that it’s difficult to read the Word and pray with the church staff in the conference room on Monday mornings after a three hour elders meeting in there the day before.)

So what do we do with that space where we come together every Lord’s Day as followers of Christ to give worship to our God? And how important is it to make sure it’s set apart, separated, made holy, declared sacred? Does it matter? Jason talks about the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. There are several in Israel, built during the Middle Ages, that completely take my breath away. A group of about 30 of us stood right in the center of St. Anne’s cathedral at the Pool of Bethesda in January and sang “How Great Thou Art” and then marveled the rest of the day about the goosebumps. But most of those cathedrals have one thing in common today. They’re all empty.

When I was a teenager I worked for a roofing contractor who was also one of our deacons at Pleasant Grove. And we spent a couple of weeks one summer replacing stained ceiling tiles in the auditorium. We had moved out all of the pews and had forty foot scaffolding erected from front to back. Drop cloths everywhere. Dirt and debris everywhere. Loud construction workers with loud tools everywhere. And one morning after Ladies Bible Class, one of the women in the church yelled at me because I had placed my Gatorade bottle on the Communion Table. She was visibly upset with me and chastised me for not showing respect to God or the people of the church.

I never understood that. In fact I was angry about that. And up until just a couple of years ago I was arrogant about that. This poor old lady is whacked! She doesn’t have a clue! Where has she been? It’s just a table!

Or is it?

Does the furniture and the art (or the lack thereof) and the architecture and the arrangement of the chairs and the style of the doors and the height of the ceiling have anything to do with our moods and our mindset and our view of our God and each other and what we’re doing and why we’re doing it when we worship?

You know it does.

Walk a seven year old boy into Carr Chapel. And then walk him into the McDonald’s down the street.

I remember back in 1996 my broadcasting partner and I drove to Abilene to watch the Six-Man Football State Championship Game. We weren’t calling the game. We were just there to watch. The press box was arranged so that we had to go through the stands to get to our seats inside. I was visiting with folks down on the field before the game and found myself walking through the bleachers, up towards the press box, during the singing of the National Anthem. About halfway up, I felt someone grab my arm and a voice behind me said, “Freeze!” An older gentleman — a complete stranger, I’d never seen this guy before in my life — looked at me and then pointed to the flag above the scoreboard in the south end zone. I stood there until the song was finished and then told the man I was sorry. My bad. He winked at me and said it was OK.

We all stand at attention for the Star Spangled Banner. Or at least we used to. And yet I can’t read a passage from the Holy Word of God during a call to worship without dozens of people walking around and talking. If I stood there and waited for everyone to be still and attentive to the Word of our God before I started reading, it would never get read. Is that a byproduct of our space? Is it a big part of the problem or a small part? Does it matter or does it not matter that two or three hours after we’ve used our screens to project the sacred words of sacred Scripture and sacred songs that speak to the love and sacrifice of our Holy God we use that exact same screen to project an NFL football game with all of its worldly images that exalt and glorify sex and violence and and money and greed and power? Isn’t that like a man and wife arguing in the bedroom? I think it matters.

Mason Scott made us sit in silence for a full minute before he led us in prayer Sunday night. And I think it went a LONG way toward helping us, as a body, prepare for that prayer. I know it’s not just the space.

There are other factors, cultural and environmental factors, that have led to all the eating and drinking and texting and walking around during worship. But our worship space does play a role.

“Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The way we worship is the way we believe.

One last thing regarding my good friend Paul’s comments and then I’m done. For now. And I’m extremely interested in your continuing thoughts on this. 

In our faith tradition — and maybe in others, I don’t know — there have always been concerns about the amounts of money and time devoted to just one particular space and place that’s only going to be used once a week. And so, in our tradition especially, our worship spaces are characterized by “bare walls, bare pews, and a picture of the Jordan River over the baptistry” as Dr. Allan McNicol puts it. I, for one, don’t share those concerns. Paul, you see the idea of sacred sanctuaries and devoted space as a man-made tradition. I look at the Holy of Holies and see that our God commanded his people to spend amazing amounts of money and time and energy to build the most elaborately decorated and beautiful room to house a luxurious throne to represent his presence among his people. And that room was only used once a year. And it was only used by one person on that one day. Millions of God’s people never stepped foot inside that room. But it represented something powerful to that community and to the rest of the world.

As for worshiping in spirit and truth, isn’t a vital part of that recognizing that the space in which we worship either helps us or hinders us and doing what we can to make it right? There’s a vital relationship between the internal and the external, a relationship honored by the very act of God’s Incarnation. Christian worship is the internal experience of salvation in Jesus being expressed externally. “Spirit” isn’t just our insides. It’s all of us. That’s how you define “spirit.” Jesus Christ is Lord over all. And he demands our all. He claims everything. The apostle Paul makes that clear in Romans 12: the spiritual part of worship involves our bodies, it involves our all. It involves our heads and our hearts, our insides and our outsides, our bodies and our buildings.


TroyAikmanEight more days. Troy Aikman. Left UCLA as third highest rated QB in NCAA history with a 20-4 record. #1 pick of Cowboys in ’89. 0-11 as a starter his rookie season. 12 year career, all in Dallas. 3-time Super Bowl champ. MVP of Super Bowl XXVII. Six NFC East titles. Six Pro Bowls. Winningest QB of any decade in NFL history with 90 wins in the ’90s. Obviously received a personality transplant upon his retirement as evidenced by his excellent analysis on Fox. Henrietta Hen in high school. Ray Guy and Steve Young are honorable mention.




  1. mom

    I see all your points, and I have that same struggle a lot of the time. You know that children are better in worship if they are dressed up than they are if they have play clothes on. You know when we moved to East Texas, we got rid of the huge dining table in favor of a small dining area with a small table. When all of you children come, we bring out the folding table and folding chairs and sit in the living room or on the porch. It is definitely not the same as all sitting around the same table. Now, is that because we are not sitting at the same table, or is it because we are not at a table together? Our congregation recently built a new fellowship area that is much bigger than the one we were used to. Sometimes we find ourselves pulling the tables closer together to get the same feeling of togetherness that we had before. Maybe the familiarity is part of it.

    I definitely don’t have a problem with building a special place for worship. As you said, God wanted that in the Old Testament and he is the same God today as then. It seemed to me that in the New Testament times, the temple and the grounds around it were used every day. In Acts, the beggar was sitting at the gate where people were going in. then Jesus also ran the money changers out of the temple because they were using it in the wrong way. That makes it more than just a building! I would not recommend setting up a business in the Activity center. We are very careful about using the entire property in appropriate ways.
    On the other hand, the practical part of me sees that some often spend too much of the Lord’s money on making a place of worship that pleases us and makes us comfortable or makes us feel good rather than making it a place that is good for worship. Whether I like it or not, it does bother me to watch the Super Bowl in the worship space. Now, I guess the real question is: Should it?
    love, Mom

  2. Chris

    Troy is the best #8 and he didn’t get a personality transplant, he just retired his Crash Davis playbook.

    It’s not lingo, it’s Ticket schtick 🙂

    It depends on the teams.

    How much funding will it take for you to say “Freeze” this Sunday in second service?

  3. Allan

    Any Bull Durham reference gets an immediate response from me the second I see it. Excellent work, Chris!
    You’ll notice I intentionally avoid Ticket Lingo even when refering to Ticket Lingo.
    And you don’t have enough money.

  4. Paul Dennis

    Allan, you accurately state that the worship facilities under the Old Covenant were created at the command of God. He not only commanded but gave specific details. I do not find any such commands under the New Covenant.
    I am still chewing on the ‘Spirit and Truth’ question.
    I love you brother. Thanks for referring to me as your good friend. I love compliments – don’t you – my good friend?

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