A basic truism of modern design is that form follows function. This is self-evidently true, but the reason modern men have found themselves living, working, and worshiping in overgrown shoeboxes is that we have allowed ourselves to drift into a truncated and reductionist view of what our actual function as human beings truly is. Our central purpose, our central task in life, is to worship God in accordance with His Word. The form of a church building must therefore follow this function.
“Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:1-5).
Summary of the Text
So, because we are being built up into the new man, growing up into the image of Jesus Christ, certain things must be set aside. If we are put on the white robe called Jesus, there are certain foul rags that we have to take off in order to do so. We must remove malice (v. 1), deceit (v. 1), and every false front (v. 1). We must take away every form of envy (v. 1), which we addressed last week. And if you have a tongue filled with venom, then put that away as well (v. 1). But getting rid of sin, though it is a precondition for growth, is not the same thing as growth. Holiness is not the absence of sin, but rather the presence of something else. We are to be like little babies, who desire the sincere milk of the Word, so that we might grow by it (v. 2). Hunger drives us there in the first place (and this hunger is a sign of life), but then we come back for more because we have tasted it and found that the Lord is experienced as gracious (v. 3). We come to the Lord as to a cornerstone that is alive (v. 4). Men rejected Him, but God did not. He is alive, and if we are being built upon that foundation, so are we alive in the same way. We are living stones (v. 5), being built up into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood. We are called to this so that we might offer up spiritual sacrifices, sacrifices that are acceptable to God because of Jesus Christ (v. 5).
A Church Building
The function of a church building is therefore not to be the church, but rather to house the church. The sign out front should not say Christ Church, as though that were the name of the building. Rather, to speak precisely, we should say that Christ Church meets here. The function of the house is to contain the spiritual house. The function of the church is to provide the church a warm and dry place to compose our worship.
Now the point here is not to be superstitious about word usage, and if someone offers to meet you “at the church,” your response ought not to be to rebuke them as a vile transgressor. But we do have to remember that the altar sanctifies the gold and not the other way around. When the saints start to come in for the service, the building should say, “Shhh . . . the church is here now.” The saints should not say, “Shhh . . . you’re in church now.” The building is not God’s mausoleum.
A Perfect Cube
The New Jerusalem that descends down from Heaven is a perfect cube (Rev. 21:10, 16). This is the same shape as the Holy of Holies in the old covenant. The word Paul uses when telling the Corinthians that they are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (naos) is a word that would be used of that inner shrine (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19).
So this sanctuary is made up of the people of God. The angel says that he will show John the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 21:9), and then he shows Him the New Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem is the mother of us all (Gal. 4:26). The New Jerusalem is the place we come to worship every week (Heb. 12:18, 22). You are the sanctuary, and you will sanctify the building—not the other way around.
An Architectural Servant
Now of course we want a church building to do what all buildings do—keep the rain off, and the wind out. But once we have gotten past that basic consideration, what should it do because a church meets there?
Peter says that we are to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God. What are those? What should we offer wherever we might meet, and what could a well-designed building help us do—as distinct from distracting us from doing?
We should therefore consider the elements of a worship service which a building—well-designed and well-used —would help us do. This building is called to be a servant, a tool, an instrument
What We Do
When we worship God, here are some of the basic components that a building could help us do. These are distinct elements of our worship that a poorly designed building would get in the way of, and which a well- designed building would help us with.
First, we gather. The word church is the rendering of ecclesia, which means “called out.” The building should be open and easy to enter. Second, we gather to listen to the Word, and to partake of the sacraments. This means we gather in a landscape setting, and not with a long, narrow nave. Third, we gather in order to offer our musical praise to God. The building should sing with us, and not fight us as we try to sing. Fourth, we gather in order to love one another. The place where we worship should be conducive to koinonia fellowship. And fifth, our mission in this community is to declare the crown right of the Lord Jesus to an unbelieving world. The building from the outside should make that statement in a winsome but authoritative manner.
Keeping It About Jesus
The building is not ever to become a Jesus substitute. Jesus is our substitute, and so we want to live in such a way as that when we finally have our building, we do not find ourselves inundated with those who would attach themselves to a respectable church for all the wrong reasons. But it is not possible to come to a church made of dead stones, but filled with living stones, and not encounter the true and ultimate living stone.