No Sanctuary

In this recent thread, the discussion turned to Reformed usage of the term “Sanctuary”. I had heard anecdotally that “Sanctuary” is frowned upon, because the room in which we worship is not holy, not sanctified — not like the Temple about which God said to Solomon:

I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. (1 Kings 9:3 ESV)

But if there is an understanding out there that “Sanctuary” is an unacceptable term, it seems to be a pretty well-kept secret, since I can’t find any written evidence of it.

I checked out from my church library the Bruggink & Droppers’ massive Christ and Architecture, in which the closest I could find to this issue was a footnote:

It should be noted that in Roman Catholic terminology, the “sanctuary” usually denotes the area immediately surrounding the altar, while in Protestantism the term is usually used to designate the entire room for worship. The theological implications are obvious.

Apart from that quote, the book uses the term “Sanctuary” unself-consciously and unrelentingly.

So does anybody know of any Reformed writing about the advisability of the term “Sanctuary”?

Also, I hereby announce a contest for the best alternative. From the above quote, the first nomination (which will surely lose) is “entire room for worship”.

The winning entry (chosen by me) will be henceforth used by all Reformed congregations in the world, effective immediately!

This entry was posted in High church calvinism, History, Protestantism/Catholicism, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to No Sanctuary

  1. RIck says:

    The Lord Jesus Christ

  2. Zrim says:

    Bruggink & Droppers have it right. The term for the room which contains everything from pulpit to pew is “sanctuary.”

    But the more interesting question for me has always been that room called “Fellowship Hall,” which seems almost synonymous with “sanctuary.” To relative confusion, I purposely refer to ours as “The All Purpose Room,” because that’s what it is–everything from coffee and cookies after the worship in the sanctuary/fellowship hall on Sunday (plus worship in the evening service) to basketball and meetings the other six days.

    I find it odd that cookies and basketball are considered activities which earn the term “fellowship.” Then again these are neo-calvinists who say all of life is worship, so I suppose it makes some sense that way. But I think by “fellowship” most mean “glorified socializing.” Maybe that would be a better term, “The Glorified Socialization Room.” Then again, that wouldn’t cover the fact that the PM service is held there, which is actually fellowship. Plus it sounds a little sarcastic and people don’t like sarcasm much. So “The All Purpose Room” seems right.

  3. Pooka says:

    So a church I know uses the “sanctuary” as a fellowship hall after services. Does that make the second event more sacred? They rearrange the chairs, put in tables and set to.

    I’m not well read enough (yet) to identify any reformed sources on the subject.

    I’ll throw in my bits for the contest:

    Covenant Cove
    Faithful Frame
    Christian Court
    Coffee House (for Emergent dudes)
    House of the Holy (at least keeps the holy out of the architecture part)

  4. I think this controversy is more folk religion than formal religion. Either way, I hate this term because you never know what to say. I asked a local pastor if I could see the “sanctuary” because I didn’t know what they called it at his church and I didn’t want to be offensive. The guy looked at me like I asked him where he kept the holy water before telling me, “We just call it the ‘auditorium.'”

    But as soon as I go somewhere and call it an “auditorium,” I know I’m gonna get something like “The SANCTUARY is over here” in the same tone dripping with disdain.

    I wish we could just declare a truce on it. Either hang a sign up over the door or just roll with whatever people choose to call it.

  5. The problem is manifold: social dislocation, minority status, ignorance, changing function of the church building.

    1. Depending on where one is, there may be no connection at all to older ideas of space and church architecture and thus we’re gradually losing the idea behind the “pulpit.” It’s become a lectern.

    2. Part of this is due to being in the new world. Even so, from my limited knowledge of church architecture, my impression is that American Christians, even Reformed Christians, have just made up things as they went along. Many of the Reformed buildings seem to have been made from were built from the same set of blue prints passed around and no one bothered to ask if the space reflected Reformed convictions.

    3. Because of our minority status people tend to impose their own sensibilities on Reformed churches or more likely Reformed folk simply have to make due with buildings that are not intended for ecclesiastical use. We’re in exile and space is arranged ad hoc.

    4. The relation of the church to the culture has changed dramatically because of urbanization, shifting demographic patterns, and fundamental changes in the culture. Churches now perform functions they did not.

    All this results in a fair bit of confusion about Reformed church architecture.

    The traditional western language of church architecture tends to assume a sacerdotal view of the church. The Reformed rejected that way of thinking about the church. That’s the ground for not speaking of “the sanctuary” or “the altar.”

  6. RubeRad says:

    The Lord Jesus Christ

    Thanks for playing Rick, but the intention is to name the room in such a way that distinguishes the earthly brick&mortar sanctuary from the true heavenly sanctuary.

    I think by “fellowship” most mean “glorified socializing.”

    Z I think you are precisely right, and I think you could probably even get people to admit it. Ask somebody what is the difference between “fellowship” and “socializing” and I bet you won’t get any better answer than “the only difference is that it’s with Christians”.

    covenant cove

    Pooka, I know we’re all being silly, but I really kinda like this one. In calvinistic circles (hey, that’s a possibility right there! C’mon everybody, get into the Calvinistic Circle, it’s almost time for the Call to Worship!), it’s hard to go wrong with the word “Covenant”, and “Cove” gives a sense of not-quite-encirclement that reminds us that it’s not the building itself that is affording us protection/shelter.

    The guy looked at me like I asked him where he kept the holy water before telling me, “We just call it the ‘auditorium.’”

    Nice! I can imagine the awkwardness of the moment.

  7. RubeRad says:

    BTW, “auditorium” is hereby declared an unlawful entry, in case you were wondering.

    I was talking about this the other day with a friend at Monday morning coffee (excuse me, I mean “fellowship”); the biggest problem is that a potentially good term has been ruined by popular usage (see also “Evangelical”). “Auditorium” has the potential to draw focus to the preached word, but what about the sacraments? My friend suggested “Sacramentorium”. And then we came up with the portmenteau: Audiosacramentorium. “Audiosac” for short.

    So that’s my submission: Audiosac.

    And don’t worry, keep submitting your dumb ideas, I’m sure I’ll be able to remain impartial when — I mean if — I choose my own awesome idea and bind the consciences of all Reformed everywhere to use it!

  8. RubeRad says:

    RSC, thanks for dropping by!

    no one bothered to ask if the space reflected Reformed convictions.

    In this respect, I highly recommend the Bruggink&Droppers tome, because they spend seven or eight hundred pages asking and answering the right questions. Plus, the book is filled with photographs (a.k.a. photolithograven images) of gorgeous Reformed churches, many in Europe, that have done it right.

    The traditional western language of church architecture tends to assume a sacerdotal view of the church. The Reformed rejected that way of thinking about the church. That’s the ground for not speaking of “the sanctuary” or “the altar.”

    That’s great to know, but (1) has anybody written about this, and (2) has anybody proposed (or used?!) an alternative term? And I mean in particular with Sanctuary. I know of plenty of invective against the idolatry of the Catholic altar, and the folly of the charismatic altar call, but if “Sanctuary” is similarly understood as a no-no, why does everybody still use it? What’s the alternative?

  9. RubeRad says:

    Digging into historical church architecture terminology, I think “chancel” sounds nice, but has too close a relation to Catholic “sanctuary” and “altar”, and implies separation between clergy and lay that doesn’t square with the Priesthood of All Believers.

    Nave“, on the other hand, is a possibility. Although the historical use seems to be to highlight part of the “entire room for worship”, the main part, as opposed to any side-aisles, alcoves, etc. Also, it’s an unfortunately boring word, but maybe that suits the purpose?

  10. RubeRad says:

    Oooh, how about “meeting place”?

  11. Rick says:

    FYI, comment #1 is not me. Just to be clear.

  12. Rick says:

    I think we talked about this somewhere else before. But, do you think that Christian fellowship can exist outside of public corporate worship?

    I don’t have a problem with using the word “fellowship” to describe a meeting of Christians talking about things Christian. I think the idea behind labeling a location in the church building the “fellowship room” is not to say that other things don’t happen there (throughout the week) that are not fellowship – but perhaps to encourage what should be happening there on the Lord’s Day.

  13. Rick says:

    “Carousel is a lie! There is no sanctuary!

    Logan’s Run, anyone?

  14. Zrim says:

    Rick, yes, I do think Christian fellowship can exist outside of public corporate worship. It seems to me that the question involves one of the activities folks are doing that brings them together, like prayer and Bible reading. Those are very particular to believers. I don’t see how common activities like drinking coffee and playing basketball facilitate Christian fellowship.

    But I still don’t see the point of calling a room where common things take place in a particular building by a particular label. It’s just my own hunch that the need to do so might reveal an “all of life” impulse some may not be willing to admit. I mean, suggest calling it “all purpose room” and my guess is that many wouldn’t think it spiritual enough. At least everyone still calls the restrooms “restrooms.” That’s something for 2k. Woot.

    P.S. “Fellowship Hall” also connotes that wayward evangelical virtue that sociability equals spirituality. Meh.

  15. Zrim says:

    My understanding of “chancel” is that it denotes the specific area in the front of the sanctuary that holds the pulpit, font and table (table, not altar).

    They call the room under the Chapel at Calvin College the “Undercroft.” What’s the glossary say about that, I’ve always wondered? “Nave” has always seemed synonymous with it and “Fellowship Hall,” as in “the room where we go afterward stated worship to socialize in a glorified way.” Given the choice, “Fellowship Hall” is out for me for another reason: too Jehovah Witness-y.

  16. Pooka says:

    I was being only half-silly. Though I can see the argument for sanctuary and for auditorium, I think something more indicative of the people gathered yet not in a way that leads to putting a halo around the structure is what might serve.

    Unfortunately, most of the ideas floating round my head will probably come across as hippie-flower-mushy or something off a Veggie Tales script (blame it on the kids?).

    Maybe Covenant Court? Puts a high view spin on church?

  17. RubeRad says:

    I was wondering how long it would take for somebody to hit on the reference. I’ve actually never seen it, but learned a little by searching the Googlez for “No Sanctuary”.

  18. RubeRad says:

    Good to know. The capital “I” and lack of photograven image should have tipped me off…

  19. RubeRad says:

    And highlights the forensic nature of Justification/Adoption — the courtroom is where we are justified, acquitted, declared righteous by imputation, and legally adopted as sons and co-heirs — as well as marrying in the term Covenant, which recalls the relational component of Justification/Adoption?

    Not bad.

  20. Rick says:

    It’s not bad, but not good either. I think it’s being re-made. 2005’s “The Island” basically ripped off the main theme of “Logan’s Run,” added a twist and sprinkled in the usual Michael Bay dumb-down.

    And it just occurred to me that the image in your post refers to the movie. I had first thought it was some Christian trinket mug (nail hole in the hand).

  21. Pooka says:

    Let’s see…

    The Fold
    Preachin’ House

  22. Bruce Settergren says:

    The Calvary Chapel

  23. Rick says:

    The Metropolitan Tabernacle

  24. Joe Branca says:

    The Tents of Meeting in the midst of the land of the Suburbanites, the Modernites, the Socialites, the Hedonites, and the Moral Therapeutic Deiticians

  25. RubeRad says:

    Nice. Is that The Calvary Chapel, like The Original House of Pancakes? (or The Orthodox Presbyterian Church?)

  26. Rob H says:

    Branca wins.


  27. Paul says:

    * The Rest Stop

    * The Refill Station

    * The Other World

    * The International House of Communion (IHOC)

    * Eucharist for Youcharist Diner

    * The Proclamatorium

  28. RubeRad says:

    Awesome! IHOC made me laugh.

    As for Proclamatorium, if we work the sacraments in there along with the word, then Proclamasacramentorium? Pro-zac?

  29. Paul says:

    * The Confessional Inhouse

    * The Bridal Chamber

    * The Good News Station

    * The Body Shop

    * Looking to a Better Country Club

  30. John Harutunian says:

    Scott, you make some perceptive points. BUT: Why do you want “pulpit” rather than “lectern”? Do you realize that the same arguments could apply here? 1)We have no New Testament command -or even precedent- to refer to the thing as a pulpit, and 2)The term would certainly seem to indicate the “set apartness” of a physical object (that is, set apart for the sacred purpose of preaching the Word) in a way that went out with the Levitical priesthood.
    OK, I’m an Episcopalian, but come on, guys: Pulpits aren’t found in auditoriums -they’re found in sanctuaries!

  31. RubeRad says:

    I’m not sure RSC is a stickler for the term as much as for the thing. Lecterns are spindly little platforms for holding notes. Pulpits are massive, sturdy, elevated bulwarks for proclaiming law & gospel. One of the great things about Bruggink&Droppers is their insistence on a substantial pulpit, to architecturally reinforce the Reformed emphasis on the priority of the preached word (even to assert the preeminence of Word over Sacrament, by making the pulpit more architecturally promiment than font & table). We have a really massive pulpit at our church (I think Bruggink was a consultant); many visiting preachers joke about it.

    And yet, the pulpit is not holy furniture like the furnishings of the temple; it is ordinary earthly materials put to use for a holy purpose. Or for making announcements about coffee and cookies.

  32. RubeRad says:

    It’s kind of like hymnody. Bach’s chorale tune for “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” is not holy music. It is good music, and well-suited for the purpose of worship.

  33. John Harutunian says:

    Picture the object which supports the book out of which the Oath of Office is administered to the U.S. President being sworn in. It is appropriately massive, sturdy, dignified and imposing (or ought to be). But it’s not a pulpit.
    What I’m saying is that the point of church architecture goes beyond the functional and practical. It reflects the distinction between the natural and the supernatural orders.
    Which doesn’t necessarily mean that the pulpit is being desecrated if the pastor makes an occasional announcement from it about a social event.

  34. RubeRad says:

    Maybe I haven’t seen enough Presidential in-swearings, but I picture them as outdoors, with not even a spindly lectern in sight. Isn’t that what got Obama into trouble, the fact that his swearer-inner was going from memory and bungled it, which caused him to bungle it?

  35. John Harutunian says:

    Well, it looks like swearing-in ceremonies -if we can still call them ceremonies(!)- aren’t what they used to be.
    Regarding hymnody, I’m an old-fashioned church organist who does really believe that there is such a thing as sacred music. Meaning: there really is something sacred about the music of Gregorian Chant, Renaissance polyphony (Palestrina, Lasso, Byrd, etc.) spirituals (both black and white) and African-American Gospel -something which isn’t found in a Beethoven symphony or a Chopin waltz.
    But of course I’d never put any kind of music up there with the consecrated Bread and Wine. On this we agree.
    Meanwhile, it’s probably about time to wrap up both of our discussions. Thanks for your Biblically knowledgeable responses.

  36. Evan says:

    As an architectural historian, the common usage of the term “sanctuary” to describe the entire church building can be rather frustrating since, from a purely architectural standpoint, buildings are understood as made up of parts forming a whole. Churches, even where there is no structural distinction between the location where the people sit and the clergy preach and administer the sacraments, have a nave and a chancel- the sanctuary being a further delineation of the chancel. Looking at this issue in light of my training as well as from a Reformed perspective I don’t find the use of the word “sanctuary” problematic as it doesn’t have, for most people, a sacrificial connotation regardless of its original meaning. Language usage changes over time and words that used to be important become part of the vernacular and their associations are altered. In order to remove any possibility of theologically troubling language in discussing church architecture we’d have to invent an entirely new vocabulary. Even the word “pulpit” comes from “pulpitum” which was, in the middle ages, the place from which the Gospel lesson was chanted. It’s better not to trouble ourselves over purely historical terminology. We should be more concerned with the larger question of how the church building provides an environment conducive to the proper performance of a Reformed liturgy.

  37. John Harutunian says:

    >We should be more concerned with the larger question of how the church building provides an environment conducive to the proper performance of a Reformed liturgy.

    OK. But that’s where all the issues come up. Would such an environment include a crucifix? Or is that idolatry? If so, is a plain cross appropriate? Or should we just say that man-made symbols have no place in worship under the New Covenant?
    Should we take things even further? If we look at things functionally, church pews aren’t very comfortable – so shall we substitute plush theater-type seats? And why have a steeple on the building? Does that mean that it’s set apart from all other kinds of buildings (none of which have steeples)?
    It looks to me like if we go all the way down the Reformed road on this, we’ll have to say, “Since God is utterly transcendent, his glory cannot be expressed through any man-made symbols. Therefore, there’s no reason why a church edifice should look any different from any other edifice on the inside. And maybe not on the outside either: let’s just put up a big sign that reads ‘First Presbyterian Church’. That communicates all the information that needs to be communicated, doesn’t it?”

  38. Evan says:

    The first question that needs to be asked is “what does Reformed liturgy look like?” I think Hughes Old has covered that adequately in his book “The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship.” If we take the historical models as our guide (and even if we don’t) there are a number of furnishings required for services to be performed in an orderly fashion. Unless the congregation is expected to stand for the entire service there should be pews or chairs; if the minister is to be adequately heard by the congregation he should stand on an elevated surface of some kind rather near to them; if Communion is to be served it is convenient to have a table large enough to hold the elements; for baptisms (assuming sprinkling in this case) there should be at least a basin of for water.

    The furnishings themselves should be arranged in a way that makes it easy to use them so, obviously, the table wouldn’t be placed at the rear of the building since the people wouldn’t be able to see it and the distribution (or reception if the liturgy calls for the people to come forward) is made more or less difficult by prudent placement. Similar statements could be made about the other furnishings. This is simply the logical outgrowth of liturgical requirements. The first stage in designing a church is creating a liturgically suitable plan.

    The question of the decoration of the space as defined by the plan is no less complicated but, I think, no less subject to historical precedent and reason. We don’t live in a vacuum and Christians today are part of a family of believers whose traditions have been moulded by time and context. The idea of a church building as a specifically sacred space may not be consistent with the Reformed ideal but even the simplest Puritan meetinghouse is clearly a meetinghouse and not a domestic structure or a library or a city hall. This is due to its fulfillment of certain liturgical requirements as well as an understanding that good stewardship sometimes means being willing to spend more to create a well-constructed building that will last for generations without having to be replaced. A larger initial outlay on quality design and materials means lower maintenance costs in the long term. A good building also puts forward a statement of faith to the community outside the church; it is, in this sense, a witness to what we believe about God or, at the very least, what we believe He deserves.

    There are so many complicated issues to be considered in church design but I believe an appeal to the order of the liturgy itself and to history should produce a theologically consistent building that will be both useful and glorifying to God.

  39. John Harutunian says:

    Evan, I agree with what you say -as far as it goes. My basic thrust is in a different direction. It involves issues like:

    1. Is there a distinction between the natural and the supernatural orders? I believe there is. Let’s say a recent, still unbaptized convert is working out with his new-found Christian buddies at the local YMCA. Subsequently they’re all in the shower (note: the element of Christian community is present), and the descending spray of water becomes for our convert a powerful symbol of his having been cleansed from sin. Nevertheless, he still needs to be baptized, right? The shower represents an ordinary, everyday, natural use of water; baptism an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime, supernatural use of water. If this distinction is to be expressed in a) the furnishings and b) the aesthetic dimension, of worship, the result will be: a)pews rather than ordinary chairs, a pulpit rather than a lectern, and (probably) a cross prominently displayed in the worship space b)stained glass rather than ordinary clear glass [iconoclasts note: this doesn’t necessarily mean images], and music consisting of things like plainchant, Renaissance polyphony (Palestrina and company), spirituals, African-American Gospel, etc., rather than hard rock or music in the style of operatic arias.

    2. When Christ made his once-for-all sacrifice, the ceremonial law was indeed rendered unnecessary. However: although we know from history that the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, all that Scripture tells us is that its curtain was torn in half. The most natural inference from this is not that holy places no longer exist, but that God’s people are now free to enter them because of Christ’s sacrifice. Hence the appropriateness of the term “Sanctuary”. This is more than just a “meetinghouse” -after all (at least in rural areas), a town hall where citizens regularly gather is also a “meetinghouse”, isn’t it?

  40. Evan says:

    Yes, I believe a church building and all that takes place within it should be clearly differentiated from other buildings and the activities that take place outside, if that’s what you’re saying. And I have no problem whatsoever with the use of the term “sanctuary.”

  41. RubeRad says:

    Evan, you bring up a number of important issues wrt how architecture serves and reflects the theology of the people who use it. See above, I highly, highly recommend Bruggink & Droppers Christ & Architecture; it looks like you can get used copies pretty cheap from Amazon, and it is full of exactly that kind of thing; why for the Reformed the pulpit is so prominent, how the table and font should work together with (but slightly subordinate to) the pulpit, etc. It’s a great book, no historian of church architecture should be without it…

    Therefore, there’s no reason why a church edifice should look any different from any other edifice on the inside.

    Indeed, many visitors remark on my church’s room-which-should-not-be-called-Sanctuary, that it might as well be a synagogue. You can see our sanctuary in the slideshow on the homepage (I think that’s even me on the very left, leaning to my right to wrangle a child!); there is a subtle cross in the carpet going down the center aisle (which is not as easy to see from the ground), and another cross you can’t see on the choir-shell in the back. But I heard we are about to mount a cross above and behind our massive pulpit though. (Note there is also some stained glass in that slideshow; that has nothing to do with our church)

    And maybe not on the outside either:

    Our building used to be a skating rink, so it is basically a giant shoebox. We do have a steeple of sorts, a square tower with four skinny clear windows that form a cross. (You might be able to see it from this Google street view)

  42. John Harutunian says:

    Ah, but I see you have the congregation sitting in: Pews! Wouldn’t folding chairs (at least if they were the padded kind) be more comfortable, as well as efficient and economical?
    Among the Staff you don’t list the person who plays organ/piano/whatever to help lead the congregation in singing God’s praises. Isn’t this a leadership position?

  43. RubeRad says:

    Our pews are plenty comfortable, you can’t see from the photo that they’re suitably padded. There’s a reason pews have been used in churches for hundreds of years; they are the most practical solution for mass seating and holding hymnals, psalters, and bibles.

    We have a couple of people who play organ, as well as a bunch of pianists, a music director and choir director (married), and all manner of violinists, flautists, trumpeters, trombonists, saxophonists, cellists, guitarists, drummers, bassists, etc. Not that we bust out the whole orchestra every (or even any) service, but see the music stands tucked away in the alcove on the left?

    Apparently none of the musicians got listed on the church’s leadership page; I’m kind of surprised the music/choir directory couple weren’t put up there. But I wouldn’t say that the musicians are in leadership positions, but rather in a position of support of the church’s worship. (Which is why the musicians are tucked away on the side, or in the back, rather than on the — what is it called? Stage isn’t right, Dais isn’t right, I guess “platform”?) It’s the pastor who chooses all the psalms and hymns anyways (with the consultation of the music director).

  44. John Harutunian says:

    Glad to hear that New Life’s pews are padded; wish that were true of my home church (something my 62-year-old hindquarters are painfully aware of; I often bring along my own seat cushion). But I’m not sure that the explanation for pews in church is entirely utilitarian. If individual seats were used, a rack on the back of each seat would do quite well as a depository for Bibles as well as other books.
    Naturally, I’m very glad to hear about the many instrumentalists who take part in New Life’s worship. Even gladder to hear that they don’t all play on every hymn; your music director is obviously sensitive to the fact that different hymns demand different sonorities and interpretations, based both on words and music.
    The reason why I consider instrumentalists to be worship leaders (despite Martyn Lloyd-Jones passionate insistence to the contrary) is this. If a pianist is playing the piano part of a Schubert song whose solo melody is being rendered by a trained vocalist, that is a supportive accompaniment. But if a large crowd of musically untrained people sing without instruments present, there will be two tendencies: for the pitch to sag, and for the tempo to drag. And -whether the setting is a worship service, a community sing, or a baseball game- by the time they get to the fourth verse of _anything_, both of those things will almost definitely have taken place. One key purpose of instruments is to keep this from happening. And if they do this, they’re exercising a leadership role.

  45. Evan says:

    A couple of thoughts regarding the question of pews/chairs. First, pews developed as church seating because they’re less work-intensive than chairs. Back when these furnishings had to be made by individual craftsmen the chair was much more expensive than the bench (which is really what the medieval pew was- a bench with a back). It’s interesting to note that the argument against pews came historically from the Anglo-Catholics who were fed up with the taking of pew-rents which, for some reason, the Protestant church leaders didn’t seem to see as problematic. Today we see chairs as more convenient and sometimes more economical but their origins are, in fact, quite the opposite; they were less economical and were never proposed for convenience but to rid the churches of a subtle class system where those who paid higher pew-rent had more prominent seats. On a purely practical level today, I’d like to note that well-made pews are just as comfortable, if not more so, than chairs and you can actually fit more people on them because there’s no set space limit. Children can fill in awkward spaces between adults rather nicely. However, both chairs and pews are certainly appropriate. I’m just thankful we don’t have to stand through our services as the Orthodox are wont to do.

    Also, re: musicians as leaders- They lead only insofar as they obey the rules of the music which someone else composed. I can’t stand it when a church musician takes it upon himself to alter the rhythm of a familiar hymn making it practically unsingable. That’s not leadership, it’s showmanship.

  46. RubeRad says:

    Yes, definitely “not showmanship”. That’s probably a good summary of my position on church music all by itself.

    Interesting point on pews. I would also note that pews are much easier to keep nicely arranged (“decently, and in order”), chairs would be all over the place (until modern manufacturing makes it easier/cheaper to have chair linking systems).

    John yes, we do not have every musician on every hymn. In fact, 90% of the time it is merely piano+organ. We add brass for a couple jubilant songs on occasional Sundays, and otherwise most of the variety is for preludes/offertories.

    But if a large crowd of musically untrained people sing without instruments present, there will be two tendencies: for the pitch to sag, and for the tempo to drag

    Sag and drag; sounds like what is needed is some SUPPORT!

  47. Chris S says:

    Nice tower, reminds me of a parapet on a castle with those windows where the archers shoot from.

  48. Chris S says:

    Pews, chairs? Huh? Why does it matter? I’ll sit on the floor, as long as the Gospel is being rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. I’d even sit on a hillside outdoors…

    I might draw the line at sitting in my car at a drive in theater as that has been shown to lead to strange teaching.

    Not sure “decently and in order” has anything to do with seating arrangements.

  49. John Harutunian says:


    >Sag and drag; sounds like what is needed [for the congregational singing] is some SUPPORT!

    No more than an orchestra uses the “support” of a conductor to insure that everyone is on pitch, and to adopt a musically appropriate tempo -and keep it steady so as to enable everyone to stay together. These are matters (however elementary) of musical direction, musical leadership: they don’t necessarily involve the use of a baton (or even hand waving).

    Evan, one question about your knowledgeable discourse on the history of pews:

    >pews developed as church seating because they’re less work-intensive than chairs.

    OK, but why “church” seating? If they were less work-intensive, why not “all public places” seating? Seems to me that somewhere along the way, pews acquired some kind of sacred, or quasi-sacred significance. Which I think is a good thing, because it’s one more way of “setting apart” what happens on Sundays in a worship space from what happens on Monday through Saturday in homes, movie theaters, business offices,etc.
    Otherwise, thanks for the education on the history of pews. Now it’s my turn.

    >re: musicians as leaders- They lead only insofar as they obey the rules of the music which someone else composed.

    I assume that you hold to the Regulative Principle. In which case you’d have to say that the minister leads only insofar as he obeys the rules of the Bible(?) for worship.
    (I inserted the question mark because I’m not an RP-er.) Nevertheless, his is a leadership position, isn’t it? Same principle applies to the musicians (subordinate to the minister though they may be).
    To broaden the point: Do all PCA or OP sermons on a given Biblical text sound exactly alike? It seems inevitable that the minister’s individuality, personhood, call it what you will, enters the picture. Same with musicians.
    Here’s another way of looking at it, one that’s much more to the point than anything involving “rules”. You’re doubtless familiar with the Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”. As found in the Methodist Hymnal, the third verse reads:

    “Love’s redeeming work is done,
    Fought the fight, the battle won,
    Death in vain forbids him rise,
    Christ has opened paradise.”

    Its words are at a lower emotional pitch than those of the other three verses. A good organist will adopt a softer dynamic level and a mellower timbre at this point.
    Then, he will pull out all the stops for the climactic fourth verse,

    “Soar we now where Christ has led,
    Following our exalted Head,
    Made like him like him we rise,
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”

    The point is not to show off the player, the instrument or anything else -but to drive home the meaning of the words to the singing congregation. Now, do you really believe that this constitutes “obedience to a rule”? Isn’t it more like “sensitivity to the text”? And it’s this sensitivity which qualifies an organist to assume a position of leadership.

    >I can’t stand it when a church musician takes it upon himself to alter the rhythm of a familiar hymn making it practically unsingable.

    Well, I’m with you on this one. But my reaction (at least at a gut level) doesn’t focus on singableness. It’s more like, “It’s unlikely that the performer (or if, like most Reformed, you dislike that word in a worship context, “practitioner”) is more creatively gifted than the composer. It really sounds better musically as originally written.”

  50. RubeRad says:

    I’m pretty sure “decently and in order” means beanbags are verboten

  51. RubeRad says:

    No more than an orchestra uses the “support” of a conductor

    As a veteran participant of many orchestras and subject of many conductors, I must take issue with this point. The purpose and context of orchestras and worship musicians are diametrically opposed.

    In an orchestra, the conductor is the principal; the visionary artist, the orchestra is his instrument; they are tools that he bends to his will. The purpose is indeed showmanship and aesthetics. The members of the orchestra are skilled enough that they could play together pretty well without a conductor (especially in smaller groups, say, under 20) — certainly better than any congregation could “perform”.

    In worship, the congregation is the principal (are the principals). I guess they are subject to the will of whoever chose the hymns, but the hymn was chosen for the people, the people aren’t beholden to the hymn to perform it at a certain level of skill or beauty.

    That is not to deny, of course, that ugly, or badly played music, or struggling with unfamiliar hymns, is bad for worship. But it’s not because of the low quality of the art; it’s because the congregation is distracted from the Words, from the liturgical dialogue between God and man.

  52. John Harutunian says:

    As a church organist who has served in churches of five denominations (including Presbyterian), I in turn must take issue with most of what you say. A conductor does bend orchestral musicians to his will. But that doesn’t make them tools; they’re musicians in their own right. Showmanship is not nearly as important to a good musical performance as faithfulness to the score (i.e., to the spirit if not the letter of it); in any case it’s in a rather different category from aesthetics. The people of a worshiping congregation _are_ beholden to sing the hymn at a certain level of beauty -insofar as God desires excellence in all that we do. (To say that a congregation musn’t be expected to sound like a professional choir isn’t to exempt its hymn singing from this basic principle.) And badly played (or sung) music is bad for worship not solely because it distracts from the words, but also because it is a consequence of our fallen nature. (Which isn’t saying that those who produce it are necessarily guilty of sin, especially if they’re doing what they can to the best of their ability.)
    So, while I agree with some of the distinctions which you make, I can’t agree that the activity of, say, a church organist and that of a conductor are diametrically opposed. (At least, not as such: consider a situation in which the conductor and the players are Christians, seeking to glorify God in all that they do. Are they any less “performers” for that reason?) And I think that my basic point re: musical leadership (setting and maintaining an appropriate tempo, as well as other musicianship factors [e.g., shaping phrases, giving the music its appropriate expressive character]), still stands. Most of the differences which you point out involve points on a continuum, rather than any sort of diametrical opposition.

  53. Evan says:

    I think you’re reading far too much into what are only imprecise, off-the-cuff comments. My only concern is that musical accompaniment support the congregation in its worship rather than making its worship more difficult. In different contexts, given differing acoustic properties and the availability of different quality instruments and skill levels of musicians, this may look different.

    I’m only an RP-er in the broadest sense. I imagine I’d differ with many on the elements vs circumstances question.

    Also, interesting to note re: worship as dialogue- some of the Reformers understood worship to be entirely an act of God regardless of man’s active participation because it is only the gift of faith that permits true worship to exist. In essence our praise is God’s work in us. I have to admit I’d never quite thought of it that way.

  54. John Harutunian says:

    >My only concern is that musical accompaniment support the congregation in its worship rather than making its worship more difficult.

    I certainly can’t argue with that. I do think that things can also work in the opposite direction -that a gifted musician can raise the level of worship to a more transcendent plane. An analogy might be a trite contemporary chorus vs. an eloquent hymn. The doctrinal content (the theological “data”, if you will) might be exactly the same. But in the second case the literary and artistic gifts of those who wrote the hymn text and tune can -like all things excellent- communicate God’s glory in a way that the trite chorus can’t.

    >it is only the gift of faith that permits true worship to exist

    I’d agree with this (perhaps a startling confession coming from someone who isn’t even Reformed!). I’d also say that true worship can exist without music. I think the question is: Does God use great music to enable His people to worship more meaningfully? Being a church organist (and an Anglican at that) I’d of course say yes.

  55. John Harutunian says:

    RubeRad -in addition to my above comments some other points have occurred to me (assuming that you feel like continuing our exchange).

    1. Is it possible for a congregant to sing a hymn with little attention to the melody or the words -in other words, not offering up his best to God outwardly- and yet in some [Platonic?] sense be wholeheartedly worshiping God inwardly? At the very least I’d say that the Hebrews wouldn’t have recognized this distinction. (The Greeks might have.)
    2. In the Garden of Eden did Adam sing off-key? Not if Eden was a paradise -a perfect world.
    3.>The purpose and context of orchestras and worship are diametrically opposed.
    If so, the purpose and context of choirs and worship are likewise diametrically opposed, since choirs, like orchestras, have a conductor.
    So what is a choir doing in a worship service?

  56. Chris S says:

    Bean bags can be arranged decently and in order. Are we really just talking about cultural preferences or even pragmatism?

  57. RubeRad says:

    So what is a choir doing in a worship service?

    Precisely. That’s why at our church the choir is segregated to singing before the Call to Worship, which means outside the worship service. But since you are not an RP’er, I don’t expect you to agree.

    consider a situation in which the conductor and the players are Christians, seeking to glorify God in all that they do. Are they any less “performers” for that reason?

    Christian or not, they are performing, not worshipping. All though all of life (at best) glorifies God, not all of life is worship. To assert that it is detracts from the specialness, the set-apartness, the holiness of worship.

    2. In the Garden of Eden did Adam sing off-key?

    If Jesus played basketball, would he ever miss a shot? Did infant Jesus ever cry? Is it a sin to sing off-key? Do you think unfallen Adam had perfect capability at all possible human skills (without having to take the time to learn them, like Christ did), or just singing?

  58. John Harutunian says:

    RubeRad, re: your first point, no, I’m not an RP-er, but I respect your church’s consistency on this point.

    >If Jesus played basketball, would he ever miss a shot?

    Sure, because the rest of us sometimes do, and he was made like us in all things except sin.

    >Is it a sin to sing off-key?

    Certainly not.

    >Do you think unfallen Adam had perfect capability at all possible human skills (without having to take the time to learn them, like Christ did), or just singing?

    But here, two additional factors enter the picture. First, I believe that classic Reformed theology equates the Garden of Eden, in some sense, with Paradise (correct me if I’m wrong on this). And, at least for a musician, the concept of Paradise and the concept of off-key singing don’t mix. Second, I would guess that unfallen Adam was capable, as you say, of learning and growth in “all possible human skills.” With respect to singing, this would presumably have involved developing a more beautiful sound, more interpretive insight into the music, a wider range, greater sensitivity to the text, etc. It’s another thing to say that he was capable of singing off key.

    >not all of life is worship. To assert that it is detracts from the specialness, the set-apartness, the holiness of worship.

    I’d be the last person to disagree with you on this point!

    >Christian or not, [the concert conductor and orchestra] are performing, not worshipping.

    True. But I think the real issue here involves the appropriateness of the term “performance” in connection with the musical elements of a worship service. Here’s why I believe it’s appropriate.
    Imagine bringing before your pastor a hymn. A hymn whose words faithfully expressed Biblical truth, and whose music was of high quality. And imagine your pastor saying, “This is great -but it’s not appropriate for worship.” “Why not?” “Well, it’s too much of a composition.” “But that’s what a hymn is -a literary and musical composition! You can’t escape that.”
    In the same way, any rendition of a composition is a performance -there’s no escaping the fact.
    I think I understand the objection to the word. There are some renditions of music -and poetry, and perhaps other things as well (like liturgy?)- that create artificial excitement, or merely show off technical skill, or initially titillate but wear thin over time, etc. There are others which show genuine insight into what is being sung or played (or done), and move the heart. The difference between these two isn’t the difference between a performance and a non-performance. It’s the difference between a poor performance and a good one.

  59. Zrim says:

    “So what is a choir doing in a worship service?”

    Precisely. That’s why at our church the choir is segregated to singing before the Call to Worship, which means outside the worship service.

    Ours does, too. But I’ve never really understood what the point is in the first place. You still have a special group of people doing something elemental to worship. And this argument that it’s minutes before the call to worship, which initiates the stated worship and is therefore outside of worship, just seems like a convenient to keep the performance but say it isn’t.

    So what is the point of a pre-service choir?

  60. RubeRad says:

    Well no surprise, I disagree. We just have different philosophies of worship, which works itself out in our understandings of worship music, worship musicians, worship architecture…

    I wish I knew where to dig up the quote again (and it’s author!), but I read once an assertion that a hymn tune can be too good; too grand, too sweeping, too beautiful, to be appropriate for church music. It steals the show, and distracts from the words, the dialogue. I’m pretty sure the tune this mystery writer offered as an example is SYMPHONY (Brahms), which is unfortunate, because “We Are God’s People” is one of my favorite hymns, marvelous for following baptismal vows (in which the congregation vows to assist the parents in the Christian upbringing of the infant).

    But I do agree with the principle. All too often I find myself toodling along the bass line, enjoying the harmonies, when I realize I have no idea what I just said for the past verse and a half. (But it sounded nice) (I never have that problem with “We Are God’s People” though…)

  61. RubeRad says:

    It lets the congregation stroke their idol one last time before the worship service?

  62. RubeRad says:

    Reformed theology equates the Garden of Eden, in some sense, with Paradise (correct me if I’m wrong on this).

    Eden may have been Paradise, which is better than a Fallen world, but it’s not Heaven. Adam did not have a glorified body, the garden was not snake-proof, etc.

    And then again, Eden may not have even been Paradise (if Paradise=Heaven). Perhaps Paradise Lost would be better called Paradise Forfeited.

  63. RubeRad says:

    I consider instrumentalists to be worship leaders (despite Martyn Lloyd-Jones passionate insistence to the contrary)

    Re-reading, I just noticed this aside. I’m curious, John, can you drop a quote or a citation on me?

    I thought of another way to summarize my whole stance on this thing; in worship, and I guess in the church as a whole, there is God-ordained leadership, i.e. ordained officers of the church: Pastors (or as we Presby’s call them, Teaching Elders), (Ruling) Elders, and Deacons. Anything that looks like “leadership” in other priests among the priesthood of all believers, is not leadership in the same sense, because it is subordinate, submissive, etc. to the true leadership which God has given the church.

  64. Chris S says:

    Why not go all the way, just recite words and leave all the music out of the service entirely?

  65. Bruce Settergren says:

    It’s been suggested numerous times down the corridors of church history. I’m not against it at all.

  66. RubeRad says:

    If you’ve ever been to a metrical-psalm-only church, that’s pretty much what you get.

  67. John Harutunian says:

    >So what is the point of a pre-service choir?

    Zrim, I hope you don’t mind if I try to “get inside of your head” at this point. I’m going to guess that your objection involves the assumption that the only “point” that any music can ever have is enjoyment, pleasure, entertainment. Like most church musicians, I disagree. If we leave the regulative principle out of the picture, one would say that the basic rationale (rather than “point”) of choirs in worship is that those whom God has gifted musically may now offer their gifts back to Him in worship. On the other hand, if one holds to the regulative principle, then presumably, the rationale for a pre-service choir would be: …offer their gifts back to Him in an _act_ of worship: an act which is not strictly part of the worship service, but which moves the congregation to worship, thus preparing the people for the service which follows.

  68. Zrim says:

    John, thanks. I suppose my question is of those who hold to the RPW. And the answer you propose on that behalf seems to be that it “moves the congregation to worship, thus prepares the people for the service which follows.” But if this works for music then why not other modes of preparation? How about those who have the gifts of speech to offer a meditation before the stated service? Or some other act that corresponds to some other gift?

    But my guess is that this won’t happen and I’ve never seen it happen. And my guess as to why comes back to the psychology of music I think really informs the practice and you disagree with: it’s meant to stir up affect, and affect is somehow vital to worship. Those who think staid affect is vital give us choirs, and those who think sassy affect is vital give us P&W bands. But I’m not so sure affect, staid or sassy, is as vital as most seem to presume. I think reverence and awe and a good and decent order are vital. And I think those things are nurtured better by silence.

  69. John Harutunian says:

    To start out with a point of agreement: I’d certainly agree that if the musical performance/rendition (depending on your point of view) of any instrumentalist or vocalist interferes with the worship of the congregation, the pastor has every right to call him/her back into line. So yes, ultimately the musicians are subordinate to the pastor. I’d hesitate to say that it’s _only_ the pastor, elders and deacons who exercise “true leadership” for this simple reason: in any kind of gathering in which a corporate musical activity takes place, there will be at least one individual who assumes a de facto leadership role with regard to such activity.
    The Martyn Lloyd-Jones reference is from his book, “Preaching and Preachers”, pp. 265-268.
    Regarding someone’s singing-off key, I should be more explicit. It could mean “his intonation isn’t very accurate.” Or it could mean “he basically can’t carry a tune.” The Garden of Eden may not have been Paradise, but I can’t believe that Adam in his unfallen state couldn’t carry a tune. Most people certainly can; and if Adam couldn’t then it would seem that one particular natural ability (music) was actually improved as a result of the fall -which seems very unlikely. (I’d also note that at least in my experience, musically untrained people can sing a hymn tune with reasonably accurate intonation. The need for instruments arises because in a capella singing the overall pitch and tempo wouldn’t be maintained for several successive verses. )
    This sums up my view on the “performance/is it a sin to sing off-key?” aspect of our exchange: A Bible is a book; a worship edifice is an example of architecture; a sermon is a speech (and is subject to the rules of grammar); a rendition of a piece of music -be it a symphony, a folk song or a hymn- is a performance. In worship, the One to whom the rendition/performance is directed is the Triune God; like everything else in worship it is “offered up” to Him. Not as a propitiatory sacrifice, but as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. And as such, it is to represent our best. And if “the best” that some worshipers can do involves singing off-key, God is not displeased: assuming that a)the worshiper’s heart is right, and b)the worshiper is (at least implicitly) trying, or has tried in the past (perhaps without success) to do something about it.

    >I read once an assertion that a hymn tune can be too good; too grand, too sweeping, too beautiful, to be appropriate for church music.

    I think you’ve got Augustine on your side here. Here’s why I have a problem with what you’re saying. For the sake of argument, let’s stick to Psalm singing. Consider Psalm 96. Its themes include joy (verses 11-12), majesty, and _beauty_ (verse 6). Regarding the latter: if one is to speak of degrees of beauty, how much beauty is present in God’s “sanctuary”? And if the music is to reflect (express, reinforce -use whichever verb you want) the meaning of the words, how can one say that the tune is too beautiful?
    As far as “grand” and “sweeping” is concerned, I’d say that the music should be characterized by those qualities to the same degree that the words are. No more, but no less.
    Now if you were to say that if a tune can be _ornate_ in a way that distracts the worshiper from the words, I’d agree. But even there, I’d qualify the statement. “Angels We Have Heard on High” is a well-known Christmas hymn; “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” is a well known Easter hymn. Both tunes are appropriately joyful (in a way that a hymn tune for a Good Friday service wouldn’t be). And in both cases, the joy is expressed through a melisma: a musical passage consisting of one syllable spread out over several notes. In the Christmas hymn the melisma occurs on the word “Gloria” in the refrain; in the Easter hymn it occurs on the word “Alleluia” which occurs many times throughout the text. And in both cases this device expresses joy through its _ornateness_ -which is therefore appropriate, and actually reinforces the words.

  70. John Harutunian says:

    For those of you who read Scott Clark’s latest Heidelblog diatribe against the practice of non-canonical hymns in worship: here’s the biggest (but by no means the only) problem with his position: It involves the assumption that all of the Psalms should be sung in worship, including Psalm 22 which opens with David’s heart cry, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
    Christians, standing in the light of full NT revelation, know that Christ spoke those words on their behalf and in their stead, on the cross. He spoke them so that we would never have to. As if this weren’t sufficient, we have God’s explicit promise “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” in Hebrews 13:5.
    This is not to deny that we may sometimes feel forsaken, and cry out as David did, in the context of adverse circumstances. But it is to say that the notion that God has commanded us to accuse Him of forsaking us (which we do if we sing this Psalm to Him in worship) clearly violates Biblical teaching.
    It’s one thing to disagree on instruments in worship. But this involves serious doctrinal error.

  71. Evan says:

    I grew up in a church with a choir that, I’m positive, would claim to hold to the RPW. In our case, the choir only sang during the offertory which meant that they were providing appropriate musical cover for a liturgical action; the offertory was the element, not the singing. In essence, their singing was no different from the organ being played during the same action. They had no special place on their own as an element of the worship service.

  72. Evan says:

    I’ve read Bruggink’s book and I find it woefully inadequate as a guide to designing for the Reformed tradition. There is no attempt to explain how the historical development of liturgy informed the Reformers’ own liturgical work and no attempt to connect the works represented in the book with a tradition of ecclesiastical building that extends back beyond the sixteenth century. Additionally, there is no comprehensive aesthetic theory governing design in general which is why so many of the represented spaces are utterly devoid of beauty. There are certainly some usable ideas but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a guide to creating a space that is functional, historically connected, and aesthetically pleasing. I’d send people to the Anglo-Catholic R.A. Cram’s “Church Building” before I had them read “Christ & Architecture.”

  73. RubeRad says:

    I think those are pretty good guidelines. (However, you might ask the question whether the offering is itself an element of worship…)

  74. RubeRad says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t like it as much as I did. I guess there isn’t a historical theology of Reformed architecture, but they do depict and exposit a number of pretty old Reformed churches, and give theological reasons for their assessments. Maybe they didn’t express their aesthetic theory, but I found myself agreeing with their positive assessments of the spaces they represented.

    “Devoid of beauty”? Maybe the point is not to have “beautiful” architecture, but merely “handsome” architecture, which neither draws attention to itself because of its beauty, nor distracts with ugliness or clutter, but focuses attention on the means of grace (word and sacrament), provides seating that doesn’t interrupt the communion of the saints, provides facility for musicians to support without becoming a sideshow (or rock concert!), etc.

    1 Cor 1:17; just as “words of eloquence” could “empty the cross of Christ of its power”, couldn’t also architecture of beauty do the same thing?

  75. Evan says:

    The way you use the word “handsome” suggests we’re really taking about the same thing. Beauty has nothing to do with ornament, merely good proportion and well-chosen materials.

  76. RubeRad says:

    Well then either you and I are operating under different aesthetic theories, or (at least) one of us has bad taste, because on the whole I approve of all the buildings Bruggink & Droppers approve of, for the reasons they give.

    Hey, I just clicked through to your blog for the first time; I’ll be checking it out to see what you have to show&tell about church architecture. I’m especially intrigued by your recent “How Then Should We Build” series.

  77. Evan says:

    Keep in mind that not every building I feature is to be taken as an example of what I believe Reformed architecture should look like. My focus as a historian has been primarily Anglican church architecture of the early 20th century and the “How Should We Then Build?” series is a first attempt at getting a handle on something approaching a distinctively Reformed architectural theory.

  78. RubeRad says:

    Good to know. I will keep that in mind before I start trolling your blog with criticisms of RC churches for being RC.

  79. Rob H says:

    Bean bags would imply popcorn and a remote. Foul.

  80. Pingback: Keep On Keepin’ On | The Confessional Outhouse

  81. Pingback: Who Put the Bible in Biblical Order? | The Confessional Outhouse

  82. Pingback: Maundy Thursday | The Confessional Outhouse

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s