To glorify God is to
acknowledge and make known His character, or give credit to Him. There
are a variety of ways in which we may do it. The sight of a man lame
from birth leaping and walking and praising God awakened a crowd to
glorify God (Acts 3:1-9; 4:21). According to Peter, those who speak or
serve appropriately in church meetings glorify Him (1 Pet. 4:11). We
may cause the recipients of our gifts to glorify God (2 Cor. 9:13) and,
if we are filled with the Spirit, even mundane activities like eating
or drinking can bring glory to Him (1 Cor. 10:31). My question is, Can
we build a hall or chapel that will glorify God?
In Old Testament times, God decreed that a tabernacle
and later a temple should be erected to display His character and
provoke Israel and the surrounding nations to acknowledge His glory.
Accordingly, the builders were told to follow exact specifications (Ex.
Church buildings today cannot pretend to fulfill that
function. God may be glorified by His saints in a building, but the
structure itself cannot contribute to His glory. Indeed, its design and
appointments may actually conceal the glory of the God in whose Name it
has been erected. This is true of magnificent cathedrals, as we shall
presently see. But it may also be true of less imposing structures—and
this despite the fact that many a church building has “To the Glory of
God” etched on its cornerstone. The inscription may reveal the serious
intent of those who financed the project, but in contrast to Old
Testament times, architecture can no longer claim to display His
character or glorify His name.
The book of Hebrews was written to show that the system
of types and shadows was inadequate and had grown obsolete. It was old
and ready to disappear (Heb. 8:13). It was to be replaced by better
things, things which drew God’s people near to Him in truth and
reality. Not even in typical fashion could Jerusalem or Samaria lay
claim to house the living God. (See Jn. 4:23-24.)
In the measure in which we adopt Old Testament language
or even think in Old Testament fashion, we obscure the very truth we
seek to maintain. In the first centuries of Christian testimony,
buildings set apart for Christian worship did not exist, yet churches
flourished as believers met in homes of wealthy patrons or in secular
buildings. The gospel was carried to the man in the street and
Christians generally had neither the resources nor the inclination to
build temples. To have done so would have made it easier for their
adversaries to find and persecute them.
With the Emperor Constantine, that changed. Money
flowed into the coffers of the once despised Christians, and meeting
places—which in increasingly mimicked pagan temples—began to appear
everywhere. Believers lost sight of the true sanctuary and their
buildings became “sacred.” This was not to the glory of God. Rome went
to the extreme in her buildings, but later on, Protestants were also
guilty of perpetuating the myth that the Most High dwelt in temples
made with hands.
All this is well known and a matter of history, but we
should also reflect on the fact that “early brethren” saw these things
much more clearly than we often do. Truths as to the nature of worship
had been wonderfully revived. Believers were conducting their lives in
the light of things that were unseen and that which represented the
eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). That which appealed to the eye or had an
aesthetic beauty of its own was therefore depreciated by them. They
opted for great simplicity in their meeting places.
Today, building codes mean that we have to spend much
more than we would like when erecting a facility. But we are often
tempted to go far beyond what is required and many of our buildings are
not only lavish in their appointments, but the time and money spent on
them shows that we are again thinking that the way we erect and furnish
our chapels and halls reflects in some way upon the glory of God. Of
course, we often spend more on our own homes than is appropriate or
necessary. Does our ecclesiastical materialism help justify our
absorption with domestic comfort? “After all,” we say, “we all have
nice homes. Should we not similarly care for the house which is for His
But there is no building on earth, however wonderfully
designed, that can of itself contribute to the glory of God. Such
buildings at their best are for the convenience and comfort of His
people. This is not necessarily an evil thing. Sitting on a backless
wooden bench will not make us more spiritual or help us to praise him
Yes, our architecture and our furnishings should be
sensible—but not sacerdotal, for we exercise our priesthood in heaven.
When our plans include an earthly “sanctuary” we deny that truth. And
how easily we may fall into the trap of doing what Christians did in
the days of Constantine—erecting facilities that make pagans feel
comfortable because they are somewhat similar to their temples.
The writer has often observed how “churchy” furnishings
may restrict the free-flow of worship among us. If we entertain in our
minds to the smallest degree that our building is a holy place on
earth, it is not surprising that we have difficulty drawing near to God
in heaven. Ornate communion tables, stained glass windows, vaulted
ceilings and even fancy pews all carry the same subliminal but not
insignificant message—this is a hallowed place. Reverence is required
not so much because we recognize the presence of the Lord when we
gather in His Name, but rather because we see ourselves as being in
some kind of sanctuary.
In the early days of an assembly, the believers may
meet in a home or school. The furnishings may distract in a different
way than we have described, but at least they do not tell religious
lies. All things being equal, there is often a refreshing reality about
the praise, and an earnestness in the prayers of the saints. But move
them into a “sanctuary” and what happens? Worship tends to greater
formality and deacons approach the table to dispense the bread and wine
with a precision that would gratify an undertaker. No, I do not
advocate a careless attitude or sloppy service, but beware of the
sensuous appeal of religious architecture and furniture, and the
unwanted formality that is induced by them. Not by such things do we
minister to the living God or contribute to His glory.
Some readers may be in an assembly that has fallen heir
to a “church” erected years ago, or for other reasons find themselves
gathering in a facility that has some of the undesirable features
mentioned above. Can they do anything to counteract the influence of
their surroundings? We believe so.
First, they can avoid using the words “church” or
“sanctuary” when referring to their meeting place, and use these terms
in the way they are used by the Holy Spirit.
Second, they can use wisdom when any building additions
or improvements are planned, so that the sacred appearance may not be
Third, and most important of all, they should make sure
that regular teaching is given concerning Christ’s appearing in a
greater and more perfect tabernacle than that made with hands (as
outlined in Hebrews 9 and 10).
Such steps would do much to dispel the fog in the minds
of those who come to fellowship with us from places where these truths
are unknown and untaught. Also, the coming generation may be preserved
from being unduly influenced by humanly designed and earthbound
Finally let us remember that we always detract from
God’s glory rather than minister to it when we try to impress the world
or conform to its expectations.