Craig Barnes is president of Princeton Theological Seminary, and argues for “Truth in Beautiful Spaces.” He gives a brief history of Christian meeting places and says that those who argue against ornate buildings use the early church as their basis… “those who huddled together in homes and catacombs… But this wasn’t a choice the church made,” he says. “Private homes and catacombs were all that was left for a persecuted church. As soon as it was legalized the church immediately used Roman basilicas for its worship.”

“I’m not advocating for a return to expensive building programs,” he explains. “I understand that whatever it is that makes space sacred is very dependent on cultural context. But it isn’t enough to worship simply by talking about the gospel. Even if the church is meeting in a high school gymnasium, there has to be some encounter with beauty because it can never be separated from truth.

“‘One thing have I desired of the Lord…’ David said, ‘that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all of the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple’ (Ps. 27:4, KJV). There it is – sacred truth and beauty are one thing.

“Our gospel is not just more words about God. Truth has a twin sister called beauty who beckons us to bow the knee. This beauty may be seen through the icons on the wall of an Orthodox church in Eastern Europe, or the stark white walls and high pulpit of a Congregational church in New England, or the palm leaves intricately woven to form the roof of a sanctuary without walls in the Amazon rainforest. But it all helps worshipers ‘behold,’ which is one of the angels’ favorite words. It doesn’t have to cost much; it just has to attempt the beauty of holiness.

“The sanctuary is the place where people gather week after week to remember that the holy is also in the places of their lives that are not so beautiful. It is where they bury their parents and spouses, baptize their babies and walk beautiful daughters down the aisle to a groom wearing a naive grin. Pastors sit alone in this sanctuary after a hard visit to a nursing home and ponder what God is doing in the lives of the congregation he loves. All of it is a way of beholding the sacredness of life. To behold such holy work we need holy spaces.”

I know you are missing our sanctuary worship. Many of you have spent years of your life in this wonderful place. And while we are not worshiping there during these difficult days of the pandemic, our memories take us there every Sunday morning. I long to be there, as do you. In the meantime, let’s continue in our faithfulness to “virtual” worship (though I’m not crazy about that term) until the day we can return and be together in the place that is so meaningful to us. And when we do, you will then be encouraged to get outside the four walls and into the city that needs to hear just how much Christ loves us.



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