Question about churches in low Protestantism


#1

Reading an essay on a different subject today, I came across this quotation from Eastern Orthodox Franky Schaeffer:

Most contemporary American church buildings are symbolically ugly, accurately reflecting the taste of pastor and people alike… The profound ugliness of these churches is not hte result of budget priorities. These buildings are expensive; studied ugliness does not come cheap. Many of these church buildings seem to express the same sense of aesthetics as that of the living-room/kitchen set from the old “Dick Van Dyke Show.” They constitute an assault on the senses: a nightmare of red velvet and prefab ceiling “tile,” StainWare carpet in pastel shades from hell and the Easter Bunny, a Mt. Everest of canned sweet corn and lime Jell-O.

Now at first I just laughed. I thought it was hilarious, and I felt at least partially justified since I can play the “I used to be Protestant” card. Then I realized that it’s more sad than anything, in it’s accuracy. Growing up I sometimes wondered why our church was so ugly, and why every other church I’d been to was, too. Depressingly ugly.

Of course I don’t mean to offend. My question is, is the lack of aesthetic appeal in “low” Protestant churches intentional because of theological reasons? I know that in my former church, the Church of Christ, one could use the “silence of Scripture” argument. It would be sinful to adorn the church in ways not explicitly endorsed by the Bible. Is this true for other denominations? Is architecture and decor that is more than utilitarian a sin?


#2

I don’t know that they view it as a sin necessarily, but maybe it’s more of a case of - what options do they have, decor wise? They don’t recognize the Saints so that leaves all the statues out. Can’t really have a big cross in the front because somebody might mistakenly start to idolize it! Stained glass windows would look way too Catholic - can’t have that! What’s left? Some fake plants, a podium, a place for the band, and the seats for the audience. (opps - I meant congregation)

Besides - in the mega churches near my house, the money they saved on decor can be spent on the coffee bar, food court area & gift shop/bookstore.


#3

Didn’t St. Paul preach to a group gathered in what I take to be a “stadium” of sorts?

I saw one of the “megachurches” on TV, and all I can say is:
Tons of people, approprietly dressed, who seemed to be "into"
whatever was going on.

As for the eateries, maybe they could be seen as a place
a family can go to together, after the service, to have a
bite to eat, and maybe pick up a nice Christian kid’s book
on the way out the door.
Kinda like a “mall” for Christians?
I don’t know.
But they must be doing something right, to turn out
that number of people…enthusiatic people, I note.

Wouldn’t be my thing, but then I can’t stand crowds in
any venue.

reen12


#4

A church’s beauty comes from the people and the message within, not from its decorations. :tsktsk:


#5

Dear KnightoftheRose,

quote: KnightoftheRose
A church’s beauty comes from the people and the message within, not from its decorations. :tsktsk:

I’m not contesting your point.
It’s not an “either”/“or”, it’s “both”/“and”

Take a home. Love can exist in a shack.
It can also lead to irritability and a vacant "feeling."
A comfortable home can add to family life.
*

As I said, a beautifully decorated setting for the worship
of God may be more conducive to worshiping.
Not “will”, but “may.”

Or an office setting. “Work” can get done in a cement
"box" where you can’t open the windows- but is it
conducive to effective work?

Maybe I could put it this way:
Are we making a “statement” with the settings we employ
to offer worship? If the “setting” looks and has the
emotional tone of any other secular “setting”, what
message are we sending?:tsktsk:

Couldn’t resist the :tsktsk: I don’t think I’ve used this icon
before, I find it so annoying.

reen12*


#6

I am familiar with the usage “low Church”, especially as it relates to the Anglican communion and Methodists, etc. What is detailed by the phrase “low Protestantism”? Are you making reference to a lack of a desire for a heirarchy, a dislike of candles and liturgy, or what does it mean?

If you mean places like Willow Creek (in the Chicagoland area), I think the idea is to create a place where people feel comfortable (although I personally find the place astoundingly large…it has monitors up like in O’Hare airport to direct you to the right “terminal”). I’m not sure if I remember correctly, but maybe its pastor Bill Hybels even has a book about attracting the unchurched.

If you do mean Methodist Churches, they can indeed have stained glass, altars, altar rails, carved woodwork, etc. Some are lovely. However, I think some groups would just feel that beyond a point, money is better spent on the poor than on the worship space.


#7

I’m not contesting your point.
It’s not an “either”/“or”, it’s “both”/“and”

Take a home. Love can exist in a shack.
It can also lead to irritability and a vacant "feeling."
A comfortable home can add to family life.
*

As I said, a beautifully decorated setting for the worship
of God may be more conducive to worshiping.
Not “will”, but “may.”

Or an office setting. “Work” can get done in a cement
"box" where you can’t open the windows- but is it
conducive to effective work?

Maybe I could put it this way:
Are we making a “statement” with the settings we employ
to offer worship? If the “setting” looks and has the
emotional tone of any other secular “setting”, what
message are we sending?*

Reen, I’m not saying it is bad to have an aesthetically pleasing environment. I’m just saying we ought not to sneer at churches which are rather threadbare, since it is the people and the message which matters most.


#8

Hi, KnightoftheRose,

Thanks for the clarification. I’m with you on that, all the way.
I’ll bet you’ll find more genuine love of God in some storefront
churches than in some of the more affluent buildings.

I guess my point is, if the financial resources are available,
what message do Christians send, in choosing to "mirror"
secular buildings?

Do you have a thought on that?

Best,
reen12


#9

I guess my point is, if the financial resources are available,
what message do Christians send, in choosing to "mirror"
secular buildings?

Do you have a thought on that?

Well, I guess designing a church to look like a secular building could send the message that Christianity is accessible to modern Americans, that it isn’t some weird, transcendant religion, but rather one for each of us personally. It could help blend Christianity into American culture, in other words.

But to be completely honest, I prefer churches which don’t look like shopping malls. :smiley: My grandfather designed a rather beautiful Catholic church around where I live, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that - the beauty of a Christian place of worship can only reflect the beauty of the Lord we worship. So, either style of church is fine, imo.


#10

Now at first I just laughed. I thought it was hilarious, and I felt at least partially justified since I can play the “I used to be Protestant” card. Then I realized that it’s more sad than anything, in it’s accuracy. Growing up I sometimes wondered why our church was so ugly, and why every other church I’d been to was, too. Depressingly ugly

I suppose that’s the problem with putting more stock in a BUILDING… personally I have been in some lovely Protestant buildings and some lovely Catholic Churches. I have been in ugly Catholic Churches and ugly Protestant churches.
I think what is being taught is more important than asthetics. you know things like love your neighbor as your self, lose yourself etc.


#11

[quote=Pug]I am familiar with the usage “low Church”, especially as it relates to the Anglican communion and Methodists, etc. What is detailed by the phrase “low Protestantism”? Are you making reference to a lack of a desire for a heirarchy, a dislike of candles and liturgy, or what does it mean?
[/quote]

By “low Protestantism” I was referring to just that: churches in the Protestant tradition that have a distinctively “low” status. Often that means a lack of real liturgy, limited hierarchy, etc. Specifically what I had in mind was independent Christian churches, Churches of Christ, Pentacostal churches, some Baptist congregations, etc.


#12

[quote=KnightoftheRose]A church’s beauty comes from the people and the message within, not from its decorations. :tsktsk:
[/quote]

That’s not what I meant to imply. I’m sorry for the confusion. Maybe I should have made a disclaimer. There are beautiful churches with horrid people and ugly churches with wonderful people.


#13

[quote=Lilyofthevalley]I suppose that’s the problem with putting more stock in a BUILDING… personally I have been in some lovely Protestant buildings and some lovely Catholic Churches. I have been in ugly Catholic Churches and ugly Protestant churches.
I think what is being taught is more important than asthetics. you know things like love your neighbor as your self, lose yourself etc.
[/quote]

I completely agree. Orthopraxy in liturgy and orthodoxy in catechesis are much more important than, say, windows or statues or the like.

The point I was wondering about, which Mr Schaeffer made, was that the ugliness in many churches is intentional. He writes,

The profound ugliness of these churches is not the result of budget priorities. These buildings are expensive; studied ugliness does not come cheap.

I was merely asking if it was really some sort of doctrinal issue that made people tell their architects, “make this building as ugly as possible.”


#14

Franky Schaffer’s father was a pastor in the kind of church he is describing…
I find myself wondering if this is where he is coming from??

By the way, my Methodist church has stained glass windows. We also have several large tapestries of the Last Supper, the head of Christ, & one of Mary…also other art…


#15

Hello, posters to this thread.

I’ve been giving more thought to this issue, and here’s an
idea I had that maybe some could give me input on.

When the first Temple was built, God gave minute instructions
on the exact way that it was to be built. It must have been
staggeringly beautiful. A ‘presence’ suggesting a Presence?

If St. Patrick’s cathedral, in NY City, were not the "landmark"
that it is, a “presence”, would the Christian message be
overwhelmed by the culture around it, including vast
secular works of architecture?

What do “spires” say, for example, in that city of flat-topped
"box" buildings? [The exception being the Chrystler
Building, with it’s tapered top.]

Humans are soul and body. If we make the "mind"
arguement that "it’s our message that’s important,"
do we run the risk of missing the fact the we also have
eyes to see with, emotions that can be touched, by
the “material” aspect of being human?
What do our “material” expressions [buildings] “say.”?

Thoughts on the above most welcome.
Thanks,

reen12
aka Zusia

PS: And, if we say: "Our buildings should look like
secular structures, in order for people to more
easily accept something familiar, in the culture…"
I say: Let Christians make the argument…loudly…
that says: It is dehumanizing to stuff people into
glass and concrete structures, where you can’t
even open the windows.
Excoriate the architecture…not* conform* to it.


#16

Leaving out the megachurches, the answer to your question has a lot to do with how much money the congregation has at its disposal. A lot of Protestant churches get “recycled,” usually by being bought by churches of other denominations. Every so often, they’re torn down or converted to secular uses.

I’m here in the semi-rural Southeastern U.S. Lots and lots of small Protestant churches, mostly varieties of Southern Baptist. Most of the time, when one of these churches grows or moves, they buy or build a pretty standard type of church – usually bigger than the old one, with a higher steeple. We have a few megachurches, mostly in metropolitant areas. The common factor seems to be cheap construction with some durability; therefore, the most common type of new church building is some sort of steel building.

My parents were brought up Methodist. My dad grew up in a small Methodist church in the “country”: white, wooden building, picnics out of doors, in the church yard, and, when I went to my aunt’s wedding in 1961, when I was three, I remember that the (plain) cross at the altar had a flourescent or white neon tube. My mom grew up in a metropolitan Methodist church – very large, historic brick church, choir behind the preacher, IHS on the plain, gold-colored cross on the altar table. I was very surprised when, doing some family history research, I located the church where my dad’s great-grandfather is buried: it’s a white, wooden Methodist church in the SC countryside – with an apse!!! (My dad’s family – up to his dad – had three generations in a row of Methodist clergy, and he has several cousins who are Methodist ministers. He’s an M.D.)

I converted to Catholicism in my early 20s, after several years of playing around with the idea of becoming Episcopalian. My first consistent exposure to organized religion that “took” occured when my parents placed my sisters and I in two High Church Episcopal elementary schools in the space of a year and a half. (No problem with the schools – we moved.Actually, we moved every year when I was a kid, until I got to high school.)

Elizabeth Whitaker


#17

Hi, whitake,

quote:** whitake**

My first consistent exposure to organized religion that “took” occured when my parents placed my sisters and I in two High Church Episcopal elementary schools in the space of a year and a half.

Did the High Church Episcopal architecture and decoration
have anything to do with:

My first consistent exposure to organized religion that “took”…

What a lovely picture you painted of:

My dad grew up in a small Methodist church in the “country”: white, wooden building, picnics out of doors, in the church yard…

I’ve lived in a highly Catholic area in upstate NY for almost
60 years…it seemed that there was a church every 10
blocks! many built in the late 19th century, or early 20th.
When I worked in NY City for 7 months in the early 70’s,
St.Patricks loomed up as an oasis of sanity in the midst
of buildings, buildings and more buildings, blotting out the
sky, it seemed. [Even the trees had metal cages around
the trunks…when I saw that, I realized I wasn’t going to
last in the “big city.”:)]

In my mind, I think that “worship”[Mass] is a different
thing altogether than solely “praying” or the reading of
Scripture. Maybe that’s why my heart seems to yearn
for a “space” that is fit for the sacred nature of the Mass?
Deliniating the secular from the sacred?

It’s not that Mass can’t be said in a hut, if that’s what’s
available and possible.
Maybe the word I seek is "congruence"
i.e., the nature of the “space” should be congruent with
the activity?
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences on
church architecture, whitake.

reen12


#18

[quote=Sgt Sweaters]I completely agree. Orthopraxy in liturgy and orthodoxy in catechesis are much more important than, say, windows or statues or the like.

[/quote]

More important, yes. But isn’t it true that church buildings are often a reflection of the congregation’s catechesis and fidelity to the Church and her Tradition? I’m specifically referring to ugly Catholic churches. Whenever you come across an ugly Catholic church it usually means that the catechesis is very ugly too. In other words, that the people who designed the church had an agenda to move away from “traditional” Catholicism.


#19

Dear UKCatholicGuy,

I think you’re right,

reen12


#20

I grew up in a very nice Baptist church. I always thought it to be very beautiful inside and out. As Baptists, we believed that the “church” was the group of believers, not the building. Besides, who’s to say that God doesn’t like the inside of their buildings just as much as He does the most beautifully ornate Cathedral?


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