November 29, 2020

Riffs: 08:12:09: Architecture for the Glory of God

5UPDATE: This has been a great conversation, but we’re starting to get some drive-by comments with little substance. Keep the tone and content to a high standard please.

WATCH: This short video- 8 minutes- of the building of a Gothic worship center for Covenant Presbyterian (PCA) church in Nashville. Don’t comment without watching, please.

Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville is a new church (1990) with an incredible worship center.

Jesus didn’t build cathedrals – or impressive temples- on earth. The New Covenant is explicit: the old temple worship and ALL its externals- are gone.

I don’t believe God wants most churches to build cathedrals to worship in. Most churches, as I see the cross cultural church planting task, should consider whether they even need a building, at least for a very long time. There’s a lot of reasons not to do this.

The resources spent on a Gothic Cathedral like this are mind-boggling. The economics of Jesus seem plain enough. the commitment to upkeep is massive. Such expenditures could fund missionary church planting efforts of monumental significance, print millions of Bibles, eradicate vast hordes of poverty and revolutionize the mission of the church in many places. (I have no idea what CPC’s resulting commitment to missions is, by the way, and I’d like to know.)

But I have changed my mind a bit on this subject, so stand by and take notes if you are tracking my inconsistencies.

I think some churches- and CPC Nashville seems to be one of them- should build beautiful gothic cathedrals if they can.

You see, God gifts us creatively and artistically. He gives some people the means and the gifts to express art to the glory of God in ways few others can.

In music. In stained glass. In architecture. In construction. In design and in the resulting worship and liturgy.

Some churches need to release those gifts into the culture, so that a city can see a gothic cathedral and experience worship sacramentally (aha!) in the glory of a physical worship center and all that can happen there. Some churches. Not all.

I know some will disagree, and to a large extent I am with you. I have to admit, the Planetshakers version of evangelicalism as a rock concert/stadium event with no real emphasis on preaching, the sacraments or beauty has made me appreciate what I’m seeing here, and particularly…

1. The presence of young adults
2. The sense of relating the building to the legacy of Christ in the community (But many great churches stand empty. Some are even Mosques. That can be naive.)
3. The desire for many other ministries to be spun off and resourced from this.

The upkeep, etc is a concern. I don’t know if I could ever be part of a church that did this. I’m uneasy at the whole business.

But I am really glad…really, really glad, that some churches can and do turn their gifts to this kind of tangible, visible, sensual sermon on the Glory of God.

God’s hand and peace on Covenant Presbyterian in Nashville.

NOTE: Would love to know from any CPC members if there was a theological process of presenting this kind of massive expenditure.


  1. How beautiful and how thoroughly unimaginative.

  2. Church architecture is a huge and sensitive personal button… Growing up in the Baptist church (among other forays into non-denoms and fundamentalist Bible churches), I never quite understood why the buildings (not to mention the music, art, etc., etc.) were altogether ugly. And if they weren’t ugly per se, they were tacky or gawdy or non-descript post-modern monuments to capitalism. No one could ever really give me a good reason as to why, and it always seemed to me that Jesus deserved better than that.

    Church buildings are not just practical necessity, but really do reflect the theology of the people who worship inside, and I daresay that so much of evangelicalism entirely misses the point here. Our buildings are a testimony to our God, to what we value, and to Whom and how we worship. True, God is not a building, nor is the church, but our buildings are the primary physical representation and testimony to the world of the Church universal. Should it not be a radiant, glorious bride?

    I think Covenant Pres is hitting the nail right on the head with their building – we build and maintain magnificent structures because we love Christ, love the Church, and desire to make Him known. This is NOT a waste of resources: the worship of saints will be aided for generations to come! A church that is caught up in trying to appeal to the culture or to be uber-modern and hip will spend infinitely more money just on regular upgrades to sound equipment than one which pays for maintenance of a big beautiful building. We don’t have much surviving from the early church, but we do have church buildings from centuries ago. Shouldn’t we aspire like them and like Covenant Pres to leave something of relative permanence to the church yet to come?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      A church that is caught up in trying to appeal to the culture or to be uber-modern and hip will spend infinitely more money just on regular upgrades to sound equipment than one which pays for maintenance of a big beautiful building.

      And in a few years the Uber-Modern and Hip (TM) will look old-fashioned.

      Think about what the word “Post-Modern” literally means.
      It’s what comes after Cutting Edge Modern (TM) becomes Old Hat.

  3. The video brought tears of joy to my eyes.

    In Medieval times, a town would decide to construct a mammoth Gothic cathedral and this was a project in which every single Christian in the town an neighboring villages could participate, either by contributing whatever money they could afford, by doing construction work, by providing meals for the workers. When the project was completed, every single person could look at the glorious cathedral and feel that they contributed to it, that God was glorified through their contributions, great or small. Even the poorest Christian could point to it as evidence that they, too, belonged to the Kingdom of God.

    • This comment is somewhat overlapping with another I made so apologies for those who feel I’m repeating.

      History was/is written by those who can read and write. We really don’t know how the poorest Christians or even the majority of people in an area felt. They couldn’t read or write at the time. We are told how they felt by those in power. And their writings have been somewhat self serving way too often to take every thing they say as face value. Look at the world today and see how many rulers claim to the adoration and support of their populations when we know better due to better communications that just did not exist in the middle ages. We should not apply our democratic world view on the past where the concepts we live by today just did not exist.

      Be that as it may be, churches throughout history were mostly built to achieve 2 goals. To glorify God and to last. The former tends to give them their beauty. The engineering and materials available determine much of their form. In the wilderness it was a tent. Later when King Solomon was rich it was a grand stone structure. (Although more than a few historians think he spent so much he impoverished the kingdom.) In the time just after Christ it was many times a cave or sewer. In the middle ages it was large stone with vaulted structures.

      The problem I have with buildings like this is they tend to spend money recreating a “golden age” of church buildings when in reality the arches and beams were just the best way to build at the time but no more. Now that they are not maybe we shouldn’t be building them this way. Especially if it requires huge sums of money over what could be done with modern building methods.

      In general this is an issue that troubles me. A church should be dignified but not gaudy. Sometimes good reasonable people disagree on where that line is.

      The basic question I have is was the heart of the congregation to glorify God or themselves. And many people have a hard time answering that truthfully.

      • Ross,
        As I mentioned in my reply to your earlier comment, I don’t think you have a very clear idea how historians work. The things you are saying in your first paragraph are simply not true.

      • I have to cordially disagree about the arches and vaults being used for purely utilitarian reasons. A little research into the Gothic architecture and other ecclesiastical modes of building will reveal that everything was done with intention, even the arches and the vaulted ceilings. For example, the central vault in an Eastern cathedral lifts the icon of Christ the Pantakrator to a tremendous height. The cathedral represents the spherical heavens, with Christ enthroned above and the gathering of saints and angels all around. Walking into such a church, it has been said, is like walking into a Bible.

  4. Paraphrasing:

    “I think *some* churches should build cathedrals if they can.”

    I’m trying not to proselytize here, but I think the RCC seems to have an interesting organizational structure to do exactly this. All parishes of a diocese contribute a small portion of their funds (I think it’s around 5% or 6%) towards the diocese, and the diocese maintains a single Cathedral.

    So, my ~80-parish diocese funds a single Cathedral. The other ~120-parish diocese in my state funds a single Cathedral. And the other ~130-parish diocese in this region funds a single Cathedral. So, three Cathedrals and 330 smaller churches in my region. Geographically, these three Cathedrals serve Catholics over 121k square miles.

    I never looked up these numbers before I read this post, but now that I do it seems like a sensible ratio. I think the Cathedrals offer their cities and regions a (rightly) uncommon glimpse of sacramental and sensual worship that is unique to these Christian artifacts.

    • thanks Luke,

      As a baptist I had no idea how that worked?

      I’ve another question I’ve always wondered, totally off topic.

      But are priest paid differently based on the size of their parish? And are they taken care of in old age?

      As a baptist it’s sort of a “root hog or die poor” type thing

      • Our diocese has a fund for retired priests, yes; I think many priests have their own retirement funds as well.

        I have no idea how priests are paid.

    • Strictly speaking, a Cathedral is the central church of the diocese and the one which contains the bishop’s seat (the cathedra) so you wouldn’t have more than one in a diocese (of course, it does depend on size).

      If it’s a toss-up between the godawful modern church architecture (the style of ‘this could equally be a warehouse or the site of a crashed UFO’) which is unfortunately prevalent, or going back to the past, then I’m for the past. There is no reason for churches to be ugly, and I’m kicking my own denomination on this – there are some dreadful modern Catholic churches, and some dreadful post-Vatican II remodellings of the interior of traditional churches.

      There is no need to spend huge amounts of money, either; an architectural firm that is sensitive to the tradition can achieve something that actually looks idenifiably like a church rather than an outlet retail store within the constraints of the budget. Big ugly modern can cost as much or even more than small traditional. Which is not to say that every church building should be a mini-replica of Amiens Cathedral, or that all modern architecture is bad; just why throw out bath, baby and plumbing with the dirty bathwater?

      “There is a vital objection to the advice merely to grin and bear it. The objection is that if you merely bear it, you do not grin. Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do – because they are Christian. And when a Christian is pleased, he is (in the most exact sense) frightfully pleased; his pleasure is frightful. Christ prophesised the whole of Gothic architecture in that hour when nervous and respectable people (such people as now object to barrel organs) objected to the shouting of the gutter-snipes of Jerusalem. He said, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Under the impulse of His spirit arose like a clamorous chorus the facades of the mediaeval cathedrals, thronged with shouting faces and open mouths. The prophecy has fulfilled itself: the very stones cry out.”

      (from Chapter VII, “The Eternal Revolution”, “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton)

  5. joel hunter says

    For those condemnatory of CPC’s actions, especially their expenditures, do recall their form of government. Their decisions are made by a plurality of elders. Having been “inside” such an elder board, and wrestled over every item in the budget, every opportunity to cut costs in light of other mission priorities, and on and on, it wouldn’t surprise me that every objection you’ve raised and more were raised over many Saturday Session meetings, special called meetings, congregational meetings, and much prayer and study filled their deliberations and arguments. Does this mean they made the right choice? No. As K says, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals.” We can get caught up in the excitement of an idea, a vision, a big project, and lose the perspective of the Kingdom. Happens all the time and in all kinds of ways.

    So, I think it would be interesting to hear from the elders. What were their discussions like? Were there holdout dissenters? For those who may have changed their minds (in either direction), what led to that? Rather than sneering or making uninformed judgments of motives, costs, and what of the Kingdom has been sacrificed–as some of you see it, for their fetish–why not ask them about the process, the debate, the theology, the mission, etc.? iMonk, you could do that interview.

  6. I appreciate how you acknowledge that there is a tension here when this is discussed.
    There is the tension between the “Wretched Urgency” that you have written so eloquently about and plain good stewardship of the resources that the Lord has entrusted to us.

    I, like so many on this forum, love the idea of doing something like that, but is this the time for it? It may have been alright back in the Middle Ages, but is this the time for it? (I am not saying outright that it was ok back then either)

    But we certainly do find ourselves in different times today than they did 1,000 years ago.

    I agree with monk on this one, and I appreciate how you have laid out both sides of the argument.

  7. It is indeed a beautiful building, which brings back memories of visiting the National Cathedral. I can see why these people would want such a beautiful building.

    Did someone donate the money to build it? Is it paid for? Or is it mortgaged? Who will pay it off, as well as the maintenance/upkeep costs? Will it be the people who decided to build it, or future generations?

    We know a board member of a church that built a large additional building two or three years ago, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of the money is borrowed. The average age of the board that made the decision to borrow the money – mid to upper sixties. The money will be repaid over a thirty year period. Most of the board members will be dead before half of the money is repaid. They thought it would bring additional people to the church. Actually, they have lost people since the decision was made to add this building.

    How you spend your money is your business as far as I’m concerned. However, committing to a long-term loan and then expecting your children and grandchildren, or me and my children to pay it off is quite another. Yes, I understand very clearly why groups like these want me to attend their church. They want me to help them pay for their property. I, along with most of the culture, respond with a hearty “No thanks!”

    The people in the video seem to think that their building will bring people to it. Yes, it will bring sightseers. But – Isn’t the point to bring people to Jesus and not to a building? Or is the point perhaps to go to people, with Jesus? Did I miss the part about going out? The part about sending?

    I’ve seen some beautiful homes that I would love to live in. But I can’t afford them, and in reality I know they take lots of time and money to maintain. I’m over that phase, and over the phase of wanting a cathedral to meet in. Our little group literally meets in the streets in the center city. I suppose this will not connect with fans of great church architecture: our meeting place is beautiful. Jesus is there with us and the people He loves who have yet to find Him, those who would never enter a building with a sign that says “church”.

  8. Mark 14:3-9 (New International Version)

    “3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

    4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

    6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”


  9. Speaking of Gothic, here’s the Gothic sanctuary of a small parish near where I live in the Arctic, Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories. Except for the statuary, it was built, painted, carved, etc… by a handful of resident priests and lay brothers. I really like it although I’ve never had the chance to visit, as it is fly-in only. You can really tell it was a labor of love. It probably cost next to nothing as the brothers operated the lumber mill up the river.

  10. joel hunter says

    Now, I have my own mixed views about this. Above, “Buckley” made a nice pithy swipe at the issue that concerns me.

    Some of this concern is expressed here. In *some* of the recent enthusiasm for articulating a theology of the arts, especially among the Reformed, I think there’s a problematic self-consciousness about it all. I was rather disappointed with the remarks of those interviewed for the CPC video. Too much of their emphasis seemed to be on “what they had done.” This was subtle, and I think reflects or opens up the possibility of an over-romanticized blurring of aesthetic pleasure of Kultur with spiritual pleasure, or even a collapse of the latter into the former. If this is the case, then the CPC building is little more than a “pastime for the privileged,” a grand diversion, an “opiate of the middle classes.” I would be very interested to know if CPC allows more than unrestricted visual access to the church’s exterior. What are they doing so that their creation is understood by everyone?

    On the other hand, maybe it can be more than a parody.

    I am all for efforts to push back against the profanation of all spaces, both natural and built. I think we ought to challenge the economies of the world from both the top and the bottom. The economy of global capital is technical: all actions are subjected to a problem-solution schema, and therefore judged by their efficiency, effectiveness and cost. Engineers and accountants have the final say on the aesthetic space we inhabit. So CPC’s building is subversive from the top: it deploys the capital system against itself to show the bland, soul-killing monoculture it has created. It used the material and skills of the profane powers of this world, the desacralized and commodified spaces we move about in at all times, and put them in the service of reasserting the concrete realization of a sacred space and the ultimate mystery of our encounter with divine, yes, even in an American suburb. Such an act terrorizes for it challenges our unconscious belief systems about the propriety of eradicating all external sacred spaces, reducing and compressing them to an internal, private sphere. Building a sacred space for actual use, therefore, challenges the sense of control which the internalization of the divine-human meeting place was supposed to accomplish.

    Saw this passage from Baudrillard today that I leave for your consideration:

    The aura of our world is no longer sacred. We no longer have the sacred horizon of appearances, but that of the absolute commodity. Its essense is promotional. (…) A scriptwriter of genius (capital itself?) has dragged the world into a phantasmagoria of which we are all the fascinated victims.”

    –“The Irony of Technology” in A Perfect Crime

    • Christopher Albee says

      Joel, could you please restate more simply? I think you have an important point, but I don’t understand a thing you wrote.

    • It used the material and skills of the profane powers of this world, the desacralized and commodified spaces we move about in at all times, and put them in the service of reasserting the concrete realization of a sacred space and the ultimate mystery of our encounter with divine

      The problem I have with this is that it’s almost self-consciously faked in many ways – everything i’ve read about it suggests that it isn’t really built around the ethos of attention to every detail which was a hallmark of older cathedrals – it’s far less subversive than it would first appear. Commoditized materials and technique have been used to create something with all the edges smoothed out.

    • Jeremiah Lawson says

      “What are they doing so that their creation is understood by everyone?”

      Fascinating question for two reasons. The first is that in this age it seems artists want to AVOID explaining the meaning their work has. As some artists and art fans I know have put it, the artist should be under no obligation of any kind to have to explain the purpose and significance of his or her art. It’s one thing to say there is no need for this and another to say that the artist has no incentive to meet the recipient, if you will, two thirds of the way by providing clues in the work … but I digress.

      The second reason I find this question fascinating is because Reformed Christians are often so busy talking ABOUT their interest in and engagement of the arts it’s hard to know if they are engaging anything other than their own engagement. The circularity isn’t hard to spot and too often the art that is being produced by Christians with this approach is, as you seem to say, self-conscious. Some folks are so busy trying to make and explain their art they don’t actually make it, while others are so determined to not have to explain their work they don’t realize that if they don’t meet the recipient half-way the recipient has better things to do with his or her time.

      All that said, another church that isn’t just a big box gets no complaints from me. I do think there’s something to the argument that in an architectural culture in which form is so often subservient to function attempting to make a building that is beautiful does have at least some subverse quality to it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The second reason I find this question fascinating is because Reformed Christians are often so busy talking ABOUT their interest in and engagement of the arts it’s hard to know if they are engaging anything other than their own engagement.

        Sounds like a variant of “Art Fag Syndrome” (actual name), where a wannabe Artist spends so much time copping the attitude of the So-Sensitive/So-Edgy/So-Creative/So-Misunderstood Artiste and telling everyone about his Great Artistic Creativity that he never has the time or energy to create any art. Or do anything except marinate in his copping the attitude.

        I’ve run into a couple of these (you get the attitude in wannabe writers, too), and they get very very touchy when you challenge them to put some artwork where their mouth is.

        I do think there’s something to the argument that in an architectural culture in which form is so often subservient to function attempting to make a building that is beautiful does have at least some subversive quality to it.

        Well, I’ve heard the Church described as a counterculture on several blogs…

  11. Steve in Toronto says

    I just returned from a week in the Canadian province of Quebec and I am sad to say that the outside of the island of Montreal the English language expression of protestant Christianity has basically been reduced to mute stone of empty churches. Last Sunday my wife and I worshiped at the only English language church in the city of Trois-Rivières. 12 worshipers gathered at a spectacularly beautiful 300 year old Anglican church without the benefit of any ordained clergy (on Saturday the church is use by about 20 seventh days Adventist that worships in French). In this city of over 100,000 there are only 4 protestant congrigations (the other two are French Baptist churches). Wikipedia says the population is 2.7% percent protestant but this seems wildly inflated. The only time the average French Canadian encounters the protestant faith is if they are either a history (there is a wonderful show on the Huguenot’s in Quebec City right now) or Architecture buff. The good news is that Art can continue to speak long after its authors are dead. If you look at the stain glass windows in the library on Saint John’s Street in Quebec City (the former Anglican church of Saint Matthew’s) you will see the gospel presented. Other forms of Christen art also endure and continue to speak in what is undoubtabley the most secular culture in North America (I had a wonderful conversation at a dinner party with two professors of literature about pilgrims progress and how Bunyan’s theology differed from Roman Catholicism) but it’s the churches that stand out and are most likely to endure (wittiness the ruined Churches of Armenia). I don’t want to play down the role that great christen art can play in ministering to the church in the here and now but as we as we enter what is increasingly looking like a post Christian millennium (at least in Europe and north America) we should reexamine the one aspect of our witness that has never faded the persistent appeal of the story of Christ birth death and resurrection expressed in ink on paper, oil on canvas and yes bricks and mortar.

    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

  12. Of course,leaving aside niggles about finances, if anyone seriously wants to object to this project, there is always the irony of a PRESBYTERIAN church group building a CATHEDRAL 🙂

    Presbyterianism: denial of bishops or their role or authority in the church.

    Cathedral: seat of the cathedra, or throne of the bishop.

    • That’s my mis-speaking. Sorry sorry sorry. They never called it a Cathedral.

      I sent the long response on priests to Austin’s email. Off topic.

      • No, that’s fine, Michael. What I do want to do is hit over the head with a big stick the person who invented the term “worship centre”. It sounds too much to me like “shopping centre”. Why not simply say “church”? This is not to say I want to hit *you* over the head with a big stick for using the term, just that it grates on my ear 🙂

        Now, if we’re talking about one of those giant campuses with coffee shops and who knows what all, then okay, “worship centre” may fit. Part of the whole “spiritual experience.” I also hate the term “faith tradition” when it’s flung around instead of “congregation”, “parish” or, God forbid, “denomination”, but this is just my Grumpy Old Person-ness shining through.

        I’m not totally opposed to all progress, I promise. It just sounds that way 😉

      • Thanks Imonk, sorry for getting off topic:)

  13. The architecture is beautiful and uplifting. The people seem to be sincere in their desire to honor the Lord through it, and the building seems to be a frame for their faith and ministry, not an end in itself.
    That said, I have sat in many beautiful cathedrals and ancient parish churches in England that have become nothing more than museums, music halls and graveyards (literally!) Their builders are now interred beneath the flagstones and in the crypts.
    America has too many churches that are architectual gems with empty pews. I wonder what this one will look like a few generations down the road. I do pray that the Church will continue to live out the Gospel even as they worship in the building.

  14. I don’t have time to express my own thoughts right now, but this is one area where I’d really like to see Fr. Ernesto weigh in. It is my understanding that, in the Orthodox Church, the building itself is a presentation of the Gospel.

    • In all of the High Liturgical Sacramental confessions, Episcopal, Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, the church building intentionally is a confession of the Gospel due to the central focus of the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood are present and extending out from that point.

  15. I love the building. I also live with an uncomfortable tension about it all. And I would worry about anyone who doesn’t.

  16. I would really like to see this video shown to a group of pastors from Kenya or Sri Lanka. Do you think the guilt that I’m pretty sure I’d feel is appropriate?

    Of course banging around in my head is the very Piperian idea that the world doesn’t think Jesus looks good because your church (or bank account) is huge. They think Jesus looks good in immense hardship where he is still treasured.

    I also think that since we’re small, we need to feel that way, and great spaces like this church contribute to that. There is something awe-inspiring about a massive stone structure, symphony orchestra and choir that, like someone in the video says, seems to image a bit of heaven. But I think heaven too will have small buildings and bluegrass.

    As for the video *merely*, it seems like a dominant idea was “they’ll know we are christians by our building”. This seems wrongheaded to me.

    • Piper built a new building, and several off site campuses. DG sells t-shirts and posters.

      You do know there are millions of Anglicans in Africa? And they like cathedrals.

      • I wasn’t driving so much at the buildings. But it seems like the ideas here are the building being built for the sake of the building itself and what the it is and represents. A pipe organ, the 84-ft ceilings, heating and cooling, maintenance costs you mentioned, etc., are phenomenal expenses.

        I don’t understand the reference to DG’s merchandise, but as far as multiple campuses go, I haven’t seen them. they’d be interesting to see in light of Piper’s much-touted ‘wartime austerity”. especially with what I said seems to be the thrust of the video – “people will come to Jesus cause our building is so great.” I mean they expect incredible things to be accomplished for the kingdom *simply by virtue of the building itself*

        The point about the pastors in poorer countries wasn’t about style or architectural preference, but about the vast amounts of money poured into a structure that could have hypothetically been used in other ways and met more pressing needs. But like I said, I don’t reject higher-church inclinations out of hand; I actually have strong leanings in those directions. but as has been established, the economics of Jesus and of NT christianity seem to focus more on caring for those in the household of God and advancing the kingdom of Jesus than building extravagant houses of worship.

        i guess what I really need is a new law telling me the right ratios of giving money away vs. keeping it for myself.

        I’m not trying to be antagonistic. I’m trying to figure it out.

      • I understand, but I think we evangelicals need to own up that we aren’t producing any St. Francises. Piper’s church has multiple campuses in the city.

        The CPC project is approximately $20 million. As I said, I can go to 20 churches in Kentucky- a poorr state- that have spent upwards of half that much. More on schools. How much money is on the campus of a Southern Seminary?

        CPC is a young church (1990) with 2000 members. I assume the debate was in depth and I assume they are deeply involved in ministry. You can visit their web site and learn a lot.

        The point of the post is whether there is room in any church’s calling for the gifts involved in building this kind of structure and then sustaining a ministry that uses it.



        • The difference is DG (Piper) built battleships while CPC built a cruise ship. A battleship church is designed to be a lean mean ministry machine, purposeful and functional and strategic in supporting and equipping the church to carry out its mission. A cruise ship church is designed to be a destination, a heaven on earth which offers an escape from reality in all sorts of activities and diversions.

          A church that replicates an 18th century design solution is offering an escape from reality, when it should be encouraging an engagement in it.

    • I am an African.
      But I don’t speak for all African Christians any more than another poster on here could claim to speak for all Catholics, or Baptists or whatever.

      I don’t have a problem with Protestants rediscovering that God gave us creativity and using it to worship Him, nor that that might include building a beautiful church. I also appreciate those who some feel an urgency to spread the Gospel, and build the Church. It seems that this tension may be between those who have different vocations, we certainly shouldn’t theologise our vocation to the exclusion of others.

      Tim, you mentioned Piper, how many seminaries has his church built in Kenya or Sri Lanka?

      Again, this is just the opinion of one Africa. We need seminaries. We need Christian universities. We need. Its true the faith is spreading amongst those with very little, just as it did in the United States a hundred years and more ago, but that very history shows us that African Christians need to learn to think, to critique and challenge the forces of globalisation which are going to change things within a generation. I know that some like to point to African Christians as exemplars that challenge the materialism of the West. There is some point to that, but it should never be a reason for failing to prepare for the changes that are going to come to Africa within a generation. Its not only the West that is interested in African resources, and the drive for resources is accompanied by ideologies and religions. Even if many African Christians are right now safe, by dint of their poverty, from materialism, that does not mean that our societies won’t facing immense social change within a generation. The church in the United States can help.

      iMonk, I know that you are sceptical about the need for seminaries, or at least multiple expensive seminaries, but in Africa we have the opposite problem. We desperately need to equip a generation of Christian leaders to face the changes that are coming to the continent. And that is something that the US churches can help with, and not only by us learning from your mistakes.

  17. I just returned from my first trip to England and I was in awe of the cathedrals – I loved the beauty of their architecture and even filled with visitors I felt I was in a holy place and could commune with my Father. Flash forward to my real world in the USA…when I go to church it looks like you’re entering an industrial office building and once inside the sound is cranked up as loud as possible with flashing powerpoints and total media overload. The debt on the building is so large they can’t even keep up with general maintenance and repairs, much less begin their next phase (the gym).

    I say Go PCA!

    • “when I go to church it looks like you’re entering an industrial office building and once inside the sound is cranked up as loud as possible with flashing powerpoints and total media overload.”

      Well the church I spent about 15 years at was bought from the court house steps. It was a hotel. 6 stories plus a small convention center meeting facility under 1 roof. Works well as a church. The large cross on the tower makes it obvious what it is. And re-using the building save a huge amount of money.

  18. I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said — “two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert … near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
    Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.” —

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Why don’t you just open up your Bible and go “It’s All Gonna Burn”?

    • Pretty close to being moderated.

      • Larry Geiger says

        It’s interesting to me that when someone goes to the very heart of the matter, that’s when they might get moderated?

        It is all “gonna burn”.
        It does help to get to the main point, to acknowledge the end of things.
        That is part of what eschatology is about. Knowing about the end of things helps illustrate current things.

        Some would say “It’s all gonna burn” so we are going to worship in a field on the outskirts of town. Why build a monument that will just be consumed by the sands of time?

        But that, then, gets to the point. Some would say, as God did, that we are dust, and to dust we will return. So why bother doing anything? Why, even, live? It’s a real question.

        So we choose life. We choose to “build” a life. Even if it’s going to disintegrate. Some folks choose to build a building, knowing full well that it will someday end up a pile of rubble. If they build it to the glory of God for purposes of the gospel then they build well. If they build it as a monument to themselves, or a false doctrine, or to their wealth, then they build poorly.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          But that, then, gets to the point. Some would say, as God did, that we are dust, and to dust we will return. So why bother doing anything? Why, even, live? It’s a real question.

          That’s why I’m so rabidly against the entire “It’s All Gonna Burn” mindset. Because I’ve seen it lead (through the chain of ideas you cited above) to fatalism, despair, and what can only be described as “Christian Nihilism”.

          (Personal analogy: For the past couple years, I have had an opportunity to get back into a hobby I enjoyed during my teenage years — plastic model building. What makes me so hesitant is a secular variant on “It’s All Gonna Burn” — none of my “glue bombs” from those years have survived and I don’t want to have another generation of my creativity and energy and time wind up in the dumpster. I have been paralyzed by this for some time, and have to push myself hard to take any step to act on my desire. How can the IAGB mindset not lead to similar attitude, except with much more important facets of life?)

          • Larry Geiger says

            It’s not a mindset. It’s the truth.

            However, despite knowing the end of all things here, we continue to build. We build lives. We build buildings. Because we know that the end of all things here is not the end.

            The chain of ideas that I listed above does not necessarily lead to fatalism, despair and nihilism. It can lead us to God. But it’s still a real question that we need to answer.

  19. In favor:

    1) Read through the description of the Israelite’s construction of the tabernacle and the temple. The people gave the best of what they had for their worship space, whether resources or craftsmanship. Sure, the CPC church members could have instead devoted dollars to printing Bibles in absence of this project, but WOULD they have done so? I’m guessing there would simply be more jet-skis in their garages than there are now. I think any church has to continually ask themselves whether they are offering their highest cultural expression to God–whether it be music, architecture or scholarship.

    2) CPC seems to have a healthy sense of leaving a legacy for the following generations. Even though the Hagia Sophia’s no longer a church (and was a mosque for centuries), it still has the strength to inspire and proclaim the gospel to pilgrims hundreds and hundreds of years later. We still benefit from the generation that built it even though there’s no longer a congregation. Same for many European cathedrals.

    3) Nice to see a quality pipe organ. (See above remarks above re cultural expressions.)

    Neither Here Nor There:

    1) Church has that stripped-down look you find in former Scottish cathedrals. Very Presbyterian.

    Not So Excited About:

    1) The typical Presbyterian “stage” affect with the PLACEMENT of the choir and organ. Worship doesn’t = show.

    2) Although the project has brought the congregation together, get ready for the post-dedication let down and attendance decline. This is where the rubber hits the road.

    3) Be careful of falling into the trap that beauty = goodness. This is an obsession of American youth culture and with much of the current Catholic hierarchy via the influence of theologians such as Urs von Balthasar.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Better “the trap of beauty = goodness” than the Cult of Ugliness and Cult of Utilitarianism you see everywhere today.

    • Congregation formed in 1990, with over 2000 members.

    • “Not So Excited About…The typical Presbyterian ‘stage’ affect with the PLACEMENT of the choir and organ. ”

      That struck me, too; however, the communion table and cross are still front-and center.

      It seems like a very reverent place. I recently walked into an old Presbyterian sanctuary had felt the same sense of reverence.

      But aesthetics aren’t everything. The sanctuary reminds me a lot of Coral Ridge, where Rev. Kennedy spent so much time preaching cultural war sermons. If the pastor doesn’t have the beautiful feet of one who brings the gospel, then a beautiful space is pointless.

  20. Christiane/L's says


    I noticed the two candles burning on either side of the ‘stage’.
    Is this a symbolic return to the idea of a temple light in a synogogue, or perhaps a sanctuary light indicating ‘The Presence’ ? Or is it just a decoration to enhance a feeling of quiet reflection?

  21. Churchill said: “First we shape our buildings…then they shape us.”

  22. How does one factor in the fact that Nashville is a Bible-belt, entertainment center, home to southern gentry, filled to overflowing with “moneyed” churches, many of whom have spectacular buildings (of various styles). In a wealthy city like this, how should Christians of means think about their church buildings and the expenses involved? Is one more “cathedral” merely adding to the embarrassment of riches there? Would congregations do better to be “counter-cultural” in such a setting in order to witness more clearly to Christ?

    • I guess the reason this building stirs such discussion is that it’s so different from most being built today, at least Protestant churches. Perhaps the fact that it doesn’t look like a WalMart, doesn’t have theater seating and that the sanctuary doesn’t double as a gym actually makes it broadly counter-cultural.

      But then I’ve never been to Nashville and you may be right–I have no idea how it compares to other church construction in the area. If they’re in actuality just trying to one-up the Methodists down the street, that’s another story.

  23. I am coming late to this subject, but I would argue that the Church needs to reflect both feast and asceticism. The Cathedrals reflect the feast, but the monasteries reflect the asceticism. A Church that reflects only one side or the other is unbalanced. Think about St. John the Baptist and Our Lord Jesus Christ. They were cousins and yet had totally different lifestyles. One was accused of being filled with demons; the other was accused of being a winebibber. And, yet, neither ever criticized the lifestyle of the other.

    In the Church, some are called to be “John the Baptist” ascetics and others are called to live in the world and be accused of being winebibbers. Yes, in the Church we have monks and we have cathedrals. Both are part of what we are.

    • Agreed, Father. However, in America, and in a city like Nashville, should the church strive for a balanced witness in this regard? And how do we do that?

      • I suspect that Nashville, like many big cities, has poor inner city ministries. The sad part is that because of the splits in the Church the feast and the asceticism are separated from each other and often point fingers at each other. But, I guarantee you that there are ascetics in Nashville, working quietly away in the dark places of the city.

  24. After watching this video, and then skimming through the 113 comments, I find myself compelled to comment (possibly against my better judgment). As an Architect specializing in church facilities for the past 8 years, this is an issue I deal with every day. On the one hand, I really appreciate what CPC has accomplished. I know all too well the intense struggle to get a even a metal box built for your church, let alone a Gothic Revival cathedral. On the other hand, I really do not think that an 18th-century design solution is at all appropriate in the 21st century. Watching the service in CPC’s new church reminded me of Gene Edwards’ description of angels attending a grand performance of Handel’s Messiah and asking each other “what is that awful noise?” and “why is it so dim in here?”

    While I agree – passionately – with those who commented about the lack of beauty in contemporary church architecture, I also agree – compassionately – with those who commented about the greater needs in our culture going unmet while the Church is busy raising money for projects like this. I will be the first to admit that the last thing this world needs right now is another church building – ugly or beauty. Yet what this world needs first and foremost is fear of God and worship of Him. Whether or not what CRC has built will inspire this in its congregants, I leave for those who attend there to surmise. Architecture does have the ability to transform us, but only God has the authority.

    All I know is that I have had some of the most intense moments of God-worship in some of the most unlikely places and situations. God constantly surprises me by showing up in some of the most mundane profane environments. And, when I look over at my brothers and sisters in the most persecuted nations of the world, where church buildings are burned down by the authorities, I see God moving and working amongst them in such spine-tingling ways it makes me jealous. They have so little materially, yet sooo much spiritually. While we have sooo much materially and by comparison so little spiritually.

    Regarding those who made comments about the Biblical concept of the temple, I would like to add the perhaps too obvious distinction between OT and NT temples. In the OT, it was a building unlike anything ever done before or since, worthy of proclaiming the glory of God. In the NT, it is now the body of Christ. Jesus said He is greater than the temple, and He said He would destroy it [physical] and raise it [spiritual] up again in 3 days. And what did He do? He rose from the dead, appeared to His disciples with wounds still intact, and ascended to the throne of God where John saw Him as the lamb Who was slain. Therefore, I believe a church building that symbolizes the cross misses this point. If anything, a church building should symbolize the crucified body of Christ in all of its scandalous beauty. In doing so, it will admit the fallen nature of this world where there is no such thing as a perfect church building, especially one which presumes to offer “a little taste of heaven.”

  25. I’m late to this conversation. Pardon me if my comments plow ground others have already furrowed.

    I’m reminded of Mark Driscoll’s remarks on idolatry at the recent Acts 29 convention. Roughly paraphrased (if Driscoll can be paraphrased) the problem with buildings is not the buildings, it is our hearts. For some wealth is an idol. For others, poverty is their idol. Some people will be so proud of their grand gothic building that they will make it into an idol. Others will worship in a tattered moldy storefront and become so proud of their humility that they will make their lack of grandeur into an idol.

    The CPC has made an offering to the LORD. All of our offerings, even the most glorious, are like the scribblings of a child to God. Yet, as our loving Heavenly Father, he delights in our blobs of color spewed out on the page, especially as we offer them in love. We can’t help but make offerings, and YHWH delights in them because He made us to make them. See Rober Farrar Capon’s “An Offering of Uncles” to get a grasp on this. One of Capon’s better books on sacramental living. The beauty of this building is it’s own reason, for it preaches the Glory of God.

    Now to make the offering complete, I hope they fill it with outcasts, po folk, criminals, homeless, broken, filthy, wretched people, all worshiping the one true God, and celebrating the magnificent grace made manifest in his Son.

  26. ive long been of the mind that massive structures such as this were the antithesis of wot jesus was about but im always pulled back by the sheer wonder at wot the glory of his throne must be like.

  27. I think one reason why us human beings build such edifices is we’re trying, in our most limited way, to speak to the golry of god (of course that is an impossible task).

    I think another reason is that human beings, regardless of when and where they have lived, have always built massive edifices to their gods.

  28. I’ll say this: I’ve been part of various contemporary churches that built much more utilitarian structures that came very close to the $20 million figure for this beautiful Gothic-style church. Some even exceeded that. If you are a church that needs to seat around 1000 people on a Sunday morning and have enough children’s facilities to handle the typical number of children such a congregation would have, you’re looking at $10-12 million even being frugal after land and everything. And that’s in the South where real estate prices are generally less than out in California or the New England area. If you need to build bigger than that, whether it’s creating a second campus in another area of town or having bigger facilities, you’ll be heading for $20 million before you know it.

    So as someone said, ugly and/or boring is not necessarily more economical than beautiful and inspiring. You just have to work with people who know what they are doing.

    • Waltizing Matilda says

      Agreed Ragamuffin. Several years ago I went to the “grand opening” of a new church with my now ex-boyfriend and his father. I know that building cost every bit of $20 mil, and it was UGLY – and some of the things they put in there were just silly – like a two story tube slide in the “children’s area.” I saw that and though, “you know someone’s little butterball is gonna get stuck in that thing, and then the parents will want to sue.” But, the thing that bothered me most – was how is a two story slide glorifying to God?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And what will the retention rate be in this First Church of Disneyland once the kids age to the point where they want to get as far away as possible from “widdle kiddie stuff”? When up until then anything to do with church or God or Christ has been put under that label?

        (My writing partner has one of these DIsneyland Megachurches nearby and it’s drawing off all the families with kids from the other congregations, leaving only the elderly. Not pretty. How can a typical country church complete with a Disneyland Megachurch? Like a RL teenage boy competes with Sparkly Edward Cullen…)

    • In Palm Bay, FL, our mission owns four acres of unimproved land. We wanted to put up a simple four walls and roof trying for about 4,000 sq ft. To our horror, by the time we do the required improvements to the land, the ecological survey, the tree survey, the foundation, the building plans (which must include future proposed structures) the required parking lot, the sidewalk, and put up the simple building, we are already talking around $500,000. So, we cannot afford a building, and, no, there are no empty churches for sale.

      The days when one could put up a trailer on land and meet there until one could afford to build a building are gone in many parts of coastal Florida. We cannot afford that type of price. Now multiply that up in expensive areas, like Nashville, and the reality is that building a church for a congregation of even 300 people gets to the couple of million dollar range easily. So, one might as well build the church well for the same money as it would cost to put up a grim utilitarian building.

      Meanwhile, if one works with a lower middle class retirement community or a poor community, like I do, the dream of a building is just a far off vision. This is not the fault of anyone in particular, all the regulations are reasonable and meant to protect people in public buildings. Nevertheless, those who have posted about cheaper buildings may not have looked at land and building prices (per sq ft) in places such as Nashville and coastal Florida.

  29. The topic is very near to me since I am in the profession of designing and building churches. We always stress the building should be a tool for ministry, a tool to reach out and serve the community. Knowing how much something like this cost does make me uneasy. Four churches could build nice, community ministry oriented buildings for the cost of this. However, if this is how this church best felt they could reach into their community I can understand why they did it. It is beautiful, I hope is serves the community for Christ.

  30. I love cathedrals. One of my favs is Ely Cathedral, in Ely, England. Built, beginning in the 12th C, the beauty and awesomeness of this place is stunning. All those prayers given in that place have instilled, well, something, to the edifice.

    I once read a book about Gothic Architecture that pointed to Revelation and the description of the Heavenly Jesrusalem, the City on the Hill as the inspiration for Cathedrals…the stained glass mimicked the jewels, the 12 Apostles were carved into the doorways at four points (north, south, east, west), the soaring spires pointed to the resurrection and ascension, and so on. WHilst the actual building was fraught with politics and other more base things, the finished building was awe-inspiring,, indeed.

    Still is.

    I had the great good pleasure of singing in Ely Cathedral a joyful noise from Handl’s _Messiah_. The acoustics were unbelievable.

    We need these Cathedrals. We need tangible outlets for artists and artisans. We need these symbols to point us to something larger than ourselves. We need these edifices to stand the centuries as not-so-silent witnesses of faith, community, forgiveness, succour. I am blessed that those to whom much has been given have done much with their gifts.

    One of the Early Church Fathers, I cannot remember who, said something to the effect “The poor are here on earth so that rich may bless them and effect their salvation; for the poor then bless the rich with their prayers and benedictions”.

  31. I attend a church that has a magnificant Gothic style sanctuary that would cost millions of dollars to build today. Everytime I enter the sanctuary, I am struck with the awe and majesty of God. From the silence experienced during the planned silent times, to the roaring final notes of the huge pipe organ dismissal, it is the easiest place I know of to be worshipping God. This building was constructed for that one purpose.

    Most church buildings today are built for other purposes – to provide for fellowship, child care, entertainment, efficiency, etc. They are often more of a barrier than a bridge to worship. When the sights and sounds all point toward God, worship is likely. If the building was made for observing a show then that is what will likely happen.

    The most obvious criticism toward these types of buildings is the cost of construction and maintenance. Although I am certainly conscious that we have a stewardship responsibility, especially to meeting the needs of the poor, that does not mean that God wants us to always take the cheapest route. If God provides for an expensive structure, He still has the capability of providing for the poor. He will not run out of money. There are times when God has called His people to be lavish, especially in terms of worship (i.e. the woman who poured out a bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet worth a year’s wages).

  32. Chad Rushing says

    (Watched the video as requested) I guess I am one of those “utilitarian” Christians who could not be involved with such expensive “cathedrals” in good conscience. If meeting in homes or humble surroundings was good enough for the very early Christians or those living in developing countries today, then it is good enough for me. According to the New Testament, the days of the opulent, ornate Temple as a earthly representation of God’s glory are over. I expect that humble Peter would be horribly dismayed rather than honored to see the grand basilica built in Vatican City in memoriam to him.

    As others have pointed out, how many Bibles could be printed, how many foreign (or even domestic) missionaries could be supported, and how many poor and needy could be cared for with that $20 million, a literally unfathomable sum of money throughout most of the world? What is even worse is that so many congregations take on heavy debt in order to pursue such ambitious architectural ventures, making themselves “slaves” to their lenders in the process and placing a burden on future congregants who had no real say in the matter.

    As one pastor testified in an essay on problems with American Evangelicalism, maintaining the facilities soon becomes the primary concern of those in congregational leadership rather than the spreading the Gospel or equipping the existing saints, even after all the debt is paid off. For example, I cannot tell you how much time and money my old SBC congregation has devoted to maintaining their large, iconic (for the town) facility. Meetings between the pastor and the deacons are dominated by financial issues related to the maintenance or proposed use of the buildings.

    Now, some would make the argument that a large building is a must for a congregation of thousands, but I would say that it is part of the problem right there. Once a congregation grows to such a size that the pastor can no longer know everyone by name, then it should split. Once the pastor has to have multiple assistant pastors in order to manage “his flock,” he is now an unofficial, local bishop, not a pastor, even if all of the sub-congregations still meet in the same facilities.

    I have attended two wildly popular “mega-churches” here in Dallas. Although the esteemed pastors associated with them were excellent preachers, I found the experience disconcerting. Should a person really have to ride a shuttle bus to get from their parked car to the main facility? It was reminiscent of going to Walt Disney World. What’s next, different areas of the parking lot named after the Twelve Tribes of Israel?

    Anyway, I know I have drifted way off-topic by discussing mega-churches, but it seems that today’s (vs. yesteryear’s) “cathedrals” are a direct result of the mega-church mentality, so one cannot address the one without addressing the other. When discussing this issue with a friend, they replied, “How would a congregation attract visitors if the facilities were not visually appealing?” If we are counting on our pretty buildings to draw in visitors, a concept that was even alluded to in the linked video, rather than the loving godliness of those who gather at those buildings, then the modern church is in trouble indeed.

  33. The Guy from Knoxville says


    As you would expect I think this is outstanding from the standpoint of the building design and all that goes with it – gothic design, stained glass, the big rose windows, finely crafted woodwork, the pipe organ (a real organ BTW!), the legacy and on and on I could go. Yes, I too wonder about the price but that could be said of any such work in the past as well – price was high in those times as well to do this kind of superior work but if you’re going to do it, do it right and this church did. The price issue is one that I think of too when I talk with a church about an organ project and I can say, without reservation, that that one thing alone can accout for 10-20% of a total building project budget. Talking with a church in the tri-cities area (ne TN) about a new organ and its price will exceed $800,000.00 but, they’re committed to outstanding music and arts and are willing to raise the money and have it built and installed and will be an outstanding music addition to the area.

    All that said….. could the money have been better spent on missions, new church plants, feeding the hungry, providing other services for needy people including those amongst their own congregation? Of course it could have been better spent but it seems to me that if they are so blessed to be able to build this incredible structure I tend to think that there has a return to the community at large past just the beautiful building – if that’s not the case then this money was spent for the wrong reason but if they’re doing that too then….. why not?? No other churches, for the most part, have the guts to make a commitment such as this – most are a metal building that looks crappy and the major part of the money is spent on multi-media (sound, lights etc) in most of those situations and many times the worship, in all forms, is just as bad. No, I would love a church like that here and I would attend in a minute – especially if they are rock solid in their commitment to the Gospel and to preaching Christ and Christ centered….. bring it on I’m ready!

  34. All this discussion has gotten me wondering. Does a church designed like a grand cathedral make us feel more inspired than a church designed like an office building would? I know I felt a certain sense of reverence walking into St. Patrick’s in NYC. Do you think there is some fundamental human need to build churches this way?

  35. Simply put a cathedral of any size built by anyone should not be topic if disscusion. Moreover the upkeep and maintaince is not a great concern either. The only factor that needs to be evaluated is the acceptance by God. We are not in a position to cast final verdict on wether he accepts it. Just a thought.

  36. A huge stone Gothic church like this is a way for someone to stand on a hill with a light and shout “as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever!” Praying in a grand, centuries old church, one cannot but be affected by the perception of permanence. In the cool stone floor and musty smell, I get a tactile impression of age-old truth, and centuries of worshipers going through much of what I am going through right now. Rather than separating me from the world outside, it connects me to Christians of the past – the communion of saints, of all ages of the church. Those same externals might lead others to only perceive rot and decay – death.

    I wonder how many of those individuals who are building this church in the video, were once critical of those worshiping in old Gothic churches? I would like to hear of their change in thinking. How did this happen? Or is this just a self selecting minority finally aggregated with enough money to make it happen? It just seems so…. RC.

  37. It is so interesting reading the various comments on gothic architecture. I feel that I don’t have much to offer. But, my son is a history major, and never forgets a thing he learns, and European and Russian history is his favorite area of learning. Anyway, he told me a few years ago after one of his first trips to Europe, that one of the reasons the churches were built the way they were in the middle ages were so that when people walked in THEY WOULD HAVE TO LOOK UP!!!!! I thought this was incredible! I worshipped last week in an Anglican Church with an incredible pipe organ instead of my usual Baptist church where we constantly bicker over old vs. new styles or worship. The old style and formality, stained glass, beautiful choir robes, vaulted ceilings, just made me bask in the glory of God and forget all the pettiness that goes on with bands, praise teams, etc., and all the people on stage who want attention. And one of your bloggers is right, about how much money it takes to keep all that stuff updated as things change with the wind. Not so in this service. Hymns were 300 years old, theology was 2000 years old, stable and firm.

  38. Tom Schwegler says

    I have worshiped (successfully) in a wide variety of facilities, and certainly a plain one is sufficient. In fact, I admire the many smaller black churches in this town who seem content to set up shop in a vacant storefront or a remodeled house; one has to salute their willingness to make do with whatever they have. The Bible church I attend is somewhat middle-of-the-road; the glass is clear and the walls are plain white, but the deep red carpeting and dignified chandeliers add a touch of dignity and elegance to the four-year-old sanctuary.

    But I grew up with stained glass and carved wood, and I think those things, rightly used, have value as well. When I serve as a guest musician at the large Disciples of Christ church downtown, I am struck by the way the architecture of the front of the sanctuary (including symmetrically placed organ pipes) draws my eyes upwards. I love the wood-carved depictions of Christ that are “front and center” in the sanctuaries of the Episcopal cathedral and LCMS “mother church” (also downtown). And I still remember being a guest musician at a grand old Presbyterian church on Transfiguration Sunday in 2006, when a particularly brilliant stained glass window depicting the Transfiguration served as a visual aid for the children’s sermon.

    Certainly, a building can be TOO extravagant, and a beautiful structure can be built for a number of bad reasons. And certainly, the mission of the church should claim a healthy share of the resources of the church. But to me, Mark’s account of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany (cited earlier by Martha) suggests that there is a place in the life of a believer for the act of simply doing something beautiful for Jesus — even if it costs a significant sum and does nothing to feed the poor or evangelize the lost. I would suggest that a building can be an enduring way to do a beautiful thing for Jesus.

  39. Well I suppose I’m a little late gettin in on this discussion, and I’m sure it’s already been said, but I can’t help it:
    No matter what your perspective on the rightness of it, the result is simply beautiful. I was so moved by the beauty of what was displayed in the video. I know not everyone can or should do it, but I am certainly glad that some have. Since it was not my decision to make, I am content to let them live with their own decisions and results, whilst I freely admire from the outside. I hope I can visit and worship there sometime. Not likely though.

  40. Matt Bradley says

    I’m coming to this discussion a bit late. I appreciate the conversation, particularly the tone of the original post. My name is Matt Bradley and I’m a pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church. I haven’t read all the responses, so there may perhaps be questions I will fail to address in this response. However, I have come across two or three questions I’d like to answer simply.

    First, I’d like to assure everyone that although we were intentional about this architecture, I am not aware of anyone on staff or in leadership that believes this is the only appropriate way to build a church. A church should, we believe, when possible, reflect the theology of the church and its worship. However, even acknowledging this, churches (taking their resources and cultural context into consideration in addition to their doctrine) will build churches that look different from ours. Inasmuch as there are churches that can and are doing this, we rejoice and celebrate their doing so.

    Second, the decision to use this style of architecture was first theological and then aesthetic. The church committee responsible for working with the architects included a member and officer of our church who is himself an architect and has studied (in an academic setting) the history and theology of church architecture. Throughout the process, the primary reason for the design that was chosen was always explained to the congregation theologically. In fact, the Sunday before we began worshiping in this space, I convened my Sunday School class in the balcony and taught a lesson on the theology of worship, part of which time I spent pointing out how the architecture lends itself to that theology and our liturgical expression of it.

    Finally, I’m happy to assure you that we have a robust missions ministry in our church. Missions, both overseas and closer to home, are among the most important ministries of our church. We support dozens of missionaries around the world, both through our denominational organizations (MTW and MNA) as well as through other organizations.The missionaries and organizations we support span 6 continents. We currently support multiple church plants and campus ministries (through our denominational campus ministry, RUF). You can learn more about this on our website ( by clicking “Service Opportunites” and then “Serving Our Community.” I don’t doubt for a moment that as you review our missions efforts you will find that we have made decisions you might not have made, either with your personal finances or your church finances. But that’s not really the point. We are engaged, to the best of our ability (and willing to consider how we can improve upon our efforts), in the proclamation of the gospel all over the world in various cultural settings. I don’t believe I have ever met a church leader that said, “We are really spending too much on missions. Maybe we need to think about letting some of these guys go.” No matter how much you support them, no matter how often you visit and encourage them, no matter how many ministries and missionaries you support, there is always the desire to do more.

    I’m intentionally spending less and less time reading blogs (in fact, I was informed of this post by a friend), so let me apologize in advance for not being present here to respond to any follow up questions. You have the church website and my name, so if you’d like to email me with specific questions, I’ll do my best to follow up.

    Thanks again to iMonk for hosting such a stimulating conversation and for doing so with such a humble spirit.

    Grace and Peace,


  41. A CPC Member says

    As a CPC member (and member of one of the committees that has spent years working on the new sanctuary project), I was fascinated to come across such a lengthy discussion of our project. There are certainly too many points offered in the comments below to thoughfully respond, but a few thoughts:

    There are comments here both supportive and critical of the building, particularly the resources that have gone into it. As Matt Bradley (one of our pastors) has commented below, the church was very deliberate and intentional as we’ve undertaken the work. We’ve certainly wrestled and debated many of the points raised by those who have been critical of the project. While it is of course obvious that we came to different conclusions, I hope that none here think that those decisions were cavalier or unthinking.

    I know of no one at CPC that would say that having a monumental edifice, or a particular style of architecture, makes our more worship any more acceptable to our Lord than any other building or even no building at all. I have not the slightest doubt that some of the sweetest praise ever to be raised has come from some of the rudest huts made by man. That said, having been showered with blessings as a congregation, what would it say if what we built for worship didn’t reflect our greatest joy? What if our banks, our grocery stores, our offices, (and yes, as some here have said, our multi-car garages) show more love and attention than our place of worship? A half-century ago, my father-in-law hand crafted woodwork for a small, rural, wood-framed Presbyterian church – and did so as an act of worship! Similarly, we have strived, (successfully or not) to create this building as an act of praise. As a large congregation, the results of those efforts are going to look different, but I sincerely hope that the goal and spirit is the same as that shown by Christians around the world who want to give their best efforts and resources to create a space to gather and praise our Lord.

    Our congregation believes our highest calling is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. From that worship comes the joy, the fuel, the fire, that leads us to minister to this world. Worship that does not lead to ministry is nothing, but I know for my fallen self that attempting to minister without drawing on the joy of worship is impossible. Accordingly, we have given joyfully and sacrificially to create this space for worship – and the Lord has graciously allowed us to complete this effort. (I know that it’s a pale, pitiful thing compared to the real house of God, but I hope he smiles at us in the same way as when we put a child’s art project on our refrigerator!) We have worked to not let our ministries falter as a result of the building program, and it is my prayer (and I think those of most of my fellow members) that we would remain vigilant and mindful of such.

    As an architect, I’d certainly agree with several who point out that this building differs from ‘true gothic’. We wanted to draw from a past tradition, one whose verticality speaks of a high God and of small man, one whose aesthetics focus on an atmosphere of reverence, one whose stone speaks of permanance, and whose acoustics assist in our worship. However, we also wanted to make this reflect who we are – we are from a reformed tradition, a tradition with differences from those who built the great cathedrals of Europe, or even many of the gothic revival buildings on our own continent. We live in a different time, with different technology, with a different culture – but with the same, unchanging God. Accordingly, we looked at 900 years of precedents, from the gothic masterpieces to arts & crafts revivals, and drew from many of those. I think that’s appropriate for who we are.

    For those who feel that this isn’t a worshipful space, I understand – music, art, architecture are such subjective things. My sister goes to a church with a radically different worship style, and neither of us would long be happy in the other’s congregation. However, what both of us realize when we visit the other’s church – the people around us are joyful! That feeling isn’t subjective, I can understand it without reservation. And so I hope that if you come to Covenant, even if you are pained at the expense, or cringe at the sound of the pipe organ, or are stifled by the formality – I hope you see joy in those worshipping around you!

  42. I’m sorry that I came to the table too late . . . but for crumbs.

    Imonk, I’m totally with you on this one. As someone who often promotes the fact that my favorite form of church takes place in a coffee shop or bar, I have a deep sense of respecting the artistic gifts that God has given to men . . . and women. Having walked through many of the beautiful cathedrals of the world (and some beautiful Mosques) I really believe that there is a place for mere humans to express art in its greatest grandeur, reflecting God’s creativity. I would love to go to that church . . . and meet with a close group at the local coffee shop.

  43. joel hunter says

    There are important non-aesthetic reasons to build “architecture for the glory of God.”

    For the church that has the means, it can become an opportunity in sharing ministry. For example, our Anglican congregations rents space from a nondenom church, which had outgrown the sanctuary and property (and who had purchased it from the presbyterians, who were the original builders). The nondenom also rents to a charismatic-ish Latino congregation. A Christian school used the facility during the week. And we share with some Chinese baptists.

    A good church building can become an enormous opportunity to partner with other Christians and cooperate in ministry.

    It also means that you are relinquishing total control for something broader and bigger than yourself or your team.

  44. Northeasterner says

    I’m very glad that we’ve had the chance to read the thoughts of a couple of CPC leaders. I am struck by the level of sophistication they demonstrate regarding architecture and church history as they strove to build a church that clearly communicates their distinctive theology in the architectural vocabulary of their distinctive history.

    Some of the commenters have shown an equally striking ignorance of these ideas by misapplying terms such as “gothic” and “cathedral”. I don’t mean this as a putdown, but before you condemn historic church architecture (or music, or liturgy) as irrelevent, you might want to spend some time learning something about it. You might find that it contributes something to the depth of your faith and understanding.

  45. God bless those people.

    I have worshipped in enough schlocky looking “tennis clubs from the 1970’s ” as one friend puts it. What does that say about the God we worship?

    No one has mentioned the other side of the coin. Christians can be downright cheap and stingy, and I have seen this hidden behind the “lets not be wasteful stewards of God’s resources.”

    When Jesus was anointed with the costly perfume( worth one year’s salary) the only person who objected on the grounds of cost was Judas.