Consider the walls of your church's worship space. Are they solid, or do they have windows? If they do, are the windows clear and simple, or do they depict biblical scenes in stained glass? Perhaps banners brighten up the vast stretches of stone. Few consider the role of the walls themselves in worship. After all, the seating arrangement often encourages your eyes to focus on the pulpit and the sacramental furniture, or perhaps an enormous pipe organ. Walls, it seems, have little, if any, impact on our worship experience.
The Geography of Worship in Christ
Praise God that Christian worship doesn't have to happen in a certain type of space.
In my church heritage (the Christian and Missionary Alliance and various independent Bible Churches) we often viewed the Bible as a "how to" manual for evangelism. We learned how to take someone through the Gospel of John, using key texts that outlined the "plan of salvation." We utilized the "Romans Road," which mapped out Paul's letter to the Romans in such a way that we could show someone the way to heaven. Or, if we really knew our Bibles well, we presented the gospel simply by prooftexting our way through the New Testament.
Several years ago I heard about a minister from western Michigan who entertained a call from a church somewhere in New York. Since they wanted to hear him preach and he wanted to check out the lay of the land, he and his wife booked a flight. The congregation was rumored to be "liberal," but then doesn't almost every church out east seem "liberal" by Midwestern standards?
My best friend, Marie, is pregnant for the fifth time. She has two children. She lost two children to miscarriage. When she became pregnant this time, she was relieved to find that soon after conception she felt awful. She was nauseated, couldn't tolerate the smell of coffee, and her most urgent desire was to lie down on the couch and take a nap. But these feelings brought her relief, because when she lost pregnancies through miscarriage she had been feeling great.
Think about the Holy Trinity and your head may start to hurt. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Three persons, but only one God. It occurs to you that you do not know how to picture this three-and-one. Who is this mysterious being? How many of him are there? Do you imagine a single transcendent person so versatile that he can create, redeem, and cleanse like a fresh wind? Can he do these things simultaneously? Just one person who, so to say, wears three hats or plays three roles?
"Nice sermon, pastor," the friendly woman said as she breezed through the narthex door. "That sermon just didn't do anything for me," the disappointed man said as he tugged on his coat and headed to the parking lot. The one comment tells the preacher generally that she may have done a good job; the other tells the preacher generally that something may have gone wrong. But in both cases it's that adverb "generally" that is the problem.
My testimony about getting through my battle with acute leukemia in the Spring of 2008 is that my wife, Sugar, and I knew, felt, and experienced that we were "upheld by the prayers of many." There is no question that one of the strengths of our Christian community at Calvin Seminary, at La Grave CRC in Grand Rapids, and at Third CRC in Denver, as well as with friends near and far, is prayer. We were held up, sometimes carried when we could barely walk, by the prayers of people known and not known who called on God in intercessory prayer on our behalf. No question.