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Religion Library: Presbyterian and Reformed

Sacred Space

Written by: Ted Vial

In North America, church buildings were often simple wooden buildings.  As Reformed Christians have grown in prosperity, their buildings have reflected the architectural trends of the day.  Churches have been built in Romanesque, Gothic, and neo-classical styles.  In the 19th century there was a trend to build churches on the model of round theaters with a stage front-and-center to facilitate revival preaching.  Many contemporary churches continue to follow this model, especially larger ones. 

In the last twenty years, as Americans have tended to drift from the religious traditions into which they were born, there has been a trend among many pastors to reach out to the "un-churched."  One strategy is to build worship spaces that resemble secular auditoriums and do not have a lot of religious imagery that might put off seekers who are looking for a spiritual home but who are wary of traditional religion.  These sanctuaries may have large screens behind the pulpit where the preacher can illustrate a sermon with movie clips or PowerPoint presentations, and they often have space in the front for praise bands.  

Study Questions:
     1.    Why did Zwingli link aesthetics to scripture? What was the result?
     2.    How did Luther differ from Zwingli’s understanding of aesthetics? Why?
     3.    How does ritual create movement and structure within sacred space?
     4.    Has Presbyterian architecture changed over time? Explain.


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