It always saddens me to see old church buildings that have been turned into restaurants, bars, concert halls, museums, or condos. See The Cultural Conversion Of Cast-Off Churches.
On “Kitchen Nightmares,” Gordon Ramsey, that chef I have been hyping who slaps failing restaurants and cooks into shape, took on an eatery that had once been a church. He, at least, for all his bleeped-out language, was strangely respectful of the once-sacred space. He used the confessionals to make the errant cooks confess their sins against their vocations (Q: “What was the worst thing you’ve ever done in the kitchen?” A: “I dropped a piece of meat on the floor and just put it back on the plate.”) After he forced the owner to clean the filthy kitchen and buy some decent equipment, he brought in local clergymen to pray and to bless the kitchen.
To be sure, new church buildings are often designed to look like shopping malls, corporate offices, or convention centers. I see no problem with using them for the purposes that their appearance suggests anyway. (But is there a problem even there?) The old buildings getting abandoned tend to have the sacred built into them: they typically follow a cruciform floor plan (expressing that worshippers gather in the Cross), are adorned with built-in Christian symbols that cannot be removed (shapes evoking the Trinity, Crosses everywhere, lines sweeping upward to evoke a sense of transcendence), the tripartite structure of the Hebrew Temple (a gathering place for all; a holy place for worship; the holy-of-holies area that is the altar). So turning all of that–or ignoring all of that–to turn the building into a night club just seems, literally, a profanation.
Wouldn’t it better to just tear these buildings down than to turn what was once “sacred space” towards “profane” uses? Or is this a wrong distinction? Do these new uses for a church building instead bring the sacred into the secular, turn everything sacred, and demonstrate God’s reign over all of life?