This is the church, where is the steeple?

Steeples and bell towers have gone out of fashion for church buildings, reports USA Today. What hurts is the reason:

Nationwide, church steeples are taking a beating and the bell tolls for bell towers, too, as these landmarks of faith on the landscape are hard hit by economic, social and religious change. . . .

Architects and church planners see today’s new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion.

Steeples may have outlived their times as signposts. People hunting for a church don’t scan the horizon, they search the Internet. Google reports searches for “churches” soar before Easter each year. . . .

After three decades of repairing steeples, [steeplejack Michael] Hardin still considers it “a bit of joy to restore something so old and so beautiful and help it retain its integrity.”

The average age of the churches he works on is a half-century. The older steeples, “built with top-notch lumber and a lot of heart,” are holding up structurally, and more often need only cosmetic fixes.

In more recent decades, Hardin says, “church builders went a little haywire. People used shortcuts and cheaper lumber or they moved to the fiberglass steeples that claim to be maintenance-free. And if there’s a problem they stand back and try to get band-aid repairs or they just remove it and cap it off.” . . .

Providence Baptist Church in McLean, Va., a congregation of 450 in the Washington suburbs, managed to get a whole new aluminum steeple and $25,000 annually for its maintenance budget by hopping on the leased-tower trend last year.

Senior Pastor Tim Floyd says the original steeple, moved from the congregation’s first location, was “in good shape, but it was too small for the larger, newer church. And we needed to bring in more money for our maintenance budget. So what could we do? We saw that cellphone companies are using innovative methods, like artificial trees with antennas, to disguise their equipment and bring in cell coverage without unsightly towers.”

Church leaders located a company ready to deal, negotiated the design and “now we have a steeple, hiding two cell antennas, that gives us a really big profile on the horizon. It’s elegant and majestic and a win-win for us,” Floyd says.

It’s also a visual contrast to a massive, modern megachurch across the street that boasts no steeple.

No surprise, says architect Gary Landhauser, a partner with Novak Design Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who worked on nearly 30 churches in past 15 years.

“We have done a lot of church designs, but we haven’t done a steeple design in 15 years,” Landhauser says.

Today, he says, people want their church to look comfortable and inviting, “more like a mall.”

via Church steeples, aging out of fashion, meet their maker – USATODAY.com.

Architecture, like other art forms, expresses meaning.  Do you know why older churches built steeples?  Why they had bells?  What does it mean that today’s churches tend to use cheap materials?  Why are they being made to look “more like a mall”?  What does it mean when the sanctuary has a stage with studio lights, big speakers, and a drum set?  What do these design features  tell us about contemporary Christianity?

HT: Mollie Hemingway

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • helen

    Referencing the comment about “multiuse” , our church steeple incorporates a camera for a local TV weather broadcast. They get a great view of the down town skyline. We get a line under it that advertises St Paul Lutheran School. (They’ve got various sites around town; you can pick your favorite view for your “weatherbug” widget.)

  • helen

    Referencing the comment about “multiuse” , our church steeple incorporates a camera for a local TV weather broadcast. They get a great view of the down town skyline. We get a line under it that advertises St Paul Lutheran School. (They’ve got various sites around town; you can pick your favorite view for your “weatherbug” widget.)

  • Vincent Johnson

    Our care should not be for the outward but for the inward, a love for His majesty, His word and for the lost. He temple, which true believers are, is more glorious than any man-made structure ever. She is described as as city made of precious stone and having streets of transparent gold. Rev 21;9-21 To steeple or not to steeple is not in the equation!

  • Vincent Johnson

    Our care should not be for the outward but for the inward, a love for His majesty, His word and for the lost. He temple, which true believers are, is more glorious than any man-made structure ever. She is described as as city made of precious stone and having streets of transparent gold. Rev 21;9-21 To steeple or not to steeple is not in the equation!

  • Tom Hering

    “Do you know why older churches built steeples?”

    To show that the path to Heaven follows a steep L-shaped route?

  • Tom Hering

    “Do you know why older churches built steeples?”

    To show that the path to Heaven follows a steep L-shaped route?

  • http://www.greenleafblog.net Caleb Land

    Awww…when I read the last paragraph I thought you were going to tell us…so, do tell. Can you answer some of the questions you pose or point us in the right direction?

  • http://www.greenleafblog.net Caleb Land

    Awww…when I read the last paragraph I thought you were going to tell us…so, do tell. Can you answer some of the questions you pose or point us in the right direction?

  • http://www.armchair-theology.net Dave

    I think it’s a great idea for churches to do something like Helen’s did which gets the name of the congregation in front of a secular audience on a regular basis (though I wish it was the congregation proper, not the associated school).

    I applaud churches who are creative with their facilities by leasing them as cell towers but wonder if they will regret it in coming years if they are determined to cause cancer or some other problems.

  • http://www.armchair-theology.net Dave

    I think it’s a great idea for churches to do something like Helen’s did which gets the name of the congregation in front of a secular audience on a regular basis (though I wish it was the congregation proper, not the associated school).

    I applaud churches who are creative with their facilities by leasing them as cell towers but wonder if they will regret it in coming years if they are determined to cause cancer or some other problems.

  • larry

    A lot there. I quoted this before but RC Sproul I think nailed it when he said something similar regarding the exchange of a hard wood pulpit for a plexy-glass stage lectern or nothing. He said when the pulpit goes, the doctrine is soon to follow.

    His point as he elaborated was not that there is something magical about the pulpit, but the mind set that has already occurred in the change begets a relinquishing of doctrine. I.e. the temptation to “draw in” due to numbers or influence as been bit and the doctrine, which is polemical by its nature and not exactly marketable, is being given up.

    True story at one of our former SB churches. We were Warren duplicate in every since of the word. Always about the latest and greatest to “draw them in”. A work out gym, a full court indoor basketball court (sweet from the point of view of playing hoops), a ladies hair salon to draw them in and give the church ladies somewhere to go where they wouldn’t gossip (keep it in house) and no I’m not kidding or exaggerating one bit, stage design, clear lectern, state of the art choir sound system and we had just purchased a HUGE jumbotron video screen that covered over the baptismal pool in back.

    Some of the assistant pastors, the younger ones were out at the local state university campus “witnessing”. They were talking with this one unbeliever, young man, telling him about all this cool sound equipment and the jumbotron we just purchased. (I’ll never forget this) and the young man replied, (keep in mind he’s not a believer) “I thought Christianity was about Jesus being crucified for man’s sin”.

    The other side is such “cheap material” (plastics, etc…) architecture and construction, I think, reflects our secular culture in this sense, we are culture of passing away and never retaining a history. Gone is the craftsman hand made wooden bookcase passed down from one generation to the next and in its place some cheap prefab that will last only a short utilitarian moment. We’ve moved, in general, and this is not just the church, from that which stands through time and is solid and has meaning, to the flash of the moment. With it, the lose of vocation of the craftsman that produces this with his hand to the mass production of stamping it all out. We’ve moved from the personal to the impersonal on the creating and receiving end, from that which stands to that which flitters out like a fog during the rising sun.

    We’d rather take a pill that contains the chemicals of wine for health than the God given enjoyment of the fruit of wine. Pillsbury use to be run by chefs that express their gift, their vocation, their craft in good foods (a person creature of God making for another person creature of God), now engineers perfect the stamp it out to the impersonal masses (an impersonal thing producing for another impersonal thing).

    In a way its an expression of secular Darwinism, utterly impersonal.

  • larry

    A lot there. I quoted this before but RC Sproul I think nailed it when he said something similar regarding the exchange of a hard wood pulpit for a plexy-glass stage lectern or nothing. He said when the pulpit goes, the doctrine is soon to follow.

    His point as he elaborated was not that there is something magical about the pulpit, but the mind set that has already occurred in the change begets a relinquishing of doctrine. I.e. the temptation to “draw in” due to numbers or influence as been bit and the doctrine, which is polemical by its nature and not exactly marketable, is being given up.

    True story at one of our former SB churches. We were Warren duplicate in every since of the word. Always about the latest and greatest to “draw them in”. A work out gym, a full court indoor basketball court (sweet from the point of view of playing hoops), a ladies hair salon to draw them in and give the church ladies somewhere to go where they wouldn’t gossip (keep it in house) and no I’m not kidding or exaggerating one bit, stage design, clear lectern, state of the art choir sound system and we had just purchased a HUGE jumbotron video screen that covered over the baptismal pool in back.

    Some of the assistant pastors, the younger ones were out at the local state university campus “witnessing”. They were talking with this one unbeliever, young man, telling him about all this cool sound equipment and the jumbotron we just purchased. (I’ll never forget this) and the young man replied, (keep in mind he’s not a believer) “I thought Christianity was about Jesus being crucified for man’s sin”.

    The other side is such “cheap material” (plastics, etc…) architecture and construction, I think, reflects our secular culture in this sense, we are culture of passing away and never retaining a history. Gone is the craftsman hand made wooden bookcase passed down from one generation to the next and in its place some cheap prefab that will last only a short utilitarian moment. We’ve moved, in general, and this is not just the church, from that which stands through time and is solid and has meaning, to the flash of the moment. With it, the lose of vocation of the craftsman that produces this with his hand to the mass production of stamping it all out. We’ve moved from the personal to the impersonal on the creating and receiving end, from that which stands to that which flitters out like a fog during the rising sun.

    We’d rather take a pill that contains the chemicals of wine for health than the God given enjoyment of the fruit of wine. Pillsbury use to be run by chefs that express their gift, their vocation, their craft in good foods (a person creature of God making for another person creature of God), now engineers perfect the stamp it out to the impersonal masses (an impersonal thing producing for another impersonal thing).

    In a way its an expression of secular Darwinism, utterly impersonal.

  • Michael Z.

    Or maybe is just means that our architecture is changing. Is there a problem with that? Christianity is not tied to a particular architectural style.
    In China the house churches don’t have steeples. Are they expressing their abandonment of Christian doctrine?
    The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built as a christian cathedral and it had a dome. I think at times we get a bit too attached to external things at our churches, and I think THAT is what leads to the loss of good doctrine.

  • Michael Z.

    Or maybe is just means that our architecture is changing. Is there a problem with that? Christianity is not tied to a particular architectural style.
    In China the house churches don’t have steeples. Are they expressing their abandonment of Christian doctrine?
    The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built as a christian cathedral and it had a dome. I think at times we get a bit too attached to external things at our churches, and I think THAT is what leads to the loss of good doctrine.

  • http://subtledesigner.blogspot.com Jacob

    Don’t worry – when churches become postmodern they’ll bring back the steeple – albeit in an ironic fashion.

  • http://subtledesigner.blogspot.com Jacob

    Don’t worry – when churches become postmodern they’ll bring back the steeple – albeit in an ironic fashion.

  • larry

    I think we have to distinguish what is happening in another culture, say China, to what is happening here. That conflates two entirely separate issues.

    We don’t use, for example, instruments that the culture of David did, and other cultures would not use our styles/instruments either. That is not the issue.

    The shift becomes when the doctrine is given up by all other means. Such, then, refuse to suffer the Cross.

    RC Sproul’s point was very clear, its not about archetecture its about what is the movement behind it.

    I can tell first hand having been involved with such that what is done is not merely a shift in archetecture, it was to take the rough edges of the necessarily polemical Cross in order to “getem in”, “get the numbers”.

    As a wise SB pastor once told me, “what you get them with you have to keep them with.” The dirty secret in those churches, I was in, was the highly leaky back door for the newest fad next door. Excitements need more excitements.

    If that was all it was, a shift in archetecture, then it would be no issue at all.

  • larry

    I think we have to distinguish what is happening in another culture, say China, to what is happening here. That conflates two entirely separate issues.

    We don’t use, for example, instruments that the culture of David did, and other cultures would not use our styles/instruments either. That is not the issue.

    The shift becomes when the doctrine is given up by all other means. Such, then, refuse to suffer the Cross.

    RC Sproul’s point was very clear, its not about archetecture its about what is the movement behind it.

    I can tell first hand having been involved with such that what is done is not merely a shift in archetecture, it was to take the rough edges of the necessarily polemical Cross in order to “getem in”, “get the numbers”.

    As a wise SB pastor once told me, “what you get them with you have to keep them with.” The dirty secret in those churches, I was in, was the highly leaky back door for the newest fad next door. Excitements need more excitements.

    If that was all it was, a shift in archetecture, then it would be no issue at all.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Very few steeples with crosses seen around these parts. You can scan the horizon looking for a cross here in Utah, but you need to know where to look. A lot more tall pointy things outside all the Ward Houses. One on every corner!

    I would love to build a classic looking bell tower with a simple cross on the top next to our little old church, but everyone just laughs when I speak of such ludicrous things.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Very few steeples with crosses seen around these parts. You can scan the horizon looking for a cross here in Utah, but you need to know where to look. A lot more tall pointy things outside all the Ward Houses. One on every corner!

    I would love to build a classic looking bell tower with a simple cross on the top next to our little old church, but everyone just laughs when I speak of such ludicrous things.

  • helen

    Wasn’t the idea to put the cross or the dome up where everyone in the community could see it? Once, bells were rung for prayers, too, and even those who couldn’t come to the church could mark the hour.
    We have a university tower with a clock that chimes the quarter hours. It’s secular and “not necessary” when everyone carries the time around with him, but I like to hear it.

  • helen

    Wasn’t the idea to put the cross or the dome up where everyone in the community could see it? Once, bells were rung for prayers, too, and even those who couldn’t come to the church could mark the hour.
    We have a university tower with a clock that chimes the quarter hours. It’s secular and “not necessary” when everyone carries the time around with him, but I like to hear it.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    You know, I’m reminded of the cathedral at Cologne, whose ornate towers were only finished in 1880, so high church towers are not exactly something that’s been mandatory ever.

    That said, it’s a great way of housing the bells in a place where it won’t make everyone deaf, a great way of pointing the eyes towards Heaven, and a great way of placing a cross in the highest point in the town. Also a great place for a boy’s pet racoon to hide his sister’s engagement ring, if I remember correctly.

    I wonder if a lot of churches don’t have a steeple these days in part because of height restrictions imposed by towns, too. Restrictions enacted to keep office buildings at 3 stories or below ironically hit something that doesn’t really hurt anyone’s view or sunshine.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    You know, I’m reminded of the cathedral at Cologne, whose ornate towers were only finished in 1880, so high church towers are not exactly something that’s been mandatory ever.

    That said, it’s a great way of housing the bells in a place where it won’t make everyone deaf, a great way of pointing the eyes towards Heaven, and a great way of placing a cross in the highest point in the town. Also a great place for a boy’s pet racoon to hide his sister’s engagement ring, if I remember correctly.

    I wonder if a lot of churches don’t have a steeple these days in part because of height restrictions imposed by towns, too. Restrictions enacted to keep office buildings at 3 stories or below ironically hit something that doesn’t really hurt anyone’s view or sunshine.

  • larry

    The arch design was to reflect the eternal. But that’s about all I know.

    But that makes the point of what has been lost. It’s not that we “HAVE” to have these but a LOT of representative doctrine and HOPE, is lost when they are lost. The doctrine gets lost first, then the item/archetecture.

    Example I learned and was taught rather ignorantly, “we don’t cross ourselves as the RC do, that’s RC.” Fine, its not a law though, but reminder of baptism and that’s good! You don’t HAVE to do it. Thus, I later learned. Then I learned that usually is used the three fingers to make the sign of the Cross. Why, the trinity, trinitarian name of your baptism, YOU/that body was baptized by God. It’s not a “have to thing” but it sure is a hell of thing to loose all that Gospel behind it under a fool’s “that’s RC”. It’s throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water.

    Take the two archetectual designs of an arch versus a stage. Now an arch is not necessary but is good? Well, what does say? It’s suppose to communicate the eternal/eternity. What does the stage say? Nothing like that, just visual way to walk and talk, not much more than that.

  • larry

    The arch design was to reflect the eternal. But that’s about all I know.

    But that makes the point of what has been lost. It’s not that we “HAVE” to have these but a LOT of representative doctrine and HOPE, is lost when they are lost. The doctrine gets lost first, then the item/archetecture.

    Example I learned and was taught rather ignorantly, “we don’t cross ourselves as the RC do, that’s RC.” Fine, its not a law though, but reminder of baptism and that’s good! You don’t HAVE to do it. Thus, I later learned. Then I learned that usually is used the three fingers to make the sign of the Cross. Why, the trinity, trinitarian name of your baptism, YOU/that body was baptized by God. It’s not a “have to thing” but it sure is a hell of thing to loose all that Gospel behind it under a fool’s “that’s RC”. It’s throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water.

    Take the two archetectual designs of an arch versus a stage. Now an arch is not necessary but is good? Well, what does say? It’s suppose to communicate the eternal/eternity. What does the stage say? Nothing like that, just visual way to walk and talk, not much more than that.

  • Dennis Peskey

    “Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim”
    The architectural function of the steeple accomplishes three functions in the life of the Church. First, and foremost, the steeple elevated the Cross above all other structures in the village as a witness to all in the community. Before we became “enlightened”, communities centered around the Church and no matter where your vocation placed you inside the community, you had the assurance the Cross reigned over your village for all to see (including the farmers working in their fields). To Lutherans, we would view this as a reaffirmation of our Baptism and assurance of God’s gracious will.

    The steeple also served as the support and housing for the bells which were instrumental in the daily life of the Church. These bells sounded the call to worship for all in the community of the daily offices of the Church life (i.e., Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, Compline). During the services, the bells would sound for the Lord’s Prayer three times (at the beginning, during the fourth petition then at the start of the doxology). This would be the call for those who could not attend (farmers in their fields, merchants in their shops) to join with all the saints in the Our Father. Our church still enjoys this ancient practice. Then, on Easter morn, the bells loudly shatter the silence of the grave of Holy Saturday ringing continuously to proclaim Christos Anesti.

    Finally, the Cross elevated high above the entire village gave the assurance to the village that, as the Father looked down upon them, He would be kindly disposed to them. This Cross overshadowed the village and marked them as believers in His Son; as believers they were assured a share in both Christ’s death and His resurrection.

    The proclamation of medieval architecture was most evident in the form of the pulpit. The pulpit would be elevated above the congregation to remind the congregation this was God’s Word coming from above to their ears. More importantly (and a most regretable theological loss) was the structure of the pulpit in the shape of a chalice. The connection between the preached Word of God pouring forth upon His people and the Holy Communion where we received His body and blood was inescapable.

    Each portion of the architecture of a Church serves to confess the focus of the congregation and the fellowship they enjoy. If the Cross is the center of your theology, then lift high that Cross so all may see and join with the saints in proclaiming Christ Crucified for all both inside near the pulpit where His Word is proclaimed; over (or on) the altar where His body and blood is given for you; and outside as a proclamation for the world to know Christ is here for you. When a congregation spends more on their coffee bar than on the Cross, you’ll not need a pulpit, nor an altar, nor any bells, nor a steeple. Just a note: I’ve yet to find the word “coffee” in my Novum Testamentum Graece.
    Christos Anesti!
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    “Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim”
    The architectural function of the steeple accomplishes three functions in the life of the Church. First, and foremost, the steeple elevated the Cross above all other structures in the village as a witness to all in the community. Before we became “enlightened”, communities centered around the Church and no matter where your vocation placed you inside the community, you had the assurance the Cross reigned over your village for all to see (including the farmers working in their fields). To Lutherans, we would view this as a reaffirmation of our Baptism and assurance of God’s gracious will.

    The steeple also served as the support and housing for the bells which were instrumental in the daily life of the Church. These bells sounded the call to worship for all in the community of the daily offices of the Church life (i.e., Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, Compline). During the services, the bells would sound for the Lord’s Prayer three times (at the beginning, during the fourth petition then at the start of the doxology). This would be the call for those who could not attend (farmers in their fields, merchants in their shops) to join with all the saints in the Our Father. Our church still enjoys this ancient practice. Then, on Easter morn, the bells loudly shatter the silence of the grave of Holy Saturday ringing continuously to proclaim Christos Anesti.

    Finally, the Cross elevated high above the entire village gave the assurance to the village that, as the Father looked down upon them, He would be kindly disposed to them. This Cross overshadowed the village and marked them as believers in His Son; as believers they were assured a share in both Christ’s death and His resurrection.

    The proclamation of medieval architecture was most evident in the form of the pulpit. The pulpit would be elevated above the congregation to remind the congregation this was God’s Word coming from above to their ears. More importantly (and a most regretable theological loss) was the structure of the pulpit in the shape of a chalice. The connection between the preached Word of God pouring forth upon His people and the Holy Communion where we received His body and blood was inescapable.

    Each portion of the architecture of a Church serves to confess the focus of the congregation and the fellowship they enjoy. If the Cross is the center of your theology, then lift high that Cross so all may see and join with the saints in proclaiming Christ Crucified for all both inside near the pulpit where His Word is proclaimed; over (or on) the altar where His body and blood is given for you; and outside as a proclamation for the world to know Christ is here for you. When a congregation spends more on their coffee bar than on the Cross, you’ll not need a pulpit, nor an altar, nor any bells, nor a steeple. Just a note: I’ve yet to find the word “coffee” in my Novum Testamentum Graece.
    Christos Anesti!
    Dennis

  • Orianna Laun

    I climbed the highest church tower in the world (Ulm, Germany), but I can’t say why the steeple exists, unless it is to be a focal point for the people. The bells were partly for communication. Many country churches still ring the bell when a member passes away.
    I think one reason some churches look like malls is that they take over the space when a business goes. It’s cheaper than starting from scratch. Perhaps the trend merely continued.
    Interesting, the trend toward using cheap materials. That’s what they did for the World’s Fairs–because the buildings were to be temporary. Still is hard for my mind to get over the cheap building material/expensive equipment inside duality.

  • Orianna Laun

    I climbed the highest church tower in the world (Ulm, Germany), but I can’t say why the steeple exists, unless it is to be a focal point for the people. The bells were partly for communication. Many country churches still ring the bell when a member passes away.
    I think one reason some churches look like malls is that they take over the space when a business goes. It’s cheaper than starting from scratch. Perhaps the trend merely continued.
    Interesting, the trend toward using cheap materials. That’s what they did for the World’s Fairs–because the buildings were to be temporary. Still is hard for my mind to get over the cheap building material/expensive equipment inside duality.

  • Tom Hering

    Could the use of cheap, impermanent materials be related to a conviction that the End Times are upon us? A conviction popular among Evangelicals, who seem to be the ones embracing utilitarian architecture? (With some Lutherans following their example, of course. In architecture as in theology.)

  • Tom Hering

    Could the use of cheap, impermanent materials be related to a conviction that the End Times are upon us? A conviction popular among Evangelicals, who seem to be the ones embracing utilitarian architecture? (With some Lutherans following their example, of course. In architecture as in theology.)

  • http://www.frogonaleaf.blogspot.com Doug

    “now we have a steeple, hiding two cell antennas, that gives us a really big profile on the horizon. It’s elegant and majestic and a win-win for us” – That is too funny. I would be more inclined to put electronic equipment in the steeple designed to block cell phone reception. No calls, no text messaging, no sneaking a peek at football scores, no game playing. (sigh)… But that’s just me.

  • http://www.frogonaleaf.blogspot.com Doug

    “now we have a steeple, hiding two cell antennas, that gives us a really big profile on the horizon. It’s elegant and majestic and a win-win for us” – That is too funny. I would be more inclined to put electronic equipment in the steeple designed to block cell phone reception. No calls, no text messaging, no sneaking a peek at football scores, no game playing. (sigh)… But that’s just me.

  • larry

    Dennis,

    Very good!

  • larry

    Dennis,

    Very good!

  • DonS

    In southern California, if you see a church with a steeple, except in older towns, it is almost always Mormon.

    In this and other expensive real estate areas, newer churches are lucky to have a facility to meet in. Many are forced to meet in schools, with the attendant set up and tear down each week. Otherwise, their option is to lease or buy space in business areas, and are architecturally limited to conformity with surrounding buildings, by city code and/or association bylaws. Cost is also always a consideration. Assuming you even have the option, how much do you spend on your own facility versus using those precious funds for missions, outreach, etc. It’s all a matter of stewardship.

    So the lack of steeples, per se, isn’t always because churches don’t want them, but because they are not feasible.

    There are many things to be concerned about regarding the state of the American evangelical church. The lack of steeples is WAY down on the list, in my opinion.

  • DonS

    In southern California, if you see a church with a steeple, except in older towns, it is almost always Mormon.

    In this and other expensive real estate areas, newer churches are lucky to have a facility to meet in. Many are forced to meet in schools, with the attendant set up and tear down each week. Otherwise, their option is to lease or buy space in business areas, and are architecturally limited to conformity with surrounding buildings, by city code and/or association bylaws. Cost is also always a consideration. Assuming you even have the option, how much do you spend on your own facility versus using those precious funds for missions, outreach, etc. It’s all a matter of stewardship.

    So the lack of steeples, per se, isn’t always because churches don’t want them, but because they are not feasible.

    There are many things to be concerned about regarding the state of the American evangelical church. The lack of steeples is WAY down on the list, in my opinion.

  • larry

    The end times upon us and the use of cheap impermanent materials. Hmmm. It could be, that’s possible. It’s also very possible its and expression of our Gnostic times in which the earthly bodily is explicitly or implicitly thought of as evil and the “spiritual” the goal. We often forget our end goal is not release from the body into the heavenly spirits, but as the two confessions, Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, say, “I believe/look forward to… the resurrection of the body and of life eternal (therein).”

    Also what goes hand in hand with the use of cheap impermanent materials is the loss of vocation for something equally un-artisan, increasingly impersonal, inhuman and mechanistic, more utilitarian and less enjoyable. E.g. Pills for the health effects of wine as opposed to the joy of wine and fellowship of gladness therein. I’ve noted even in my generation less and less left to a person as heirloom and more and more impersonal utilitarian nothing. A chair my granddad made with his hands versus some cheap crappy press board. Cheap fluff foods with little taste, but an abundance of versus the craft of a chef. Plastic junk throw away toys for kids as opposed to something well crafted. The more communication devices we seem to have, the less person to person at locale interaction we have. One of my family members noted on a mission trip to an otherwise very dangerous Muslim country that they are very open as a whole, invite you into their homes and such and that by comparison over here very closed off in spite of more governmental freedom.

  • larry

    The end times upon us and the use of cheap impermanent materials. Hmmm. It could be, that’s possible. It’s also very possible its and expression of our Gnostic times in which the earthly bodily is explicitly or implicitly thought of as evil and the “spiritual” the goal. We often forget our end goal is not release from the body into the heavenly spirits, but as the two confessions, Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, say, “I believe/look forward to… the resurrection of the body and of life eternal (therein).”

    Also what goes hand in hand with the use of cheap impermanent materials is the loss of vocation for something equally un-artisan, increasingly impersonal, inhuman and mechanistic, more utilitarian and less enjoyable. E.g. Pills for the health effects of wine as opposed to the joy of wine and fellowship of gladness therein. I’ve noted even in my generation less and less left to a person as heirloom and more and more impersonal utilitarian nothing. A chair my granddad made with his hands versus some cheap crappy press board. Cheap fluff foods with little taste, but an abundance of versus the craft of a chef. Plastic junk throw away toys for kids as opposed to something well crafted. The more communication devices we seem to have, the less person to person at locale interaction we have. One of my family members noted on a mission trip to an otherwise very dangerous Muslim country that they are very open as a whole, invite you into their homes and such and that by comparison over here very closed off in spite of more governmental freedom.

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Background: We have for a number of years, trained church planters for the world. Part of that task has taken me to Osaka and Yao Japan to work with Grace Mission Cathedral. As you know, Japan’s Christian population is tiny. Most churches are between 20-35 in size. But Grace Mission is different. They are 15 churches of between 15 to 300 all under one budget and spread out from Toyko to Yao (adjacent to Osaka) and Kesai (a fishing village about three hours away from Yao).

    At Grace Mission Cathedral there is a steeple that towers over the surrounding buildings. I cannot tell you how much the sight of that steeple on the horizon buoys the spirit in a sea of Christ-less buildings. It announces to all the region, that Christ is present and beckoning to all, to come to him for grace and mercy.

    We can make too much of architecture but we can also make too little. A steeple was a tool of a previous generation to announce the presence of Christ and his bride in the midst of a community. Christ is not lost without one. But something is, and I am not quite sure that our culture will ever slow down long enough or reflect deeply enough on what is lost as church architecture becomes bland and “Mallish.”

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Background: We have for a number of years, trained church planters for the world. Part of that task has taken me to Osaka and Yao Japan to work with Grace Mission Cathedral. As you know, Japan’s Christian population is tiny. Most churches are between 20-35 in size. But Grace Mission is different. They are 15 churches of between 15 to 300 all under one budget and spread out from Toyko to Yao (adjacent to Osaka) and Kesai (a fishing village about three hours away from Yao).

    At Grace Mission Cathedral there is a steeple that towers over the surrounding buildings. I cannot tell you how much the sight of that steeple on the horizon buoys the spirit in a sea of Christ-less buildings. It announces to all the region, that Christ is present and beckoning to all, to come to him for grace and mercy.

    We can make too much of architecture but we can also make too little. A steeple was a tool of a previous generation to announce the presence of Christ and his bride in the midst of a community. Christ is not lost without one. But something is, and I am not quite sure that our culture will ever slow down long enough or reflect deeply enough on what is lost as church architecture becomes bland and “Mallish.”

  • larry

    Don,

    Of course in those cases, again, that is different. Poor churches and lack of a firm meeting place is a different issue altogether. Again, a steeple is not a “law” requirement.

    But in the cases, where we were, BIG money was spent on BIG things like a fully stocked work out gym, a real hair salon, a FULL indoor basketball court, state of the art recording sound equipment (and I mean state of the art), a jumbo tron, etc…all in the name of “missions and evangelism”. And our out reach was ANYTHING but small or inactive overseas, in this country and locally.

  • larry

    Don,

    Of course in those cases, again, that is different. Poor churches and lack of a firm meeting place is a different issue altogether. Again, a steeple is not a “law” requirement.

    But in the cases, where we were, BIG money was spent on BIG things like a fully stocked work out gym, a real hair salon, a FULL indoor basketball court, state of the art recording sound equipment (and I mean state of the art), a jumbo tron, etc…all in the name of “missions and evangelism”. And our out reach was ANYTHING but small or inactive overseas, in this country and locally.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    The reason Churches used to have bell towers is that there was a clamoring in the community to know when it was 9:30 am on Sunday morning. I think.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    The reason Churches used to have bell towers is that there was a clamoring in the community to know when it was 9:30 am on Sunday morning. I think.

  • SKPeterson

    Helen @1 – Are you in Fort Worth? St. Paul’s there has a great view of downtown from the near west side.

    As to the decline of bell towers and the desire to make churches more like malls, is the explicit and implicit consumer culture of much of modern America. If you identify with a mall as the focus of your social interactions, then a church that reflects that may be more to your liking. To that end, it speaks of a decline of the church as a sacred space, set apart, even holy. Yet, a bell tower and steeple are also “in your face” as it were. Physical architectural reminders of something greater and higher than ourselves. If people don’t like to be reminded of their finiteness or don’t desire to bump up against signs of the infinite because they are not “relevant,” then removing such reminders from the landscape is the next logical step.

  • SKPeterson

    Helen @1 – Are you in Fort Worth? St. Paul’s there has a great view of downtown from the near west side.

    As to the decline of bell towers and the desire to make churches more like malls, is the explicit and implicit consumer culture of much of modern America. If you identify with a mall as the focus of your social interactions, then a church that reflects that may be more to your liking. To that end, it speaks of a decline of the church as a sacred space, set apart, even holy. Yet, a bell tower and steeple are also “in your face” as it were. Physical architectural reminders of something greater and higher than ourselves. If people don’t like to be reminded of their finiteness or don’t desire to bump up against signs of the infinite because they are not “relevant,” then removing such reminders from the landscape is the next logical step.

  • Cincinnatus

    I think the real problem here is that the Church–or at least substantial portions of it–have abandoned the notion of symbolism altogether, of the experience of the eternal, spiritual, and universal in the temporal, physical, and particular.

    It’s not that there is something magical about steeples, or that steeples are the only acceptable ornament to sacred architecture, or that it is wrong or right to focus on physical infrastructure. Nor is it because people wanted bells to mark the time, etc. While steeples served practical purposes, to be sure, they also served supramundane purposes. We’ve lost that. Aesthetics has fallen on hard times in general, nowhere more so than in the Church.

  • Cincinnatus

    I think the real problem here is that the Church–or at least substantial portions of it–have abandoned the notion of symbolism altogether, of the experience of the eternal, spiritual, and universal in the temporal, physical, and particular.

    It’s not that there is something magical about steeples, or that steeples are the only acceptable ornament to sacred architecture, or that it is wrong or right to focus on physical infrastructure. Nor is it because people wanted bells to mark the time, etc. While steeples served practical purposes, to be sure, they also served supramundane purposes. We’ve lost that. Aesthetics has fallen on hard times in general, nowhere more so than in the Church.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    The Catholic church a half-mile or so from my house rings its bells daily at 6pm and 9pm (vespers and compline, I believe), when it’s quiet enough in our house to hear them. They may do other times, as well, but I guess I’m not listening or otherwise around to hear them.

    Still, it’s kind of nice to hear them — not only for conveniently marking the time, and as a clear indication that things are peaceful enough to make them out, but … I don’t know. They just usually stir up some sort of feeling in me — not spiritual as such, but perhaps of a more timeless quality.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    The Catholic church a half-mile or so from my house rings its bells daily at 6pm and 9pm (vespers and compline, I believe), when it’s quiet enough in our house to hear them. They may do other times, as well, but I guess I’m not listening or otherwise around to hear them.

    Still, it’s kind of nice to hear them — not only for conveniently marking the time, and as a clear indication that things are peaceful enough to make them out, but … I don’t know. They just usually stir up some sort of feeling in me — not spiritual as such, but perhaps of a more timeless quality.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Very sad to see. One of the attractive things about a church is it’s “otherness.” When a church looks like just any other building, it loses its uniqueness. And while I realize that it is the people who make the church and not just the building, I think there ought to be a sense of the transcendent and the holy whenever you see a church.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Very sad to see. One of the attractive things about a church is it’s “otherness.” When a church looks like just any other building, it loses its uniqueness. And while I realize that it is the people who make the church and not just the building, I think there ought to be a sense of the transcendent and the holy whenever you see a church.

  • helen

    SKPeterson @ 24
    I am in Austin, where St Paul is a few blocks north of the University of Texas, and beyond that, the Capitol and downtown.

  • helen

    SKPeterson @ 24
    I am in Austin, where St Paul is a few blocks north of the University of Texas, and beyond that, the Capitol and downtown.

  • JonSLC

    Several Lutheran congregations I know recently built church buildings. All decided to build structures with steeples and crosses on the outside, and well-crafted altars, fonts and pulpits on the inside. All of them continue to attract visitors who notice that each of their buildings “looks like a church.” The buildings don’t change anyone’s hearts, of course, but it’s interesting to note that some church shoppers do appreciate and even seek out the traditional buildings. The steeples mark the buildings as something different.

    The locations of the above-mentioned churches, BTW: suburban Atlanta, suburban Chicago, and outside Madison, WI.

  • JonSLC

    Several Lutheran congregations I know recently built church buildings. All decided to build structures with steeples and crosses on the outside, and well-crafted altars, fonts and pulpits on the inside. All of them continue to attract visitors who notice that each of their buildings “looks like a church.” The buildings don’t change anyone’s hearts, of course, but it’s interesting to note that some church shoppers do appreciate and even seek out the traditional buildings. The steeples mark the buildings as something different.

    The locations of the above-mentioned churches, BTW: suburban Atlanta, suburban Chicago, and outside Madison, WI.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Speaking of recently built Lutheran church buildings, our local LCMS congregation just built anew building and started using it a a couple months ago. It’s a rather small church building, but it does have a cupola up on top with a cross on top of that. OK, a cupola isnt quite a steeple, but a least you know it’s a church building you’re looking at.
    Pictures here. (And I even took that picture of the congregation at the dedication service)

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Speaking of recently built Lutheran church buildings, our local LCMS congregation just built anew building and started using it a a couple months ago. It’s a rather small church building, but it does have a cupola up on top with a cross on top of that. OK, a cupola isnt quite a steeple, but a least you know it’s a church building you’re looking at.
    Pictures here. (And I even took that picture of the congregation at the dedication service)

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    think of the symbolic impact of minarets sprouting all over.

    think of how impossible it would be to put a tall cross capped steeple in any muslim country.

    what cincinnatus says about symbolism is good.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    think of the symbolic impact of minarets sprouting all over.

    think of how impossible it would be to put a tall cross capped steeple in any muslim country.

    what cincinnatus says about symbolism is good.

  • http://mark.veenman@gmail.com Mark Veenman

    A friend once explained that the steeple is a phallus and middle age priests would compete in height and ornamentation. That’s completely ridiculous.

  • http://mark.veenman@gmail.com Mark Veenman

    A friend once explained that the steeple is a phallus and middle age priests would compete in height and ornamentation. That’s completely ridiculous.

  • SKPeterson

    Nice pics Mike. Are you a lab rat at LANL?

  • SKPeterson

    Nice pics Mike. Are you a lab rat at LANL?

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Yep. I work for The Lab. At the proton accelerator facility.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Yep. I work for The Lab. At the proton accelerator facility.

  • Tom Hering

    “In your face” architecture? How about instead of a bell tower attached to a church, putting up a gargantuan tombstone the height of a steeple, with the word YOU carved in huge letters. That would be “in your face.” :-D

  • Tom Hering

    “In your face” architecture? How about instead of a bell tower attached to a church, putting up a gargantuan tombstone the height of a steeple, with the word YOU carved in huge letters. That would be “in your face.” :-D

  • Booklover

    Steeples have gone the way of:
    pews
    altars
    organs
    hymnbooks
    catechisms
    stained glass
    wood
    excellent natural acoustics

    Sadly.

  • Booklover

    Steeples have gone the way of:
    pews
    altars
    organs
    hymnbooks
    catechisms
    stained glass
    wood
    excellent natural acoustics

    Sadly.

  • Booklover

    The worship focus used to be on, well, worship. Heavenward. Now it’s man-focused. We call it evangelism.

  • Booklover

    The worship focus used to be on, well, worship. Heavenward. Now it’s man-focused. We call it evangelism.

  • SKPeterson

    @ Tom – innovative
    @Mike – cheers from an ORNL cousin.

  • SKPeterson

    @ Tom – innovative
    @Mike – cheers from an ORNL cousin.

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  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Mormon ‘buildings’…not Mormon ‘churches’.

    Mormon churches is an oxy-mormon. :D

    There is a reason that there are NO CROSSES on those buliding’s steeples.

    They ought just be honest about it and put ladders up there, instead of the demon Moroni.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Mormon ‘buildings’…not Mormon ‘churches’.

    Mormon churches is an oxy-mormon. :D

    There is a reason that there are NO CROSSES on those buliding’s steeples.

    They ought just be honest about it and put ladders up there, instead of the demon Moroni.

  • http://newepistles.com Kevin Sam

    Why waste money on maintaining unnecessary things today? My church has a steeple but the bell has not been in use for many years. It sure saves a bundle. The Catholic church`s bell and steeple a few blocks away does the same job anyway.

  • http://newepistles.com Kevin Sam

    Why waste money on maintaining unnecessary things today? My church has a steeple but the bell has not been in use for many years. It sure saves a bundle. The Catholic church`s bell and steeple a few blocks away does the same job anyway.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Yeah! Sell the church buliding and meet at the park!

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Yeah! Sell the church buliding and meet at the park!

  • helen

    Kevin Sam @ 40

    Nice of the RC to advertise for you!
    Do you coordinate service times?

    What do you do with “the bundle”?
    Just asking…. :)

  • helen

    Kevin Sam @ 40

    Nice of the RC to advertise for you!
    Do you coordinate service times?

    What do you do with “the bundle”?
    Just asking…. :)

  • helen

    Booklover @ 36
    We still have all those… maybe even natural acoustics, altho I’ve never heard that given a chance.
    But the rest, yes. And I know it’s not usual in newer churches…. or in gutted old ones.

    I am thankful.

    SteveMartin @ 36
    It’s hot out there!

    G’nite now!

  • helen

    Booklover @ 36
    We still have all those… maybe even natural acoustics, altho I’ve never heard that given a chance.
    But the rest, yes. And I know it’s not usual in newer churches…. or in gutted old ones.

    I am thankful.

    SteveMartin @ 36
    It’s hot out there!

    G’nite now!

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    “Natural acoustics”

    Another retronym!

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    “Natural acoustics”

    Another retronym!

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Oh… By the way….
    The new blog banner is awesome!

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Oh… By the way….
    The new blog banner is awesome!

  • Mike Baker

    Just a guess: I would imagine steeples were a way to easily identify the location of the church since it was high above the rest of the town, trees, etc.

    Based on that guess, I would suppose that a world of skyscrapers, highrises, and mapquest has little use for them.

    I would also say that I seem to remember quite a few news reports about churches receiving noise complaints over their bells. That could also be part of the reason.

    …but I love them anyway. :P

  • Mike Baker

    Just a guess: I would imagine steeples were a way to easily identify the location of the church since it was high above the rest of the town, trees, etc.

    Based on that guess, I would suppose that a world of skyscrapers, highrises, and mapquest has little use for them.

    I would also say that I seem to remember quite a few news reports about churches receiving noise complaints over their bells. That could also be part of the reason.

    …but I love them anyway. :P

  • http://newepistles.com Kevin Sam

    Helen @42
    haha…I wish there was a bundle. Any savings just goes toward the deficit.

  • http://newepistles.com Kevin Sam

    Helen @42
    haha…I wish there was a bundle. Any savings just goes toward the deficit.

  • Pr. D. Bestul

    The sanctuary says more about the doctrinal mind, heart and soul of a congregation than the clothes we wear says about us. The external IS, more often than not, and extension of the internal. Style an extension of substance.

  • Pr. D. Bestul

    The sanctuary says more about the doctrinal mind, heart and soul of a congregation than the clothes we wear says about us. The external IS, more often than not, and extension of the internal. Style an extension of substance.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    This is a very interesting conversation that I blogged about a while back. While it is correct to say that Christianity is not tied to a particular architecture, it is also correct to say that the architecture we choose reflects our values. Not only are the outsides of our churches different, but so are the insides. What does it say when we have replaced permanent stone and glass and wood with entirely plastic “worship sets” that change from week to week (or series to series)?

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    This is a very interesting conversation that I blogged about a while back. While it is correct to say that Christianity is not tied to a particular architecture, it is also correct to say that the architecture we choose reflects our values. Not only are the outsides of our churches different, but so are the insides. What does it say when we have replaced permanent stone and glass and wood with entirely plastic “worship sets” that change from week to week (or series to series)?

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    I too rue the loss of significant church architecture that speaks to the transcendent (see my earlier comment in this thread). There is much that is lost in an unthinking abandonment of our past . At the same time, we all need to deal with this fact: for the better part of three full centuries, the church had NO BUILDINGS, no architecture, and certainly, no steeples.

    I think the good brother’s (Pr. D. Bestul) comment that “The sanctuary says more about the doctrinal mind, heart and soul of a congregation than the clothes we wear says about us. The external IS, more often than not, and extension of the internal. Style an extension of substance” is almost completely nonsense.

    What of Jesus’ emphasis on the heart over form, of Paul’s prediction that the day would come when some would have the “form without the power?”

    Clearly, there is way too much emphasis on style in this generation, but the brother goes too far in his comment. Ironically, what he says is more appropriate to what we wear, (the opposite of his point). In an age where self-expression seems to be more important than Christ-expression, we might do well to think through what we wear. Are we more interested in expressing ourselves or as Christ-followers, do we think thru what are dress says about Christ, the hope of glory.

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    I too rue the loss of significant church architecture that speaks to the transcendent (see my earlier comment in this thread). There is much that is lost in an unthinking abandonment of our past . At the same time, we all need to deal with this fact: for the better part of three full centuries, the church had NO BUILDINGS, no architecture, and certainly, no steeples.

    I think the good brother’s (Pr. D. Bestul) comment that “The sanctuary says more about the doctrinal mind, heart and soul of a congregation than the clothes we wear says about us. The external IS, more often than not, and extension of the internal. Style an extension of substance” is almost completely nonsense.

    What of Jesus’ emphasis on the heart over form, of Paul’s prediction that the day would come when some would have the “form without the power?”

    Clearly, there is way too much emphasis on style in this generation, but the brother goes too far in his comment. Ironically, what he says is more appropriate to what we wear, (the opposite of his point). In an age where self-expression seems to be more important than Christ-expression, we might do well to think through what we wear. Are we more interested in expressing ourselves or as Christ-followers, do we think thru what are dress says about Christ, the hope of glory.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    marty @ 49

    is it in fact a fact that the church for the first 300 years had no buildings? my understanding is that “house church” was not a small group on sofas in someone´s living room but was instead a sanctuary built by a wealthier member as an addition to a house, with an altar and all. some of the earliest (1st century) paintings of worship in the roman catecombs indeed show an altar , vestments, etc. very formal worship. and of course before that, the worship was in synagogues from which came, directly, the earlier forms of gregorian chants and psalm chanting.

    Chalcedon was around 325? Hard to imagine there were no church buildings etc….

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    marty @ 49

    is it in fact a fact that the church for the first 300 years had no buildings? my understanding is that “house church” was not a small group on sofas in someone´s living room but was instead a sanctuary built by a wealthier member as an addition to a house, with an altar and all. some of the earliest (1st century) paintings of worship in the roman catecombs indeed show an altar , vestments, etc. very formal worship. and of course before that, the worship was in synagogues from which came, directly, the earlier forms of gregorian chants and psalm chanting.

    Chalcedon was around 325? Hard to imagine there were no church buildings etc….

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Wikipedia: The earliest surviving Christian art comes from the late 2nd to early 4th centuries on the walls of tombs belonging, most likely, to wealthy [2] Christians in the catacombs of Rome …

    [2] The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400 by Ramsay MacMullen, The Society of Biblical Literature, 2009

    As an ancient history major with a minor in Greek, I can assure you that your understanding of catacomb art is mistaken. There is zero evidence of what you purport before Constantine. Our buildings and architecture, our school and seminaries, our parachurch ministries and publishing houses are only possible in a free and prosperous society. House churches like you describe did exist for a short period, but very quickly disappeared as changes under Constantine, giving the church more freedom and greater cultural power, changed the world forever.

    see the new book on Constantine by Paul Stephenson
    http://www.amazon.com/Constantine-Roman-Emperor-Christian-Victor/product-reviews/1590203240/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_5?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addFiveStar

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Wikipedia: The earliest surviving Christian art comes from the late 2nd to early 4th centuries on the walls of tombs belonging, most likely, to wealthy [2] Christians in the catacombs of Rome …

    [2] The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400 by Ramsay MacMullen, The Society of Biblical Literature, 2009

    As an ancient history major with a minor in Greek, I can assure you that your understanding of catacomb art is mistaken. There is zero evidence of what you purport before Constantine. Our buildings and architecture, our school and seminaries, our parachurch ministries and publishing houses are only possible in a free and prosperous society. House churches like you describe did exist for a short period, but very quickly disappeared as changes under Constantine, giving the church more freedom and greater cultural power, changed the world forever.

    see the new book on Constantine by Paul Stephenson
    http://www.amazon.com/Constantine-Roman-Emperor-Christian-Victor/product-reviews/1590203240/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_5?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addFiveStar

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Oh, and Chalcedon was A.D. 451.

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Oh, and Chalcedon was A.D. 451.

  • Booklover

    I think there is much truth to the comment “Style is the extension of substance.” People put effort (and money) into the style of things that they care about. It is more than a little odd when a church member must have the largest home with the latest trimmings and the most expensive landscape, yet thinks nothing of decorating his or her bland church with temporary trinkets.

    I was in one of those nondescript churches helping my piano student move the piano in front of her church. It was a heavy job so I leaned against what I thought was the communion rail. It gave way, causing a dreadful fall, because it was just a light white plastic removable temporary (cheap) section of railing. As I think back, the cheap railing section was a prime example of style being the extension of substance. It spoke to what they believed about communion.

    When we decide what to offer in our worship, do we give pure nard as the woman did in anointing Jesus’ feet? Or do we make it commonplace?

  • Booklover

    I think there is much truth to the comment “Style is the extension of substance.” People put effort (and money) into the style of things that they care about. It is more than a little odd when a church member must have the largest home with the latest trimmings and the most expensive landscape, yet thinks nothing of decorating his or her bland church with temporary trinkets.

    I was in one of those nondescript churches helping my piano student move the piano in front of her church. It was a heavy job so I leaned against what I thought was the communion rail. It gave way, causing a dreadful fall, because it was just a light white plastic removable temporary (cheap) section of railing. As I think back, the cheap railing section was a prime example of style being the extension of substance. It spoke to what they believed about communion.

    When we decide what to offer in our worship, do we give pure nard as the woman did in anointing Jesus’ feet? Or do we make it commonplace?

  • larry

    I think the larger point can be missed. It’s not so much, “oh no there go the steeples”, but the underlying doctrine, what is preached, taught and confessed. In our former denom. and in this area, visit you will see it first hand, the rough edges of the Gospel are taken off in order to appeal but behind it ALREADY is the loss of the Gospel. And I don’t mean “it’s still there a little bit”, I mean GONE utterly.
    Then practically paralleling this is the change in the various external forms. There’s nothing “magical” about the forms, like the steeple, but the mindset behind it is already there. This of course has nothing to do with “poor churches” and other cultures whose architecture varies even with true doctrine.

    The lament is not, “there go the steeples”, but there goes the Word.

    I could tour anyone in our region and point these places out to you by the dozens. One I pass by work every single day, its advertisement, its hook is “unchurched”, “untraditional”, “unreligious”, “unfearfull”, you get the point. And these are no longer “fringe” as they once were here in the bible belt South, they are main stream. And I’ve been in some of them in my former denom. so I know what is preached, taught and confessed within first hand, its not like looking from the outside and guessing. I’ve had intimate connection in the past with such. I’ve seen more than one seminary graduate from a SB seminary come in to an old SB church like a bull in a China shop, must up around himself enough support from those who “catch his vision” to then either make the older folks and leaders submit or leave, all in the name of “outreach”. If you oppose you will immediately be accused of “not loving the lost”. And that usually shuts most people up because whose heart is pure there anyway? It’s like telling a man he has no opinion on things because he must think about other women occasionally or get angry occasionally and thus hate every one. It’s a very effect guilt maneuver to shut one up.

    The doctrine goes almost immediately then follows the “catchem” building projects that get laid out and executed. I’ve seen it so much I could practically write one a scope of work to execute. First, they’ll build consensus for the “vision” to of course “reach the lost”, this they do to oust anyone or thing in their way, especially the elderly among them who they see as merely a pew sitting waste of time. Once they have voting power within the given church structure, then the building plans. A new building with a less “churchy” look, then different interior designs. A lot of times today they do away with the baptismal pool in the back for a more portable unit. Don’t want to show baptism too much that would “churchy” and “religious”, might scare somebody away. They’ll move out their old wooden pews that are perfectly in good shape, for padded folding chairs. Why? Looks less churchy and religious and one can, real story, real strategy, remove chairs every Sunday as the church fills up so that when service takes place one maximizes the visual evidence that the church is packed and in need of more funding and growing. One must create the illusion of growth, the 70% rule. It creates a delusion of need for $$$ and an excitement that, “finally we are growing”. No I am NOT kidding. Then the outreach programs basketball, upward this or that, etc…all sorts of things to get their tentacles into people, especially kids.

    Someone mentioned money. This is not some poor 12 person up start of a true orthodox house church, nor is this in some poor nation or other culture. Great volumes of any given churches monies are spent revamping perfectly good buildings, structures, pews, etc… The new “pastor” will rake in on average at a small church 75K and will nearly bankrupt the small unsuspecting church. If money is the issue then SPENDING tons of church money to rid the church of its appearance for another appearance is HARDLY financially wise (e.g. why throw out perfectly good pews for folding chairs if money is tight. When my money is tight I don’t buy a new car when the old one is working just fine).

    One should not miss the larger picture here; Satan works to keep people from the Gospel and the true doctrine by calling them to these false churches and thus false doctrines so he can burn them out later in life and make WONDERFUL atheist and agnostics of them. These false churches are the incubators of secularism, not Christianity! NOTHING will burn a man or woman out quicker on the “church” than “just one more try” at another gospelless church that pretends to be Gospel and biblical and doctrinal, draining their souls one more time. This is PRECISELY how functional baptized agnostics and atheist are made. This is how the despairing and angry at the “church” are made. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, family, friends, you name it. I’ve seen people burn out or leave the church, surrounded by these “new measures” and “new excitements” that I never in a million years thought would, models at one time to me. The shock of this I cannot really express in words.

    The SB south has already become the new “burnt over region” and is growing as such that happened once under the demonic leadership of Finney. The thing about these “new waves” of excitement is that it is so impersonal that one always has some people presently excited about it a moving it along while the older burn outs finally catch on and burn out and become, ironically, the next group to kick out by the new wave. It takes on its own life chewing through people. Suddenly one finds themselves victim of what one partook of themselves just a mere few years ago. The ones previously excited become the new burn out, replaced and promptly kicked aside. If you once said to someone, “you must not love the lost” to “motivate” or else someone, now you are the one HEARING it from someone else.

    Thus, the issue is not “Oh no there goes another steeple”. The steeple or other architecture, structure, etc… is merely the outward expression of the hellish false doctrinal work going on within killing the doctrine or what’s left of it, killing the Word and the sacraments. One can be in one of the churches above forever AS A MEMBER and never once get baptized. If one despise the Word and sacrament one can expect a coffee shop, folding chairs, stages, no pulpit and a speaker/motivator disguised as a preacher dishing out the devil’s doctrine very soon.

  • larry

    I think the larger point can be missed. It’s not so much, “oh no there go the steeples”, but the underlying doctrine, what is preached, taught and confessed. In our former denom. and in this area, visit you will see it first hand, the rough edges of the Gospel are taken off in order to appeal but behind it ALREADY is the loss of the Gospel. And I don’t mean “it’s still there a little bit”, I mean GONE utterly.
    Then practically paralleling this is the change in the various external forms. There’s nothing “magical” about the forms, like the steeple, but the mindset behind it is already there. This of course has nothing to do with “poor churches” and other cultures whose architecture varies even with true doctrine.

    The lament is not, “there go the steeples”, but there goes the Word.

    I could tour anyone in our region and point these places out to you by the dozens. One I pass by work every single day, its advertisement, its hook is “unchurched”, “untraditional”, “unreligious”, “unfearfull”, you get the point. And these are no longer “fringe” as they once were here in the bible belt South, they are main stream. And I’ve been in some of them in my former denom. so I know what is preached, taught and confessed within first hand, its not like looking from the outside and guessing. I’ve had intimate connection in the past with such. I’ve seen more than one seminary graduate from a SB seminary come in to an old SB church like a bull in a China shop, must up around himself enough support from those who “catch his vision” to then either make the older folks and leaders submit or leave, all in the name of “outreach”. If you oppose you will immediately be accused of “not loving the lost”. And that usually shuts most people up because whose heart is pure there anyway? It’s like telling a man he has no opinion on things because he must think about other women occasionally or get angry occasionally and thus hate every one. It’s a very effect guilt maneuver to shut one up.

    The doctrine goes almost immediately then follows the “catchem” building projects that get laid out and executed. I’ve seen it so much I could practically write one a scope of work to execute. First, they’ll build consensus for the “vision” to of course “reach the lost”, this they do to oust anyone or thing in their way, especially the elderly among them who they see as merely a pew sitting waste of time. Once they have voting power within the given church structure, then the building plans. A new building with a less “churchy” look, then different interior designs. A lot of times today they do away with the baptismal pool in the back for a more portable unit. Don’t want to show baptism too much that would “churchy” and “religious”, might scare somebody away. They’ll move out their old wooden pews that are perfectly in good shape, for padded folding chairs. Why? Looks less churchy and religious and one can, real story, real strategy, remove chairs every Sunday as the church fills up so that when service takes place one maximizes the visual evidence that the church is packed and in need of more funding and growing. One must create the illusion of growth, the 70% rule. It creates a delusion of need for $$$ and an excitement that, “finally we are growing”. No I am NOT kidding. Then the outreach programs basketball, upward this or that, etc…all sorts of things to get their tentacles into people, especially kids.

    Someone mentioned money. This is not some poor 12 person up start of a true orthodox house church, nor is this in some poor nation or other culture. Great volumes of any given churches monies are spent revamping perfectly good buildings, structures, pews, etc… The new “pastor” will rake in on average at a small church 75K and will nearly bankrupt the small unsuspecting church. If money is the issue then SPENDING tons of church money to rid the church of its appearance for another appearance is HARDLY financially wise (e.g. why throw out perfectly good pews for folding chairs if money is tight. When my money is tight I don’t buy a new car when the old one is working just fine).

    One should not miss the larger picture here; Satan works to keep people from the Gospel and the true doctrine by calling them to these false churches and thus false doctrines so he can burn them out later in life and make WONDERFUL atheist and agnostics of them. These false churches are the incubators of secularism, not Christianity! NOTHING will burn a man or woman out quicker on the “church” than “just one more try” at another gospelless church that pretends to be Gospel and biblical and doctrinal, draining their souls one more time. This is PRECISELY how functional baptized agnostics and atheist are made. This is how the despairing and angry at the “church” are made. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, family, friends, you name it. I’ve seen people burn out or leave the church, surrounded by these “new measures” and “new excitements” that I never in a million years thought would, models at one time to me. The shock of this I cannot really express in words.

    The SB south has already become the new “burnt over region” and is growing as such that happened once under the demonic leadership of Finney. The thing about these “new waves” of excitement is that it is so impersonal that one always has some people presently excited about it a moving it along while the older burn outs finally catch on and burn out and become, ironically, the next group to kick out by the new wave. It takes on its own life chewing through people. Suddenly one finds themselves victim of what one partook of themselves just a mere few years ago. The ones previously excited become the new burn out, replaced and promptly kicked aside. If you once said to someone, “you must not love the lost” to “motivate” or else someone, now you are the one HEARING it from someone else.

    Thus, the issue is not “Oh no there goes another steeple”. The steeple or other architecture, structure, etc… is merely the outward expression of the hellish false doctrinal work going on within killing the doctrine or what’s left of it, killing the Word and the sacraments. One can be in one of the churches above forever AS A MEMBER and never once get baptized. If one despise the Word and sacrament one can expect a coffee shop, folding chairs, stages, no pulpit and a speaker/motivator disguised as a preacher dishing out the devil’s doctrine very soon.

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Wow. Who would have “thunk” that a relatively simple post on steeples would create so much heat! Gene, you really got Larry worked up.

    Larry, brother I hear your passion but don’t you think it is going a bit far to call all of these architecture-less, pew-less, stage-present groups “false churches”? All of them?

    Can’t we have real focus on substantive doctrinal integrity and minimal “familiar church” forms? Does it have to be either/or? Do we really KNOW the motives of all those who promote reaching the lost as the reason for change? Do we KNOW that ALL of them are trying to guilt dissenters from their midst? Is it possible for a pastor to be a dynamic speaker AND doctrinally sound and substantive?

    I think a blanket dismissal of all these trends is unwise while yours and Gene’s larger point I think are worth pondering? What do we lose as we abandon the old for the new?

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr.

    Wow. Who would have “thunk” that a relatively simple post on steeples would create so much heat! Gene, you really got Larry worked up.

    Larry, brother I hear your passion but don’t you think it is going a bit far to call all of these architecture-less, pew-less, stage-present groups “false churches”? All of them?

    Can’t we have real focus on substantive doctrinal integrity and minimal “familiar church” forms? Does it have to be either/or? Do we really KNOW the motives of all those who promote reaching the lost as the reason for change? Do we KNOW that ALL of them are trying to guilt dissenters from their midst? Is it possible for a pastor to be a dynamic speaker AND doctrinally sound and substantive?

    I think a blanket dismissal of all these trends is unwise while yours and Gene’s larger point I think are worth pondering? What do we lose as we abandon the old for the new?

  • larry

    Marty,

    I don’t get “worked up”, that’s really not my personality. But I do speak seriously, honestly and frankly. No it is not reach at all. I’ve been in these churches, seen the damage they do, the people they drive out, drive despair, etc…

    Keep in mind here I’m not impugning the people, in fact if you carefully read I’m defending the ones actually hurt by this within, and yes what they are driven away from Christ by is false to the hilt. And I do not speak as one who has sat on the sidelines or some Monday night quarter back but one who was involved. I could give you first and verifiable second hand actual stories. In fact everything I mentioned before really happened. And very close friend’s of mine, pastor’s of the SB church, good ones, could verify the same thing and themselves heard story of this kind after story of this kind.

    While you may see it as a simple architecture issue, that is not at all what it is. To see it as such is to be blind at the devastation it is causing. I could easily expand true events of what I’ve said, so could my friends. I’ve actually been in these situations and denominations, actually actively involved, actually there.

    Again, and I’d hope that you would hear this correctly, it is not about the architecture, etc…but why such changes. Which I went to great length to explain. And if you don’t believe me, go attend some for a few years, sit under their preaching, teaching and confession. Do so not as a theological observer, but start to believe what they preach, teach and confess, then come back if you are not persuaded by it and tell me how it is not false. Let your soul starve to death under this for a while, then come back and convince me “it’s not that bad”. Now I say that knowing full well that you cannot because if you actually begin to believe it, then you will either despair or be fooled by it. That’s the difference about actually “believing a thing” such that one is “in” it and analyzing it from the safety of one’s position otherwise.

    Yes, they become completely without the Gospel. I’m not speaking about the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in the broad confessional sense (e.g. BoC versus Baptist Faith and Message). Rather what happens within such a church, and it’s a plague in many. They throw out what remnant true Gospel and word was even there at all even within the context of “heterodoxy” so that after they are done they no longer even confess, teach or preach even THAT. That’s why you can have membership in a church claiming to be X denomination and yet never once be baptized. Sermon after sermon is nothing but “do this and that” for growth, SS after SS same thing, Wednesday nights, same thing. It becomes at length ALL consuming the entire message.

    It is a GREAT error to presume that there is some Word left in these “churches”, they have become de facto cults and false in the most complete since. Again, this is not against the poor suffering people that got overwhelmed by such movements, for they GOT OVERWHELMED BY IT, and don’t know what to do. They are on the outside even while there. They will get labeled if they raise an issue with the new vision.

    My friend’s church, the baptist pastor, solid Gospel, his church is singularly formed by many having to leave from one they were ousted for these very reasons. He sees growth, minor as it may be, from catching as he says, “the refugees from these kinds of churches in the area”. And their stories are the same, not unlike what I’ve outlined above and variations on the theme, broken, despaired, some angry of these utterly gospel-less churches. And that’s what they’d call it, gospel-less. They might not say “false church” because many are terrified to use that very appropriate term, but what is a church that is devoid of the Gospel, and I mean devoid, if not false? And the churches they are coming from are not cult named like Mormons or JWs, they are of the main denominational names.

    So no it is not an over reaction, nor is it nakedly about something as simple as “just architecture”. There are reasons that a perfectly viable structure, external and internal, takes all their money in savings and destroys everything, then rebuilds in the name of “outreach” and “evangelism”. Then produces at length the future agnostics.

  • larry

    Marty,

    I don’t get “worked up”, that’s really not my personality. But I do speak seriously, honestly and frankly. No it is not reach at all. I’ve been in these churches, seen the damage they do, the people they drive out, drive despair, etc…

    Keep in mind here I’m not impugning the people, in fact if you carefully read I’m defending the ones actually hurt by this within, and yes what they are driven away from Christ by is false to the hilt. And I do not speak as one who has sat on the sidelines or some Monday night quarter back but one who was involved. I could give you first and verifiable second hand actual stories. In fact everything I mentioned before really happened. And very close friend’s of mine, pastor’s of the SB church, good ones, could verify the same thing and themselves heard story of this kind after story of this kind.

    While you may see it as a simple architecture issue, that is not at all what it is. To see it as such is to be blind at the devastation it is causing. I could easily expand true events of what I’ve said, so could my friends. I’ve actually been in these situations and denominations, actually actively involved, actually there.

    Again, and I’d hope that you would hear this correctly, it is not about the architecture, etc…but why such changes. Which I went to great length to explain. And if you don’t believe me, go attend some for a few years, sit under their preaching, teaching and confession. Do so not as a theological observer, but start to believe what they preach, teach and confess, then come back if you are not persuaded by it and tell me how it is not false. Let your soul starve to death under this for a while, then come back and convince me “it’s not that bad”. Now I say that knowing full well that you cannot because if you actually begin to believe it, then you will either despair or be fooled by it. That’s the difference about actually “believing a thing” such that one is “in” it and analyzing it from the safety of one’s position otherwise.

    Yes, they become completely without the Gospel. I’m not speaking about the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in the broad confessional sense (e.g. BoC versus Baptist Faith and Message). Rather what happens within such a church, and it’s a plague in many. They throw out what remnant true Gospel and word was even there at all even within the context of “heterodoxy” so that after they are done they no longer even confess, teach or preach even THAT. That’s why you can have membership in a church claiming to be X denomination and yet never once be baptized. Sermon after sermon is nothing but “do this and that” for growth, SS after SS same thing, Wednesday nights, same thing. It becomes at length ALL consuming the entire message.

    It is a GREAT error to presume that there is some Word left in these “churches”, they have become de facto cults and false in the most complete since. Again, this is not against the poor suffering people that got overwhelmed by such movements, for they GOT OVERWHELMED BY IT, and don’t know what to do. They are on the outside even while there. They will get labeled if they raise an issue with the new vision.

    My friend’s church, the baptist pastor, solid Gospel, his church is singularly formed by many having to leave from one they were ousted for these very reasons. He sees growth, minor as it may be, from catching as he says, “the refugees from these kinds of churches in the area”. And their stories are the same, not unlike what I’ve outlined above and variations on the theme, broken, despaired, some angry of these utterly gospel-less churches. And that’s what they’d call it, gospel-less. They might not say “false church” because many are terrified to use that very appropriate term, but what is a church that is devoid of the Gospel, and I mean devoid, if not false? And the churches they are coming from are not cult named like Mormons or JWs, they are of the main denominational names.

    So no it is not an over reaction, nor is it nakedly about something as simple as “just architecture”. There are reasons that a perfectly viable structure, external and internal, takes all their money in savings and destroys everything, then rebuilds in the name of “outreach” and “evangelism”. Then produces at length the future agnostics.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    @SKPeterson… Just now now noticed you are a labbie “cousin” at ORNL. Good to know I’m not the only one here.

    My wife keeps bugging me to work on my resume and send it ORNL, because she wants to live closer to family. The weird thing is, it’s MY family (a sister) that she wants to be closer to…. I dunno.. I love it here in Los Alamos. But, we’ll see.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    @SKPeterson… Just now now noticed you are a labbie “cousin” at ORNL. Good to know I’m not the only one here.

    My wife keeps bugging me to work on my resume and send it ORNL, because she wants to live closer to family. The weird thing is, it’s MY family (a sister) that she wants to be closer to…. I dunno.. I love it here in Los Alamos. But, we’ll see.

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