The following was delivered as the Solemn Charge and Exhortation to Theopolis students beginning the Easter term course on Architecture and Liturgical Space.
As we will be reminded repeatedly throughout the week, the Bible has a lot to say about building and buildings. Long stretches of Exodus, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezekiel are verbal blueprints, and the rest of the Bible assumes we know our way round those houses.
Buildings are real things. The God who shows His interest in time by revealing a chronology shows His interest in space by revealing building plans. God organized space from the beginning – heaven, earth, sea; garden, land, world. The patterns in the space we inhabit together as families, neighborhoods and towns, churches are not matters of indifference to the God who created it. As Ken Myers likes to say, matter matters, and how we arrange matter in space matters.
Scripture’s architectural theology expands typologically and morally. Churches meet in buildings, and they are buildings, temples of the living God inhabited by the Spirit who consecrates us. As Jim Jordan frequently points out, the architectural revelation of the Bible symbolizes our lives together. Churches need to open gates to welcome strangers, but also gatekeepers to police the doors. Christians need to walk in straight lines, imitating the geometrical precision of a well-made house. The church needs to be purified again and again, since our life together is a continuous housecleaning.
Those of us who are leaders of the church are to take the lead in building and maintaining God’s house. Paul describes himself as a wise master-builder, a new Bezalel, made skillful by the Spirit to build God’s temple. We have to choose our building materials wisely, so that the house doesn’t get consumed. We have keys to open and close gates, admitting and excluding.
Each of us individually a house, each a temple of the Spirit, and therefore each called to guard the doors and windows, to take out the trash, to beautify. The Spirit equips us to “edify” (oikodomeo) one another – an architectural metaphor.
Blueprints are inescapable. God showed Moses the pattern for the tabernacle, which Moses replicated at the foot of Sinai. Yahweh stirred David’s spirit to write down the pattern for the temple that he delivered to Solomon. Ezekiel saw a visionary temple that guided the restoration community, and John saw new Jerusalem descending from heaven. Everyone works from a blueprint, a vision of a finished product, an image of the world we aspire to build and live in. If we are to build well, we have to be sure that we’re using the right blueprints.
During the coming week, you’ll be exposed to stunningly beautiful examples of Christian architecture and you’ll be challenged to think in fresh ways about what the Scriptures have to say about the organization of space.
These are not minor concerns, but Scripture makes clear that the key to the success of every building project is faithfulness to God, the Architect of all things. Success requires skill, knowledge and vision. As you’re dazzled this week, remember that successful building also demands that we guard and do the commandments of God, that we know and serve our Father with a heart drunk with joy in Him.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis.