Formations 10.13.2019: Where We Worship

Wells Cathedral, Somerset, England.

2 Chronicles 3:3-17

In college, I served as a summer missionary in Colorado. Our orientation was held at a Baptist camp that was almost literally in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. Whenever I hear people say that they can worship God in the beauty of a natural setting, I remember doing my personal devotions with a Bible, a journal, and a stunning Colorado sunrise, and I know exactly what they mean.

It took me a while to figure this out, but I’ve come to realize that the same thing is true when the beauty is something of human creation. I grew up in a tradition that disdained the idea of too much finery and ostentation in a church’s worship space, and there is definitely something to be said for simplicity in a church’s adornments.

I’ll freely admit that some churches spend far too much on the appointments of their sanctuaries relative to what they spend helping the needy or evangelizing the world. According to an apocryphal story, when Saint Francis of Assisi was shown the many opulent works of art at the Vatican, the Pope told him, “Peter can no longer say ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” It’s said that Francis then quipped, “Neither can he say, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’”

And yet despite the occasional excesses, we all know what it’s like to be struck by the beauty of a painting or an example of expert craftsmanship. Beauty really can inspire worship: the beauty of a sunrise, the beauty of a stained-glass window, the beauty of banners and paraments, the beauty of an ornamented altar Bible, and the beauty of impressive architecture. And that shouldn’t surprise us, either. If we learn anything from the early chapters of Genesis, it’s that God loves to create beautiful things, and that all of us are created in God’s image.

Today’s passage recounts the dimensions of the temple as well as the extravagance of its adornments. The temple is made of the finest materials: cypress wood, gold, precious stones, luxurious textiles, and elegant statuary in the form of the cherubim on the walls and in the most holy place.

An old Christian maxim says, “Lex orandi, lex credendi” or “The law of prayer is the law of belief.” Worship guru Robert Webber used to paraphrase that sentiment as: “You show me how you worship, and I’ll tell you what you believe.” Stingy symbols? Stingy God! Lavish, beautiful symbols? Lavish, beautiful God!

As we explore the finery of Solomon’s temple, that’s something to keep in mind.

Discussion

• What does Solomon’s concern for the finery of the temple reveal about his relationship with God?
• What does the way we decorate our worship spaces say about our theology?
• Is it possible to worship an extravagant God through scanty symbols? Is it desirable? Explain.

Reference Shelf

Solomon’s Temple

When one mentions the Temple in reference to the OT, the Solomonic Temple and its successors immediately come to mind. Unfortunately no architectural remains of the Solomonic Temple have been recovered. Surely any such remains, both of the platform and structures, lie buried beneath the later larger Herodian platform that forms the foundation of the present Haram es-Sharif, the Dome of the Rock, and the al-Aqsa Mosque. However, a rather detailed description of the Temple is provided in 1 Kgs 6–8 and 2 Chr 2–4. Solomon extended the city of Jerusalem northward and built his Temple palace complex on this northern part of Ophel or Mount Zion….

The description of this Temple suggests that much like Egyptian and Mesopotamian temples, the Israelite Temple was understood as the dwelling place of their God, Yahweh. Since it is commonly called bet Yahweh [“house of Yahweh”], it is not surprising to find the stylized house plan: the hekal [the temple proper] paralleled the courtyard and public portions of a house, while the debir [the holy of holies] paralleled the back room, the family quarters, also like the Egyptian temples, the art work suggests that the Temple represented Israel or the earth in microcosm. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the presence of Yahweh in the midst of his people and by its very name reminded the people of the covenantal basis of their relationship to Yahweh.

Joel F. Drinkard Jr., “Temple/Temples,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 879.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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