A recent newspaper profile of Elevation Church, a megachurch located in Charlotte, North Carolina, led some readers to ask why the church uses an orange inverted-V logo instead of the traditional cross (the church responded by saying, “Our logo represents the resurrection of Christ”).
Elevation isn’t alone in making such radical changes. Many modern congregations have abandoned or modified design features that have historically been associated with churches. Here are nine things you should know about traditional (mostly Protestant) church architecture:
1. Steeple — The addition of a steeple to a church often had three functions. First, vertical lines of the steeple helped to visually enhance the lines of the church, directing the viewers’ eyes vertically to the heavens. Second, steeples gave church buildings—which were usually short and squat—an aesthetically pleasing feature that enhanced the harmony of the design. Third, steeples were often the highest architectural feature in an area, which provided a landmark for people to find the church from any part of town.
2. Church bells — Located within the steeple, church bells of often served as a communication device for the local townspeople. The primary purpose of ringing church bells was to signify the time for worshippers to gather for a church service. However, the bells could also used for secular purposes, such as warning people of a fire or an approaching army.
3. Nave – The nave is the central and principal part of a Christian church, extending from the entrance, sometimes called the narthex, to the pulpit area, sometimes called a chancel or presbytery.
4. Chancel — In some church designs, the chancel is the front part of the church from which the service is conducted. The pastor(s) and choir are often located in this areas, usually on a raised dais. In some churches, however, the chancel and the nave area are not architecturally distinct.
5. Baptistry — Until about the 6th century, baptisms were administered in a hall or chapel called a baptistery that was situated close to, or connected with, a church. By the 10th century baptism by affusion (pouring liquid over the head) became a common practice so baptismal fonts often replaced baptisteries. Many churches that practice immersion baptism, such as Baptist churches, have a special baptistry pool that is built into the floor or wall of the chancel area.
6. Altar/Communion Table — The altar is the table in the chancel that the clergy use for Communion. During the Reformation, some people felt that the term “altar” was theologically misleading and began to refer to it as a Communion table. Anglicans decided that both terms were correct, because it is the altar from which we receive the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and because it is the table on which we celebrate Communion. Today, Anglicans and Lutherans generally call it the altar, while churches in other Protestant traditions tend to call it a Communion table.
7. Stained glass windows – The term “stained glass” applies to colored glass made with metallic oxides as well as glass on which colors have been painted and then fused in a kiln. The use of stained glass windows in churches gained popularity during the mid-12th century. The two-fold purpose was to create a “heavenly light” that symbolized the presence of God in the church and to serve as a “Poor man’s Bible,” to teach Biblical stories to those who were illiterate. The use of stained glass fell out of favor during the Reformation, but was revived in the mid-19thcentury when the Gothic style once again became popular in Europe and in the United States.
8. Pulpit – The pulpit is a raised platform or lectern in a church or chapel from which the preacher delivers a sermon. The first reference to a pulpit is found in a letter of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in the mid-3rd century. Until the Reformation, most pulpits were located on the left (as viewed by the congregation) and referred to as the gospel side. During and after the Reformation, the pulpit was repositioned to the center of the sanctuary to emphasize the centrality of God’s Word
9. Cross/Crucifix — Catholic churches use a depiction of the cross (called a crucifix) with an image of the suffering Jesus. In contrast, most Protestant churches tend to use a bare cross to reflect the fact that Jesus overcame his suffering and death and is risen. (Lutheran churches, which sometimes display a crucifix, are a historical exception to this general rule.)
Recent posts in this series:
Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • TGC • Prayer in the Bible • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • C.S. Lewis • Orphans • Halloween and Reformation Day • World Hunger • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 6th Street Baptist Church Bombing • 9/11 Attack Aftermath • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues