We visited a different denomination church today - the Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church. It was a new experience.
The order of service was almost the same except for the Holy Communion and Parish Notice happening right after Praise and Worship and before the sermon. There were no bulletins to refer to and I wasn't used not knowing what's going to happen next.
The church set up was different, i.e. not the traditional set up: it does not have a cross or an altar. The language used was also different: the sanctuary is called an auditorium and the pastor spoke about invoking Jesus in our lives. I didn't realise but now that I checked the bible and the word invoke is used in translation. I am just not used to it though. For me, when the word invoke is used, it carries the picture and flavour of calling upon the powers of magic. I don't know - I may have a wrong conception over this in the first place.
I can now tell how "traditional" I am when it comes to these things. I think I should feel more at ease in an Anglican or Orthodox church.
Eversince Rev Gan Meng Tee - who used to be our pastor, now serving the Lord in Melbourne, Australia - introduced me to church architecture a few years ago, I became quite intrigued by it. I have since learnt that a church should have an apse, altar, sanctuary, chancel, transept, pulpit, lectern, nave and narthex. Not all would agree with me I am sure, but there are theological reasons why old churches and cathedrals are built the way they do. I believe that traiditional church architeture has its theological background and practical purposes as well, which in my opinion should be preferred compared to the modern fan-style auditorium set up.
Apse: the rounded alcove behind the altar. This is where the cross is place and where our worship should centre, i.e. upon God. Churches which do not have a cross at the front believes that with God being omnipresent, it does not matter where we direct our worship to. Moreover, some of them believe that by having a cross hung at the front may encourage idolatry. To me, the cross is a symbol of God's love and sacrifice for us. At any moment in my service that I am selfishly aware and conscious of myself, I look to the cross to remind myself that I am not my own.
Altar: the ceremonial table at which the Eucharist or Holy Communion is celebrated. In the Methodist churches however, the altar is where the collection is placed as an offering to God, in line with the OT sacrifices and offerings, while the Holy Communion cup and bread is placed on another table in front of the altar at the chancel. These items are holy, separated for the Lord's use. It is not that they are powerful or "magical" so to speak, but they are set aside for the Lord's use only and for no other purposes. There are those who abuse the tables and the communion railings.
Sanctuary: the front part of the church from which the service is conducted, as distinct from the nave, where the congregation sits. In the more modern traditional churches however, the term ‘sanctuary’ is often used to mean both chancel and nave because the two are not architecturally distinct.
Chancel: the front part of the church from where the service is conducted, as distinct from the nave. The chancel is usually an elevated platform, usually three steps up from the nave. There are churches where the pastors would not allow anything other than teaching and preaching, leading hymns and songs to be held in the chancel. In some churches, the chancel is usually called the stage, which I felt it should not. The worship of God should not be reduced to a show or presentation or entertainment. After all, a stage is where presentations are staged.
Transept: back then, they had require an increased space near the chancel to accommodate the large numbers of clergy, choirs, or members of religious orders. The result was a space between the chancel and the nave that extends beyond the side walls, giving the church a cruciform floorplan, i.e. the shape of a cross viewed from above. The center of the transept is called the crossing, the area connecting the nave to the chancel. The ushers act as priests of God, bringing in the offering of the people, crossing over from the nave to the chancel to be placed on the altar.
Pulpit: in the more traditional churches, there are two speaker’s stands in the front of the church. The one on the left, as viewed by the congregation is called the pulpit. It is used by clergy to read the gospel and preach the sermon. It is placed in at the side because the focus and centre of worship is still God, hence, where the apse and the altar are placed. Once I was worship leading standing in the center of the chancel. The pastor had to advise us against it and since then we were more aware of it. In the modern auditorium churches, the clergy and laity would usually take centerstage, and in most instances, there is no pulpit. The preacher would use a cordless mic and move about as he speaks.
Lectern: the stand on the right from which readings or parish notices are given. The word lectern comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to read,’ because the lectern primarily functions as a reading stand. It is used by lay people to read the scripture lessons, to lead the congregation in prayer, and to make announcements. The differentiation is given because of the importance of the word of God to the people that the pulpit has to be separated from the other readings and announcements.
Nave: the main body of the church, where the congregation sits and gathers for worship, as opposed to the front part of the church from which the service is led.
Narthex: the historic term for what might otherwise be called the foyer or entry way of the church.
With all these, I felt that church architecture plays an important role in worship and service. It is also practical for the purpose of Holy Communion and coming forward to be prayed for. It requires us to physically go to God and not sit where we are and let God come to us, particularly during the Holy Communion. It is the coming together of the body of Christ, communing and remembering Jesus who gave us his body and his blood for our salvation.
Ten Myths of Contemporary Church Architecture
How Church Architecture Affects Lord’s Supper Practices