Early in Christian history, believers met for worship and for teaching in homes. We find evidence of this in the New Testament in places such as 1 Corinthians 16:19, where Paul shares greetings from “Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house.” Later, during the Roman persecutions of the church, Christians would often meet for worship in the catacombs of Rome. Eventually, the growth of the church and the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire meant that more and more dedicated Christian sanctuaries were built. In the medieval period, Gothic cathedrals were routinely constructed throughout Europe. The Puritans favored plainer buildings, and today we can find new churches meeting in movie theaters or school auditoriums until they raise enough funds to build their own buildings.
Christians have worshiped in many different places and structures, and it is not hard to figure out why. After all, Jesus tells us in John 4:21–23 that there is not only one ordained place for new covenant worship. Moreover, the doctrine of God’s omnipresence, taught in places such as Psalm 139:7, helps us understand that there are a wide variety of places where we can worship the Lord. If God is everywhere, then in the final analysis, we can worship Him anywhere.
It is interesting, however, that although God can be worshiped anywhere, believers have been almost invariably driven to build dedicated meeting spaces for worship when they have been able to do so. The notion of sacred space is hard to escape because we know that in worship we are entering into the very presence of God. We are, as it were, joining in heaven with the angels and with the saints who have gone before us to praise our Creator (Heb. 12:18–24). Christians have built worship sanctuaries to mark out a space separate from the world as an indication of that heavenly reality.
And, as architecture is an art form, churches have been built to communicate truths about God. Lofty ceilings in Gothic cathedrals, for example, convey a sense of the transcendence of the Lord. Many churches have been built in the shape of the cross, for it is only in the shadow of our Savior’s atoning death that we can have access to our Creator’s presence. No matter how we build our sanctuaries, they will convey something about God to the people gathered there. May these buildings convey what is true, good, and beautiful.