Sanctification of the Christian Synagogue: The Historic Reformed View

Calvins geneva pulpit.jpg

Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”

There is a massive misunderstanding today that has crept into the Reformed Church from the Evangelical world that the Church building does not matter. That it is only a building and there is nothing important about it. Therefore we allow all sorts of profane activities to be done within the building. From concerts to business. We have no respect to the building itself. We have literally allowed the money changers that Christ threw out to come back into the worship building of God’s people. We have introduced the Tavern shows into the Christian Synagogue. But all of this is foreign to the Reformed Faith.

A common reaction that many will give is that the church is not the building it is the people of God. And that much is very much true. The word Church comes from Greek word ‘Ecclesia’ which is properly translated as Congregation and it gives a better understanding of the Greek word. The Geneva bible consistently uses the word Congregation in place of the word church. But does that mean that the building does not matter? That the building is not to be sanctified? Far from it! The building of the people of God is properly called a Synagogue (James 2:2) and it is the place where the people of God come to worship the Truine God.

Note: The Historic Reformed Faith follows the Synagogue Model for the Church.
Another reaction is that God is no more present in the Synagogue in anywhere else and that this is not holy ground. Again far from it! This place of worship is to be set apart and sanctified for the Worship of God. And it is Holy ground when we come to worship Him. The Sabbath Day worship is a time when God promises a special presence of Himself among His people. We actually and really sit in the heavenlies when we worship Him on His holy day. This is seen in so many passages but take for example that “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”

Covenanter David Clarkson wrote in Publick Worship to be preferred to Private Worship,

“The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private. God is then glorified by us when we acknowledge that he is glorious. And he is most glorified when this acknowledgment is most public. This is obvious. A public acknowledgment of the worth and excellency of any one tends more to his honour than that which is private or secret. It was more for David’s honour that the multitude did celebrate his victory, 1 Sam. xviii. 7, than if a particular person had acknowledged it only in private. Hence the psalmist, when he would have the glory of God most amply declared, contents not himself with a private acknowledgment, but summons all the earth to praise him, Ps. xcvi. 1-3. Then is the Lord most glorified, when his glory is most declared, and then it is most declared when it is declared by most, by a multitude. David shews the way whereby God may be most glorified, Ps. xxii. 22, 23, 25. Then he appears all glorious when publicly magnified, when he is praised in the great congregation. Then he is most glorified when a multitude speaks of and to his glory: Ps. xxix. 9, ‘In his temple does every one speak of his glory.’ The Lord complains as if he had no honour from his people, when his public worship is despised, neglected: Mal. i. 6, ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour? If I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord God of hosts unto you, O priests that despise my name.’ By name of God here is meant his worship and ordinances, as plainly appears by what follows, ver. 7, 8, 11. And he here expostulates with them as tendering him no honour, because they despised his worship and ordinances. Then shall Christ be most glorified, when he shall be admired in all them that believe, in that great assembly at the last day, 2 Thess. i. 10. And it holds in proportion now; the more there are who join together in praising, admiring, and worshipping him, the more he is glorified: and therefore more in public than in private. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private. He is present with his people in the use of public ordinances in a more especial manner, more effectually, constantly, intimately. For the first, see Exod. xx. 24. After he had given instructions for his public worship, he adds, ‘In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.’ Where I am publicly worshipped, for the name of God is frequently put for the worship of God, I will come; and not empty-handed, I will bless thee: a comprehensive word, including all that is desirable, all that tends to the happiness of those that worship him. Here is the efficacy.”

God is specially present with His people on the Sabbath Day and it truly and really become Holy ground. But even then the Christian Synagogue or worship building is to be set apart and sanctified from all Common use even on other days of the week. It is a place to be set apart for the sole purpose of God and His worship.

Reformer Martin Bucer wrote in De Regno Christi, 1551,

“Chapter X: Reforming the Churches Ceremonies: First, The Hallowing of Church Buildings

Now let us see how the discipline of ceremonies should be reformed in the churches. These, indeed, are the necessary and common ceremonies of all Christians: the blessing of places in which the Christian religion is publicly administered, the sanctifying of seasons, in which the people grow in the Lord and take time for religion; a certain regulation of the ministry of the word, the sacraments, discipline; sacred offerings, and their distribution to the poor.
It is first necessary for Christians to have places appointed for sacred gatherings and forms of worship delivered to them by Christ the Lord, which should be open to no other usages, unless extreme necessity compels this. The Lord taught us this with profound earnestness when he drove from the Temple those who had merely set up the selling of victims in it in order to provide a supply for all the sacrifices, and when he overturned the tables of the money changers, by whom pilgrims were likewise helped to make sacrifices and to offer gifts partly commanded, partly recommended in the law of God (Matt. 21:12-13). But “he did not allow any vessel to be carried through the temple” (Mark 11:16).

On this account the early churches were always kept closed when there was no public worship going on in them unless some necessity of the Christian people demanded otherwise. They went so far as to establish a holy order of clergy, the porters, for this practice, of which the papists retain only the name and the impious mockery of an ordination. For it was their function when worship was publicly going on to be on guard that no unworthy person should mingle in the sacred gathering and that no one should do anything out of harmony with the Christian religion in the holy assembly. After the public presentation of the teaching of the gospel and before the service of the Lord’s Supper began, these men led from the church those ordered by the deacon to depart, first the catechumens, then the penitents; and they kept the service closed while the mysteries were going on. We read such testimonials, partly in the exhortation of bishops to porters at their ordination, partly in Saint Chrysostom’s eighteenth and twenty-fourth Homilies on Matthew,54 his eighteenth on Second Corinthians,55 and many other places.

Whoever, therefore, is responsible for having Christ’s Kingdom and religion truly repaired and flourishing among them should ponder the fact that the buildings consecrated for church assemblies and Christian worship are called in the Scriptures “house of God” and “house of prayer” (Matt. 12:4; Luke 19:46) and hence they should acknowledge what horrible blasphemy they are guilty of against the Divine Majesty, when they treat the Lord’s churches as walkways and places so profane that they can talk and chatter about all sorts of impure and profane things with others who are like them, sometimes even while services are going on in the churches.56

But what private person, not to speak of a prince or king, would tolerate anyone who wanted to wander around his own home whimsically and libidinously before his very eyes, especially if such a person were chatting and making small talk by saying things ungrateful and unworthy of the man of the house? This is certainly such a great contempt of the divine presence that it alone would merit for us complete extermination from the earth, and that by most cruel torments. This great insult to Christ has been permitted for many centuries, and not only do princes and magistrates and prelates of the churches overlook it, but by their example they for the most part even teach and strengthen this practice.

Hence those who wish to be of Christ and wish not to be numbered among those who renounce him (“We do not want this man to reign over us,” Luke 19:14) must surely, each according to his vocation and ability, make the effort and also make it happen that with all such great insults against God far removed, churches should not be open to any secular business but only for religious services unless extreme human necessity demands otherwise, as I said before.

For whoever are of Christ, in them Christ lives, and he does not only say words, but really proves the saying, “The zeal of your house has eaten me up” (Ps. 69:9; John 2:17). With that zeal, therefore, and through his own (in a manner appropriate to the vocation of each), Christ drives from his churches whoever attempts to transact alien business there, and consecrates and dedicates them solely to the ministry of his word and sacraments and to holy prayer.

Chapter XI: The Third Law: The Sanctification of the Churches

We have shown previously to some extent (Book One, Ch. X) with what holy respect places consescrated to the worship of God must be made accessible to just this one thing and kept sacrosanct.

But the horrible profanation of these places has been commonly prevalent: Not heeding the reverence due the divine presence, people walk around in them according to their fancy, as if they were in any common field or street that would have no religious association, and they chat about all kinds of impure affairs and about matters displeasing to God. So it is necessary to remove this scandalous offense against the Divine Majesty, not only by the teaching of the word of God and pious exhortations but also by severe laws of pious kings and princes, and by the prompt and consistent enforcement of these laws. Thus it may be brought about that the holy churches of God are open for no other activities except those for which they were sanctified to the Lord and that no one can with impunity fail to adapt himself to the atmosphere of religious worship there.

The salvation of your people, therefore, demands of Your Majesty that he establish a law which will forbid the use of churches consecrated to the Most High for any other activities except those for which they were consecrated by the Lord, namely, only for the reading and explanation of the Sacred Scriptures, the administration of the sacraments, prayers and thanksgivings, and the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline. This law should also guard against anyone’s doing any other actions than these in church.

Thus Your Royal Majesty will cause the words of the psalm to be fulfilled, “In his Temple all will declare his majesty” (Ps. 29:9); likewise, “We meditate upon and await your goodness, O God, in the midst of your Temple” (Ps. 48:10); and this: “But I, depending on your great kindness, shall enter your Temple; I shall adore at your holy Temple in fear of you” (Ps. 5:7).”

Additionally our architecture of the Christian Synagogue should be reflective of our theology. These places were meant to last. They should have a theological underpinning of majesty of God and the Omnipotence of God, showing forth His glory and power showing forth our reverence of God. Such as having an elevated Pulpit and many other aspects of building design. As a good friend of mine Benjamin Olivas, just recently said “I see multigenerational faithfulness in the architecture that raised the eye to heaven.”

We have allowed Evangelicalism to influence us way to far. It is time to recover the Historic Reformed Faith and set apart from Christian Synagogue for the sole worship of God. It is time to overthrow the money changers again, it is time to remove the concerts, the non set apart meetings, even the business meeting like gatherings and truly set apart the worship building to God. Let us remove the tavern shows and love songs, the dancing and the sensual instruments of music! We should be more reverent as we step our foot in the house of God and watch and guard our tongue and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools. We should have a holy silence on our lips and a fear in our hearts. As Puritan Jeremiah Burrough said, We should have a gospel fear as we come into the worship of God and a fear and tremble as we read the Word of God (Isaiah 66:5).

ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. … Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”


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