Words by Scott Axtmann
This illustration was done by one of my daughters who is now studying architecture at Rensselaer. She’s always had a love for buildings and space design and how they affect people. It’s interesting how some buildings draw you in and others push you away. Some make you feel comfortable and others make you feel coldly out of place.
This architecture of a church says so much. It resembles so many churches around the world. Knowing that my daughter added the fun colors and squishy lines I imagine the original building was more of a towering gothic structure designed to make you feel like an insignificant peon. Well, maybe that wasn’t exactly the intent of the architect but I think that when you experience a building like this you get some sense of your own smallness and God’s majestic vastness.
While this idea has some benefit perhaps in keeping us humble I also think something is lost. So many church buildings just look scary. They look like fortresses. The doors are often so gigantic you wonder if you’ll even be able to open them. Inside the church the stained glass windows are beautiful but from the outside they are muted. Usually you cannot see inside a church through the windows. If the architecture could speak I feel it might say, “keep out”.
If Jesus was a building I don’t think he would look like a massive haunted house.
This foreboding vibe lies in sharp contrast to Jesus who was warm and welcoming to all. Children ran into his arms. Thieves and prostitutes felt comfortable around him. He said he didn’t come into the world to condemn but to save. He was known for being amongst the people and feeling great compassion at times even to the point of tears. He said things like come all who are weary and I will give you rest or all who are thirsty (spiritually speaking) come to me and I will give you living water. Jesus was always stretching his arms out to the poor, to the guilt-ridden, to the sick, to people of all races and creeds. His message in one simple phrase could be summed as Come home.
If Jesus was a building I don’t think he would look like a massive haunted house. I don’t think he’d have 16 foot doors that weigh 800 pounds each. I don’t think he’d have windows that no one could see through. I think the entire building would be doors 360 degrees around so people could come from every direction. I think it would be made of beautiful glass with light pouring through it so it would illuminate the city. I think the area around the structure would be grassy and welcoming. I think it would be easy for curious souls to feel safe coming up to the building to see what’s happening inside. If Jesus was a building I think it would be inviting and approachable.
I mean no disrespect toward any churches who have old cathedrals. They can be quite beautiful actually and sometimes we just have to work with what we have available. I certainly don’t want these beautiful old cathedrals to be torn down! I’m just reflecting on how “church” is perceived by people who are outside its walls. Architecture matters. I also realize that my opinion here is, well, an opinion. Art and architecture affects different people in different ways. Maybe to someone else a massive gothic building makes them feel the majesty and eternal nature of God.
Scott grew up in Western Massachusetts and came to the faith at the age of 21. As the outcome of his transformed life, he founded and now Pastors Renaissance Church and CityLove.