“Bigness Ruins Everything.”

The Ringgold Meeting House: Built in Ringgold, Maryland in 1871, the still-standing structure serves as a reminder of early Brethren in Christ church architecture. (Courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

So asserted one late-twentieth-century Amish carpenter, expressing a sentiment quite common among the “plain people” descended from sixteenth-century Anabaptists — but quite contrary to the claims of mainstream American society.

This Amish man’s words came to mind recently while reading an article about the First Baptist Church of Dallas, which has just embarked upon “the largest church building program in modern history.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, First Baptist — already considered a megachurch — now wants “to build a 3,000-seat worship center, a religious education building and parking garage, a glass concourse, and a sky bridge.” The article also quotes the church’s pastor, Rev. Robert Jeffress, as saying, “The finest facility in this area should be one that glorifies almighty God.”

The article also brought to mind historian Carlton Wittlinger’s description of early Brethren in Christ meetinghouses:

[They] were plain brick or rectangular structures with pew dividers to separate the seating for men and women. Those who planned the buildings had no interest in architectural design or artistry to create atmosphere. For all practical purposes the house church simply moved into larger quarters.

(For more on early Brethren in Christ meetinghouses and their symbolism, see E. Morris Sider’s “The Ringgold Meeting House as Symbol.” For more on megachurches, see this piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

Readers: What do you think about church architecture? Does “bigness ruin everything,” or do large and ornate facilities serve an important role in today’s society? Share your thoughts in the Comments section!

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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One Response to “Bigness Ruins Everything.”

  1. Elaine Reed says:

    Personlly, too much bigness and ornateness bother me. I am somewhat conflicted as a beautiful cathedral seems to help some people worship. But I feel uncomfortable–spending such an enormous amount of money on things. The “Crystal Cathedral” in Garden Grove, CA, founded by Robert Schuller (and much admired by many) has now gone bankrupt. Some people, appalled by the pretensiousness of the church and its founder, have referred to it as the plastic cathedral. It has also had quite a wide, varied, and caring ministry, however. Even a simple church can have a calm reverent atmosphere. I remember that the church that I attended when growing up in Kansas, was painted a soft green inside and had blinds that could be partially closed as needed, especially in the warm summers. One of our church ladies had thoughtfully added touches that gave the church a calmness and quiet.

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