The church building as an ecclesiological statement: An essay

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


The essay aims to set out some principles along which church buildings can be investigated as ecclesiological statements. It begins by considering the symbolic nature of all buildings and the general difficulties involved in interpreting them. Then it tackles the more specific difficulties involved in reading churches as ecclesiological statements. The last question considered is why not all church buildings are equally eloquent. The main ideas are the following:

All buildings are symbolic in that they "speak" to us about who and what they are for. Problems of interpretation include: Who is the author of a building? In how far does an old building tell us anything about its present occupants? In how far does a building mould its occupants? How much of the original symbolism survives in an old, repaired and altered building? What about the gap between what a building potentially "says" and what is "heard" by those who use it?

Church buildings are like other buildings in the above respects. Thus, a straightforward correspondence between the symbolism of a church building and the self-understanding (or ecclesiology) of the group that uses it cannot be taken for granted. To study a church building as an ecclesiological statement also involves further complications: the self-understanding of a congregation may include elements that make a mark on the building but which cannot properly be said to be a part of ecclesiology. Moreover, the local congregation may be more or less representative of its denomination or of the universal church - so on which of these levels is the church building an ecclesiological statement?

Finally, not all church buildings are equally eloquent: the amount of symbolism they contain can vary greatly. This is due to different views about the importance of symbolism. Lutheranism is interesting in this regard, because originally it had a very functionalistic view of church buildings, which may be described as radical secularism; but soon it adopted a moderate traditionalism and embraced a lot of traditional symbolism, but not always with conscious appreciation. Lutheran church buildings thus tend to contain a lot of symbols whose potential is only partially realized.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Religious Studies


  • church building, symbolism, ecclesiology
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEcclesiologica & alia
Subtitle of host publicationStudia in honorem Sven-Erik Brodd
EditorsErik Berggren, Maria Eckerdal
Place of PublicationSkellefteå
PublisherArtos & Norma
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)978-91-7580-788-1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch

Publication series

NameBibliotehca theologiae practicae