Sanctifying Space: A Reformed Theology of Places for Corporate Worship

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Do places of worship matter? Since the Protestant Reformation, the answer has generally been in the negative. It is often stated that “a church is the people, not the building.” While affirming this statement, the dissertation at hand argues that the importance of a church as a community of Christians does not negate the significance of physical places for worship. Rather, these places – often referred to as church buildings – can play a role in the spiritual formation of believers. More specifically, this dissertation is concerned with developing a Reformed theology of places for corporate worship.

A major challenge to recognizing the significance of places for worship is the lack of coherent theological understanding of such places. We will examine the framework provided by Harold Turner’s typology for places of worship as domus dei or domus ecclesiae. These types will be examined in relation to the ‘sacred space’ and ‘plain space’ perspectives. Due to difficulties with both these perspectives for the Reformed tradition, an alternative perspective will be developed based on Belden Lane’s three approaches to sacred places.

As a way of constructing a more congruent theological perspective on places of worship, we will utilize William Dyrness’ theology of culture method with a Reformed theology of sanctification in worship based on the writings of John Calvin and other Reformed thinkers. With these constructive components in place, the dissertation will present ‘sanctifying space’ as a Reformed theological perspective on places for corporate worship.

Lastly, the importance of both the functional and symbolic roles of places for worship will be discussed. While the functional role of a church building is readily understood with the need for a gathering space away from harm and distractions, the symbolic role is often neglected. We will argue for the importance of the place of worship as both a functional space and a symbolic space as it relates to the formative power of architecture and corporate worship. A historic Reformed place of worship will be presented as a case study of a ‘sanctifying space.’

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)

First Advisor

Dyrness, William A.

Document Type





Public worship, Presbyterian Church, Church buildings, Reformed church buildings, Church architecture, Liturgy and architecture


Missions and World Christianity


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