The Reign of Christ. Book One. Chapter Ten: Reforming the Churches’ Ceremonies. First, The Hallowing of Church Buildings
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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, 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.
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.