LDS Religious Wrappings – Why? (Part 1)

Here is the first post in my new series on “LDS Wrappings”.  I am curious – what is the significance of these religious wrappings for LDS friends?

Let me begin with religious architecture:  why the steeples on LDS chapels?  Their origin?  Their importance for LDS culture?  Their relevance to you?

LDS NORTH AMMON

1.7 miles north in a stairstep direction from my church building

1.7 miles north in a stairstep direction from our church building

 LDS SOUTH AMMON

.8 of a mile south of my church building

.8 of a mile south of our church building

 LDS EAST AMMON

1.3 miles east of my church building

1.3 miles east of our church building

And just .4 of a mile further east

And just .4 of a mile further east

LDS WEST AMMON

.8 of a mile west of my church building

.8 of a mile west of our church building

31 comments

  1. Todd, I don’t know anything about the history of steeples, etc., but I can say this: without a steeple, the typical LDS meetinghouse would look nothing like a church—passersby would think it was a small school or office building.

    I’ve heard the argument that “the upward pointing of the steeple directs one’s attention to God…” Maybe that’s true, but for me the steeple just means “Hi there; I’m a church.”

  2. Reason #1: Church identification. I am storing this in my memory banks.

    I have my reasons for church steeples (which I intend to share), but thanks Brian for kicking this off.

  3. Interesting thing about the earliest Christians: no crosses. (It didn’t mean they weren’t Christian or didn’t believe in the Crucifixion and Atonement of Jesus Christ — it’s just that there had been no Constantine or his councils yet. . . .)

  4. Back in the early 1800s many Protestant churches refused to use the cross as a symbol. They associated it with popery and wanted nothing to do with it. The Baptists were one such group that refused to use the cross in Joseph Smith’s day, for example.

    I think Joseph Smith simply followed suit and didn’t advocate displaying the cross either. Since Mormons were later isolated in Utah – away from the rest of American Christianity, we missed the movement to reclaim the cross for Protestant worship that eventually swept through the USA.

    Later apostles developed rhetoric defending the difference, of course, but the original reason is just the mundane reason that other Protestants didn’t use the cross, so Joseph didn’t either.

    As for the steeples… Again, I think it’s just imitating other Protestant churches. It has the same meaning for us as it does for other Protestants – the steeple points upward, representing our minds being fixed on heaven.

    Nothing all that mysterious.

    Now, if you really want a fun project, you might try looking around for some of that old pioneer architecture that is still found on our oldest temples, and on some of those old Utah tabernacles. You can find some really good examples of historic tabernacles in downtown Provo, Heber, Vernal, Logan (I think), and St. George.

    I wrote a post on this on Nine Moons a few months back. You can read it here:

    http://www.nine-moons.com/2008/04/09/sacred-space-how-are-we-doing/

  5. Reason #2: Imitating Protestant churches

    Reason #3: Fixing our minds on heaven

    Correct? (I will go read your post.)

    Also, from St. George at the bottom of the Utah corridor all the way up to Paris, Idaho, I have explored historic LDS tabernacles. I need to go pull out my notes somewhere that I wrote down about my observations of the St. George tabernacle.

    And, Seth, have you been to Paris?

    And here is a good question: why aren’t Protestant evangelical churches in the corridor, for the most part, putting steeples on their church buildings?

  6. Btw, as I was taking a picture of one of these steeples, guys in a pickup were hollering loud and very derogatory as they passed by me.

    They must not have enjoyed me admiring a steeple in Ammon, Idaho.

  7. In France and Germany, where I used to live, you can look across the valley and see a town of low houses (2-3 stories, max) and two spires rising above it all – one with a cross and one with a rooster (Catholic and Protestant). Those spires, serve the same function as the Italian bell towers (like the one that leans in Pisa), to move the sound above the town and help all find their way to the house of worship. In Muslim countries, the minaret serves the same purpose, giving the cantor an extended platform to call all to the house of prayer. Those traditions carried forward in this country, and spires are only slowing fading from churches that come from a storefront heritage and those trying to be “relevant” to a non-churched constituency. (the kind of people that ridicule people who take pictures of churches).

  8. Turnaround, thanks.

    I took my wife for a short stint through Italy, Germany, France, and England – getting a good taste of Europe’s religious architecture.

    Spent some time in Turkey, too, seeing the contrast between Hagia Sophia and Muslim minarets.

  9. I would think that Mormons think of God when they see the church steeples rising above the neighborhoods as they drive on I-15.

    I doubt they think of the artificial philosophical abstraction that is the Nicean answer to the theological debates of the fourth century — some might but most understand the unity between the Father and the Son spoken of in the Bible in a biblical sense, rather than in a philosophical sense. Just because Mormons take the Bible at its word about the nature of God and the unity of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ rather than looking at it through the lense of a fourth-century creed does not mean that Mormons don’t think about God when they see the steeples of their churches. Frankly, I think it’s a little odd that you would imply that to be the case through the incredulous manner in which you have posed the question.

  10. [i]I would think that Mormons think of God when they see the church steeples rising above the neighborhoods as they drive on I-15.[/i]

    Funny, cuz I just think of Mormons…

  11. The Christian use of symbols, such as the cross and the fish, long predates Constantine.

    Seth, I think you are probably correct. Smith did not start with a completely blank slate.

  12. Greg: the earliest Christians were not using the cross as their symbol, as far as is currently known. Whether use of the cross started on a large scale with Constantine or not, the historical record seems to indicate that the fish, and not the cross, was the symbol the earliest Christians were using to identify themselves.

  13. Tate, it’s probably safe to assume that many people who see crossed steeples rising above neighborhoods in other parts of the country just think about oppression, and not about God either.

  14. I think there are two reasons why evangelicals in the corridor do not get excited about steeples.

    1. Fear of being associated with dead Traditionalism. And frankly, some think a steeple would hurt their religious marketing.

    2. And Tate’s thought in #15. Exactly. Fear of being associated with LDS. What evangelical church is there in Idaho Falls that has a steeple?

    A steeple is a symbol and nothing more – just a neutral mass of fiberglass. But it is a steeple that points me to Someone higher than all our horizontal human-centeredness, all our relentless man-made programs, all our external buffoonery, all our institutionalized hypocrisy, and all our prideful self-sufficiency.

    A church building can be used for the receiving of all the benefits that we can seek to grasp from God.

    And a church building can also be used as a place where we look beyond what benefits we can receive for ourselves and look up, looking to God and giving all honor and worship and praise to the transcendent God, perfectly, eternally worthy as the One to Whom we should totally pour out all our lives for.

  15. john f.
    Tate, it’s probably safe to assume that many people who see crossed steeples rising above neighborhoods in other parts of the country just think about oppression, and not about God either.

    Sure, especially if they’ve been oppressed by “Christians”.
    I see a cross, and think of Jesus.
    I see a steeple, and think of LDS buildings.
    I suppose it has a great deal to do with how you were socialized.

    Todd,
    From Hitt Road, to notice your building’s steeple, and the stake center’s that is a few blocks away, they are fairly similar. I remember when both buildings were not around though, and thus I will always know which is which. To someone not from here though, I have no doubt the assumption would be easy, especially from a distance where the cannot see your church’s sign.

    In July, one of my Canadian aunts visited. We picked her up in Salt Lake, and drove back up to IF. Now, anyone who has made that drive down that stretch of I-15 knows that you see no less than 20 LDS church buildings and at least two temples along the way. After a while, especially near the Lagoon/Farmington area, it became quite comedic to hear her say, “That’s an LDS church. And there’s another one, and another one, why are there so many!!!!” because they were so easily identified by their steeples.

    I can understand that a Protestant/Evangelical church, especially in this area, would not want a steeple because of the immediate association and assumption.

    But, Todd, you do like to be provocative.

  16. One day, I was excitingly witnessing to one of the trashmen driving into the church parking lot. He said that he wanted to knock down all the church steeples in town. But I expressed no and think even now, “No way – everyone of these steeples point me to the one and only true glorious God of all.”

    Steeples alone can be used mightily for the glory of God.

    And I am happily floating among all of them.

    From Isaiah 40 . . .

    “Lift up your eyes on high”

  17. Tate, have you looked at the top of our steeple?

    A steeple should point people to two things:

    1) A transcendent God above the earthly creatures.

    2) But how the transcendent God through Christ can completely save sinful men and women.

    And the cross is what makes the steeple in the I-15 corridor.

    What grace.

    What love.

  18. From a distance, and at certain angles, you cannot tell that there is a cross up there.

    And I have driven by, and within eyesight of your church many, many times. Never gone in though.

  19. Sorry John,
    That’s not correct information. Constantine didn’t cause people to display crosses. None of the councils caused that either.

    The New Testament books are full of discussions about the cross and atonement.

    For example in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says “For the preaching of the crossis to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God”

    So the cross was important to the very first Christians.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s