God never intended for clocks on the walls of sanctuaries. God created day and night—it was that simple. Clocks came later. My argument for the banning of clocks in church is quite simple.
I arrived in Armenia, Colombia in the summer of 1976 after intensive Spanish language training at El Instituto Linguistico in San Jose, Costa Rica. My first assignment in Colombia was the pastorate of the Armenia Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They expected me to preach three times every week to a congregation of 100 people. It was a beautiful Gothic sanctuary with one major flaw.
The liturgy of most Colombian churches is informal, but Armenia church had a formal service. It was an unwritten law that worship should last no longer than 60 minutes. The service began precisely at 11 a.m. and ended as close to 12 p.m. as possible. Any deviation from this met serious criticism. This locked me into a pulpit confinement I didn’t like.
Long before my arrival, the Rodriguez’ family donated an ornate antique clock with the understanding it would have a prominent place in the sanctuary. I immediately “fell in hate” with the beautiful beast. It was the size of a newborn and just as distracting. At precisely 11 a.m., the clock chimed the hour and everyone knew it was the moment to begin worship and then at 12-noon the ungodly thing announced the warning that if the minister didn’t quit preaching, he was guilty of the dreadful sin of prolongation of the unnecessary. For all practical purposes, the chiming signaled the end to everything good and holy, and started a Pavlov response of growling stomachs.
The whole issue was more frustrating because the church fathers, in their wisdom, had mounted the dark mahogany time piece on the wall directly to the right of the pulpit in plain view of the minister and the congregation.
I made it no secret that I hated the thing. People knew I prayed for it to mysteriously disappear or become irreparable. I struggled with this emotional agony for months. But, by God’s grace, I came to church one Sunday and the sexton’s announced a break-in at some time the previous night. I asked, “How bad is the damage and loss?”
He said, “You are not going to believe it, but nothing is gone but the Rodriguez’ clock.” Sure enough, thieves did not touch the electronic sound and musical equipment or expensive altar. The only sign of the break-in was the broken lock on the door and the lonely nail on the wall to the right of the altar. Under my breath, I whimpered, “Thank God.”
Word quickly spread and friends began to tease, “Pastor, don’t you think this looks a little obvious?” I remain convinced that God honored my continuous prayerful nagging about the banning of a clock in the Armenia sanctuary.
My argument also has an etymological perspective. The Greeks had two words for time—kairos and chromos. Chromos refers to sequential time. It identifies the passing of an hour, day or week. On the other hand, kairos signifies a right or opportune moment. It is the quantitative moment when God chooses to do something special. My concern is that if a person or a church is too anxious to limit worship in term of minutes (chromos), it might literally suspend the Holy Spirit’s intent to cause a kairos moment for an individual or the congregation.
For Paul Tillich, a neo-orthodox Lutheran theologian, kairos indicates a “crisis in history.” It is the dynamic expectation that a divine moment is pending or occurring. I don’t like Tillich’s use of “crisis in history” because of the negative connotation of crisis. Instead, I like to see kairos as the strategic moment God chooses to speak to individuals or congregations.
We often hear people say, “Why do our worship services sometimes exceed the one hour we have allotted?” Or, “I don’t like it when worship planners and the minister disrespect the reality that many of us have lunch commitments. I hate to wait in line at the restaurant because the Methodists always get out of church on time and we don’t.” This is a joking way to say chromos is always more important than kairos.
Paul speaks about the crucial nature of time in 2 Corinthians 6:1–“In a favorable time (kairo dekto) I heard you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the most favorable time (nun kairos euprósdektos); behold, now (nun) is the day of salvation.” Kairos is the word used for the moment of salvation.
A church errors when it focuses on schedule more than a spiritual experience that might call for a prolonging of a “choreographed time-based” worship service. Could it be that the Spirit of God might be moving so powerfully to merit a disregard of the worship schedule? I think so.
So, perhaps it is time for international movement to send all church clocks to where they belong–Switzerland.