Monday, March 12, 2012

"Sanctuary" or "Worship Center"?

Modern corporate worship is much more in line with the New Testament description of the first century church than what I grew up with.  It's a place where people from all backgrounds, positions, and places come to receive healing, forgiveness, and hope from Jesus.

I remember the day when we called our church worship center a "sanctuary" fact, many still do.  But what does "sanctuary" mean?  
A sanctuary is a place where something or someone is set apart and cloistered away from the dangers of its surroundings.  Many people use the Old Testament example of the temple gates leading into the holy of holies as a rationale for the sanctuary. 

Positively, it is a place where the "distractions" of the world allow us to focus our minds and hearts intently on our Creator. On the negative side, it indicates that God's presence only resides in that place and that we need act more "holy" when we enter.  

What we failed to remember in calling it a sanctuary is that when Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn and every person gained constant and direct access to God through Jesus.  His presence no longer resided in a place, but through the Holy Spirit, now resided in the human heart.

While I'm all for finding a place and time to "detox" from the world, I see a couple problems with calling our worship centers sanctuaries: 
  • It gives visitors to our churches the idea that they have to get "cleaned up" (whether physically, emotionally or spiritually) before they can come in and it keeps many people from even attempting to step through the door. 
  • Holiness can become an "act" that takes place at a certain time in a certain place.  We don't use cuss words in the sanctuary because we must show reverence to God or look like we're "spiritual" to others.  The problem is that this practice leads to hypocrisy. We're not so careful about those cuss words once we leave the "sanctuary". Pursuing holiness is a 24/7 process that should always be taking place.  A great example of this kind of hypocrisy is the man who couldn't believe we were using drums in worship because it was so irreverent but left the church cussing at his kids. Drums....that leads to number 3...
  • For years, it limited the use of so many beautiful art forms that God has given us to express our worship. Sanctuaries are supposed to be places where we separate from the "world".  Because so many art forms have been distorted by the world, they were never allowed in our sanctuaries. For years we couldn't use dance, guitars, drums, etc. in the sanctuary because of how men had used them to glorify themselves and their earthly desires.  It's been great to see that since we've moved away from a sanctuary mindset, many of these art forms and mediums have been reclaimed by the church.
  • What about dress?  When we went to church, we had to dress up better than the rest of the week.  Did God look differently at our clothes on Sunday?  I thought that man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.  I even had a man tell me that God was disappointed in me because I wasn't wearing a tie in the "sanctuary".  Really?

The point is, if you really want to wash off the grime of the world from the week, grab your Bible and take a drive out to the country and find a hillside or some woods where it's just you and God's handiwork.  Now that's a SANCTUARY!
Then let's let our worship centers be an example of the worship that's going on in our lives throughout the week...not just an hour on Sunday morning in a sanctuary where you act a little nicer, speak a little cleaner, and look a little better.  Go ahead...bring in your junk and let's REALLY have church!

What do you call your worship space?  What connotations does it have?


  1. I agree that many religious models overly differentiate between the sacred and the "profane", some blur it completely, but could I submit a thought to consider? Let me use a golf analogy.
    - When you stand behind the ball, you are trying to figure out where to hit it, where a good miss might be, the wind, how hard you need to swing, what club, etc. Some teachers tell us to draw an invisible line about 10' from the ball, and when you cross that line all thought process stops. You're in the "go zone". All you are focused on is tempo, and smooth.
    - When we enter church, (in some places) we are assulted with Coffee, Greeters, ("huggers", bless their hearts), Small Group sign up sheets, Volunteer sign up sheets, Bulletins, Kids Ministry directions, Nursery sign in, etc. Having a door, and calling something a "sanctuary" can be a good thing, because it signals an end to distraction and a mental finger snap to get your attention focused on why you're really there. I realize that this is opinion, but when I see the worship of our Risen Savior presented in flashing lights, smoke, and bass so loud your heart skips beats I wonder, what are we "selling" when you can't tell the difference between a church and a nightclub?

    Hebrews 12:22-24 (NIV) But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

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