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?

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