Sanctuary is more than a title of my book. With all the rancor over the concept of a Sanctuary, what does the term mean to you? This is another in a series of posts I’ve written in the past that speaks about what a sanctuary means to me from God’s perspective.
God’s Sanctuary Has No Walls and Open Doors
On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city. Salvation is established as walls and ramparts. Open the gates so a righteous nation can come in; one that remains faithful. You will keep in perfect peace the mind [that is] dependent [on You], for it is trusting in You. Trust in the Lord forever, because in Â Yah, the Lord, is an everlasting rock! For He has humbled those who live in lofty places – an inaccessible city. He brings it down; He brings it down to the ground; He throws it to the dust. Feet trample it, the feet of the humble, the steps of the poor. Isaiah 26:1-6 (HCSB)
Jerusalem was the pride of Judah, but it also was a city that was built upon a philosophy of exclusion in its history. The city gates were like a filter that allowed only the acceptable to enter. However, although it was considered an almost impregnable city with its lofty location on Mt. Zion and magnificent walls and hefty gates that could withstand any assault, what man builds is never a match for the Lord and His plans. Jerusalem in its history was conquered and destroyed twice as a consequence to their arrogance and inward, exclusive attitudes.
When we depend upon our own manufactured defenses that create walls that separate and divide us from others, God is never pleased. I have entered many churches where it truly is a sanctuary of seclusion and exclusion. I once served at a church where the people were sad about how their congregation had dwindled and died off until there were but a small group left of older, original members. They said, “We have failed to keep the church filled; even our own children and their children have left. Would you help us rebuild our church and fill these empty rooms and this sanctuary once again?” I rolled up my sleeves and for months we slowly opened the doors to the church and people began to visit and share with the people inside the church, however there was an uneasy feeling among the older members. The more I inquired for answers, the more I discovered their fear. What they feared was the community! They built their church in a community that had changed over the years and now the original older members lived in homes that were in new neighborhoods far from their original neighborhood that surrounded the church. Their old mill town community, in their mind, had become a dangerous place to call home anymore. Right after a revival that the church held which was attended by many of the local families, I stumbled upon a meeting of the older men. They were plotting on ways to stop the change and to return the church to being what they wanted it to be: a sanctuary behind brick walls and closed doors that separated them from those strangers they feared in the community where the church was located. Needless to say, I realized my days as pastor there were done, and I prayed for the members as I left. Within weeks I noticed the lit church sign out front did not say “Welcome All” as it once did. Funerals still occurred in that church. And there was a sign I remember seeing as you left the fellowship hall: “Remember last one out, please turn out the lights!”
Churches are not buildings of brick and mortar. Churches are not to be bought and sold. Churches are not the furnishings and ornate windows. Churches are definitely not supposed to be identified by their massive doors that separate those on the inside from those on the outside. As I tried to share with the members of the church there, the church exists beyond the walls where people are sharing with people, not out of fear but love. There is where God’s plan of salvation is being experienced as disciples are making new disciples as God works in the hearts of men, women and children alike. The moment we assume ownership in the church, God is never pleased, and once in a while He will teach such a church just like He taught Jerusalem. God’s church does not need walls and He can and will remove them when it is necessary to get the point across.