Is it okay to watch a movie in your church sanctuary? What about the Holy Land, is it really holy? These are but two of the practical questions I sprung on my Sunday school class recently. How would you answer?
Your answer would betray your allegiance to your concept of sacred space. Do you believe there are places on the
earth which God particularly esteems? Recently, I posted on a chapel dilemma facing Muslims in Denver. The question of sacred space came up in that post because Muslims were separating into a different room from Christians, presumably for the sake of holiness. Do we Christians recognize any place on earth as more holy than any other place? Or, put more bluntly, is the sanctuary the actual house of God?
To answer these questions, simply turn to John 4, the story in which Jesus interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well. You might remember the important answer Jesus gives her concerning worship: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
The significance of his answer is seen in the context of the woman’s question. She had asked Jesus about the proper place of worship: Was the proper place of worship in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerizim? Sacred space was the issue she addressed. Jesus’s answer was that the Father demanded sacred people, people set apart by the Spirit through the truth of the gospel.
The question of sacred space had taken a decidedly different turn upon the arrival of Jesus Christ. Jesus was called Immanuel (which means God with us). Jesus was God coming to the earth to dwell among us (John 1:14). The presence of God was not limited to any place, but, rather, was enshrined in this one man from heaven, Jesus Christ.
Therefore, those longing to be in the presence of God need not make a trip to Jerusalem to the temple. All they need is to be with Jesus. Wherever Jesus lives, there is the unique presence of God on the earth.
So, sacred space is anywhere and everywhere the sacred people (saints) happen to be. The temple of Christ’s body is actually the church (1 Corinthians 6). He tore down the old temple and raised it up three days later. Christ now dwells in the presence of His people. Thus—because Christ is present with His people—His people make up a new and living temple, one not made by human hands. Each person who is in Christ is a living stone in the temple of God. Sacred space is anywhere and everywhere you find the church.
Therefore, the building in which Christians gather is not necessarily any more or any less sacred than the building which houses the local coffeehouse. Not coincidentally, many churches meet in coffeehouses and bookstores, clothing shops and even restaurants and bars. The place is not sacred unless the people are sacred (filled with the Spirit and the truth). If the people are sacred, then the place will be, too, so long as the people are gathered there in faith.
In other words, God doesn’t meet with His people in the sanctuary because the sanctuary is His house. God meets with His people in the sanctuary because that happens to be the place where his saints have gathered.
Movies can be watched by the church for the glory of God in the sanctuary, but the concept of a Holy Land is obsolete in Christ whose kingdom extends over all the earth (Matthew 28).
I am curious as to whether this makes sense to you? It can be a little confusing. So, as always, your thoughts are appreciated.