I came across an interesting bit of church history today. John Calvin insisted that the churches in Geneva remain locked outside of regularly scheduled worship times. In part, this was meant to discourage “superstitious” activity. The reformers were understandably sensitive to religious objects being used idolatrously (think relics), and presumably, leaving the church open and unattended might encourage some to lapse into a superstitious use of a religious building.
But Calvin had a second reason for locking the church doors, and I find this reason compelling. He wanted to communicate that the life of the church should not be sequestered behind closed doors.
We call the main meeting areas of our churches “sanctuaries.” This means “holy places.” Where do we go to experience God? Where is the sacred space in our world? In the holy place, of course. In the sanctuary.
Some of us have tried to remedy this by renaming the sanctuary the “worship center,” but even then we run into a similar problem. Where do we go when we want to worship? The worship center, of course.
Calvin rightly understood that every inch of God’s world is sacred space. Obviously, there was something unique about the temple and especially the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament. But don’t forget that this whole world has been crafted by God. His presence dwells everywhere (read Psalm 139 for a powerful reminder of this truth). And don’t forget that when Jesus died, the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the world was torn—from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51). God was announcing that His presence would not be hidden in a holy place.
The terms “secular” and “sacred” can be helpful at times, but they can also be misleading. The life of the church should not be hidden behind church walls. Our sacred activities do not belong in a specific location. This whole world is the stage on which God’s great drama of redemption is to be played out.
So use your church building when it’s helpful to do so. There are reasons that most of our churches own buildings, offices, and classrooms. These walls and doors can make our ministries to our churches and our world more effective. But don’t imagine that worship or fellowship or outreach or love belong in one “sacred” location.
Take the life of your church into your home, into your neighborhood. Enact God’s truth in the midst of your daily life, in front of your daily onlookers, coworkers, and clientele. Lock your church doors. Force yourselves to be the people of God in the midst of the people and the world that God made.
“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein.” – Psalm 24:1