Written by Gail Kopf
When I grew up, where we met to worship in church was called the sanctuary. Our voices were low and hushed as we entered and quietly made our way to our favorite pew. We were never allowed to bring drinks or food into that area or scribble or write in the hymnals. I remember the sign on the double doors that led to the sanctuary: “No Food or Beverages Allowed in the Sanctuary.” Sound familiar?
This Easter, our church introduced coffee and doughnuts in the “gathering space” next to the main worship area. As the crowd grew, we were encouraged to go into the worship area by a pastor. Still, many were hesitant to sit in the church pews with their coffee. Old habits are hard to break, even when they’re not biblical.
Imagine my surprise, after an exhaustive study, to discover that I’d been wrong all these years about the sanctuary. Not about writing in the hymnals—but everything else.
“Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). From the time that God gave Moses the blueprints for the sanctuary, until the time of Christ, God’s presence among men was associated with the sanctuary. Before the Israelites worshiped God in the Temple (1 Kings 6), they had a sanctuary known as the Tabernacle that moved with them during the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. After Solomon built the Temple, God would dwell in the Holy of Holies, the most inner room of the temple where only the High Priest could enter His presence once a year (Hebrew 9:7).
The word sanctuary is from the Hebrew word “miqdash” that implies a place of holiness, a unique temple where God revealed Himself and communicated with His people. The sanctuary or tabernacle where God wants to dwell is in us. We are the tabernacle. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, God lives within believers.
Today, all over the world for a few hours a week, believers meet in schools, houses, community centers, parks, gyms, etc. In truth, the only difference between these worship spaces is the location
A church is formed as God’s people gather and make up the spiritual blocks of God’s temple (1 Peter 2:5). It’s a community where believers grow their faith, use their gifts to serve Christ (Romans 12:6-8) and come together to worship.
If believers are God’s sanctuary, and where we gather is the church, why can’t we drink or eat in the worship area?
Perhaps it’s because when our faith journey encounters some rocky seas, we need our old, familiar “comfort zone” to feel secure. We want a place that doesn’t change. An environment that is consistent and reliable . . . because little else in our world appears to be. Although we quickly point our fingers at the hypocritical Pharisees in Scripture, we are hard-pressed to biblically justify our distain for food in the sanctuary. And what about music, worship styles, a dress code, version of the Bible, and God’s design for women in the church?
God esteems not only biblical traditions, but innovative ideas, grounded in Scripture. And so should we. To reach our community for Christ, the Lord gives us the opportunity to incorporate both.
For David Tyre of First Baptist Church in Linton, Indiana, having coffee and doughnuts in between services, was not supported by all the members. In response to the controversy, he wrote, “That’s why the Deacons and I have discussed this whole thing, and then asked the Trustees to revisit the policy of not allowing food and drinks in the sanctuary. It’s not that we don’t have any respect for the sanctuary anymore, or the church members who have sacrificed dearly in order to see it built and paid off. Rather, it’s that we really want to see the sanctuary filled with people, for something besides a wedding or a funeral.
And that’s the whole point of having coffee and donuts before and after the morning worship service, too. We want to make a place for us to have friendly, unforced conversations with people who visit our church services. If they visit our church services, we’re already ahead of the game. But we need to be able to connect with them in a way that will make them want to come back. These days that doesn’t happen when the preacher makes everybody shake hands in the service. It happens before and after the service. And the coffee and donuts just make it easier. We know there will be spills. But we asked ourselves this question: “Which is more important to us, keeping our sanctuary pristine or trying to fill it with people?” And the answer is obvious. Jesus didn’t die for buildings.”
We are God’s sanctuary. The place we worship isn’t as important as the Person we worship. In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” May He do a “new thing” in our hearts as we seek to serve Him and one another.
The Gospel Postscript