One of those old words used for a church building was “sanctuary”. This word means “sacred place” and has also been noted as a place of refuge, most notably in providing a safe haven for those who are being hounded by the world. One of the sad realities to being a church that is so enamored with interacting with the world’s culture is that it eventually will remove the idea of sanctuary.
Do our practices still embrace such a mentality about sacred space and safe haven from the world? With all of the “cultural relevance” discussions that have so wreaked havoc in the church over the past couple generations, we have seen so much of the world come into the church and boot out very distinctive things of “sanctuary” disappear. Music is just one of them. Vestments may be another (the clothing of the preacher ought to reflect something holy going on). Vocabulary is surely another one (the church uses different language than outside, because we are in sanctuary; and for those who do not know, guess what that is your time to learn what those words mean). Preaching stern Law and pure Gospel can be another (but that would require humbly submitting to the task of preaching rather than the excitement of giving “relevant” messages). Then there are the various things and programs which have replaced the means of grace as far as what makes people come and stay in church (whether they be worship style, small groups, catchy programs, or anything else that people think grows or sustains the church). All of this starts to make the sanctuary look, sound, and feel more and more like the world around. In the end there is no sanctuary any more, as people gather in such a worldly fashion created by their culture (and the latest cultural fads) to find no refuge visible before them. It looks just like the world in which they live. The music they hear is the same as they did in the traffic jam on the way to the boss who wears the same suit the preacher is wearing. And instead of hearing Law and Gospel, they hear a motivational pep-talk or self-help lesson the same way they would from their counselor last week. They need to hear of the things God has done for them and instead they hear what they can do for themselves. It is relevant alright, the same relevance that drained them throughout the week at work and home. Where is the sanctuary? Where are they reminded that there is something outside of this existence? Where is any mystery left? Where is heaven on earth?
Do our church services provide sanctuary for our people? How much does the world find its way into our worship and destroy the refuge for poor souls hounded by the world? These are questions which each pastor needs to ask for himself. Souls do not need more of the world and its culture – they get plenty the other six days of the week. Provide them a place and time away from world and culture, a place and time in which they belong by right of their baptism – the Church catholic, in which they may hear and receive that rest which only Christ can give.