By Joe Torosian
I’m not declaring, in this column, that I have answers, brilliant insight, or marvelous wisdom. The truth is, this informal essay is somewhat half-baked. I’m only putting it out to see if anyone else has had similar thoughts. That’s all.
I believe in sacred space, personally and externally. Boom!
Okay, I’ve been a pastor on the Los Angeles District of the Church of The Nazarene for 33 years. I’ve experienced all the usual ministry stuff and everything that comes with it–the ups, the downs, the fads, the trends, the Churchianity, and the beauty that makes it all worthwhile.
I’ve also seen the frustrations in buying a church property, selling church property, and trying to figure out what to do with a church property after a congregation ages out, demographics change, and relocation becomes a consideration.
Sometimes a property goes up for sale, and before you can say, “over-done with-gone,” it’s sold and remembered no more.
But some properties never get sold. They just hang around and become a brief mention at lunch. “Oh, I thought we sold that property.”
A few weeks ago, this popped into thought, and I took a look back at the history of the Los Angeles District. I found properties struggling when I started in 1990 had also been struggling 40 years before I ever stepped into a pulpit.
These churches had low attendance, constant pastoral turnover, congregational splits, and periods of inactivity. Potential buyers came and went, but the property never changed hands. It’s almost like it couldn’t be sold.
Then it hit me. Maybe these problematic churches/properties are places God has deemed sacred and will not allow them to be sold?
That maybe these properties have remained—in this case—in the hands of the Church of The Nazarene because God won’t allow their sale. That—perhaps, maybe—he’s made them sacred spaces with a specific plan/destiny/future?
God is God; He can do what he wants. So, is it out of the realm of thought for Him to choose certain places where in specific moments, lives were saved, changed, redeemed, and sin destroyed? Could he have declared, “I’m not giving this up? I’ve got plans for this land. This sacred space will serve my sacred purpose.”
I’ve always believed this in regards to Christian camps. I’m always saddened when I hear of one closing, and I can’t help but think of the supernatural life-changing experiences the Holy Spirit has brought about on those grounds.
When I worked at the newspaper, I wrote stories about closing churches. Interviewing the Pastor and congregation members was unique and sad. Potlucks, Vacation Bible Schools, Sunday Schools, banquets, and special services–don’t these things come about because the Spirit of God has fallen like fire? Did he use the land for his glory and our blessing?
It makes me think of shadows, handkerchiefs, and hems of garments–only objects not to be venerated–carrying with them a residue of his presence. And in places where the Spirit came and blessed repeatedly, would that not make it something more than just ordinary? Wouldn’t/shouldn’t it be viewed as extraordinary?
Do 80, 90, and 100-year-old churches and property diminish in value because congregations age, split, or demographics change? Do God’s intentions get scrubbed just because the church hasn’t managed property or sacred space well?
Isn’t it the church’s responsibility to get on the same page with the Lord? Making His vision our vision? Instead of pressing forward in our vanity of believing, we always know what’s best or prudent?
(Note: This isn’t about congregations or denominational sales and purchases where a transition occurs, but the Gospel is still preached. It’s about sales and purchases that end/conclude Kingdom preaching and teaching in that location.)
The idea of cosmic geography and sacred space is not new. It’s not New Age or anti-biblical.
First Samuel 5:1-15 gives the account of the image of the Philistine god Dagon collapsing twice and breaking apart in the presence of the captured Ark of the Covenant. So convinced were the Philistine priests of ownership transferring to Yahweh that they ceased walking on the threshold where the image of Dagon sat.
In Second Kings 5:15-18, Naaman the Syrian, after being healed from his leprosy, asks Elisha for two mules worth of soil to take back with him to Syria. He literally wants to take dirt from Israel so that when he kneels and worships, he’s doing so on holy ground.
(Note: The backdrop to this is in Genesis 11/Babel and Deuteronomy 32 when the Lord confused the languages and created the boundaries of nations according to the Sons of God.)
The counter-argument to specifically sacred spaces might be found in Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4. “…A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
Jesus’ work on the cross makes this possible. Hebrews 10:19 shares we can have the confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus. So now we can come into the very presence of God–via spirit and truth.
And by this, we understand that we/us are fit to be sacred space for Him to dwell–1 Corinthians 3:16. Awesome!
But what about the external? What about land and properties? Can we believe that God sets aside places and properties for his purposes today?
We go to mountain tops to pray. We go to a campground for a retreat. We come to church to worship. All these I can do at home by shutting off my electronic devices and going into a prayer closet.
But we still go to specific places because there is something that the property, land, soil, and dirt offer us in connecting with the Lord. Distance from the world. Separate. Set apart. Holy.
And maybe these properties, these buildings we believe have served their purpose–that we’d like to be rid of–perhaps they remain in our possession, not for veneration or tradition, but because God wants us to align our vision with His? That He still has intentions for them to serve His purposes.
It’s not a case of Him changing for us, but us changing how we think, operate, and see—for Him.
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