Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Sacred Time and Space

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 2, 2011 at 10:31 am

Every Christian understands that under the Old Covenant there was sacred time and space.

The sacred time was the Sabbath Day. God required one seventh of his people’s time to be sacred, that is, to be set apart to God for His exclusive use. Exodus 20:8-11, Isaiah 58:13-14

The sacred space was the Temple. God required a place that was sacred, that is, space set apart for God’s personal dwelling. The temple as a whole, and especially the Holy of Holies, was the place where the special presence of God was manifested and the space where His glory especially dwelt. Exodus 25:8, 29:43

None of this was a denial that all of their time belonged to God, and that His presence was in every place.

But clearly, God Himself set aside both a special time and a special place for his people to worship him more fully,  to receive a larger measure of His grace, and to have a greater experience of His presence than would ever occur during the week as they went about their ordinary duties.

And what is true of the Old Covenant, is true of the New Covenant as well. We too have sacred time and space.

The sacred time continues to be the Sabbath Day. The day of observance has changed, but the moral obligation contained in the fourth commandment to set aside one day out of seven as a day sacred to the Lord remains. Sunday is the time to be set apart to God for His exclusive use. Mark 2:27-28, Acts 20:7, Revelation 1:10

The sacred space is the New Covenant temple, which is the gathered assembly of believers in the local church. Two passages make this very clear:

“Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

“Know ye not that ye (collectively) are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).  Note also Ephesians 2:21-22, and 1Tim 3:15.

Now notice: It is the gathered assembly of the believers meeting as a local church that is the New Covenant temple, not a physical building. The believers themselves, when gathered together, make up a sacred space, irrespective of the building they may or may not be in.

It is common in our day to refer to the room in which the church meets for worship as “the sanctuary,” as though it is a holy space because the church meets in it. It is not. It is a mere auditorium and nothing more. Indeed, the church may meet outside without any physical building at all.

It is the assembled believers themselves, gathered as a local church, which constitutes the sacred space; they collectively are the New Covenant temple in which the special presence of God dwells.

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 18:20, when speaking of the local church, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Christ promises His special presence in the New Covenant temple, the local church, which makes it a sacred space, a space in which Christ dwells and manifests His special presence in a way He does nowhere else. It is the new Holy of Holies.

All of this should help us to see that the assembled local church is a sacred place, unlike any other place, and to neglect worshiping there is as evil as it would have been for the Old Testament saints to fail to worship at the Old Covenant temple. Heb 10:19-25

It should also help us to see that the local church is a sacred place to worship him more fully, to receive larger measures of His grace, and to have a greater experience of His presence than would ever occur during the week as we go about our ordinary duties. The local church is a place of special blessing. We should therefore value it very highly, and say with David in Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.”

In the New Heavens and the New Earth we will have sacred time and space, as we see in Isaiah 66:22-23.  That heavenly reality already breaks in upon us now in the local church. Let us revel and rejoice as we taste now in the church a portion of the heavenly reality we will one day enjoy fully.

Pastor Max Doner
Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Lebanon, Oregon
  1. Outstanding post. The topic of “sacred space” has been one of the rubbing points with R. C. Sproul who advocates for a Old Testament kind of “sacred space” being applied to things like “sanctuaries.” But this simply isn’t how the NT defines the Temple of God. The danger of idolatry and superstition lingers in church house when it is seen as more than that – something inherently holy or sacred. We must regularly combat this error.

  2. Thanks so much for this, Max! All of life is worship; some of life is special worship. John Jefferson Davis has a new book out – Worship and the Reality of God. He teases out what you say here. This is a vital issue and an issue that has been confessed by the church for centuries. Let us hold fast!

  3. PS: One of the very interesting aspects of Jefferson’s book is his use of Pentecostal theologians to support his thesis. This just goes to show that other theological traditions have seen what the Reformed have seen.

  4. I appreciate how you broke this down here more so than in the chat group. However, I still think it is dangerous to use the terms, ‘sacred time and space’, for two reasons: one, because of the misunderstandings still perpetuated in the writings of Otto and Tillich, et al., but more importantly, because the New Testament writers go out of their way to avoid using terms of sacred space and time in relation to the public gatherings of the church. They were careful to avoid the connotations of the OT. In fact, I believe John, Luke, Stephen, and the Apostle Paul were very specific to avoid cultic language for the public gatherings and very specific that sacred space and time are done away with in the NT.

    You don’t need the concepts of sacred space and time to maintain a commitment to the Lord’s Day Sabbath.

  5. Matt said: “You don’t need the concepts of sacred space and time to maintain a commitment to the Lord’s Day Sabbath.”

    Why wouldn’t you need the concept of sacred time? Didn’t you just use the language of sacred time yourself?

  6. Amen!

    What blessed truths! A sacred time and place!

    Thanks, Pastor Max.

    Matt said: They were careful to avoid the connotations of the OT. In fact, I believe John, Luke, Stephen, and the Apostle Paul were very specific to avoid cultic language for the public gatherings and very specific that sacred space and time are done away with in the NT.

    Does the NT teach the first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath? Is this day holy and unique? Then it teaches sacred time.

    Does the NT teach the assembled church is the New Covenant temple? Is this place unique? Then it teaches sacred space.

    When the church is gathered on the Christian Sabbath to worship God as commanded, is Christ present in a unique way? Then this is a sacred event, which takes place on a sacred day and in a sacred place.

    …My holy [sacred] Day…

    …you are a holy [sacred] nation…

  7. GREAT aricle Max! Thank you for this word of edification.

  8. I suspect, though I could be wrong, that sacred space and sacred time theology (even under the days of the new covenant) is the historic Christian position, irrespective of theological tradition. It was neither invented by the Reformed, nor the Pentecostal, nor will it be done away with by 20th and 21st century Evangelicals. My hunch is that it has probably been around since the beginning of time. God’s mandate to Adam as His vice-regent was to extend the culture of the garden to the ends of the earth. And if the garden was the first temple (a special dwelling place of God among men on the earth), with the first priest (Adam), and it had a Sabbath (which was a pledge of eschatological rest), then both sacred space and sacred time were present concepts and, at least, potentially co-extensive. However, the fall took place. Adam failed to extend the garden-temple across the earth. But no need to fear! The mandate of Gen. 1:28 is now in the hands of the Mediator between God and man – Christ Jesus, the skull-crushing Seed of the woman. He is setting up mini-temples (sacred space/local churches) throughout the entire earth (Matt. 28:19-20), with priest-kings offering up spiritual sacrifices, particularly when they gather on the day on which the new creation dawned, the Lord Jesus’ day, the first day of the week, Sunday, the new covenant’s Sabbath. Some day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord in fulfillment of God’s creation mandate to Adam. Then all earthy space and time will be sacred. Then the Lamb will be all the glory! Until then, we get glimpses of that which will be ours in full when He comes. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

  9. Good post; thank you Max.

    jim

  10. Great article.

    Thanks

  11. All of life is worship yet God knows our enduring need for specific and special worship. And this worship is actually a way he cares for us and gives to us more grace.
    Love this:
    “It should also help us to see that the local church is a sacred place to worship him more fully, to receive larger measures of His grace, and to have a greater experience of His presence than would ever occur during the week as we go about our ordinary duties.”

    Can’t tell you how many times Psalm 122:1 has echoed in my heart as I walked into the “auditorium” of my church.

  12. Answer me this: What is appropriate on the Sabbath. A tradition that has reigned in Baptist circles that I’m familiar with.. has been…to gather together…Worship, listen to the word…then depart..go to lunch with some of the brethren.. at a restaurant…go home rest…return later for evening service. I stopped doing the lunch thing for a long time because I felt that frequenting a place that was open for business on the Sabbath…when I closed on Sunday because it was The Sabbath reeked of hypocrisy (on my part). Does it still hold that WE are supposed to cease work on the Sabbath…and that is to include all who work for me…Christian or no? Am I point on for thinking that it is enabling or even requiring others to work by frequenting places that are open. Or am I just being legalistic?

  13. Louise, I agree with you that we should not cause others to work on the Christian Sabbath. What is appropriate to do on the Sabbath are works of piety, works of mercy, and works of necessity. Going to a restaurant on Sunday, I think, does not fit into one of those three works. Sunday is to be a day of rest on one hand from the cares of this world but on the other hand it is to be a day of activity in the things of God. I don’t think you are being legalistic. You are showing your love for our Lord Jesus. I am glad to hear that you and others are still going to the evening service at church. By the way, I am also a baptist.

  14. Louise,

    I agree with Aric, and with you. Not only are we not to work on the Sabbath, we are not to require our man servant or our maid servant to do so either. You may find my extended exposition of the subject of the Sabbath and its proper observation on SermonAudio.com under my name. There are 11 sermons entitled “The Biblical Sabbath” there.

  15. Thank you Aric for your responding..(not just for agreeing with me lol) but for taking your time to do so.

    Max..thank you. And I will go and check out your sermons on The Biblical Sabbath.

  16. Let it never be forgotten that the material part of a Christian Church is by far the least important part of it. The fairest combinations of marble, stone, wood and painted glass, are worthless in God’s sight, unless there is truth in the pulpit and grace in the congregation. The dens and caves in which the early Christians used to meet, were probably far more beautiful in the eyes of Christ than the noblest cathedral that was ever reared by man. The temple in which the Lord Jesus delights most, is a broken and contrite heart, renewed by the Holy Spirit. ~ J.C. Ryle

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