A sanctuary is defined as a “holy place” which means a place set apart for God as He is holy. “For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45 also 1 Peter:1:16). God’s true Sanctuary is in heaven. “Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2).
God asked Moses to build a sanctuary on earth after the pattern of the one in heaven. “According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:9). The purpose for God having a sanctuary on earth was for Him to be with His people. “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Thus, any place on earth such as a church is only a sanctuary if God is there with His people. In essence, God’s presence makes His Sanctuary in heaven a place on earth.
A Place of Worship
While it is biblical to go to church, it is not the building itself that makes it a sanctuary experience. It is the worship of God from His sincere followers. The Bible does tell us to assemble together for worship. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
It is noted, however, that the building itself is not what makes it a sanctuary but more the gathering of God’s people who desire to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Even the sanctuaries on earth ordained by God were destroyed due to God’s people refusing to worship Him in obedience (Matthew 23:37,24:1-2).
Therefore, we can have a sanctuary experience anywhere as long as God’s people are gathered there in true worship. This can be online, in a house, in a cave, on a mountain top, anywhere as long as true worshipers are gathering in Spirit and truth. While it is good to have a church structure to attend, it is not completely necessary in order to worship God. A church can be very helpful in worship as it is a consistent place people can go. However, during certain circumstances we may have to gather and worship differently than the norm. This doesn’t take away the fact that God is present and that a sanctuary experience can happen there. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
God is reasonable (Isaiah 1:18) and His character of love is not confined to just one way of doing things. Many true worshipers of God do not have church buildings, and many have to worship in secret or underground for fear of persecution or death. God accepts their sincere worship and makes a sanctuary with them even in the darkest of places (Hebrews 11:36-38). Every situation is unique and should be taken to God in prayer. We should not judge or look down on others by the way they worship (Matthew 7:1-2).
We should use good spiritual discernment to decide what is right for us and our family given our circumstances. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Corinthians 2:12-14).
The only reason it would be wrong to not go to church is if God is convicting someone that they should go and they refuse to obey the voice of His Spirit. “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
When it Is OK to Avoid Church
If a church service is practicing unholy forms of worship or is teaching things that are unbiblical, it is not a place of sanctuary and may need to be avoided (Isaiah 8:20, John 16:2-3). We should seek out a place where we can know God and grow as Christians. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
“… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
In His service,