Locked Churches
- Locked Hearts (?)

Diane Eaton, Jan. 2004

In Europe the churches are left unlocked - at least in the places where I was touring a few years ago with a Children's Choir. Our tour bus would drop us off in the various towns in Germany and Austria, and I would go searching for churches while everyone else headed for the tourist shops. I would go into these massive structures and examine their breathtaking beauty. Then after enjoying a few moments of quiet solitude, I would gather up the children and bring them to the churches to sing. Sometimes we'd draw people in off the streets. The singing would sound magnificent, reverberating with a holy reverence. The children were always subdued by the sense of grandeur that emanated throughout the sanctuary. We never had any behavior problems.

The value of a sanctuary

A church sanctuary can be a wonderful place to find peace and serenity far away from the constant garish din of life. It can be a place to sense the divine presence. I realize that God is spirit, and therefore he is everywhere, not just in sanctuaries. However, for most in our progressive action-packed western culture, God and spirituality are squeezed out of awareness. People are occupied all day - usually at work or school. Then they return to homes that are invaded with telephones, radios, TV's, computers, temporal demands, and more stressed out people.

However, people can't go on living like that forever. They need to get away to a place where they can experience quiet solitude, peace, and gain a sense of divine awareness.

Institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and airports have chapels built right into their structures. These chapels are thoughtfully designed to be a quiet calm place of repose and to give a feeling of sanctity and reverence. Generally speaking, they are open at all times. So why can't communities have chapels open to them at all times?

Is there an unlocked church anywhere?

Recently, when I was driving through a town on my way home from a very emotionally charged few days, I felt the need for a quiet break before continuing on my two-hour trip. The thought of stopping at a donut shop or restaurant did not appeal to me. Instead, I craved to go into a church sanctuary and just sit quietly for a few moments of prayer. That would have made a good transition between the recent happenings and the busy affairs that awaited me at home. I drove into the parking lot of a large modern evangelical church. It was empty and the church was locked. I looked at my watch and realized that it was 5 pm. Of course, NO churches are opened at 5 pm!

Church buildings seem to be locked most of the time except for organized activities. I sometimes wonder if all those functions do anything for the countless numbers of people who are craving to find a deeper meaning to life, who so desperately need God.

Youth at Church Door by James Cochran
permission granted

Wouldn't it be nice if churches were open early in the morning before business hours to give people a quiet worship time before going to work, or late at night when the routines of the day are set aside? And wouldn't people receive benefit from a church during the night when they can't get to sleep because their mind is racing and they are plagued by fears and confusion?

Wouldn't a church building be a welcome safe haven for people trapped in loneliness or relational turmoil - a place where they could find a compassionate ear and a tender hug at any time of day or night - and above all, a place to discover the love of God?

When I searched the web under the topic, 'locked churches'. I discovered the following excerpt. I think these thoughts deserve our attention:

…Locked churches bother me. The locks seem to contradict everything the church claims to endorse.
One night in Santa Barbara, I went walking, more out of depression than any interest in exercise. I passed a church, a beautiful stone thing with arched doorway, and thought I'd try working through my troubles in God's house. Since it would not be full of people, maybe I would ask for guidance and perhaps God might have time for me. But the door was locked; not just locked, it was heavy wood bound with iron and utterly immovable. I had never, in my whole career of feeling cosmically isolated, felt so cut off, so abandoned.

What ever happened to the notion of Church as sanctuary? What if it hadn't been just my psyche tormenting me that evening? Once upon a time you were supposed to be able to seek refuge, protection, or aid from the Church, whether from drunk soldiers intent on rape, or from the tax collector threatening your freedom rather than working out a payment plan. You could go inside and throw yourself on God's mercy, and the soldiers and the tax collectors couldn't touch you.

… if Jesus, the very person the Church claims to honor, said "Come unto me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28), then it would seem that fences and doors have no place in a church. How can anyone come if the doors are locked?

…There isn't the budget to keep someone on hand at all hours to chase away "the bad people," to give a meal and a warm bed to someone who needs help (conveniently forgetting the parable of the good Samaritan), to talk with someone angry and disillusioned, to comfort a person feeling small and forgotten. It's never been a Sunday morning when I needed a little touch of heaven.

What a sorry state to come to: judging and turning away the very people Jesus, "anointed... to bring good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18) By closing the doors and minimizing the staff, churches may be ensuring that their sanctuary is always pristine, or that there is the money for that really fabulous youth retreat to Tahoe at the height of ski season. They're also ensuring that the only people whose lives they will ever touch are the ones whom they've already saved.
Christina Gilman


If we really believe that our church buildings are God's House, then can we not trust him to protect his own property?

I find it interesting that neither Jesus nor any other Bible writer ever gave instructions on how to protect our buildings and possessions from robbers. On the contrary, Jesus warned about the robbers INSIDE the church. He said, "My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers" Mat. 21:13 The robbers that Jesus was referring to happened to be the leaders who were taking advantage of the people.

The apostle Paul was also concerned about the INSIDE robbers - the legalists who where were trying to rob the new believers of their freedom in Christ by putting them in bondage to a lot of rules. (See Gal. 1:6, 3:1-6)

Really the worst robber of all is the devil. He is the thief who comes "to steal and kill and destroy." Jn. 10:10 He gets INSIDE the sheepfold (the church), and masquerades as the true Shepherd. Then he steals the hearts of the sheep and draws them away from Jesus; for example: he temps them to be preoccupied with their material possessions - including buildings.

I believe that fear is usually the motivation behind tightly locked doors. But Jesus taught that we are not to fear what man can do. Jesus also taught that we should have a very loose hold on material possessions because they won't last anyway. (ex, the man who built a bigger barn, not thinking that he could die the next day; or the foolish man who built his house on the sand) Jesus taught us to invest in eternal wealth - treasures in heaven, where nothing can destroy them. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." When we treasure our buildings too much, then our heart's affection will be towards them, not towards Jesus.

Didn't Jesus want us to be resourceful with what he has given us in order to build his kingdom? (See Parable of the Ten Talents Matt. 25:14-30) Wouldn't locking churches all the time be like burying the talent?

Locked doors didn't stop Jesus

After Jesus' death, his followers feared for their lives, wondering if they would be next to be arrested. No wonder they gathered behind locked doors. "… the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews…" However, those locked doors were no deterrent to Jesus. He empathized with their fears and visited them in order to comfort them. "Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.'" John 20:19

Locked doors have never been a deterrent for the Lord. During the mid 1700's, churches in Britain closed their doors to two outstanding revival preachers, Whitefield and John Wesley. This was no deterrent for these men. Garbed in their clerical robes, they stood on boxes or tables and preached in the open air. Thousands came to hear. Thousands discovered the beauty of God's love. Society was changed forever in spite of the locked churches.

We can have a key for the Church

Normally, churches only hand out keys to certain people - people who have important responsibilities and can be trusted. Jesus handed out keys too. He said to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." :19 What a privilege to have these keys! They open the very doors of heaven. Peter used them when he proclaimed the message of the gospel. Through him, the door of the kingdom was being unlocked for to all who sought Christ for salvation. Even today, all who are true believers have also been given these keys to the Kingdom of heaven - in order to fulfill their calling as ambassadors of Christ. This is an important responsibility.

God said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it." Matt. 16:18. In other words, no locked doors, no powers can resist the formation of the universal Church - the spiritual body of true believers. Neither can any locked church keep the Spirit of Christ from entering the heart of anyone who seeks him.

His Spirit is knocking on the door of hearts everywhere, somehow making them aware of his presence. He is drawing them to himself and they are unlocking the door and letting him in. He is healing them, forgiving them, setting them free, and filling them with joy and peace.

Are our hearts locked?

I believe that God is not seeking open church buildings as much as he is seeking open hearts. We are all familiar with the painting of Jesus knocking on the door - the door that represents the heart. Whenever we look at this picture, we know exactly what he is saying. He is saying,

"Here I am.
I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice
and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with him
and he with me."

These words were given to the church members inside the Laodician churches - those who thought that they had a good standing with God, but really, they had been locking Jesus outside of their hearts. They were not using their keys. As a result they had become proud and hypocritical, and didn't know that they were actually very needy - "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked." Rev. 3:17
When God knocks on the door of our hearts, we will be richly blessed if we set aside our pride and self-sufficiency, and let him in. He will change our hearts and give us a love for him. In response, we will generously open our hearts to others to give them the same comfort and hope that we have received from Christ.

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