Q & A: Shoes in the Church Building

“And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest [is] holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

“And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest [is] holy. And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:15)

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Question:

I have a mind-boggling question which I hope you can help me straighten out.

It’s about wearing shoes in the church. I am not at peace about wearing shoes in the church when I read God’s order to Moses (Exodus 3:5) & to Joshua (Joshua 5:15) about not wearing shoes. Shouldn’t we all do this? I strongly believe that we should not wear shoes in the church & most of all at the altar. I really admire the Muslims, the Hindus & the Buddhists (these are the main religions in my country). No matter what authority a person is holding when he enters his place of worship he leaves the shoes outside. It doesn’t matter if he is the king of the country or a pauper. However, it is the total opposite with Christians. Sometimes I try to figure out why, in my country, we don’t use shoes in our own house but we very comfortably do so in the House of The Lord. When the non-Christians give such importance to their place of worship what more with the Christians who are supposed to be the Chosen Generation.

Please help me to sort this out.

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Answer:

The two passages that you have mentioned are unique in that we don’t find anything like them in all of Scripture. Jesus himself wore shoes, for we know that John the Baptist referred to them, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose” (Mark 1:7). God also supernaturally prevented the shoes of the Israelites from wearing out for 40 years in the desert (Deuteronomy 29:5) so he certainly has nothing against shoes in and of themselves. In no part of Scripture do we see God directing individuals who either worship at the temple (Old Testament) or in a church building (New Testament) to remove their shoes. There is plenty of room in Scripture for God to have mentioned that, if he had wanted to. However, he didn’t. The only passages we find that touch upon this in any way are the two that you have mentioned. However, these don’t occur within the confines of a building, but rather, outside on bare ground! So we need to be very careful about transporting these two events into the church building context when in fact they occur within a very different context altogether.

More than this, these passages are unique because they deal with two similar and unique instances in the history of Israel and, indeed, in the history of the world, which have never been nor ever will be repeated in these ways. The first is the case of God leading his children out of the land of slavery (Egypt). In Exodus 3, God told Moses to remove his shoes before giving orders to him concerning leading the children of Israel out of the land of slavery (Egypt). It was like God was saying to Moses, “Listen up and pay attention!” That’s what the removing of the shoes was all about. It was not about WHERE he was so much as it was about WHAT he has about to hear and from WHOM. When God said, “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest [is] holy ground” (Exodus 3:5b) — the ground was holy because God was in his midst with an important message to hear and to obey.

Exodus 3:7b (2 verses later) reads, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which [are] in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.” Right to the end of the chapter God gives directions to Moses on what to do in order to bring about the release of the children of Israel from the land of slavery. The case of Joshua 5 is similar, but instead of receiving orders to take the children of Israel OUT of the land of slavery this time it is taking them INTO the land of promise (Canaan). Joshua 6:2 begins (2 verses later), “And the LORD said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, [and] the mighty men of valour.” God’s directions to Joshua end in verse 5 at which point we now see that Joshua is beginning to carry out God’s orders.

In these special instances, where God has manifested himself in these ways (as or in a burning bush, and as a mighty warrior), it should not be too surprising that he would also give special directives, as well, concerning other things such as removing ones shoes or sandals. However, these are definitely not the norm and should not be interpreted as being the norm for Christians today. However, if God should decide to do something extra-ordinary in your life, well, yes, at that time, you may in fact receive similar instructions! Make sure to follow them as you receive them!

Now I would like to mention, as well, a very common misconception among a great many number of Christians and one which you have stated in your letter. You have called the place of worship the “House of Lord”. You have more than likely been told this from your pastor, and indeed, many pastors use this expression for the church building on a regular basis. They will say something like, “Welcome to the house of the Lord”. Is the church building the “house of the Lord?” In the Old Testament, it is true, the temple was the house of the Lord, for God literally came in Spirit and dwelt in the temple. Thus it was his “house” in this sense because it was where he dwelt. But to call the church building the “house of the Lord” is actually theologically incorrect. Second Corinthians 6:16b spells it out clearly, “for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” In other words, the house of the Lord since the resurrection is now all those in whom the Spirit dwells. Notice how Paul emphasises this in this passage, “for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them…” The house of the Lord is then where God is, and God is in you, if you are a Christian (Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:13). You are the house of the Lord. And that is theologically very accurate and you have nothing to be ashamed about in confessing that you are the house of the Lord. Praise God!

I mention this because your reasons for wanting to remove your shoes in the church building are clearly related with your concept of the church building as being a holy place. Well, how holy it is really depends on how holy the people are that come into it. If each person has cleaned up their own “house” (themselves) then it will be a holy place indeed. I would suggest to you that cleaning up their own “house” does not depend upon whether or not they remove their shoes at the door of the church building but on whether or not they have kept themselves pure in their thoughts and in their actions and in their words, and if they have lived holy, sanctified, “set apart” lives for God prior to entering that place. What if the man who removed his shoes at the door of the church had lived a life of sin prior to entering? Would removing his shoes do any good at all? No, absolutely not! But what if the man who had lived a holy life wanted to remove his shoes? Would that be wrong? No, of course not. Only, he should understand that according to Scripture, that removing ones shoes when entering the church building is not required.