I have been a church member almost my entire life. More specifically, I have been a Baptist church member most of my life. Attending church every time the doors were open was a priority for my family. Not only that, but we attended neighboring revivals, camp meetings, church retreats, tent meetings, and vacation bible schools.
I have had, therefore, the opportunity to observe many church services, forms of worship, various types of singing, church leadership, church government, and pastors. It does not make me an expert, but it has created in me areas of concern. I will address these areas of concern and try to work through to a satisfactory conclusion or at least a direction.
When all is said and done, there is only one reason I go to church. That reason is obedience. God said to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as believers, and that is that. No questions asked. Period. It is not for fellowship. It is not for networking. It is not to hear good preaching, good singing, or to be entertained. It is not to “get something out of it.” It is not to make friends. It is not for my kids. While these are all good reasons, important reasons; the bottom line is obedience. Truth be known, there are many times that obedience is the only reason I go.
However, because I do go to church, I do expect certain things. Not getting my expectations met, will not keep me from going, but there are some issues that cause me grave concern. I have considered that it might be, on my part, a reluctance to change with the times. Culture does change, and the way we relate to it changes. For the most part, I have learned that whatever the vehicle of worship happens to be, I can use it.
Maze Jackson, an evangelist who did much to influence my life when I was a teenager, taught me that I can praise the Lord no matter what kind of church service happens to be going on. My body is the temple of the Lord and my heart is His sanctuary. I am at home with the Lord at all times in my heart, and nothing but my own sin can hinder my worship of God.
Having said that, why then as I sit in the contemporary worship service of today, does my heart feel heavily burdened, and my desire for something more, something long gone, sits unrequited in the depths of my soul? Something is missing. Something is gone.
Perhaps we need to consider a bigger picture. As we sit in our luxurious pews, our feet on carpeted floors, our ears entertained with the pleasing sounds of pianos, guitars, and drums, our minds stimulated with Bible trivia, relating to corny jokes meant to break the ice of preppy minds, have we lost sight of what is happening in the spiritual domain as the war between good and evil intensifies and the battle for souls is waged? If we really believe what we say we do, would we be doing what we are doing?
Is there not a cause; a cause that is not about us? It is not about our entertainment or fellowship. It is a holy cause. C.S. Lewis describes the deep longing in our hearts for something more as a desire for another country, a better country. We are not home yet. We are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land. How dare we claim this as our own! We are not here to acquire status symbols, prestige, fame or wealth. That is not our purpose. We have a cause.
The Bible says a man’s gift makes room for him. This gift can be used in the secular world or in the Christian ministry. Using this gift in the secular world in order to minister Christ is noble, although at great risk for compromise leading to contamination. It would take the absolute surrendering to God of every faculty in a man to keep him at the place of humble useability. Otherwise pride and the seduction of the world would destroy him. But then, this is also true of the same man using his gift in Christian ministry. The infection of sin is constantly a threat in either case. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels…”to be sure.
But still, is there not a cause? What right have we to take our gift for ourselves? Should the gift not be subject to the Lord’s purpose?
Should the church not be subject to the Lord’s purpose? What right have we to take the church unto ourselves? What right have we to use it in any other manner expect a holy manner? How the lines have blurred between the holy and the unholy!
One could argue that it is not sin to use the arena of church to have fun, entertainment, and recreation. But is this the purpose of the church which is pictured as waging war against the gates of hell? Is there not a greater cause than fun, entertainment, and recreation in the name of Christ? All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient.
I concede that there is a great battle for the minds of our young people. Pizza parties, camping trips, and dancing to Christian rock music may not be the best venue in which to reach our children. Chanting seven words eleven times plays games with the mind and opens the doors to emotions mistaken for the Holy Spirit. And still our batting average for saving our young people remains very low. This is a battle entered too late, for it is first fought and won in the home before the age of six.
Do we think we can make the Holy Spirit more user-friendly by separating the family and congregation into age specific worship? The family lives together; can they not worship together? Would that not promote family relationship and cohesiveness? Would they not relish the memories of witnessing together God’s work among the congregation? We have fragmented the family of God in the effort of user friendly worship.
We all in our deepest core desire a greater purpose outside of ourselves to serve and worship instead of being focused on ourselves and our enjoyment. I submit that young people are much more likely to rise to the challenge of training for missions and evangelism, and in doing so become more like Christ, than they are to be changed by line dancing in the youth department.
I concede that the most effective evangelism is friendship evangelism. We reach out to our neighbors and the ones whose lives we touch. We love them with the love of Christ and pray for their souls, watching for that opportunity to give an answer when asked about the hope within us. I am not saying that having fun with friends at church is wrong. It does have its place.
What is missing is intentional evangelism in our activities. What is missing is the manifest difference between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean, and the wise and the unwise. We are called to be a peculiar people. While this may be subject to interpretation, it obviously calls for a definite delineation between the saint and the sinner. Are we raising rock stars and dancing queens or people who would lay down their lives for others for the sake of the gospel?
The eye is no longer single, we have a perverted purpose. We have learned that we can safely make a decision for Christ without any kind of life change. We have believed without repentance. Gone are the days where we come to the altar to mourn our sins and repent. I can remember a revival meeting when I was a teen in which the evangelist preached a message on “My Sins.” His message addressed the verse about being less concerned with the mote in our neighbor’s eye and more concerned about the beam in our own eye. He emphasized the enormity of our own sin and the call to repentance and forgiveness. The power of God was felt and evidenced in so much that people flocked to the altar in repentance and then got up from their knees and went to their neighbor to ask forgiveness. I remember fathers going to their children, husbands and wives reconciling, and friends asking forgiveness for offenses. There was weeping, and there was great joy. It was indeed one of the most beautiful services I have ever witnessed. That was only one of the many memories I have of the altar being filled with people weeping and rejoicing.
The lack of emphasis on repentance in the church has given birth to a shallow Christianity that is satisfied to leave the doctrines of the hymns and sing songs that talk about worship and praise, chanting lines over and over until people are worked up emotionally. We have substituted this created emotion for the work of the Holy Spirit. It was Isaiah who said in the presence of the Lord, “Woe is me for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the Kind, the Lord of hosts.” That would more than likely be our response in the physical presence of the Lord. We would be struck with our unworthiness to even be in His presence, a far cry from singing over and over that we worship and praise Him, and I am sure that at that moment we would know what true worship and praise really is.
The lack of emphasis on repentance in the church has also given birth to a people who can walk out of church on Sunday and feel that God will bless their efforts no matter what they are. So then, we end up with young people entering any profession expecting that God will help them and approve.
II Chronicles 7:14 says “If my people who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. What a promise! What an answer to the sickness in our lives and in our nation! This indicates that the answer does not originate in reforms of government or a promising presidential candidate, but in the repentance of God’s people.
This is not a call to stop enjoying God’s gifts to us. We are not called to legalism where women are targeted as the spiritual thermometers of the church according to their submissiveness and dress, and where the men are expected to attain to an authoritarian headship where wives dare not question and children are alienated. This kind of self-righteousness has done nothing to draw people to give “their utmost for His highest.”
It has also driven away our young people and destroyed our marriages.
Once you have experienced the convicting power of God in a worship service, you can never forget it, and you long to see it again for that is where lives are changed and the world sees God. It is not only where people are saved, but it is also where Christians are sanctified by His truth.
This is a call to fasting and praying, seeking God’s face. Did not God say, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loosen the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.” Many of the old preachers, such as Spurgeon, attributed the blessings of God on their preaching to the hundreds of people praying for them, even while they were preaching.
The pendulum has swung from law to grace…from legalism to liberality. Balance the most important word in the christian language.