09 February 2015

glimmers of the missing jewel

I know of a woman who is quite skeptical of religion. She was facing a personal crisis when someone told her that they would be in prayer. She was thankful for this, and replied, "Kindness and empathy are my religion."

Of course, a worldview such as this is riddled with problems. But I am beginning to wonder if the modern church has much more to offer than this. The church isn't a threat to our culture. We have become good at creating warm spiritual experiences, but not encounters with the living God.

Every week churches are filled with men and women who are dealing with life – many ups and downs, successes and failures, highs and lows are dragged into a worship service, each looking for a context. If the writer of Ecclesiastes is so certain that God can make everything beautiful in its time, then the search for meaning is naturally found within us. To ignore this inner longing is to be unfulfilled and incomplete. Some will try to find this within good sentiment and happy thoughts, perhaps even in the beauty of nature. (Again, these are problematic statements that could each be examined on their own.)

But what is the current state of our modern worship? Has it become overly concerned with self and emotive experience? Are we looking for a spiritualized warmth rather than a transformative encounter with the Almighty? The words to our music says much, and so does the posture of our worshipers. Much of what we say and sing are about our place in the world, and our ability to be happy about ourselves because we attend a church service. Our posturing often looks more like we are a part of a social club than the body of Christ.

A. W. Tozer once said: "Now, worship is the missing jewel in modern evangelicalism. We're organized; we work; we have our agendas. We have almost everything, but here's one thing that the churches, even the gospel churches, do not have: that is the ability to worship. We are not cultivating the art of worship. It's the one shining gem that is lost to the modern church, and I believe that we ought to search for this until we find it."

Elsewhere, on the same topic, he writes, "Now it is possible to have religious experience without Jesus Christ. It's not only possible to have religious experience, it's possible toe have worship without Jesus Christ."

These are serious statements – even more so by the fact that we are now experiencing the fruit of those realities within the church, and in the world that the church is supposed to be influencing. While visiting a local church recently for Sunday service I had to ask: What is different between this worship setting and the thinking, 'my religion is kindness and empathy?

If we are willing to take an honest look, we might be surprised to discover how much similarity between these two experiences there really is – not what ought to be, but what really is.

I do not wish to be overly critical of the church, and it is not my intention to throw stones at the many people who are trying to be sincere in their faith and worship. There is far too much of that going on, especially in the blogosphere ... and by people who have no intention of helping the church improve. I say all of this because I am passionate about the church and its worship before God. I want to be a person who challenges the body of Christ to become more devoted to a transformative experience in the presence of the divine. I wish to see God's Spirit give new birth to men and women who approach him with great expectations of his power.

But this will never happen if we keep God sitting next to us as a friendly figure who shows us kindness and empathy. He must also be the transcendent Maker of Heaven and Earth that shakes the world by his very presence. In our communion with him we must gaze upon him in awestruck wonder, never falling for the sin of becoming overly familiar with his intense holiness. The Bible has much to say about God being unapproachable that we dare not think that we do him any favors by showing up to sing a few songs and toss in a few dollars. The cost of our communion is in the blood of Christ, and that can never be reduced to a warm and fuzzy spiritual experience without damage being done to the faith that is supposed to be transforming us.

Simply, this is a statement of concern for the current state of the church. I believe that we can be doing better – all of us, even the ones that are getting it right. But to consider that our churches have now put together some of the most artistically advanced worship experiences in the history of the world and still exist with such little impact on our culture, might make us begin to think that the quality of our content is far behind the quality of our delivery.

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