The Death of Reverence, The Death of Holiness

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I sat on the pew outside the sanctuary and began to weep. I was crushed at what I was hearing and what I was experiencing. “Was I such an anomaly that finding a place to worship God with reverence and holiness was asking too much?” I literally felt like there would be no place for me to worship, no place to confess sin, no place to hear from Christ, no place that honored our LORD in thought, word and deed.

The church was an Acts 29 church, so I thought it would be solid in some ways. But I was disappointed the moment I saw the “band.” I know, I’m a relic, a has-been, a wash out, therefore I should just get “with it” and the “world” and worship like the rest of the world worships God. But I can’t do it. To me the “band” lacks reverence for a holy and just God. It is the world’s invention, thrust upon the body of Christ by those who supposedly “know better.”

If you were to tell the believers in the 1960s and 1970s that by 2010, if you really wanted to lead people in worshipping God then you would have to adopt the concert hall, the bar room, the disco in order to worship, they would have quit sharing the gospel at that moment out of reverence for His holiness.

“You mean the body of Christ is going to become the world, in order to save the world?”

I think the apostle John had something to say about that. 1 John 2:5 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the loveof the Father is not in him.

But John was “o-so first century! What did he know?” (Read: Open Letter to Praise Bands).

Instead of reverence, corporate prayer, corporate confession of sin, meditation, reading of Scripture, we are given the barroom with the latest act “leading” us? in worship. The leading act was so loud, it hurt my ears. That was the initial reason I left the sanctuary. I’ve had enough ear damage from my days of debauchery, I have no real desire to damage them some more in worldly worship.

The “band” even sang one of my favorite songs, Amazing Grace. But I wasn’t inspired to sing. Why should I? No one would have heard anyone over her voice and the congregation knew that as well. No one but the leader of the “band” was singing. John Newton would surely weep if he knew his song was being treated in such a manner.

This was not corporate worship. Corporate worship, which is prescribed in the Bible for the church to do, is for the entire body to do, not just a lead singer. Corporate worship was one of the marks of the Reformation. The Reformers were seeking to put worship back into the hands of the people.

Before the Reformation, only the clergy were participating in worship. The people just watched. Little did we know that the people really don’t want to worship. Just as the people in Moses’ day rejected being in God’s presence and asked Moses to be the mediator, so too are our congregations rejecting their right to pray, confess and sing to God. We are putting worship back into the hands of the clergy all over again, only this time the “clergy” have guitars and drums. They don’t realize this is what they are doing because while the lead singer belts away on one of their favorite tunes, he give some in the congregation an emotional experience, thereby deluding them into thinking that they have worshipped. They haven’t. I was having an emotional experience, and it was NOT worship.

Worship is more about obedience to God than emotional experiences. It is more about saying what is true of God, back to God. It is recognizing that we are meeting with a holy and just God, not Jay Z.

It means we do all to glorify Him, not that which glorifies the band leader and the guitar player. It means we actually prepare for worship throughout the week and on Sunday morning. We realize that congregational worship is the most important thing we will do all week, when done properly. When it is done properly, then we have met with God in His presence, heard from God through the reading and preaching of His word, been fed by God through reading and preaching of the word, and communion. We have been comforted by the gathering of the saints, both the ones here and the ones worshipping God as the church triumphant. In fact, we are joining with them in the worship that is already taking place in heaven.

But for some reason, we now want our worship to resemble some bad rock concert from the 1970s. Instead of holiness and reverence, we can dance in the aisles like a bunch of drunks.

I decided to leave. No point in staying. By the time the pastor got around to preaching, my heart would have been so upset that it wouldn’t matter what he said. My heart wasn’t right any longer. I knew that church wasn’t for me so I left, went to the car, and wept some more. I knew it would be hard to find a church to get plugged into, but I never realized the emotional toll it would take on me.

I called Babalucy and we talked and prayed.

I then set off for a Lutheran church I had passed the other day. I’m not Lutheran, and I don’t like the fact that going there, I would be considered out of fellowship and denied acceptance at the Lord’s table. I knew all of that, and accepted it in the hopes of solid, biblical preaching and a reverence of God.

Damn! The Lutheran church I found had open communion. That meant they were conviction-less Lutherans. No preaching of the word of God today. However, I did get a helpful lesson in forgiveness, which is what the pastor was preaching. In fact, it was a 12-step program and he was on steps 8 and 9. He even used a bit of Scripture, but was very brief with it. No need for the Bible here! Move along.

The pastor also let us know that he and his wife had tattoos on their backs. For some reason, he felt like we needed to know that. I guess he was trying to show us he had a past… and a present.

While the first church was irreverent in their music and approach before God, the Lutherans were irreverent in the substance of their actions with God. Both were irreverent in their own way. Both failed to take entering into the presence of God with any level of holiness or seriousness. Both treated entering the Holy of Holies as if it were a joke.

(Please note: Not all Lutherans are this way. I was hoping to find the ones who were not. It is just this particular church was. I can accept being barred from the table over theological disagreements if those barring me are reverent before a holy and just God.)

By the time I got free of the Lutherans, I realized I had time to find another place to worship. Someone told me of a church that was non-denominational that was supposed to be really good. I went to that one and as I got out of the car, I could hear the thump-thump bass of the band inside.

“Keep walking,”  I told myself. I did. I noticed others arriving about the same time and then it hit me. No one was carrying a Bible but me. In fact, the two previous churches had the same symptom. No one carried their Bibles. This was not good.

I got to the door and looked inside. I could see the “band” playing at the front of the sanctuary, the lead singer’s face all contorted as he belted out whatever ditty he was singing. The crowd, all on their feet, staring ahead as if he were Jon Bon Jovi rocking away.

I’m NOT going in there!” I turned and went back to my car.

On the way over, I passed a typical Baptist church that had a lot of cars in the parking lot. “Ok, give it a shot.”

Turns out, the Baptist church was letting another Luther church use their sanctuary during the early hour. They were all leaving when I got there, and there were only about 50 of us left in the sanctuary that held about 250. I stayed simply out of empathy for the pastor. I know what he must feel to look at all those empty pews. I could see the budget shortfall reported in the bulletin. I knew his staff was way too big, but because of tradition, he was bound to keep the associate pastor, the organist, the church secretary, etc., even though the church had no need for all that.

They were desperate for growth and I felt that desperation. Literally. They had me introduce myself and gave me a form to fill out so they could contact me. And IF I gave that form back to the pastor at the end of the church, they would give me a special gift. That wreaks of desperation. I know. I’ve done all those things before. Desperation never works. I’m an expert at it. I know.

But I was polite and put my name on the form. I sang the songs presented, and listened to the explanation of Acts 14. It was OK. It wasn’t offensive. It was a decent message and he didn’t act like Jesus was his BFF.

I left without giving the form back to the pastor, but the associate pastor chased me down in order to give me my gift! It was a bag with a coffee cup, some Hershey’s Kisses, a New Testament, a pen and a pack of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate.

While the Acts 29 church was trying to woo me with Starbucks-like coffee, a rock band and donuts, the Baptist tried to win my heart with Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate.

Neither worked. I want calls to worship, benedictions, corporate prayer. I want corporate confessions of sin, and corporate assurances of pardons. I want singing where I can hear the congregation, and songs that are theologically accurate and Christ centered. I want good, solid Biblical preaching where the pastor strives to preach the full counsel of God. I want communion where the table is fenced and non-believers know that partaking of the communion in an unworthy manner is to drink judgment upon oneself. I want benedictions, and pastoral prayers, and the reading of Scripture.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want Reformed worship… and another pastorate.

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