Thursday, May 12, 2005

Teaching Summary (5/5)

Rediscovering Church:
Being a Reverent Church
Acts 5:1-11

In the last 20 years, nothing has changed the face of the church in America more than worship. Especially worship through music.

Worship has gone from being dry and ritualistic to being exciting and "contemporary". From songs written by Bach to songs that sound like the Beatles. From 4-part musical writing using dots on a page to karaoke "words-only" writing using PowerPoint and 3500 lumens. It used to smell like dusty hymnals and oaken pews, now it smells like Starbucks and stagelight gels.

Books have been written by the hundreds about how worship is central to the contemporary worship service "experience". Seminal among these is Sally Morganthaler's Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God (see here for a great review). Many have modified her theories and believe that the musical portion of the church service is the main access point for "seekers" and therefore should be a primary evangelism/outreach plan.

So worship has become a production. A show. A hook. In an attempt not to offend people with outdated styles, many churches try to attract people with updated styles and call it worship. As if worship is for the seeker. Indeed, there are additional books arguing that worship is not for the seeker, it's for the believer. (Actually, they're both wrong- it's for God).

I've read a lot of those books. Interestingly few (if any) quote a central Bible verse on the subject: Hebrews 12:28-29.

Modifying the style, feel, personality, look, and overall aesthetics of the church in an attempt to reach more people with the Gospel is one of the best things churches can do. Making worship about the people is one of the worst. The author of Hebrews uses an interesting word when describing worship: Acceptable.

If we were to ask the question, "What describes acceptable worship?", we might come up with adjectives like, "heartfelt", "celebratory", "personal" or even "inviting". The author of Hebrews gives us adjectives that defy popular convention: "reverence and awe." It's not that the other adectives are wrong- they all are important, they're just not central to what worship is. Worship is dealing with God as He truly is: Not Us.

In the early church, things were happening. Power was flowing, people were changing, and there was a favorable reputation going around about these "Christians". It was just a matter of time before someone tried to fake their way into the group. Maybe Ananias and his wife Sapphira were really a part of the group, but most likely they saw the reputation of people like Barnabas and wanted a piece of the glory. Especially if they could get it at a lower cost.

When they misrepresented the amount of their land sale to Peter (and to the Holy Spirit), the hardness of their hearts quickly spread to their other major organs. And arteries. And extremeties. God's judgment was instantaneous. And purposeful. Not just for Ananias and Sapphira, but for the whole church. Twice in the passage, Luke mentions that "great fear came upon all who heard." (vv. 5 & 11) I'm sure any sense of entitlement in this new movement disappeared pretty fast. Flippancy and self-promotion became rare. The church was marked with a clear sense of reverence before God.

Reverent doesn't mean boring. Reverent doesn't mean stern and overbearing. It can be celebrative, joyous, and thankful. Inviting, even. But it means that we take God seriously, and that we remember our place before Him.

Hebrews 12:29 calls God "a consuming fire". Lamentations 3:22 reminds us that, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed." This is a terribly wonderful paradox: Our God is a consuming fire who loves us. That is why we revere Him and yet love Him. We worship with awe and yet thankfulness. We worship with honesty and yet relief. We worship with fear and yet confidence.

True worship is reverent worship. Will that attract "seekers"? Maybe. Most likely the ones who will believe. Will it feed believers? Sure. Most likely not the ones who are faking it. But it's acceptable before God. And that's the most important thing.


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