Nothing reveals more clearly what your church believes about the character of God, than how you worship. You can take your confessions, your doctrinal statements, your programs, and roll ‘em up and throw ‘em in the garbage can because they don’t mean anything, in terms of what really is being expressed about the character of God, as in your worship. Our problem in not an architectural problem, it’s not even a musical problem, …the problem is people are coming to church and have no sense of the presence of God. In fact the basic sense of the American person in our day is a profound sense of the absence of God.I questioned that our lack of respect is sometimes evident through, but not limited to, how we dress when we go to worship. My critics immediately charged me with being legalistic and claimed that what matters, to God, is not how we are dressed when we approach Him, but what the attitude of our heart is. Now, while it’s true that just about any custom or liturgy could get to be so routine as to make it ineffective, I believe the core of my criticism is valid. I have not stated that one is unable to properly worship unless dressed in fine, expensive clothing of any particular style. I have also not stated that the attitude of our heart in preparation for, and during worship, is irrelevant. Rather, I have maintained that our spiritual attitude is not unaffected by the physicality of the manner in which we present ourselves before God. We exist in the reality of the universe created by God, and that reality entails the material and the abstract, the physical and the spiritual. Yet, given the way some Evangelicals approach the act of worship, it seems that we sometimes place more emphasis on the abstract, spiritual side of reality than is warranted. What could possibly drive the line of thinking that what matters most to God is not the physical nature of our reality, but the spiritual? Could it be driven by the fact that Jesus spokeout more against sins of thought than sins of action? Or is it due to the fact that the Bible states that while we see only the outward man, God sees inside the heart? Or could it be simply due to the fact that our culture elevates personal rights and, accordingly, personal feelings to that of supreme importance? Well, for whatever reason, the spiritual aspect of our being seems to be regarded not only as authoritative over our physical being, but it is sometimes considered to actually be free from the effects of the Fall. In Greg Koukl’s Decision Making and the Will of God series, one of the criticisms he receives is that our decision making process should not be based on our reasoning skills but, rather, based on our spiritual connectivity with God. In other words, we can’t trust our own reasoning, so the argument goes, but we can trust our spiritual direction from God. Likewise, when I discuss how we, as Christians, should exercise some effort to actually study the Bible in order to understand the meaning of the words and intentions of the author, some critics respond that such a practice stifles the leading of the Spirit. Again, the argument presented by critics is that the process of spiritual formation through God’s Word is best dealt with through God’s supernatural action, and that any attempt by us to rely on our own reasoning is inherently corrupt. There is, it is alleged, a dichotomy, however subtle, between the spiritual and the physical. This line of thinking, I believe, fails to embrace the fullness of God. It works from a false premise and ignores the very Christian idea that, while we are not of the World, we remain in it. I would argue that there is no dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical and that, in fact, there is Biblical evidence that the physical reality of our existence is just as important to our theology as the spiritual reality is. In another message by Sproul, the title of which I cannot recall, he examined the aspect of our five senses and how they might relate to God’s revealed Word. For example, Sproul raised the question as to whether it made any difference that God chose wine and bread to be used for the holy sacraments. We understand that they are symbolic in nature, and that the symbolism is abstract; but does the color, smell, and taste of wine guide the symbolism in any way? Does the texture, structure, smell, and taste of the bread aid in our understanding of the intended meaning of the sacrament? Consider how God described the burnt sacrifices of the Old Testament as releasing a pleasing aroma to his nostrils (e.g., Exodus 29:18). Ponder the implications of finding the proper sacrificial lamb as well as the meaning behind the color, smell, and texture of its blood. Of what value would our intimate appreciation of the smell of expensive perfume be as we ponder the equally existential aspect of feet that are encrusted with dried mud made from sweat and dust? Is our abstract understanding of the sacrament of water baptism amplified through the physical experience of being engulfed in water? Is there such a thing as a “physical” aspect with regards to our attitude of worship? If so, does scripture give us a template on how such an aspect of our attitude of worship should be shaped? A cursory reading of scripture would seem to reveal a reverence for the “call to worship” that we, in the 21st century West, seem to have missed. Does our culture’s reliance on the importance of presenting a pure “spiritual” attitude of the heart reflect sincere piety, or does it reflect a misguided and, possibly, self-centered worldview? When Christians think that they can casually approach God, because God “accepts them as they are,” I think that they have seriously misunderstood who they are, who God is, and how important the physical reality of this existence truly is. The Gnostics considered the physical to be evil thereby elevating the spiritual to that of supreme importance. While a casual attitude with regards to our call to worship does not, in and of itself, deem the physical to be evil, it does tend towards elevating to sole importance the spiritual aspect of our relationship with God. Indeed, we are not Gnostics. We live in a reality encompassing both the physical and the spiritual. As such, we should be about understanding the full measure of our responsibilities towards worshipping God.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
On our "Call to Worship": Do baggy shorts and flipflops enhance our peaceful, easy feeling?
Back in March, 2004, I wrote a post titled, On Worship, based on a message by R. C. Sproul in which he discussed how our worship to God should be characterized by sacredness and respect. His message was titled, Surely God is in this place and might still be found at his site. One of his criticisms, and one of mine, was how our current Christian culture seems to have lost the concept of respect for God due, in part, to our misunderstanding of the character of God. Sproul said,