When the Crystal Palace Exhibition opened in 1851, people flocked to London’s Hyde Park to behold the marvels. The biggest attraction was steam. Displayed for everyone were steam plows, steam locomotives, steam looms, steam organs and even a steam cannon. Steam captured the imagination of that generation.
Of all the outstanding exhibits the first #30;prize winner went to a steam contraption with seven thousand parts. When turned on, its pulleys, whistles, bells, and gears produced much noise, but, ironically, the contraption didn’t do a thing! The apparatus had no practical use.
It’s easy to smile at a former generation’s fascination with steam; nobody thinks much of steam, today. We have many more things to hold our attention. In today’s high #30;tech age, however, it is just as easy to confuse activity with accomplishment. The sound of gears and pulleys fools many into thinking something important is being done.
The latest craze in the church is directed toward worship and praise. No matter where you go these days, you cannot help running into WORSHIP CELEBRATION that can mean anything from a Christian band to repetitious singing of praise choruses. To the careful observer the obvious focus in much contemporary worship is how it makes the individual feel -- a shift in emphasis from former Christianity. The purpose appears to leave the worshiper feeling great and uplifted. Nothing’s wrong with that; worship should make a person feel encouraged and inspired and this is needed in many congregations.
Not all worship, however, should make us feel wonderful. The saints of another generation spoke often of the “dread of the Lord.”Few Christians today seem to understand what that means. Often, in times past, a terrific fear of the Lord would come on the congregation resulting in an overpowering sense of conviction. People would line the altar pouring out their soul to God, pleading for mercy. Such holy dread is a rarity in these days of self #30;assertive Christianity. The lack of the fear of the Lord permeates contemporary worship to such an extent that anything goes without the slightest regard of how it sets with God, whom we are supposed to be worshiping.
On becoming more familiar with God the worshiper begins to understand that some things are acceptable while other things repulse Him. To go by what is in vogue these days one would think that nothing offends God and that He accepts everything without discrimination. Forgotten are the awesome lessons found in the Old Testament, lessons that cost the Israelites dearly in their struggle to become acquainted with Jehovah.All of the rules and regulations in the Old Testament pointed to one astonishing truth: the holiness of God. A holy God, intolerant of insubordination from His people, consumed Aaron’s sons for burning “strange fire” on the altar.Some things God will not tolerate, and to worship Him I need to know what they are.
Worship is serious business as far as God is concerned, and He wants His people to consider it as such when they approach Him. A superficial attitude only reveals the worshiper’s basic unfamiliarity with God. Bringing into the worship experience things incompatible with the nature and character of God, can only bring reproach upon the congregation and leadership. Today’s trend of dragging elements of our culture into a service set apart for the worship of God must displease Him.
An atrocity influencing our assemblies today is entertainmentism. This proliferation of entertainment in churches can only point to the stark fact that we have lost the wonder and the delightful sense of God’s presence among us. Entertainment centers on some performance that has no place in the solemn and exhilarating worship of God. According to the Scriptures, the “arm of flesh” cannot serve God.
Performance always suppresses God’s presence. The goal of each worship experience should be the manifested presence of God. Therefore, anything affecting this should be rooted out of our assemblies.
Those are wonderful times when experiencing the Presence of the Lord is in worship, but it is not a frequent thing among most evangelical churches. Some believe the high energy and excitement produced in some religious services is the Presence of the Lord. And, if a person does not know the real thing, the mistaken identity is understandable.
What do we mean by the “manifested Presence” of God? It is a moment when God shows some aspect of His nature to a prepared worshiper through revelation. The human spirit then becomes aware of the divine Spirit as present. This happens only through revelation and not by any exterior manipulation. This is God doing what He does best for those He loves.
To become acutely aware of the Presence of God is not the casual thing some have made it. This awareness of God not only reveals the nature and character of God, it also exposes in the worshiper any resident sin. One person put it this way, “The more aware I become of God the more aware I am of my own imperfections and sin.” It is a glaring contrast for the worshiper.
Dr. A. W. Tozer once cautioned, “To seek high emotional states while living in sin is to throw our whole life open to self-deception and the judgment of God.” What God cannot cleanse and purify, He cannot allow into His Presence. What cannot stand in God’s presence cannot serve Him.
Christian worship cannot be marketed like dry #30;goods, and yet that is what is taking place. This represents a complete misunderstanding of the character and nature of spiritual worship. Giving people what they want may get increased crowds for a time, but in the end it will not prepare them to face God nor worship Him as He deserves.
The emotional gymnastics practiced by some leave little or no room for the Holy Spirit to negotiate in the person’s life. Motion and commotion have replaced the quiet afflatus of the Holy Spirit coming on a person and keep him from sensing the presence of Christ that is so real and wonderful and delightful. The religious props in vogue are not necessary to the humble person bent on simply worshiping God. In fact, these props can hinder the true process of worship. The religious toys and joy bells are not only unnecessary, but they take the focus of the individual from Christ and put it on something exterior.
Anything placed before the soul instead of Christ is an idol and will lead away from Christ. Warning must be given to those who are in danger of this idolatry. More is at stake than a simple style of worship preference.
Worship services today must get back to the simplicity of the New Testament church and again direct the worshiper to Christ. By carefully eliminating the claptrap, the Holy Spirit can again reveal to entire congregations the magnificent beauty of Jesus Christ in His manifesting Presence.
When Charles Finney came to a community the conspirators of hell trembled and ultimately fell under the power of God. The purveyors of religious hype have little in common with such a man. Let’s not be fooled into believing that the noise and the lights so prevalent today have any practical or spiritual significance. We may have seven thousand moving parts but be accomplishing nothing.