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-prize winner went to a steam contraption with seven thousand parts. When turned on, its pulleys, whistles, bells, and gears made a lot of noise, but, ironically, the contraption didn't do a thing! Seven thousand moving parts making a lot of commotion . . . but having 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 attraction. In today's high-tech age, however, it's easy to confuse activity with accomplishment. Many are fooled into thinking that the sound of gears and pulleys is the sound of something important 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 which 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. This represents a shift in emphasis from former Christianity. The purpose appears to leave the worshiper feeling great and uplifted. Nothing's wrong with that. Certainly, worship should make a person feel encouraged and inspired. This is just the thing 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." What they meant by that few Christians today seem to understand.
Often, in times past, a terrific fear of the Lord would come on the congregation resulting in a wonderful, overpowering sense of conviction. People would line the altar pouring out their soul to God, pleading for mercy.
That holy dread is a rarity in these days of self-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 who we are supposed to be worshiping. This mixed bag of worship is glibly accepted with no discerning regard for God Himself.
On becoming more familiar with God the worshiper begins to understand that some things are acceptable to Him while other things are repulsive. To go by what is in vogue these days you would think nothing offends God and 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. When Aaron's sons burned "strange fire" on the altar they were consumed by a holy God, intolerant of insubordination from His people. 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 so consider it when they approach Him. A superficial attitude only reveals a basic unfamiliarity with God on the part of the worshiper. By bringing into the worship experience things incompatible with the nature and character of God can only bring reproach upon the congregation and leadership. The trend today to drag elements of our culture into a service set apart for the worship of God must displease Him. With all the detailed instruction in the Bible concerning the character and nature of God it should be easy to see what He likes and dislikes. Could this be one reason Christians suffer defeat in many areas of their life?
An atrocity affecting 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 which 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 the 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 the Presence of the Lord is experienced in a worship act 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.
In the clatter and clutter of some worship services it is quite impossible to really get to know God. The noise is enough to give the angels around the Throne a headache. This essential acquaintance with God cannot be done in the bright lights of exhibitionism. The calisthenics and commotion created in such circumstances are rarely of God. At the core of all authentic worship is a revelation of some aspect of Deity never realized before or seen in such light. Out of that revelation comes a deep sense of admiration which leads to adoration.
The worship of God, whether private or public, centers on the Presence of God becoming increasingly apparent. This is more than just thinking about God although that is a beginning. It is being aware of His Presence right in the place where you are, not just knowing God is omniscient. God is everywhere, but the conspicuous Presence of God is something else. God delights in showing Himself to His people and the Old Testament is full of such remarkable instances. Whether it is Moses or Abraham or Isaiah or David, God delighted in surprising them with spontaneous glimpses of Himself.
This level of worship crosses the threshold of human consciousness where personality meets personality, God mingling with the individual worshiper resulting in fellowship and communion. This is not something stagnant. Rather, it is a growing and delightful sense of becoming conversant with God. Not with the intellect alone, but with the spirit, that marvelous instrument of spiritual recognition and investigation. For it is only by our spirit that we can truly come to the knowledge of God in any degree. That is why a person must be "born-again."
This "new creature in Christ" can recognize the Presence of God. It is important to cultivate that, or Practice the Presence of God, each day. As a person is able to recognize God in the various situations of life, the greater will be his ability to express to Him the appropriate praise and worship which He rightfully deserves. As this interior life develops in the Believer he becomes less and less occupied with external things.
What is meant 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 actually 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. In other words, anything that is out of sync with the Divine nature will be exposed and often in an unpleasant manner. 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.
It was Dr. A. W. Tozer who 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-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. In the end, however, it will not prepare them to face God nor worship Him as He deserves to be worshiped.
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 manifesting 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 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. All the claptrap must be carefully eliminated so 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 PRAISE, INC. have little in common with such a man. Let's not be fooled into believing the noise and the lights so prevalent today have any practical or spiritual significance. We may have seven thousand moving parts but accomplishing nothing.
Rev. James L. Snyder