If you’re new, please check out post #1 and post #2 in this series. And for those who have been following along, make sure you read all the comments on the previous two, there’s some GREAT insights that are still being added. . . .I’m not sure why post #2 in this series did not get the quick and fervent response of the first, but I know there are many of you following along, and there’s so much to talk about, I must press on. . .
Again, the challenge here is staying focused. Even I am getting so many thoughts that it’s hard to not go a million places.
But, I see two things floating to the surface of the discussion so far, which I will label as
Let me explore these a little. (And, mind you there is A LOT to be said in these areas, but I’ll let YOU flesh things out more.)
Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations…” (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46, quoting Isaiah 56:7). This is a staggering and meaning-packed statement. I want to look at it specifically in terms of “Form” and “Encounter”.
Let me first define what I mean by these terms.
Form: The specific place, structure, and order of how we “do church” in a corporate way.
Encounter: Meeting with God, experiencing relationship with Him.
There’s always been much debate (and heated) about how we ‘do’ church, and “I don’t like institutional religion” has been a mantra of many for years, in essense disliking the form of church (we’ll stick with Christianity/Christ-followers in this discussion) that they have seen, but not discounting the validity of having a true encounter with God, outside of the structure.
I believe the words of Jesus above speak to this issue. I’ll hit at the issues in no particluar order, and let you draw your own conclusions (and make comments).
At first blush, it might seem that Jesus was NOT a big fan of “institutional religion” either, and that the point of his clearing of the Temple (see Luke 19) was that He was the answer, buildings and liturgies were not. While that IS true, there are some other factors to consider:
Jesus didn’t like the current religious system because it was void of encounter and people weren’t really meeting with God, they were going through motions that had become routine, and had no meaning to the hearts of the people. But, He didn’t say, “this is all bad, this building is bad! I hate it all! Go home and have home group – get rid of this institution . . . . “
In the Temple was, in fact, the system (animal sacrifice) that He would replace, but this “system” was instituted by God himself (!) and God Himself CHOSE to dwell with His very presence in that place!! This alone tells us that form, function and buildings are not the problem, and perhaps even helpful. If God is not intimdated or offended to dwell in these things, we should not discount their possible benefit, either.
What Jesus was zealous for was that He wanted to make access for ALL people to come freely into his presence (i.e. “encounter”= prayer). His desire was that ALL people (not just Jews) could experience TRUE intimacy with God, and REAL freedom from guilt and sin. When He says that his house had been made a “den of robbers”, He is railing against the fact that some of the leaders were exploiting poeple’s desire for God for their own gain ($), robbing people of a true encounter with living God which WAS possible, even under that old system!
So, is God against form/liturgy, etc? Shouldn’t we just be “free” and “follow the Spirit”? Yes and no (I think); or no and yes. As I said before, God Himself had instituted the “form” of worship that was being used; and apparently He liked dwelling in the Temple (not that it was the only place He dwelt — He cannot be contained in a building). Jesus Himself even gave us a “ceremony” in the form of communion. Therefore, “ceremony” can’t be all bad.
Even those who would claim to be “free”, many times have their own form to their worship. Eventually, we all grow comfortable with certain styles and practices and language. It’s dangerous to point fingers at one group and call them “religious” (in the negative, Pharisaical sense) because they have more of a strict “form” of worship, and believe that you are truly “free”. Just because your form of worship is not as structured, it doesn’t really mean that you’re void of form. I would say there is still a form, though it is may be less formal.
True encounter with God is not detemined by form or lack thereof. Jesus’ burst of emotion was this — He was after their heart!! Whose fault is it if the heart is not engaged?? Mine, and Yours!! We get to decide if we will truly engage our hearts with God, whatever situation we find ourselves in. When we view our worship/relationship with God simply as a bargaining table — if I do this, God will answer me/be pleased with me — we’re replaying the Temple scene. When we press beyond making a transaction with God to knowing Him and meeting with Him as a Person, we fulfill the desire of His heart. Form can help or hinder, and individual personalities and backgrounds will play a part in what we like and what we feel helps us in our pursuit of Him, but it is dangerous to ever point a judgmental finger too quickly. Ultimately, the goal is what He likes and what pleases Him, and I don’t think He’s as picky about what music style, meeting location, bible translation etc. that we choose.
Leaders play a part, too. If they reduce things simply to a practice and don’t encourage people to the place of true encounter, they can become the “robbers” who hinder people from meeting God! Now, it’s not entirely their fault, but there is a weightiness to the responsibility of a leader. A good leader will seek to lead people to meet and know the Person of Jesus Christ, not just fulfill religious duty.
Any relationship can become empty if the heart is not engaged. The outward activity is not necessarily the helper or the hindrance, it can be both! Think of a marriage. Two couples can both do all the same things — one couple could be trully engaged at the heart level while the other is completely distant and cold. They both go out and share their day over a nice dinner. One couple really cares, the other is just going through motions. How do you judge? How can you predict which is which? It’s truly an intangible reality, isn’t it?
Remember, Jesus was able to step into the synagogue, teach with power and authority, bring a breakthrough, do miracles, etc… EVEN under the roof of those “religious spirits”!
Okay, questions for you:
1. What do you find are essential elements (if any) for facilitating encounter with God in how we “do church”? What do you enjoy, and what do you find to be a hindrance?
2. If you could structure a meeting/service what would it look like?
3. If you think any of the points I made above are wrong, present your view.