the (C)hurch. . . part 3

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

1. Form

2.  Encounter

 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.   

5 thoughts on “the (C)hurch. . . part 3

  1. Wow, that was well said….anyway for me…
    1-Encounter is facilitated by WORSHIP, engaging, full on, heartfelt, emotion-filled(we do have a God that expresses emotion) joyful, bodily expressed, and more…Worship AND annointed, revelation filled, response provoking preaching/teaching of the WORD…AND MINISTRY both to the Church and The Community fueled by the previous.

    2-It would look like HEAVEN…ok practically, I don’t know…something that leaves room for being led by the Spirit and I know that sounds pretty trite or even religious…I suppose it depends on the purpose of the meeting/service…what is the vision for that particular timeframe.

  2. 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?

    Of course, as a Priest, I think that the liturgy is a necessary part of worship with God. I think it’s a bit facile to look at Jesus and His cleansing of the temple as a rejection of all “formed” worship. The excesses and the roadblocks erected along the way by the religious establishment were problematic in Jesus’ eyes — not the entire system.

    I think that a Spirit-anointed celebration of liturgy gives us a balanced view of the majesty of God, the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus that makes possible our relationship to the Father as sons and daughters, and a celebration of New Covenant through the Lord’s Supper. Along the way there are opportunities for praise, adoration, confession (see James) and common prayer.

    2. If you could structure a meeting/service what would it look like?
    See #1 — I like to use The Book of Common Prayer 1979 from The Episcopal Church.

    3. If you think any of the points I made above are wrong, present your view.
    I think we’re on the same page as far as the spirit behind liturgy. I don’t find any points of disagreement between us on this. I’ve been in lots of “free church” environments where they would rail against liturgy, but they had a liturgy of their own: Welcome, Praise & Worship (2 fast songs, one medium tempo song, 1 really slow song repeated about 10 times), Prayer, Announcements, Sermon, Invitation (Just As I Am or Mercy Seat), More Prayer, Dismissal. Perhaps Communion is mixed in there if it’s the 1st Sunday of the month. But, that looks like an awful lot like an organized form of worship to me!

  3. See this has always been a hard topic for me because within the core of my being I know there is SO MUCH MORE! Yet i feel the leaders and elders who facilitate structure in our church know the same. I don’t feel they are hindering this, but trying to explore it just the same. If it was up to me I don’t know exactly what I’d do. I mean it’s hard to find the balance between structured practicality and spontaneous free spirit led worship. I know there has to be some kind of intersection where the two meet and that pinnacle I believe is the place we should be. Are we there? I don’t think so. Will we ever be completely there? I don’t think so, at least not this side of eternity. Can we move closer? of course.

    what do i enjoy, what is a hindrance… I enjoy worship, I enjoy the word, I enjoy learning of other peoples lives and their struggles and their joys.

    what is a hindrance… when expressing these things becomes mic time rather than focused on God time. (I’m not saying our body has a problem with this specifically, but it is present at times, I’m sure I’ve even participated in this before myself.) When the focus shifts from bringing glory to God through our joys and struggles and turns into either raising ourself high upon a pedestal or becomes self seeking and in need of pity and concern. Unfortunately this isn’t really something that can be answered or changed by anyone but each individual. I think this is where the huge discrepancy comes into play. The church goers have issues with these things and think the elders should change it… but they cant. They have no way of knowing the intentions of peoples hearts… all we can do is seek God in these times and ask Him to remain focused despite possible negative distractions. I don’t know if that paragraph made sense… but i hope it did.

    how would i structure… i kind of already answered this. sort of. out of order. i think that if it were up to me church would be more of a conversation. I think it would be worship going on full time like structured worship and spontaneous worship all at once. When people have words or things are on their hearts to share they can. I think God’s word would be very much incorporated
    and prayer would be the focal point. I don’t know if people are familiar with IHOP (International House of Prayer) … but in my mind, that is church. It is structured and focused in a very spontaneous way. singers, speakers, body… all intermingled, all playing a role.

    wrong… nope I’m good with what you said for sure.


  4. I’m not sure I have answers for these. I might just have comments. We’ll see.

    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?

    I think there’s a difference between what is and what is ideal. Jessie, you said, “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.” That’s absolutely true. God is concerned about the heart more than anything else. HOWEVER, we don’t worship in a vacuum. There are people there. People who have preferences. We could have worship standing on our heads and God would be just as happy . . . but the people wouldn’t be! We could do all worship songs to polka beats and in swahili, but people wouldn’t engage! You see what I mean about the difference between what is and what is ideal? Ideally, we all ought to be able to come to church Sunday morning and enter worship with our hearts IMMEDIATELY in tune with God regardless of music style, body position, temperature, volume level, style of dress, etc. because it’s all about Him. BUT WE DON’T. We ALL have preferences. So to say certain things (music style, meeting location, bible translation, etc.) don’t matter is true on an eternal and spiritual plane only. It ought to be that way . . . but it’s not. And it won’t be on this side of heaven. So what does that mean? We all have different preferences so how do you decide what “liturgy” to follow? I will be the first to confess that I tend to fall back to my OWN biases first. Forgive me, I am selfish person. You can’t please all the people, and indeed, you can’t even KNOW what pleases all the people. So the least common denominator is my own preference? I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that either. I lead worship on Sunday mornings sometimes at my church and I choose the songs I like in the style I like. The guy who likes polka can just deal. Understand, I am saying this as confession, not as doctrine. It ought not matter – but it does. People engage better with things they can relate to. There is at least some value in “modern” worship music simply in the fact that it’s what this generation understands. What I find a hinderance (to return to the question) is when 5 out of 6 of our songs are from the 1980’s or earlier. Does that mean that kind of music is irrelevant or bad? No! I love hymns especially and there are some good songs from the 80’s and earlier era . . . but this is 2008. Oughtn’t there be a balance between new and old? Can’t we do an 80’s song, followed by a hymn, followed by a Matt Redman song, followed by a negro spiritual, etc. So to answer the question: what do I find essential to encountering God? Worship in spirit and truth is the most important – BUT GIVE ME SOMETHING I CAN RELATE TO CULTURALLY TOO! I wasn’t around in the 70’s!

    If you can tell, I have strong opinions about worship. 🙂 Hope I didn’t offend anyone. Feel free to disagree with me. I recognize that these are my opinions only.

    2. If you could structure a meeting/service what would it look like?

    Thank God I don’t have to do this. It would be a disaster. Well, it would probably just look like what my church looks like now because that’s the form I’m used to.

    3. If you think any of the points I made above are wrong, present your view.

    See above. Not that I think you are wrong, I just think there’s more to the discussion, that it’s not so simple (as if that were saying something!).

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