‘If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?’ (1 Corinthians 14:8).
Paul wrote those words to the Christians in Corinth who were using the gift of tongues in an undisciplined way that resulted in confusion and a diminishing of the effectiveness of the church in its unity and evangelistic ministry. He went on to say, ‘Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air’ (1 Corinthians 14:9).
The result was confusion!
While Paul was specifically addressing the issue of speaking in tongues, the principle he expressed may appropriately be applied to what is happening in the church today in many areas where a ‘clear call’ is hard to hear because of the cacophony of other muddled ideas.
In Part 1 of this series I mentioned 14 areas of confusion in the church today and in Part 2, I amplified the first three. In this article I want to address the next three on the list.
When hype is confused with the presence of Holy Spirit
The late A W Tozer wrote, ‘If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.’
I believe that we need to discover afresh the reality and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church today.
However, sometimes those who lead congregations resort to hype in worship to achieve the response they want so see. When, by their judgment, God is not ‘performing’ as they wish, they seek to stir the emotions and generate an atmosphere of excitement, and then claim that that is the evidence of God’s presence!
Hype, which is related to psychological manipulation rather than to spiritual anointing, is a practice that is frequently employed by preachers and other leaders when the presence of the Holy Spirit is not apparently present. (He is, of course, present whether or not we ‘feel’ it to be so.) The stirring up of the emotions of people by words and/or music can be relatively easily achieved – but this is a counterfeit currency of worship.
• It is deceptive!
• It is dishonouring to God!
• It disrespects those who really are seeking God!
It is good to be excited by God
Please do not misunderstand me – it is good to be excited by God and to give enthusiastic expression to that excitement as we worship him. How can we do otherwise when we think about who he is and what he has done for us?
In Isaiah 60:5GNB the prophet wrote about the restoring of God’s people: ‘You will see this and be filled with joy; you will tremble with excitement.’
Anything that the Holy Spirit does in making known God’s presence to an individual Christian or in a congregation – sometimes resulting in a significant emotional response – is good, authentic and appropriate.
It is not good to be manipulated by people
But it is not good to be manipulated by anyone who tries to use emotional excitement that is man-induced to imply an authentic Spirit-inspired encounter with God; that authentic encounter may or may not be accompanied by a profound spiritual and emotional experience.
Only a genuine meeting with Almighty God can accomplish God’s purposes, and that encounter cannot be replicated.
The Spirit cannot be a party to deception
Not all speakers who promote hype are unscrupulous – some may even believe that they are giving the Holy Spirit a helping hand! But that which is inspired by man but claimed to be of the Spirit, is of the flesh, false, shallow and has no lasting value. He who is the ‘Spirit of truth’ cannot be a party to such deceptions.
Jesus said, ‘God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24 emphasis mine as with other scriptures below). The Greek word for ‘truth’ may also be translated as ‘reality.’ Our worship of God must also be grounded in reality and not in emotional manipulation.
The reality of God’s presence, in whatever way he chooses to reveal it, is by far more to be desired that the shallow and worthless glitter of hype.
When entertainment is confused with worship
Public worship in churches has undergone much change over these past 25 years. In many churches the ‘hymn sandwich’ type of service has metamorphosed into something quite unrecognisable.
I am not maintaining that the hymn sandwich approach to worship is ‘the right way of doing it.’ Certainly not. I have been in many such services that have been mind-blowingly boring and unhelpful in seeking God.
Trading worship for entertainment
On the other hand I have also been in many ‘contemporary’ services that, with upbeat music, flashing lights in a darkened auditorium, and smoke machines, have been very entertaining, but which I have found to have been equally unhelpful in seeking God. With a wish to be more relevant to contemporary society many of the techniques used to entertain an audience have found their way into modern ‘worship’ services.
The problem is that so often worship has been traded in in the process and the goal has been the entertainment of the congregation/audience. Consequently the measure of a service is often whether or not we enjoy it!
In Exodus 32 we read that, after Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, on his way back down the mountain, he heard a great noise arising from the camp. Joshua said that it sounded like war in the camp. (v17) But Moses said, ‘Those aren’t songs of victory. And those aren’t songs of defeat. I hear songs of people throwing a party’ (v18, Message).
Note that the people were ‘worshipping’ – they were having a wonderfully entertaining time and they were thoroughly enjoying the experience. But they were not worshipping the Lord!
Suppose Moses had said, ‘Well, I may have some reservations about what is taking place in this worship service, but the people are attempting to worship – even though the golden calf may be a bit extreme – and they are finding ‘church’ so enjoyable, that it’s best just to go along with it.’
His response was quite the reverse! He was furiously angry because the worship of the Lord God Almighty had degenerated into a man-pleasing, God-insulting spectacle!
C H Spurgeon has commented, ‘That howling, leaping crowd tells what sort of religion they would have “evolved” if left to themselves.’ Sadly today the sort of religion that has evolved in some churches bears little resemblance to that of the early church.
Using up-to-date presentation technologies
I have no problem with churches using the best inventions and up-to-date presentation technologies to improve communication regarding the greatness of our God. And I am sure that there is a place in the ministry of the church – for example in evangelistic outreach – for modern accessories that we associate with the entertainment industry. And I have no doubt that it is quite appropriate for Christians to be entertained by Christian-themed items.
But this must not be confused with the heart of worship! A program designed to entertain a church congregation must not be confused with worship.
The purpose of entertainment is to provide a pleasurable and enjoyable experience for us. The purpose of worship is to get our eyes off ourselves and to focus on God, reflect on his character and works, declare his incomparable worth, and to sing the praise of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). As we do that, and as God engages with us, the experience may not be pleasurable. On the contrary it may be profoundly unsettling and challenging as God challenges us and seeks to draw us closer to him.
Genuine worship is not the result of clever programming, talented performers and a leader’s effort to elicit emotional response, but is the consequence of a deep hunger and thirst in the heart of the worshipper for God’s presence and our surrender to him.
I believe that we have largely lost sight of how awesome God is. (In today’s vernacular when the word ‘awesome’ is applied to every trivial thing, it significantly diminishes the breathtaking splendour of God when it is applied to One who alone is worthy to be so described). Please read Psalm 29 to lay hold of David’s description of the overwhelmingly impressive and majestic character of God who invites us to meet with him.
The psalmist advises us, ‘Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth’ (Psalm 96:9). And we would do well to be mindful the words of Hebrews 12:28, ‘Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.’
When ‘giving your heart to Jesus’ is confused with repentance and surrender to God
Today there is a ‘gospel’ being preached and an invitation to respond neither of which bear little resemblance to what the Bible teaches.
The changing trend in evangelical preaching
The modern ‘gospel’ makes no reference to sin or the significance of Christ’s atoning death; and the invitation to respond uses such phrases as ‘give your lives to Jesus’ or ‘invite Jesus into your hearts’ with no mention of repentance and confession of sin and trusting in Christ’s sacrifice for us. Some years ago A W Tozer, recognising the changing trend in evangelical services, summed it up like this – ‘No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying’ (The Radical Cross).
Such a phrase as ‘give your heart to Jesus’ modifies the gospel message to make it sound ‘less offensive’ and more acceptable. But in Galatians 1:6 Paul wrote about ‘a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.’
A ‘different gospel’ is one that modifies the gospel proclaimed by Jesus and the apostles either by adding to it or by taking away from it. A corrupted gospel promises a relationship with God that is based on a false foundation. A ‘different gospel’ not only does not save anyone but gives those who respond to it a false sense of security and salvation. It may also serve to inoculate them against the true gospel.
Repentance and forgiveness of sin
When Jesus began his ministry, ‘From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”’ (Matthew 4:17). After his resurrection Jesus told his disciples that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47).
On the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the first Christian sermon, he declared, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38).
And in Acts 20:21 Paul summarised his ministry in these words, ‘I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.’
To modify the gospel in any way to make it more acceptable to those who hear it, is to imply that Jesus and the apostles were either mistaken, or extreme in their beliefs or insensitive to the feelings of others – or all three! The Greek word that is translated ‘repentance’ is metanoia and it refers to such a profound change of mind that it turns the person who has repented in the opposite direction!
In The Divine Conquest Tozer has written, ‘For myself, I fear any kind of religious stir among Christians that does not lead to repentance and result in a sharp separation of the believer from the world. I am suspicious of any organised revival effort that is forced to play down the hard terms of the kingdom.’
Again Tozer has wisely written, ‘Do a thorough job of repenting. Do not hurry to get it over with. Hasty repentance means shallow spiritual experience and lack of certainty in the whole life. Let godly sorrow do her healing work. Until we allow the consciousness of sin to wound us, we will never develop a fear of evil. It is our wretched habit of tolerating sin that keeps us in our half-dead condition’ (The Size of the Soul: Principles of Revival and Spiritual Growth).
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said, ‘I fear the day will come when preachers will preach heaven without hell and faith without repentance.’
‘Speak to us smooth things’
It may be argued that people today want to hear encouraging and non-challenging messages and do not want to hear messages on repentance and surrender to God by faith in Jesus Christ.
However a gospel without repentance bypasses the cross and consequently is not a gospel at all! And how much better it is for people to be offended by a message that calls them to repentance than to enter a Godless eternity believing a ‘different gospel.’
Shakespeare’s character, Macbeth, made this comment on life, ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’ and many today would agree with this assessment!
Against the fearful, cynical and despairing backdrop of an uncertain future the church today needs to rediscover its ministry, mission and message.
It is not necessary for it to be ‘popular’ or ‘relevant’ but it is pressingly vital for it to sound the unconfused call that Jesus Christ truly is the hope of the world (Matthew 12:21).
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from concerned Christians. In his well-researched Grace Revisited he reveals grace as having a strong active meaning and is like a many faceted diamond out of which shines a greater understanding of the great God we worship.
A classic Christmas gift currently on special from the author for $25 (plus postage). Link/orders/enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org