The church is not the world. Whether or not the world can be the church? Yeah, probably not, but for the world to try to force the church, or worse yet for the church to capitulate to the world is not acceptable. The more the church tries to conform to the world the more irrelevant the church becomes.
That simply cannot happen, the church is not the world’s, it’s not the pastor’s, it’s not the people’s who “built” it. They may have raised the money for the brick and mortar, the ornaments, the furnishings and they can take pride in what they’ve done. But a Lutheran will always say it’s not what I’ve done, it’s what the Holy Spirit has done through me. The church building is the outward symbol of the Christ, it should be the way it is to stick out in the world as that physical landmark, that bright light of Christ into a dark world. But as Luther points out, there is the “visible” church, it’s of the world, but it’s not necessarily the church that will be the be the Bride of Christ. It is a place where people can come to spend time in worship, by themselves or corporately. I love it when people come in, people I know and I don’t know and ask to spend time in the chapel. The church is where the pastor is, I welcome people who come in and say “I need to talk”. It’s a place where the pastor can be called out to tend to someone, a member of the church or not, any time. Where do you find a place like that in the world? You don’t! The motivation is serving God, by serving people. Glorifying God by serving people to the best of our ability. With a few exceptions, the world is not motivated that way. So the building is a highly visible symbol of God’s presence in the community, but the church, the Body of Christ is the people who know Jesus as Lord and Savior and come together to worship in that building.
The church is an entirely different paradigm. As the pastor of a old and glorious church I know what it’s like for a person to walk into the narthex and get a hint and then turn the corner into the sanctuary. It’s not a “oh, that’s nice” kind of coo. It’s more of an intake of air and “wow” in some form, getting that little hint of the Glory of God. The paradigm is this; it’s not about you, it’s not about what you “like” or what makes you comfortable. It’s about the glory of God, it’s about you realizing how insignificant you are, and how magnificent, all-encompassing, all-powerful God is. It’s not to assail your self-esteem or hurt your feelings, it’s to get you to realize it’s about far more then you. That’s a good thing. I don’t want the universe to be about me, to think that it revolves around me. Sorry, but truth be told, that is exactly what too many people think. There are people whose attitude is I don’t want to think about something far more powerful, far greater and glorious because that would make me feel bad about myself. When you really understand what you are in relation to God and how glorious He is and how that is to your benefit, being the creation of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, transcendant God, that the universe is under control, we should feel empowered through Him, not themselves. We have a God who has given us promises and an entire paradigm through His Word, Scripture, that should give us security and assurance that these things will play out the way He has promised. He created all things, He controls all things, He sustains all things. It’s going to happen the way He decides. Yes, we can get off the bus anytime, where does that leave you? Dead, cutoff, condemned. If you reject God, you condemn yourself. There isn’t a second choice.
The world’s paradigm tries to convince you that there’s just a whole multitude of choices, so long as that choice isn’t Jesus. Part of those choices is church “your way”, nice and comfy, happy/clappy, you leave church all bouncy/bouncy. But after awhile you realize how fleeting and phoney it is, that it’s work and not really worship. There’s no assurance, no real supernatural power, just you being entertained. Henry Blackby writes: “
If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship. Jesus said that a relationship with Him would bring rest to your soul. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary, it will invigorate you, restore your strength and energize your life.”
All the “entertainment”, appealing to the world, that takes a lot of day in/day out effort, it becomes all about what you do, instead of what God does for you in worship. Will that wear you out, drain you? Of course, it’s not about coming to God, facing the altar, lifting our hands up to Him, it’s about your efforts, the pastor’s efforts, the musician’s efforts, the creative director … blah, blah. No wonder people don’t take the church seriously, it’s not about coming before God, it’s about a new production week after week. There’s little about God working on you and a lot about all the things we do for a new whiz-bang wahoo.
So the point is this, we cannot come into church and take the paradigm of the world in with us. Everything is different for a reason, it is to take you out of the world and point you to something timeless. Something that is valid and compelling today as much as it was 2,000 years ago and will be compelling and valid until Jesus returns. It connects us to Christians all around the world and for all time. The sanctuary should be something that evokes a “wow”, makes you draw in your breath makes you a little about the glory of God. The symbols around you are there to remind you that you are link, a part of the history the church, you are part of that visible church, in my case a building that’s been around 140 years and, God’s will, will be part of well into the future. There’s a cross, at First St Johns there are stain glass windows of the first disciples, of Martin Luther and, rather oddly, CFW Walther, the first president of the Lutheran church in the United States. There are timeless representations of “All Glory to God”. There are representations of bread and wine, the Body and Blood. There is Jesus the Lamb, Jesus crucified, Jesus’ ascension and Jesus ruling in glory. All of these are representations that would be known to the Acts Christians and will be known, again, until He returns. These are all intended to remind you that you are not in the world, that you have come into Jesus’ church, you are connected to the Body of Christ.
You see a man in a plain white robe, around his neck is a stole the color representing the season of the church, usually with different Biblical symbols and represents the “yolk of Jesus”. That he is there to be the voice and face of Jesus to the congregation. I’m not Jesus, but I’ve been ordained to be His minister, His representative. I am the one charged with maintaining the spoken Word, teaching about Scripture, administering the timeless sacraments. Baptism that actually washes away sin, the Lord’s Supper that is His actual Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. That plain white robe is intended to separate me, not to be more or less special, but different, separated.
We come to Him on terms that have guided worship through the ages. I and other men who are not concerned about our media presence, like others in their $600 suit or the other ridiculous extreme, t-shirts and holes in their blue jeans. There were and are men who were focused on worship on coming to the Father on His terms to honor, glorify and raise Him up. Coming to Him in our weakness, with nothing in our hands only raising to Him in prayer. Not trying to force my music on Him, but to take in everything around us and remember ‘be still and know that I am God.”
Church is not the world, stop trying to force the church into world’s mold. God is in control both in the world and in the church, but it is the church that saves to eternity. Anyone who thinks that there is any permanence about the world is just not dealing with reality. What we see today, even in ten years will be different. God’s kingdom has been and will always be, and that is the paradigm that we should encounter when we go into worship. It’s not about you, it’s about God, any other attitude is idolatry, that is you are putting yourself above God. It’s not about your likes, dislikes, tastes, your preferences. It is about coming in with a reverent spirit, what is the Holy Spirit going to bring to us. Can it seem repetitious? Yes, but again for a reason. When you encounter the trials, when you experience hardship, what do you want running in your mind, what is the background program in your soul? All happy-clappy, everything is beautiful? Or is it what you have heard in worship, “In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, “as it was in the beginning is now and will be forever, Amen.” The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s prayer. When, not if, you encounter tragedy in your life, do you want the background program in your soul being the latest staged production at the church of “it’s all about me”? Or do your want it to be “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy”?
God tells us in Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” (ESV) We keep trying to drag God down to us, to make Him answerable to us. Instead we need to aspire to ever higher worship, coming before Him with empty hands and open hearts. Ready to hear the true Gospel. Frankly I’m not really interested in people leaving worship happy, or feeling good, or entertained. Frankly, when I write a sermon, I usually feel convicted, sometimes I think I’m just writing to myself. There’s no doubt that the Holy Spirit is guiding my sermon. Thoughts, references, pop into my head seemingly out of no where. I want to preach God’s Word, I want to be guided by Him. No one wants to hear my thoughts, they come to church to hear God’s Word preached. “Our way” says that I should be there to please my listeners, to “tickle” their ears, make them like me. Which are things that God’s Word warns us/me, away from. I’m there to preach His Word. I welcome anyone to challenge my exegesis and how I present/preach on Scripture. If I am wrong, I sincerely want to know, sometimes I do miss the target. If people leave happy and have been truly spiritually fed, fine. If they feel comforted, that’s good, because God’s Word should comfort. But if I feel convicted after I finish a sermon, I have to believe that there are others who will feel convicted by the sermon. How about feeling compelled, or inspired? When people walk by me and shake my hand, I hope that I see a look of determination, that others may be as convicted as I am, a look of going back into the world with the Holy Spirit guiding me, that more and more I am His and less of me.
Too many times people buy in to this attitude that “God owes me”, because of what they did, or who they are. Essentially anyone who passes by me in that church will encounter trial or tragedy. If they are not prepared for that, if they can’t come to terms with the fact that the Christian life is challenging, that there will be trials, then anything that rocks their world could leave them bitter, disconnected and possibly rejecting God. If they have a great life, great! I hope all do. But Jesus promises us that the world hates Him and will hate us. A Christian in the world, in general, will often have a more difficult life. In order to cope with that, the Christian needs that different paradigm. It can’t be the world’s paradigm because frankly the world is just going carelessly on its way to destruction. The Bible promises that. If you don’t believe that, you should reassess your understanding of the Bible. The Christian paradigm has to be one of understanding that it is all to the glory of God, it’s not about us and our entertainment, it is to be strong in Christ in confronting life and the world and we need to worship that way, God’s paradigm, not the world’s.