Reverence in Public Worship

A round table on efficient methods.

By various authors

Reverence in Public Worship

Further Echoes From the Presidents' Council (Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 20-22, 1929)

The spirit of the restless, bustling world is seeking to invade the sacred precincts of the church. It would rob our worship periods of a holy, rev­erent character by insinuating commonness and confusion into them. What cares the world for the divine injunction, " Be still, and know that I am God "? It is foreign to the age. It matters little to the great enemy of godliness whether his disruptions be by stately forms without vital truth, as may be ob­served in certain historic communions, or by a breakdown of becoming decorum in the public worship among custodians of the truth. Either scheme vitiates true worship. And it is on this latter point that we are being attacked. Definite reform is needed. The, encroachments of the daring modern attitude must be halted at the door of the church, where we enter to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. The distinction between the sacred and the common must be steadfastly maintained.

It was the recognition of disturbing trends of this character that led to the inclusion of the topic, " Growing Irreverence in the House of God," in the North American Presidents' Council agenda. The candid expression of the participants in the round table will be both illuminating and stimulating in analyzing our situation, and in correcting the evil. The united conclusions of this group of leaders were embodied in a series of resolutions ratified by the Autumn Council, and found in full on pages thirteen and fourteen of the Review and Herald, Nov. 14, 1929. Here follow the introductory remarks of Chairman J. L. McElhany, and statements by other participants:

J. L. McElhany (vice-president, North American Division):

In many instances our public wor­ship is characterized by a decided lack of reverence. We talk about it, lament it, and read about it in the " Testi­monies," but fail to see improvement. What can be done to help our churches meet this decided lack? We have all, no doubt, had the experience of being in churches during the interval be­tween the dismissal of Sabbath school and the opening of the preaching serv­ice, and found ourselves scarcely able to think because of the babble of voices and the chatter which breaks forth at that time. I believe that we should attempt a real reform along this line, not by the enforcement of arbitrary rules to compel people to be silent, but by some way impressing upon the mind the propriety of sacred things, so as to result in exhibition of proper reverence in the house of God.

One of the most regrettable practices apparent in some of our congregations is that of a large mass of people start­ing to leave the church, the tent, or the hall just the moment the congregation rises to sing the closing hymn. Often there is almost a stampede to get out, as if the people felt impelled to get away from the place of divine service as quickly as possible. Such a course is disrespectful and irreverent. I can­not but wonder what the effect must be upon visitors at our camp meetings, when they see our people make a mad rush out of the tent, even before the benediction is pronounced. To do so after the benediction is pronounced would be far from justifiable; but to surge out as soon as the closing song is begun, and sometimes as soon as it is announced, is a practice which should be stopped. In the camp meet­ing work which I did in Western Can­ada this summer, I was deeply im­pressed by the reverent attitude of the people. I did not attend a meet­ing of any kind — young people's, old people's, or departmental — but that, when the meeting was dismissed, everybody sat down quietly for a few moments, and then arose and quietly passed out. My observation is that such a practice will stop people from rushing out before the service is con­cluded. We have definite standards laid down for us in the instruction of the Spirit of prophecy, but should we not make more serious attempt to con­form to these standards?

J.K. Jones (New York Conference):

In our conference we have made it the general rule of procedure, that after the benediction the people re­main standing or else take their seats, and with bowed head wait until the organist strikes the first note of the postlude, and then quietly pass out' of church. In some of the larger churches the plan has been followed of having the congregation remain standing during the postlude until the pastor has opportunity to reach the door of the church, where he stands to greet the members of the congregation as they pass out. At camp meeting, especially in connection with the night service, I have requested the audience to remain standing, with bowed head, until the musical instrument gives forth the note of dismissal. We have found that the plan works very satis­factorily in all these different services.

So much for the plan, but now a word as to the education which must neces­sarily precede the plan. I think that the minister or the church elder should frequently give talks on reverence in the house of God, quoting from the " Testimonies," admonishing the peo­ple to be quiet in the house of God, and explaining what will be the effect upon their own souls when due rever­ence is maintained in the assemblies of God's people.

S.G. Haughey (Nebraska Confer­ence):

When I was laboring in the British Isles, I was deeply impressed with the reverent spirit which prevails in our churches there. It was the custom in our churches for parents and children to take their seats quietly and wait for the service to begin. There was no noise, no talking, no confusion. After the singing of the closing hymn of the service, the people all sat down, the minister or elder stood with bowed head for a moment, and no one moved until the minister stepped out of the pulpit and came down into the aisle, which was the indication for the con­gregation to rise and pass out of the church. Reverence for the house of God is characteristic of the people in the British Isles, not alone in Sev­enth-day Adventist churches, but in the services of the nominal churches. The Church of England is very im­pressive in its solemnity. I wish that we might establish that same rever­ence for the house of God in all our churches that is found established by all denominations when we cross the water.

G. W. Wells (General Conference field secretary):

There is wonderful influence in ex­ample. I wonder if we, as ministers, are setting the wrong example before our people. We ourselves are exceed­ingly careless at times.

R. I. Keate (Cumberland Confer­ence):

I believe that the solving of this problem of irreverence is primarily a matter of giving proper instruction to our people, and yet I am convinced that a large amount of confusion and noise, which we refer to as irreverence, is due to the fact that we hold two or more meetings in succession in the same room. As soon as the first meet­ing is closed, people naturally feel that they are free to move about and get ready for the next service. I have observed good results where the entire congregation went outside the church between services, and re-entered for the second service just as they did at the first.

H. N. Williams (Newfoundland Mis­sion):

We have worked out a plan which brings very satisfactory results. At the close of Sabbath school the organ­ist plays some quiet, subduing music, which is a signal for parents and young people in the senior division to change their seats. We believe in making it a rule for the children to sit with their parents during the church service, and so at this time the parents locate themselves in the par­ticular seat where the children know they are to come. While this adjust­ment is being made in the auditorium of the church, the superintendent of the children's department arranges for teachers and children to march out of the basement of the church to the front entrance, and when the music changes, according to the understood signal, the children march into the church, double file, and take their places by their parents. When this is ended, the fifteen-minute missionary service begins, and the entire church is quietly seated and ready to give at­tention to the missionary announce­ments. Then the church service be­gins. During all this time there is perfect order and quietness, which is really refreshing.

F. L. Pesky (South Texas Confer­ence):

We are told in the " Testimonies " that there should be rules governing the time and manner of conducting church services. Our leaders have much responsibility in this matter, and if an attempt is made, in the right spirit, to correct this laxity which leads to confusion and irreverence in the house of God, I think that much can be accomplished. I know that our South American churches are not so faulty in this respect as are some of the churches in North America. I at­tended a service in one of our Mexican churches in South Texas, not long ago, and observed the rule in operation there,—that the congregation be seated after the benediction, and then the church elder give the signal for the people to rise and go out, those occupy­ing the first seat to go out first, then those in the second seat, and so on. That order might not appeal to us, but it is a rule which worked well in that Mexican church.

L. K. Dickson (Greater New York Conference):

I am Ied to believe that the spirit of irreverence which is apparent in our churches, is closely associated with the tendencies of the times. It is a matter of long standing, has developed by a sort of natural growth, and is largely unnoticed by our own people. But I feel that it is a very serious matter, and that lifting the standard along this line will call for very de­cided action. I do not believe that an occasional announcement of the proper standard will be sufficient to turn the tide of irreverence in our churches. I have tried out plans which have helped some, but they have not changed the situation very materially; and I do not believe that anything will change it until we as a people unite in very definite conviction that we are far away from where we should be in the demonstration of proper decorum in the house of God, and that there needs to be a general turning about in this matter.

There is nothing, it seems to me, which more directly contributes to low­ering the spiritual temperature in our churches than this matter of irrev­erence. If we could turn that tide, we should see a very decided and grati­fying effect upon the spirituality in our churches. I am wondering if this is not a matter of such grave impor­tance that it ought to be referred to one of our committees at this Council, for definite action. If an appeal could be sent out, coming from the leaders assembled at this meeting, with the request that our pastors place due em­phasis upon the remedy for the situa­tion, and parents be urged to co-oper­ate, we might hope to turn the tide. I do not believe that a discussion of the question here will do very much good unless we take some action that will roll this burden right back upon our people, and keep it there until a change is apparent. Is it not true that we, as ministers, are responsible for this manifestation of irreverence, to the extent that we continue to be con­scious of it, recognize it, and yet do not take steps to remedy it?

C. L. Butterfield (Carolina Confer­ence):

If we are to have rules and regula­tions, it seems to me we should go back of the church to the home; for I find that where there is reverence for the hour of prayer in the homes, general spirit of reverence is pres­ent in the church. Just to illustrate:

A few years ago I went to visit a church, and was entertained in a home where there were fourteen children. On Friday evening, before the setting of the sun, every member of the fam­ily was assembled in the large dining room,— the grown children were there, and the smallest child, yet in its moth­er's arms, was there; and all were dressed in their Sabbath clothes, ready for the beginning of the Sabbath. I was asked to take charge of the wor­ship at the beginning of the Sabbath, and it was an inspiration to see every child sitting with folded hands and listening to the reading of God's word. Each member of the family took part in the prayer season. The next day at the time of church service I saw about forty children gathered on the front seats, and I thought to myself, How am I ever going to keep those children quiet. But from the moment the service opened, each child gave the most perfect attention, without even a whisper. This was due to the fact that the children had been taught in their homes to reverence the hour of prayer. It seems to me that a primary essential in dealing with this matter of irreverence is to inspire our people to conduct family worship, at which all the children shall be gathered in and take part.

(To be continued)


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By various authors

January 1930

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