As a church we are opposed to magnificence of ritual or hollow formalism; therefore we tend to swing to the opposite direction, with little if any ritual, and virtually no formality in our divine worship. But there is a happy medium that will promote and preserve reverence in the sanctuary.
Our Sabbath school practice of class discussion encourages conversation and comment between teacher and pupils. In a large school the combined discussion approaches the rumble of thunder, and in the transition from this free and open discussion to the service of worship, it is difficult to obtain immediate quietude in the same room. Other religious bodies hold their Sunday school in a different room, thus achieving reverence in the place of worship. Admittedly, if we had facilities for such a practice, we could improve our church reverence remarkably.
In an attempt to improve the reverence in the church service, on one occasion I reversed the order by conducting the sermon hour before the Sabbath school, and proved that it is easier to promote reverence when no class discussions precede the sermon. However, our pioneers must have realized that the message of God's spokesman should linger in the minds of the worshipers ; therefore they wisely planned that no discussions should follow the preaching service. Since this plan is a denominational custom, we must face conditions and master them.
It is the pastor's responsibility to teach habits of true reverence to the church members. Note the following pertinent paragraph from the Spirit of prophecy:
'When a church has been raised up and left uninstructed on these points, the minister has neglected his duty, and will have to give an account to God for the impressions he allowed to prevail. Unless correct ideas of true worship and true reverence are impressed upon the people, there will be a growing tendency to place the sacred and eternal on the level with common things, and those professing the truth will be an offense to God and a disgrace to religion.' --Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 500.
What an indictment in those last two phrases! The minister is truly responsible for establishing reverence, but in order to do it, he must enlist the hearty support of the church officers and members in building up an atmosphere of reverence. The tendency to blame the laity for lack of reverence is not justified, for many thoughtful laymen deplore it.
All confusion, conversation, or laughing during a baptism, a communion, a sermon, or any part of the church service is clearly "an offense to God and a disgrace to religion." In one of our large churches the deacons are instructed to quietly present a card to offenders which bears words to this effect:
"The Lord is in His holy temple : let all the earth keep silence before Him." Hab. 2:20.
Please do not talk or whisper; others may wish to hear the sermon. Thank You.
This unique plan works. Good judgment should be exercised, lest visitors be offended; but in flagrant cases this is a clever and workable idea. The decision for presenting such a card should rest with the chairman of deacons.
Some of our larger churches install a loudspeaker in the nursery, where mothers with babes may hear every word spoken from the pulpit without fear of distracting or disturbing the listeners should their little ones become noisy. A deaconess adept with children is in charge of such a room, and picture books, crayons, blocks, and other busywork are proyided for the little tots.
God's name alone is holy and reverend, as declared in Psalms iii :9. Woe to the minister who profanes the name of God in conducting a church service that is shamefully lacking in godly fear and reverent behavior. Sacred and holy things should be elevated far above the level of the commonplace. God's name is profaned when the preacher makes no distinction between the holy and the common.
God's lofty purpose for His sanctuary should be frequently restated. His desire is to dwell with men, that they may worship Him in spirit and in truth. The following texts reveal this lofty purpose:
"Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them." Ex. 25 :8.
"Ye shall keep My Sabbaths, and reverence My sanctuary : I am the Lord." Lev. 26 :2.
"They...have built Thee a sanctuary therein for Thy name." 2 Chron. 20 :8.
"Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name:
"Fear God, and give glory to Him; . . . and worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." (Margin, "in the glorious sanctuary.") Ps. 96:8, 9.
"Fear God, and give glory to Him . . . and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." Rev. 14 :7.
"Who in the heaven can he compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all." Ps. 89:6, 7.
In the assembly of the saints—that is, in the church service—above all places, God is to be had in reverence. The apostle Paul teaches this thought of reverence in the book of Hebrews: "Serve God acceptably with reverence." And Solomon wrote this counsel: "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools : for they consider not that they do evil." Eccl. 5:1. Here is a command for old and young to walk softly in the sanctuary, that all may be able to hear. The sacrifice of fools is doubtless the irreverent conduct of many in the sanctuary, for indeed these seldom consider that their deportment is evil in the church.
The ancient prophet Habakkuk teaches a forceful lesson on reverence by contrasting the loud and boisterous worship, so characteristic of heathen devotions, with the reverential silence required in the presence of God.
"What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it ; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him." Hab. 2:18-20.
The heathen devotee is here pictured vainly crying to his god of wood to awake, and to the dumb idol to arise and teach him. But this false god, impassive, all overlaid with gold and silver, does not respond. It is a dead god. This is a picture much like that of Elijah advising the prophets of Baal to shout louder in order to awaken their god from slumber, or to call him back from a hunting adventure. The true worshipers are advised to come before Jehovah in awesome silence. Jehovah lives and gives breath and life to all. He is a true and wise teacher who deserves our deepest devotions and our heartfelt adoration. What an impressive appeal by contrast for reverential deportment in God's temple.
God is wise and good in requiring quietude and silence in our worship of Him. It is only under such conditions when He has our undivided and undisturbed attention that His lessons, imparted by the minister, can be impressed upon the hearts of His wayward children. Intelligent attention is an integral part of worship, whether it be in singing, prayer, or sermon, and provides the avenue for the Holy Spirit to approach the soul. Being "present in the spirit" is as necessary as being "present in the body" at divine worship.
In the early years of my ministry I had occasion on a weekday to visit the church building under my charge. There I found the aged elder bowed among the pews in earnest prayer. When he had finished praying, I spoke to him of the heart-warming effect of finding one of my elders in fervent prayer on a weekday in the house of God. He devoutly said in subdued voice:
"Brother Capman, it was here I found Christ and saw the conversion of my family. I shared this pew for many years with my wife, and heard God's voice speaking to my soul on many occasions. It was from this church that my beloved wife was carried to her last resting place ; and when my race is run, I wish to rest here before joining her. Oh! it is indeed a hallowed place, and I love to come here and commune with God."
The material details should not be overlooked. Carpets and curtains absorb sound and prevent reverberation. Oiled hinges and automatic door closers prevent squeaking and slamming doors. Easily adjusted windows and proper attention to ventilation make for quiet and comfort. The broadcasting studio makes a supreme effort to eliminate noise so that reception may not be marred. Likewise the church board should take all possible steps to banish sources of detraction that would interfere with the reception of truth.
The counsel of the Lord is that rules and regulations should be adopted to govern the manner of worship so as to promote reverence in the church service: "There should be rules in regard to the time, the place, and the manner of worshiping."—"Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 491. The law of sheep is to follow their shepherd, and if the pastor will appeal to and lead his flock, rather than scold and nag them, they will respond. The lessons of reverence must be brought often to the attention of the congregation, until the habits of true reverence become natural rather than artificial.
During twenty years of labor I have developed an order of service that effects a good degree of reverence, but I am still searching for better ways to secure higher reverence.
I present a suggestive outline for the Sabbath morning order of worship, also ten commandments for reverence, either or both of which may be used in the weekly church bulletin, or fastened in the front of the church hymnal, where all can easily follow the instructions for the hour of worship.
The Supreme Being is worthy of highest reverence; therefore we must discover how to bring profound reverence into the worship of the Almighty in the churches under our guidance. God gave rules of order, perfect and exact, to priests and people long ago, for their conduct in the ancient tabernacle. God's ways have not changed. We must correct the disrespect, all too prevalent, that has dishonored God in His sanctuary. May Heaven impress us to glorify the name of God and to worship Him in the beauty of holiness.