Overcoming Irreverence in Our Churches

Overcoming Irreverence in Our Churches

What can we do to make our people more reverent?

R.A.A. is an associate editor of the Ministry.

How often we hear this question: "What can we do to make our people more reverent?" Irreverence must be overcome if we are to lead men and women to truly worship God. To accomplish this, certain principles must be recognized.

People are not irreverent because they are bad, but because they lack understanding. Our whole message is a call to worship. The prophecy of Revelation 14 which identifies this time as "the hour of God's judgment" is only preliminary. Our real work is to lead men and women to "worship Him that made heaven and earth." And when people, or even children, really worship, they cease to be irreverent.

It is the responsibility of the leader to inspire the spirit of true worship in his congregation. He must create an atmosphere of worship. Many years ago the Lord's messenger gave this instruction to the remnant church: "Our meetings should be made intensely interesting. They should be pervaded with the very atmosphere of heaven."—Review and Herald, Nov. 30, 1886. That expression "atmosphere" is arresting. It is not easy to define, for it embraces a number of things. Physical organisms demand atmosphere in order to live. It is in atmosphere that we live and move and have our being. What atmosphere is to land-dwelling creatures, water is to creatures of the sea. Applying the term to spiritual life, atmosphere is the surmounting element in which our spiritual nature is nourished, without which there can be no spiritual growth.

People cannot be coerced or scolded into worship. Long dissertations on the sin of irreverence are equally powerless. But create the atmosphere of worship, and irreverence will disappear. The effect will be almost instantaneous. To rediscover the purpose and power of real worship; to know how to bring people to the altars of the Eternal; to enable them to catch the inspiration and then set their feet free in the highways of unselfish service—this is the high privilege of the ministry in this crisis hour of human history.

"God calls upon His people to arise, and come out of the chilling, frosty atmosphere in which they have been living, to shake off the impressions and ideas that have frozen up the impulses of love, and held them in selfish inactivity. He bids them come up from their low, earthly level, and breathe in the clear, sunny atmosphere of heaven."—Testimonies, Vol. V, p. 607.

A chilly, frosty atmosphere can produce no spiritual growth. The impulses of love are frozen in the hearts of too many of our members. It is the worship leader's privilege to lead souls onto the uplands of God where they can breathe the atmosphere of heaven. This is true worship. Attendance at church, singing hymns, saying prayers, reading or listening to the Word of God—these all have their place, but in themselves are not necessarily worship. In fact any or all of them, if carried out in the wrong way, can be the very means of destroying worship.

Worship may express itself through forms, but it is more than a form—it is an experience. True worship uncovers the heavens and makes God real to man. But it also uncovers the soul of man and makes him real to himself. Our hopes and habits need adjusting. We must escape from artificial poses, that we may recover the basic patterns of life. This is the purpose of worship. To enter into this experience, we must have the spirit of worship. Jesus said, "God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."

OF all people we surely seek to worship God in truth. That is why we hallow the Sabbath. But are we as particular about the spirit of worship, as we are about the day of worship? It is possible to be tremendously concerned about the identity of the Sabbath, and yet not enter into the spirit of real worship. That was the trouble with the Samaritan woman. "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain," she said, but "ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Her whole emphasis was on the place of worship. The Lord's reply is both revealing and challenging. He showed that the spirit of worship is more important than the place of worship. That is just as true today.

Representative church buildings where the architecture blends with the spirit of worship can do much to inspire reverence, but to attend a service in a beautiful building "where every prospect pleases," and then for the leader of the worship to go through the motions of worship, singing, praying, and admonishing, while apparently neither he nor the congregation senses the presence of God, is a pathetic disgrace. A congregation may spend immense sums of money on a church building and then not know the joy of a genuine worship experience. As leaders of worship we need to study how to lead the congregation into the presence of God. "The evil of formal worship cannot be too strongly depicted, but no words can properly set forth the deep blessedness of genuine worship."—Id., Vol. IX, p. 143. "There is nothing more needed in the work than the practical results of communion with God."—M., Vol. VI, p. 46.

True worship is the most dynamic and creative experience of which the human spirit is capable. How can we attain it in our churches? First, we must make the congregation aware that God is speaking to them. This can be accomplished in several ways. It is the minister's responsibility to lift the congregation Godward. In doing this he must bear in mind that the order of service is important, and he must not permit anything to intrude that will break the spirit of communion. Everything that enters into the worship service must be related and progressive.

Congregational worship should actually begin before the minister enters the rostrum. Quiet meditation is as much a part of worship as the hymn or the prayer. Most of our Sabbath worship services open with a doxology and an invocation. Then having led the congregation into conscious communion, all too often the spirit of worship is destroyed as someone begins to make the announcements both "usual" and "unusual," em bracing everything from Red Cross and Dorcas needs to an annual picnic or church social. To say it is ludicrous is mild; it is like a jarring note in a symphony. With wise planning, all announcements can be made before the worship actually begins. Where churches do not have a printed bulletin carrying the announcements as well as the order of the service, or where special announcements are needed, they should be made before the ministers enter the platform. It is deplorable, of course, for deacons to be running to the platform with notes or for one in the congregation to rise and make his own announcement.

Worship is a progressive experience, and if the leader truly senses his privilege and responsibility, he will plan the service with clear objectives in , mind. He is to lead his people in their ascent up God's "holy hill"; therefore, every feature must be related.

The offering can be a very definite part of worship. Our tithes and our offerings express the surrender of our lives to God. Money is but a symbol. We certainly do not give to pay expenses. Perhaps the church needs a new heating plant or a piano, but all promotion concerning such needs should be cared for outside the worship service. And if the offering is to be dedicated to some special need, it can and should be done as an act of worship.

The right choice of hymns is also important. The gospel song, so real a factor in evangelistic appeal, is usually out of place in a service dedicated to worship. Hymns and gospel songs are not the same. While each has its place, we should not confuse them. The gospel song is a testimony to man concerning the Christian experience, but the hymn is an ascription to God. It may be a hymn of praise or of consecration. It could be a prayer such as "Live Out Thy Life Within Me." Whatever it is, it should be well chosen. Some of the greatest preachers spend almost as much time in choosing their hymns and preparing their public prayers as they do in preparing their sermons. If an associate is to offer the main prayer, he should be acquainted with the fact long before the service begins. If he senses his responsibility, he will spend time in preparing himself for this holy exercise. To casually ask someone at the last minute is unfair both to the man and the congregation. Nothing is more exacting than this holy exercise, which occupies but a few minutes.

The sermon, of course, is important. It may be admonition, instruction, or even promotion; but it must be worshipful and should lead the people into a more thorough understanding of God and His purpose for man.

Our congregations need wise instruction in the art of true worship. However, the problem is not all with the people; it is too often with the leaders. We ourselves should thoroughly understand the psychology of congregational worship. We must know how to lead God's people beside the still waters in quiet communion; and then through the ministry of the Word, spread the table before them, inviting them to partake. Everything about the preacher's personality and the personalities of his associates should be in it self an invitation. Not only what he says, but the way he says it will have a tremendous effect on those who worship with him. To tell a congregation what to do is not sufficient. As a leader he must do it with them. To instruct his people in the art of true worship, and to lead them intelligently into every phase of the service in conscious communion with God, is a privilege with which nothing can be compared.

A person does not have to be old in order to worship. A child can worship God just as definitely as an adult. In fact, it is natural for a child to be reverent, but he needs guidance. To give him a Little Friend or the Youth's Instructor to read during the church service is destructive of the very spirit of reverence. However, the inter est of youth cannot be held by dry, lifeless sermons. The counsel of the Lord is to "have a corner in every sermon for the children." As children see their parents entering into real communion with the Deity, their youthful souls will be hushed and their own young hearts will reach out for the knowledge of the Eternal. Scolding, petting, and coaxing are unnecessary and improper.

The worship service of the church can and should be a service of joy to which all, old and young, will look forward all the week. The psalms are vibrant with the sheer joy of worship:

"O come, let us sing unto the Lord : let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. O come,  let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture." Ps. 95:1-7.

Leadership on the part of the minister, co-operation on the part of church officers, and guidance on the part of the parents will overcome irreverence in our churches, and the spirit of Jesus will be the spirit of the advent church.

R. A. A.

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R.A.A. is an associate editor of the Ministry.

September 1944

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