Reverence Essential in Acceptable Worship

The self ought to be lost in wonder, love, and praise before the sense of a divine Presence in the holy temple.

CLARK B. McCALL is taking advanced study at the Seventh-day Adventist Theo­logical Seminary

Man is by nature a worshiping creature. One reason for this is that his basic insecurities lead him in search of external power to aid in the preservation of his un­stable frame. The Christian's support is the Lord God Jehovah, Creator and Ruler of the universe. This appreciation of the un­seen Reality to which he so naturally turns for communion leads him to desire to erect some kind of edifice in honor of his divine Helper, some monument where he may more readily feel the presence of God.

The sense of a divine Presence in this holy temple dwarfs the human self which is "lost in wonder, love, and praise." This experience lies at the base of all genuine worship. Every feature of genuine worship will aid in this exalted vision and adoration of the Infinite Being.

It is to be regretted that too often there is a growing tendency within Adventist churches to lose this sense of the presence of a Holy God, which is so essential to true worship. It is the lost conception of the reality of worship that has led to the use of such substitute terms for divine worship as "the eleven o'clock hour" and "the preach­ing service." These terms clearly reveal the erroneous concepts in the minds of many of our people regarding the Sabbath worship service. To many it is just another religious meeting. The resulting lack of respect for the house of God and the growing irrever­ence manifested during the worship service is a tragic trend we have not always fully recognized as we should. It is recognized that this weakness cannot be legislated out of the church nor changed overnight. But often we are forced to blush, especially when we compare such disrespect with the respect for the sanctuary of God manifested by many other Christian groups. This is a problem that demands our most serious attention and concern as we search for a solution.

Wherein lies the root of this difficulty? Perhaps the history of our movement in the light of our doctrinal philosophy may furnish a key. There is always a danger when attempting to remedy a wrong that the pendulum will swing to the other ex­treme. It is possible that our escape from the coldly legalistic phases of formal wor­ship have led us to develop a public service that all too often resembles the decorum of a lecture crowd or even of a club meeting, rather than a congregation of worshipers. Disrespectful informality is as bad as cold formalism. While dignified formality is not the true end of public worship, it does how­ever provide a setting for genuine worship­ful atmosphere. just as works are always the fruit of real faith, and a faith without this result is dead, so the gift of ourselves to God is base sacrilege if offered without any semblance of reverence.

Social Visits Out of Place in Sanctuary

In a church I recently visited I went to the door to greet the worshipers as they left. But the congregation did not file out. After a while I became mildly curious and stepped back inside. To my surprise people were milling back and forth down the aisles, carrying on animated conversations, and in general treating God's holy sanc­tuary as if it were a hall in which a social gathering was being held.

When our Sabbath morning services are not worshipful, our people cannot be ex­pected to leave with lofty thoughts of God and the true meanings of life. Failure to sense the presence of God is one cause of failure to properly appreciate Him. This failure bears its fruit in man's careless im­personal relationship with his Maker in his daily activities.

Where must the necessary reformation begin? It surely should begin with an organized program of education in what constitutes genuine acceptable worship. Many who attend church seem never to have really worshiped. The pattern of wor­ship that they observed when they united with the church is the blueprint they have naturally followed. Many are not aware of a more acceptable type of service. Probably they have never given thought to the fact that their whispering, irreverent attitude, which befits the commonplace, is wholly out of place within the church and is in fact an insult to the holy presence of their Creator. When they became members of God's family evidently those who taught them did not provide them with the proper example of the true spirit of worship. Their attitudes during the worship service reflect on the irreverent example shown them in their first education as converts.

Where the Ref cn-mation Must Begin

This work of reformation must begin with the one who leads out in the worship service. The sheep follow where the shep­herd leads. As leaders we must inspire the needed changes and illustrate them in our own worship conduct. The one who is in charge of the worship service should lead his congregation from the petty paths of earth up the heavenly steeps, and present them in sacred awe before the throne of God. This guidance in the matter of wor­ship necessitates the pastor's own familiar­ity with the route—a familiarity that can only be achieved through previous personal trips.

There is no dogmatic rule governing the procedure and content of a worship serv­ice. Organization provides the framework for worship, but it does not provide the atmosphere. There is no fixed rule for organization, but there are fixed principles to guide the worship leader in selecting and arranging appropriate features that will re­sult in an acceptable service. Divine wor­ship is distinctive in that its fundamental purpose is to lead men and women into the presence of God. Any activity that makes a contribution Godward might be considered an acceptable feature of the worship service. But any part of the service that directs man's thinking back to himself or away from God detracts from the true aim of worship.

God-centered prayers and calls to worship with the reverent use of hymns help to pro­vide the worship atmosphere. It is better if anouncements and church business items are cared for before the actual service of wor­ship begins, so that there will be no such interruptions in the worship service itself. Often trivial human-centered details in­trude and destroy the spirit of worship. The bulletin should contain all the neces­sary notices for a successful schedule of church activities. It is difficult in itself to lead men from their petty thoughts of ev­eryday surroundings to the exalted heights of God's holy presence. But to rudely jerk them back to the transient events of earth by announcing a church picnic, is to create an atmosphere that may be difficult to change again.

To use the service as an opportune time for auctioning off campaign pledges and subscriptions leaves much to be desired. Visitors on such occasions are often shocked by such procedures, and might well be led to anticipate a lecture rather than a sermon. Sometimes they are not surprised, for that is exactly what they get.

This principle of God-directed activity definitely rules out the pastor's use of the service for an informal discussion with his congregation on items of business. The right setting for worship demands that every moment and every part of the service be so planned and so conducted that all present may know that they have truly wor­shiped in the spiritual presence of the eternal God.

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CLARK B. McCALL is taking advanced study at the Seventh-day Adventist Theo­logical Seminary

July 1957

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