WHEN traveling among the churches of the Inter-American Division one is impressed by the exemplary and devoted spirit of reverence evident in these churches. When the worshiper enters the house of God, whether adult or child, a hush comes over him. Before he takes his seat he usually kneels in silent prayer, inviting the Father's blessing to attend him throughout the service. In some instances he will seat himself and then bow his head in prayer for a few moments. Following this, perfect quiet is maintained until the service closes. When the benediction is pronounced the worshiper again sits and engages in prayer. Then all quietly withdraw from the sacred sanctuary. There is no talking or even whispering during the entire spiritual hour of communion and worship.
The children most often sit contentedly in the family group; however, on some occasions the little ones will be crowded into the front pews by themselves. But there is no whispering, giggling, or fidgeting; no getting up and roaming around, no going out and in. Their big eyes watch what is going on and their ears are attentive to what is being said. They have been trained by proper precept and the perfect example of their elders. Throughout the islands of the Caribbean and the conferences of the Inter-American Division there are many nationalities and a mingling of races, but always the same sacred reverence is felt within the holy house of God.
"The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (Hab. 2:20). "If when the people come into the house of worship, they have genuine reverence for the Lord and bear in mind that they are in His presence, there will be a sweet eloquence in silence."—Testimonies. vol. 5, p. 492. (Italics supplied.) "When the benediction is pronounced, all should still be quiet, as if fearful of losing the peace of Christ. Let all pass out without jostling or loud talking, feeling that they are in the presence of God, that His eye is resting upon them, and that they must act as in His visible presence."—Ibid., pp. 493, 494.
A new year is upon us—a time for new resolves, new hopes, and new plans for the future; an ideal time for earnest endeavor to elevate the standard of highest reverence for the house of God and for the worship hour. Seventh-day Adventists are a friendly people; they have mutual love and enjoy sweet fellowship. It seems so easy and natural to greet friends and loved ones in the message on the Sabbath day. Perhaps they have not seen each other all week and one wishes to inquire as to the other's well-being, the family, the home, the spiritual welfare. Then, too, the Sabbath school classes (often taught in the main auditorium) and a lively member-participation missionary service all tend toward an informality that can easily slip over into the worship hour. On this point Ellen G. White suggests: "The precincts of the church should be invested with a sacred reverence. It should not be made a place to meet old friends and visit and introduce common thoughts and worldly business transactions. These should be left outside the church."—Ibid., p. 494.
Surely it is proper for one to nod, smile, and shake hands with a quiet greeting to a friend. However, the house of God is not the place for animated cordiality and personal conversation, and the hour of worship is not the time for worldly thoughts. The believers are assembled, or at least should be assembled, to worship the Lord. Perhaps this "sweet eloquence in silence"' could be announced publicly often enough so that some sensitive brother would not feel another was slighting him if true reverence were fully practiced.
A new pastor found the church to which he had been called quite irreverent. Something had to be done, but how? His solution was a planned all-out program for victory. On the first Sabbath of the new year he announced his subject for the next week —"Do We Embarrass God?" If you had attended his church that Sabbath you would have seen a striking poster in the foyer boldly painted with the words "The Master Is Here!" At the entrance of the sanctuary there was an attractive placard reading, "God's House Is the Gate of Heaven." Across the front of the rostrum were perfectly cut out letters forming the words "Reverence My Sanctuary." Above the door to the minister's room was the solemn warning, "Be Still and Know That I Am God." Over the front exit were the words "Thou God Seest Me," and by the baptistry was written, "The Lord Is in His Holy Temple." Yet another poster admonished all to "Be Silent, a Whisper Is Heard." Appropriate drawings and posters with similar statements were also to be found in the children's divisions, the hallways, and the stairways.
On the front of the church bulletin was a quotation from the pen of Ellen G. White: "When they enter the Lord's house it should be with hearts that are softened and subdued by such thoughts as these: 'God is here; this is His house. ... I must have no pride, envy, jealousy, evil surmising, hatred, or deception in my heart, for I am coming into the presence of the holy God. This is the place where God meets with and blesses His people. The high and holy One who inhabiteth eternity looks upon me, searches my heart, and reads the most secret thoughts and acts of my life.' " —Ibid.
The pastor read Psalm 89:5-7 as his opening text. He emphasized how many times David ascribed glory and praise to the Majesty of heaven for His wonderful goodness and merciful kindness to the children of men. David sought to inspire all those about him to feel a sacred reverence for God. He was careful to perfect and to organize the procedures to be followed by those who were consecrated to the holy ministration of the sanctuary. Every priest knew his place and his appointed time for service; singers were directed by skilled musicians; those who played instruments were likewise trained until perfect harmony was achieved; even the doorkeepers were given their posts and their time for functioning. Everything was done in proper order and decorum. This was to promote true worship and reverence in the hearts of the people for the One who "is greatly to be feared" in the assembly of the saints.
The pastor described that morning what it meant to have God's presence in the ancient sanctuary and how He likewise meets with His people today. He reminded the congregation, "We have as our Guest today, through the Person of the Holy Spirit, the divine Son of God. God is meeting with us here and with all such similar groups of believers as they gather around the circle of the earth. Though unseen He is as truly present as the one sitting beside you. Though invisible to us, we and all we do and say are open to His view. The vital question is, What does the Holy One think of our attitude and conduct as we come into His presence? Do we truly worship Him or are we using the church as a social club for our private visiting? Do we give complete attention to the reading of His Holy Word and to the message His servant has been ordained to deliver? Would it not be wise for us to ponder the words spoken to Moses, showing how holy is the place or God's presence? 'Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.' This church is God's holy ground, for God is here."
Then he concluded his message by asking, "Should we then, His remnant heritage upon whom the ends of the world have come, show less reverence and godly fear than did Israel of old?" His appeal that morning in January is found in the words of David's closing psalm: "Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. . . . Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord."
The posters and the sermon were somewhat like a shock treatment to the church —forceful but kindly reminders of what they already knew but somehow had forgotten. And to this very day that congregation is conscious of the glorious presence of God in His own church home. They have continued in their determination never again to embarrass God by any thoughtless or disorderly conduct.
Several years ago an elderly man was being shown through the General Conference office building in Takoma Park, Washington, D.C. "And this," said the guide, "is the office of the president of the General Conference." The brother stood in the doorway and silently looked in. Upon being urged, he stepped into the room but would not go farther. "I am not worthy," he protested. If that dear saint of God felt such awe when he stepped into the room of one of God's chosen workmen, what should be our feeling when we come into the house of worship where God Himself meets with His people?
Brother pastor, as an aid to church decorum these six points may be helpful:
1. Plan for and insist upon a quiet, orderly transition from the Sabbath school session to the worship hour.
2. Make advance arrangements at least a week before with all who are to participate on the rostrum. The one who is to present the petition before the throne of grace should surely have ample notice, that he may prepare his own heart and thoughts for such sacred intercession between man and God.
3. Recognize that punctuality is a prime essential. With resolute purpose it can be accomplished and will prove a blessing.
4. Present announcements clearly and to the point, not repeating those printed in the church bulletin. Lengthy preliminaries defeat the worshipful attitude.
5. The families of the pastor and church officers may be examples of the beauty and blessing of silent prayer upon entering the church.
6. Dedicate a Sabbath early in the new year in which you and your flock will solemnly and determinedly covenant before God that for spiritual benefit and for the sake of His great cause a sacred and quiet atmosphere will be preserved in the house of God.
May pastor and people always be conscious of the Lord's command, "Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary"
A. C. F.