Worship Atmosphere Wonder and Awe 4
Real worship in the Bible is to see God and experience His presence… see His nature and character and think about His almighty deeds, see who we are to Him and sense our unworthiness and brokenness… and bow our hearts before Him, LOST IN WONDER, PRAISE, THANKSGIVING, AND JOY!
Let’s sing As the Mountains Surround Jerusalem. It’s a song inspired by one of the “Songs of Ascent,” the songs Jewish pilgrims sang as the made their way up Mount Moriah to worship at tabernacle and temple: “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forevermore” (from Psalm 125:1-2, a “Song of Ascent”).
In a sermon about worship, my preacher friend Russ Adcox emphasizes that “we worship what we value most.” Is there ever a sermon there… a look at all the “idols” we value over God… a lesson for another day.
I want us to think again of what drives our worship practices. Sometimes we have a clear Scripture principle or command. A command is non-negotiable. Some-times we only have examples of how our Jewish or Christian ancestors worshipped. Examples instruct us, but they do not necessarily command. Left without a command, perhaps guiding principles can be found. But neither are principles commands and, in many instances, we are left to make our own choices. So, one church’s choices can be different than another. And what may be may be the very best practice in a certain time and place may not be for another.
I have tried as I have crafted my sermons to look every time at some at the theology of worship and then at certain thoughts and practices that are commonplace with us (traditions) and asking, “What is up to us, and what isn’t? Where choices are ours, are the things we’re doing the things that bring about the best possible worship for us at Bono today?”?” Our intent is simple: to do everything to help worshippers see God.
With that background, let’s look at a common worshipper complaint: worship atmosphere is dull. Many who gave opinions in our spring “Worship Survey” judge our worship this way. I touched on a part of the “dull atmosphere” problem some last week – part of the problem here can be addressed by better planning and leading.
For some, another thing often creates dullness: the physical environment in which we worship. We generally have simple, plain buildings, “houses of worship.” Is that God-ordered? Is it choice or the dictate of economics? So I won’t be interpreted as not appreciating our building, I will tell you that I love it. I’ll yell it if I need to. We have been blessed with a beautiful, functional building. We know it, and we have it confirmed again and again as we listen to guests who come. Compared to many buildings, we drive a Mercedes. But compared to others? You get the drift. I’d say we’re middling.
What does Scripture say about buildings? It says nothing at all about early “Chris-tian church buildings” – a lot about a Tabernacle and a Temple, and some of synagogues.
Tabernacle and Temple were commanded for specific times and places and people. I’ll say more about them later. Synagogues? No. They originated with the Jewish exiles in Babylon. A typical synagogue had mosaics, frescoes, and typical symbols as well as architectural elements. We believe them to be a model for later church buildings. We have some – not much – information of their style and décor. And we know for certain that Christians weren’t welcome to worship in them.
So Christians usually met in houses (Acts 2, 10, 12, 13, et. al.).
So far a church building goes, the first one we’ve found dates to 233AD. I found one in Turkey that dates to about 300AD… it is carved out of solid granite, about 20w x 35l x 25. It had architectural décor on its façade and an escape tunnel carved out one of the sides if ever they were set upon. Over time, with Christianity becoming the “official” church of the Roman Empire, church buildings appear everywhere, gradually become larger, and gradually become more ornate. Later, “Reformation Movement” people and then later still, “Restoration Movement” people reacted to the largeness and luxury and chose to leave it, wanting to simplify both worship style and worship place. Their practice came to be to put up the simplest, plainest possible worship houses. We are a branch of that family tree.
The bottom line is we have no New Testament direction for buildings… which tells us that they don’t hold enough spiritual significance for God to have given us any instructions about them, yea or nay. Over time, men seem to have agreed on the wisdom of having buildings. But we know nothing of how we should build one in terms of architecture and décor.
The word “iconography” came up in the Worship Survey interview. “Icons” are statues, paintings, frescoes, mosaics, stained glass windows, etc., with depictions of various Bible scenes, themes, or even perhaps Scripture.
Should we decorate with things beneficial to draw our attention to God? Let’s look at the ends of the spectrum. On one side, many have said yes. Their reason? The great majority of folks when great cathedrals sprang up were totally illiterate. So art and sculpture was the means of them seeing the Bible’s stories. Others in this camp believe décor gives one a sense of Heaven. And others simply say, “let’s give God the very best we can.” The other end has folks making only the simple argument that the more beautiful the building, the more people worship it rather than God or Jesus. I have met Christians who see putting anything beyond the necessary structure and furnishings as showy, and anything more bordering on idolatry:
I knew a dear Christian lady who believed our auditoriums should be completely bare and austere. She once told me that she objected even to floral arrangements and plants on the stage because they are “idolatrous.”
But remember, Christian worship is seeing God, meeting Him… a “tribute to what we love most.” Idolatry is tribute to something standing in God’s place. So… is it idolatry if when we see the stunning beauty and amazing design of beautiful flowers our minds and hearts race immediately to wonder and praise for the One who made flowers, or other beauty? No, flowers’ beauty, or a stained glass depicting the Holy Spirit in the “form of a dove” can move us to clearer thinking of God and better worship. And God delights in it!
Might we worship flowers and other things? Of course, and some do, seeing “Mother Nature” as the only god there is. It’s no different than offering God the very best music we can give in our songs. Might we be so taken by words and music that we get awed by the writers of words and music? Sure. Or we can be transported by their words to see not them at all but the One they wanted us to see.
Visit the Old Testament and read the account of God designing and building first His own tent – notice “tent,” a special one called the “Tabernacle”… WOW!
Show UTube Tabernacle of Moses / Huntingdon Beach CoC of Latter Day Saints (length 3:50)
And Solomon’s house of God (Solomon’s Temple) is a SUPERWOW!
Show UTube “Solomon’s Temple” Sketchup 2016 “messages of Christ” (stop at 3:22)
So how do we decide what to do? We have no Christian age command for Tabernacle or a Temple. What we have is Jesus saying God is Spirit and the place of worship will lose significance to that (John 4:24) and Paul saying that we, we Christians, are God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But the New Testament tells us that what was written before its day was “written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4) and we are free, assuming we violate no commands of God, to establish our worship atmosphere so as to best succeed in lifting ourselves and others again and again into God’s presence with awe and wonder and praise.
I want to discuss innovation and technology for a bit here. These things aren’t bad things per se… morally neutral, capable of being used for great good or great distraction. I believe they’re criticized mostly because we resist change.
Christian worship through history has been filled with innovation, much of it new “technology.” Once, church buildings were technological innovations… air conditioning, heating, and padded pews, too… hymn books, produced by printing and bookbinding technology… and beautiful golden oak tables etched with the words “Do this in remembrance of me” on their fronts.
We can mark this much down as absolutely true: today we worship in anything but a 1st century church environment. Mark this down, too… God doesn’t require that we do! Think how microphones bless by allowing people hear what is said clearly. Think how projectors and screen bless by showing us, because we learn far better with our eyes than our ears – “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Our thoughts and our senses lead us to worship; we should fear stimulating neither. Not with gimmickry, just with anything that takes us to our God. Lighting might create a mood, or take out some of the visual distractions that are always present in our auditoriums, or “spotlight” what preachers and planners and leaders want “central” in a worship service.
Paul tells us that “every knee will be bowing (in worship) and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.” All our knees will bow. I have mentioned it over and over in this series and will continue to do so because I want you to be informed of a God-truth… Jesus is King of Creation and all creation will honor Him. If this is true, the question is, will we bow them NOW, when effective for salvation, or LATER, but too late to save, only to acknowledge the central truth of all creation.