A question without an easy answer

By , 19 October 2007 6:44 pm

This would have been a nice normal teaching week, except that I was summoned for jury service. It is the first time I have been part of a court procedure and I don’t wish to say anything specific, but let me offer an observation.

I was struck by the enormous sense of respect – bordering on awe – that the court seemed to invoke in all of us gathered for the jury service. Particularly when we were assembled in an anteroom next to the court chamber, you could almost feel the mutual unease. Voices were hushed, jokes ebbed away, people seem to look at each other as if seeking reassurance that we were part of the process of judgment and not its object. Oddly enough, it reminded me of a funeral. There are similarities, of course: for those sentenced to prison, lives are shattered and families torn apart in a way that only death exceeds. Anyway, I think we all felt we were in the presence of something of solemn power.

The sense of being in the presence of judgment, perhaps even justice, raised a question. Should we not, at least some time, and in some measure, feel this in church? Of course, we are forgiven in Christ; of course, we come before God not as judge, but as heavenly Father. But have we forgotten the wrath that would have been ours outside Christ? Have we totally forgotten that we have been spared the justice of God?

The question, which inevitably follows is, if that is the case (and I feel that there must be the time and place for such emotions), how do we try and it invoke them? An older generation would have had sermons on God’s wrath and judgment. We however, being 21st-century Christians, merely allude to such things in passing, and then, aided and abetted by a worship team, move swiftly on into the happy sunlight of blessings, promise and hope. Something to think about surely?

Incidentally, I have posted a long discussion of allegory on the Speculative Faith website. Have a good weekend,

Chris

7 Responses to “A question without an easy answer”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi, Chris,

    Well, the scriptures say “judgment begins in the house of God” “our God is a consuming fire”. Paul warns about people becoming sick and dying from taking communion in the wrong way, look what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. I believe that if the Holy Spirit truly came among as our worship leaders ask him to and moved supernaturally some of His activity as God’s comsuming fire wouldn’t be mere goose bumps and emotional consolation.

    Jeff Alexander

  2. Terry says:

    Chris,

    I read your blog with great interest (well, I suppose that’s not unusual). This subject of the fear of the Lord is one that is, thankfully, coming round again in many Christian circles.

    If we go back into the Old Testament, we find many examples of God’s judgement when He was not properly revered. One has only to reach out and steady the Ark of the Covenant, or offer sacrifices wrongly (KIng Uzziah) and the curtain falls quickly. Even the New Testament has its stories. Jeff alluded to Ananias and Sapphira, and there are others.

    However, there are just as many stories where God was not revered, and nothing happened to the perpetrators. “Why is that?” you may well ask. We find that when the priesthood (spiritual leadership) was functioning properly and in line with God’s laws, great signs and wonders occurred and the fear of the Lord fell upon the people. But when the priesthood was broken down and had fallen away, there was no basis for God’s authority to be manifest in His people.

    Which brings us to the condition of the church today. Who are the priesthood? Are they the official, recognized leaders? Some, perhaps. But I think they are more likely those who have covenanted with the Lord to stand in the gap for the people around them, and to minister God’s message to their fellow man. (Isn’t that the mandate of a priest?) They can be anywhere, and anyone. Perhaps only God knows who they are. But when the power of God begins to flow through leadership that is in right relationship with Him, things begin to happen.

    For interest’s sake, take a look at some of these judgements we read of in the Bible. What is the state of the priesthood, or spiritual leadership at the time? Has anything significant happened in that way recently? What about the times when we might expect judgement, but it didn’t happen? what is the condition of the spiritual leadership then? It’s an interesting study. And, try to track down a copy of The Fear Of The Lord, by John Bevere. If you’re interested in this topic, this is a must read.

    And congratulations on the jury duty, Chris. I had that experience once, and I was grateful for the opportunity to see our judicial system in action firsthand. You’re right. Makes one think.

    Take care.

    Terry

  3. Chris says:

    Terry, Jeff,

    Many thanks for these thoughts which I need to meditate on.

    I also suspect that this may be an issue in evangelism. With our soft and fluffy theology there is nothing worth fleeing from and precious little worth fleeing to.

    Blessings one and all

    Chris

  4. martin says:

    Surely most Christian worship today is a reaction to centuries of worship services so focussed on judgement and wrath, fire and brimstone as to make passages such as “the joy of the Lord is your strength” seem quite absurd. As with nearly all reactions it is an overreaction. But creating a service which conveys our fear of God’s wrath and our joy in being his children in appropriate measure is no easy task.

    Incidentally, when I was on jury service some years ago the attitude of my fellow jurors (and me) was quite irreverent. Yes, we took the task seriously (as befitted the unsavoury nature of the crime), but outside the court room we spent a lot of time laughing and joking, even getting told off for making too much noise. But then again, perhaps that too was a reaction to what we heard inside the courtroom.

  5. smokey the dog says:

    “And then, aided and abetted by a worship team, move swiftly on into the happy sunlight of blessings, promise and hope”.

    Yes, worship can be frothy and light with no substance. I think that the loss of the “Holy Awe” and fear of God comes from the loss of understanding of who God is and who we are. I’m not saying we should go back to “Worm Theology” (I’m nothing but a worm before God.) because we are created in His image. Yet the focus often is on the blessings FOR US not the source of all blessings Himself. Perhaps we would be better off with our focus on God, and not his blessings.

  6. Terry says:

    Smokey,

    “Yet the focus often is on the blessings FOR US not the source of all blessings Himself. Perhaps we would be better off with our focus on God, and not his blessings.”

    You’re absolutely right – I don’t think there’s much “perhaps” about it.

    There is much to question regarding the trend toward what might be termed “powerful” praise and worship. I have been leading charismatic worship services for most of my adult life, and I can tell you that far more often than not, the quality of a service is determined by how it ‘moved’ people. “Brother, that was a powerful service.” In other words, it appealed largely to someone’s emotions and their senses.

    Don’t get me wrong – I believe that worship can and ultimately should be a ‘whole being’ experience. But I get a little nervous when the only discernible criterion is the emotion factor. Since when is worship about us, or how we feel about it? Just maybe, God is awesome enough to elicit worship as His due, and as our reasonable service to Him. When the Bible describes the prayers and worship of the saints as a sweet-smelling fragrance arising before the throne, somehow I can’t imagine that the worshipper’s ‘feel-good
    factor’ has much to do with it.

    Conversely, I think that maybe it’s the times that we feel LEAST like worshipping and worship anyway, that the fragrance burns most sweetly. In fact, I’m sure of it. Why else would it be called a “sacrifice” of praise?

    I could really get up a head of steam here. I love worshipping God, making music for Him, and leading His people to Him through music. I have seen how powerful that can be, especially when it comes from a broken and contrite spirit. And while I strive for excellence in my music, I am increasingly concerned with the ‘production’ aspect of corporate worship. It can be big business, and can carry a lot of prestige. The church’s direction in this area, and my involvement in it, are things I’m taking a hard look at.

    But to worship God for Who He is, and not, as you say, for what He gives, well, that’s about as good as it gets. After all, we’ll be spending eternity doing nothing else.

    Take care,

    Tery

  7. Boaz says:

    In the vein of worship, music has certainly changed in style over the centuries since Bach, and even more dramatically over this century than the rest of them combined. Personally, I prefer the structure and formality of the older hymns to the free-flowing, unrhymed, unscanning praise songs with a rock band performing. Certainly the form of the art shapes how we react, and with looser styles throughout many churches, there is going to be less formality, less awe.

    That being said, the most important thing is the attitude of the heart as opposed to the form of the worship (as long as there isn’t blasphemy, idolatry, or heresy involved). After all, remember that David’s first wife Mical scorned him when she saw him dancing in an undignified manner before God, and was cursed with barrenness for it. I had to make a deliberate decision, and it helped me retain a sense of awe and worship despite the form.

    This is present not only in music, but also in the architecture. Though I live near Seattle, Washington, I have family near Washington, D.C., so I’ve been there quite often. The last few times I went, I went to see Washington National Cathedral (Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul on Mt. St. Alban, the Episcopal cathedral of Washington), which was constructed in the 20th century, but done in the Gothic style. It is a tremendous work of art, and completely dwarfs people, both when they approach it, and then when they enter. This has to be a good attitude for worship, but you don’t want to worship the church, the artwork, or the music.

    The line gets drawn at different places at different times, and I think we’re at the very informal side of things, and the pendulum might swing back the other way.

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