Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Ecclesiastes 5, verse 1.
The church I attend is REALLY low key; for a Missouri Synod Lutheran church (which are traditionally extremely traditional), it’s almost radical. If you go into Water’s Edge looking for pastors in robes, a formal choir, and organ pipes, well, you might want to alter your expectations. There is no choir but there is a praise band. You won’t hear many of the same songs; they sing quite a few new ones written by the music leader. We rarely say the Apostle’s Creed and not even the Lord’s Prayer very often. Dig a bit deeper and you see there are few committees, no deacons, re-branded leadership positions, and no office in the church building. A ‘young’ church (re-branded itself less than a decade ago), the congregation has already split numerous times to seed 3 other churches in the North Texas area and numerous missions worldwide. And (most shocking of all) it’s quite ok – even welcomed – to applaud when moved to do so.
But let the bragging stop NOW because one thing that isn’t low key is the Word of God. If you come through the doors, be prepared to hear the Word. There is no compromise on teaching the Word unashamedly and boldly and truly. You won’t find the usual trappings of a Lutheran church, but you will find both the basic elements and the same bold Word of God. It’s usually thought-provoking, and it’s usually a message that cuts to the core of things I need to hear to help me tackle my week.
Knowing that, I will admit that I sometimes find it hard to remember to guard my steps and be reverent when I walk into my church building. It’s hard to get my arms around the idea that ‘church’ isn’t a place but people living our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in being proud of these things, of being a part of it. Not surprisingly, our church is undergoing something of an identity crisis, where practices are called into question, growth is stilting, and people are being pulled in many directions. It’s an attack by the enemy and one way in which that attack works is through how our reverence is shown. Going to church wearing blue jeans also has the drawback of familiarity. I hear (and support) the argument that ‘God doesn’t care what you wear to church.’ God simply wants our best. For me, sometimes that’s a nice pair of jeans or shorts, and sometimes it means slacks and a shirt, maybe even the occasional necktie. And yet I find myself sometimes feeling TOO familiar, too casual. Sunday worship is meant to be a place where we are fueled to worship EVERYWHERE in our lives, not just in that big room beyond the narthex.
To do that, we should be respectful and reverent. Here’s something you might not have thought, though: God wants that respect and reverence for OUR benefit, not really His. Huh? The all-powerful creator of the Universe who used to smite Amalekites, Hittites, Philistines and Hollywood wants us to be reverent and respectful for our benefit? Yep! Think about it: listening is learning and listening is loving. He constantly works in our lives, arranging opportunities for us to turn to Him for peace in a world full of stress and chaos. He knows we learn to love by listening, and then listen to love and learn. A raucous atmosphere is no atmosphere in which to reverently listen. I struggle with that, both in how I prepare for worship and then in how I participate in it.
This is the way of youth. Though the church is pastured by a man in his middle age (hey, he’s younger than me!), the attitude is to be fresh because God’s word is always fresh. Fresh isn’t necessarily an attitude only of the young, but I think it is the young who are freshest, who best embody the idea of being fresh. That’s how God’s word is, and how He wants to transform our hearts in it. He renews us through it; He builds, tears away, cuts to the quick , encourages, teaches, rebukes, and freshens our hearts and minds through the work of His Word.
So here’s a thought: the old sacrificial system was done by fools. God commanded it, but fools carried it out. Most of the churches in which I’ve belonged have been of the WASPish, ‘boring’ mainline denominations; very much Lutheran or Presbyterian dullness instead of the hellfire and brimstone Baptist, Assemblies of God or Pentecostal flavors. Both are right, but I was raised in a, shall we say, atmosphere of dull worship. One thing I’ve learned is that all the old systems, the old traditions, the old things don’t work on me the way they used to. They aren’t inappropriate and God bless the people who thrive because of them. It just doesn’t work for me in the same way, so I flock to a place of like-minded practic. I want to be challenged differently, and the liturgy that used to encourage me doesn’t do so in the same way these days. I don’t want some idiot with perfect hair and a three piece suit yelling at me about “GAWD” either and screaming about how the Old Testament prophets were better than us; give me a break (oh, and Reverend Perfect, you have something stuck in your teeth…). The people who made those liturgies and the people who thrived on leading their churches like revival meetings were just as foolish as those who never did that at all. The system, the worship, was made for us, not us for it. As Christ put it, the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. It’s about the heart revering God, not about God insisting we do A, B or C worldly actions or we’re damned. Style is irrelevant. Substance is everywhere if we turn aside the distractions and allow God to work on our hearts.
Finally, in this whole vein of low-key worship, I see how foolishness is ignorant. Ignorant people may be fools but foolish people ARE ignorant. That’s me sometimes. I let myself get distracted by things that don’t really matter like how long the pastor talks, how there is rarely a unified worship ‘theme,’ or how many newly-penned songs we sing versus the tried and true favorites from 500 years of Reformation tradition. It’s foolishness and foolishness breeds ignorance, both the un-knowing brand of ignorance and the “I’m stupid” brand as well. When I don’t know something, I may be both ignorant and a fool and this by harmless coincidence. But when I close off my heart to what God is really saying in these things, I DO become both ignorant and a fool, this time by my own hard-heartedness. When that happens, I find I’m most at risk of becoming one who would offer the sacrifice of fools, who does not know that I am doing wrong.
I don’t really have a movie example to cite with this line of thought, but we do watch quite a few movie scenes and clips from Youtube in my church. It isn’t unusual to watch a short clip of something totally off the wall to help open your mind to new possibilities. You don’t have to be low-key to do that, though. You simply have to revere God in your best way and allow Him to do what He does, to have His way, in your life.