A high-church gal lurks inside this woman who has really only worshiped in low-church settings. (Aside from a handful of visits to Saturday night and Christmas Masses, back when I was working out just what it was that I believed). I love carved marble, colored glass and incense. At the same time, I am an admitted iconoclast; statues and shrines are distracting. I can buy into the idea that plain surroundings enable one to “think plain,” meaning that all focus and attention is upon God. If I lived in England with my ancestors back in the day (always a Wednesday), I would have been some odd mish-mash of Quaker and Anglican; a mind devoted to the simple, plain truths, a heart stirred by mystery and beauty.
That intersection is where I live today. Rejecting popes and extra-biblical revelation. Rejoicing in rigorous study and meaningful conversation. Longing for the quietness of sacred space. Wanting candles and stained windowpanes.
Really the longing and the wanting is focused on something more than the outward trappings of a building. I’m fine with simple surroundings (though I think artists and woodworkers often miss out in using their talents to glorify God in adding unique flourishes to our sanctuaries), but I’m not fine with the casual attitude that most Protestants display when gathering together. It’s loud and chaotic. Flippancy masquerading as worship.
Yeah, I said it.
We lean too heavily on Hebrews 4:14-16, reading into it a meaning that we shouldn’t:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
We are the children of the Good Father. We swim in the grace-river. We claim a royal position, a holy inheritance. All who are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) can enter into the presence of the King without fear of reproach.
Still, we must know that this is no Buddy Jesus, no Cool-Guy God that we deal with.
This is the One whom we approach:
A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings.
And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. …
I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened. …
I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. …
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” …
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. …
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean,[f] followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:
KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS. …
…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Ezekiel 1:25-28; Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:8, 12-16; 19:11-16; Philippians 2:10-11 (NKJV)
Does it seem right to take a casual attitude toward God?
To sing mindless, repetitive, human-centric songs and call it worship?
To complain about studying the Bible?
To get bored during prayer?
To look at the clock and become irritated when the service “goes over?”
Of course we’re all human and of course we all fall into these very human patterns from time to time. We go through dry spells and rebellious phases and seasons of complacency. There is, to our everlasting benefit, an always-extended mercy from God.
The God who sees.
The God who knows.
The God who is nothing like us and yet planted something of Himself inside us.
The God whose very existence demands the singing of the doxologies, the glory sayings. Mouths open, words spilling over lips, voices raised in blessing the Name of the Lord. Joy rising, the kind of soul-expanding tingle that washes over us when, for just a second, we get our eyes off of ourselves.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
– Thomas Ken
Yes, praise Him. Praise Him with head bowed, heart quaking, knowing that He is holy.
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
– Colossians 1:16-18 (NKJV)
We have lost something in adopting a fast-and-loose approach to faith. In our rejection of liturgy, our banishing of silent reflection, our fear of beauty and our quest to package the full expression of faith into a neat two hours on Sunday morning, we have lost the knowledge that worship is not about us.
Do we honor Him when we fail to quiet ourselves, when we enter the sanctuary as if it is just another room? Do we honor Him when we treat our meetings as just another thing to do, another social time, another check mark to make on the list? Do we honor Him by running, running, always running away from stillness, quietness, order, reverence?
God made the world and all things in it. He said it was good. He could have made it flat and ugly. We wouldn’t have known the difference. Instead He made His presence known by giving us waterfalls and sunsets and dew and a dog’s happy panting and a baby’s high-pitched laugh. He made it all unique and intricate and beautiful. The masterwork all around us reveals the creativity, the heart, of the Master.
Shouldn’t our worship have these elements?