Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Which Provokes More Awe: An Evangelical Church Service or the U.S. Marines?

Many have remarked on the absence of reverence, awe, majesty or a sense of the transcendent in typical evangelical services. A. W. Tozer, writing in The Knowledge of the Holy (1961), put it this way:

The church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic. This low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, "Be still, and know that I am God," mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshipper in this middle period of the twentieth century.

This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.


In response to this absence of reverence in some evangelical services, some people have moved to high liturgical traditions because ritual provides for them that missing sense of reverence.

Well, what should we think when the U.S. Marines evoke more awe than a Christian service, even a Christian funeral? A thought-provoking comparison in Touchstone Magazine. (HT: Ray Van Neste by way of Jim Hamilton)

3 comments:

Phillip Fletcher said...

Thabiti,

Your post is spot on. I am an officer in the Army and there is a great deal more reverence in this organization than many of our local churches. Consider this. That when a senior officer or NCO enters a room, lower ranking Soldiers must stand in reverence. Same thing goes for alot of the traditions we have. It would be great to see some of that same attitude in our fellowships.

Thanks for the post.

Phillip
www.christgloryalone.blogspot.com

Michael said...

"This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field"

This paragraph floored me 12-years ago (1995) when I first read it -- and I thought Tozer was, who died almost three decades before, was speaking of the present time....and here today, what has been written here is just as applicable. The field is only wider.

I pray that God may so engage our hearts and minds with his true character and majesty that we behold him more nearly as he really is; than how we would like him to be.

Anonymous said...

a - A W Tozer could be talking about my evangelical church service. Held in a bare school hall,all fluorescent lights blazing, people assemble chattering away until hushed by someone announcing notices. Then it's worship song, then wait for someone to speak up and pray, sometimes communion, another song, etc etc then a very long sermon with so many wordy sentences and unintelligible words you need to have a dictionary handy. Uninspiring, no sense of awe, of quietness, no ritual, you come out blank minded and very tired.