O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. Ps 63:2-3
“Evangelical Christians have grown accustomed to the domestication of transcendence. This is a serious judgment upon us, and yet it is evident to our worship, our evangelism, and our lack of wonder. Moreover we have lost the concept of glory. Indeed it appears that the word glory is one of those words in the evangelical vocabulary that now passes us by without leaving any residue of meaning. It causes one to ponder what most evangelicals do if worship depended upon a definition of the term.” R. Albert Mohler
I visited a new church last Sunday. After our Sunday School class, we visited a large church not far from our home. I wanted to see what made it tick. Because I have been on church staffs for the last forty years I not been able to take many of these pilgrimages. We found the church facilities were nice. The service was nice. The congregation was nice. The pastor was very nice. Everything was nice. Still, there was something missing.
During the singing the sound system wasn’t blasting, so I could actually hear words coming out of my mouth. That was good. The Pastor’s sermon was organized and right on. That was good. The pews were pretty much filled. That was good. But both the pastor and the congregation seemed to be out of touch. Something was missing, some thing crucial.
The preacher seemed to struggle with his delivery. He would often say silly things that were obviously not a part of the outline. I have been there. It is the kind of thing speakers are tempted to do when they afraid the congregation is bored. I have been there. The congregation sat attentively and even laughed occasionally at the levity of the pastor, but they didn’t seem intent nor were they greatly moved. They left comfortable but not satisfied. I have definitely been there.
What was missing? Here is what I think. The whole service lacked gravity. It lacked weight. It lacked glory. In other words, it was devoid of the sense of a heavy and holy Presence. Now, my point is not to criticize this Pastor or this church. I have led too many of the same kind of services so that the telephone pole in my eye prevents that. But my hunger for God and passion to sense his glory motivates me to ask tuff questions. This condition in the church is not right. We want more. Our people need more. What is wrong? What is the solution? Too much is at stake here to just have another “nice” service.
I think R. Albert Mohler was on to something when he wrote of the “domestication of transcendence” on the part of evangelicals today. A loss of wonder in the awesome glory of Christ has resulted in a domesticated Church with nice buildings, nice services, nice sermons, and nice congregations. The sad result is that the we are in danger of becoming a salt-less and light-less Church to a taste-less and light-less world. If I am not mistaken, I think many of our pastors sense this loss of gravity and that is why they have chased down so many rabbit holes in search of the right methodology or strategy that would some how give their Church some life and credibility.
We are all like Moses. We cry out, “Show me your glory” [Ex. 33:18] We think a vision of God would make everything right. God told Moses that he couldn’t handle that kind of experience. It would destroy him. But God did reveal his glory, through his words: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. [Ex 33:19] Moses saw the glory of God as God revealed his character through His words.
The glory of God is the character of God on display. In both the Hebrew and the Greek, the word for glory carried with it a sense of weightiness. In the Greek world, a man who displayed a solid character was said to have gravitas [from which we get the word, gravity]. That weightiness is what the psalmist “saw” when he went into the sanctuary [Psalm 63:1-3]. What he “saw” was awesome. What he “saw” was glorious. What he “saw” was deeply satisfying. What he “saw” was life changing.
It is this loss of a deep sense of the weightiness of God in the church that has caused us to lose our wonder, our joy, our power and our gravitas. Jesus is still glorious. He is still present. He is still glorifying Himself through his Word. But, somehow we are missing it. That is why the preachers are silly and congregations are harmless and churches are just nice. Perhaps the cause is as simple as the fact that we are taking Christ’s glory for granted. One theologian said that one of the great curses of the fall was our tendency to become quickly accustomed to the glorious. We can see the awesome beauty of the Sierras for the first time and then after few hours go inside and spend the rest of the day watching “Lets Make a Deal.” But, whatever the cause, the impact on the modern Church and her mission is tragic.
What is the solution? How do we regain a sense of the glory of Christ both in our Churches and in our lives? If I was the pastor of a Church, here is what I would do. First, I would go to my knees and repent of my hardness of heart. Then, I would ask the Holy Spirit to open my eyes and soften my heart so that I could see again the wonderful things in God’s Word. Next, with the promises of God in hand, I would open the Bible and begin to read and meditate on the wonders of Jesus Christ revealed in His Word. As I spent time in God’s Word, I would listen for Christ speaking to me, letting his words settle deep within my soul. As I continued to listen I would respond with prayers for a new and deeper reverence for the Person of Jesus Christ and His written Word. I would pray that the glory of Jesus Christ would rest upon my soul so that His weightiness would shine through me to rest upon my wife, my family, my church and my world. Then, I would carry that passion to know and enjoy the glorious presence of Christ into my sermon preparation and service planning. I would expect and acknowledge the holy presence of God in every gathering. By God’s grace, I would never be a nice Pastor or lead a nice church again.
Of course, I am not the only one who is concerned about the condition of our churches. Solutions addressing this condition in the church are numerous. Some are advocating that we return to our roots. Other are attempting to make the church more relevant and contemporary in their programming. Still others are crying out for doctrinal purity while others are pushing for a new dramatic experience. Some, sadly, have even given up and resigned themselves to just holding the fort in the midst of these dark and hopeless last days.
It is my conviction that the condition of the Church is not hopeless. Jesus Christ rules as the Head of his Body. There is one way to change the church’s existence from “niceness” to “priceless.” It is in seeing and knowing and experiencing and rejoicing in the fullness of Christ’s glory in his church. The best days of the church are not over. Although we are struggling there is hope. That is the sense of Charles Spurgeon’s word below:
A people are in an evil case when all their heroism is historical. We read the biographies of former worthies with great wonder and respect, but we do not attempt to follow in their steps with equal stride. Wherefore not? It has pleased the Father that in Jesus all the fullness should dwell, a fullness for Paul, a fullness for Luther, a fullness for Whitefield, and blessed be God, a fullness for me, and a fullness for you. All that Jesus has given forth has not exhausted him. Christianity has not lost its pristine strength; we have lost our faith, there’s the calamity….The Fullness of Jesus is not changed; then why are our works so feebly done.
No, Christ has not grown weak. He is still powerfully present to display his glory in the midst of his people. It is our faith that has lost its vigor. May the grace of God enable us to repent and seek his face with a new passion and perseverance. Then, our worship will be weighty, our sermons will be weighty, our pastors weighty, our congregations weighty. And, our communities will have a new “weightiness” as Jesus Christ is glorified through gravitas of his people.
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