I read a treatise recently that I found very interesting. It was concerning the topic of secularism, and the working definition it gave of secularism is that secularism is “the rejection of worship.” I found it very interesting to consider this topic, particularly from that perspective.
Consider what we call secularism. For the longest time, I had always labored under the generally accepted definition of it. We tend to define it as “allowing the influence of the world” to shape our beliefs/morals. We consider secularism to be synonymous with atheism, and yet, when you think deeply on the topic, it’s not. Think of the “secularization of the culture” and even, God forbid, the secularization of the Church. When we open the doors to allow the world in, it is often times considered the wickedness of the world; churches affirming same sex marriage, churches turning a blind eye towards things like divorce, allowing thieves, liars, drunkards, manipulators, etc. into the Church.
Think for a moment, is secularism synonymous with atheism? How many times do you hear the statement, “I believe in God, I just don’t believe that I have to go to Church to love Him?” Or, has become commonplace in our generation, the ubiquitous, “I’m spiritual not religious.” Those very people are, while not atheist (in that they affirm God’s presence, perhaps even influence over our lives), however, they reject the notion of worship, they reject the decrees and doctrines of the Church. They are secular, however, non-atheistic. If you look closely, you see this outside influence, this non-Biblical influence, all throughout the Western Church.
See, I think about how often I hear sermons and lectures more focused on current events than anything else. And the problem with that is that it leads to a very eisogetical approach to our spiritual lives. Rather than beginning with the teachings of the Church and of Scripture, we begin with ourselves. And not even ourselves, but our culture. We approach Scripture with a predetermined mindset and then seek the Scripture references to support our already determined viewpoint. And then, we, using those references, create many new and varied doctrines based on that. Having removed the adherence to the thousands years old traditions of the Church, we begin anew each time someone find some “new revelation” or alternate perspective, and it usually seems rather similar to those stances which exist already outside the Church. If the people aren’t interested in a prayer group, we change the prayer group, rather than seeking to change the hearts of the people. Rather than conforming ourselves to the Church, we conform the Church to ourselves; if we find something about a Church we don’t like, we either change that doctrine, or find a different church to attend. And the problem with that is that when you begin with the current culture state as the foundation, then the foundation ceases to be Christ. When the evangelical world teaches pastors to ask people what type of Church that they would attend, what types of programs they would like to see the Church offer, then we make the people the foundation, the cornerstone, rather than Christ.
And this all begins with our worship. See, we, as humans, were created to worship. We were created to worship and to follow, and thus, when we see a church which chooses to place the preferences of the people over the writings of Scripture, then we do the same thing with the Church as a whole. When the focal point of a Sunday gathering is the pulpit, the man giving the sermon, then the focal point is no longer Christ. I think of the many churches that I’ve been to where what passes as worship is one man singing for 15 minutes, flanking another man lecturing for forty-five. And, ultimately, who receives the glory when that happens? So often I have heard people walking out of a service either praising or condemning the singer or the pastor, rather than just soaking in and truly living the message that was taught. And the entire time, there was no true worship. Consider the contemporary Christian songs that are thought to be “worship” songs in our generation. What is the subject of each of them? Now, compare that to what we see worship in the Scripture to be. Consider the heavenly temple that John saw in Revelation “…and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne…around the throne were twenty and four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty and four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads…the angels do not rest day or night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come.’ And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:2,4,8-11). Later, he instructs us “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.” (Revelation 21:3). Now, compare this image of the heavenly temple with the regular service that we find in our generation. Is there any resemblance at all between what the angels were chanting in the heavenly Jerusalem and what we sing in our contemporary worship songs? Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, and since we believe that we are granted eternal life to reside in the kingdom of the Lord, should not our worship also mirror that? Shouldn’t our worship be this heavenly worship as we prepare to one day join in the angelic choirs singing those hymns and praises?
See, the world will be the world, and that includes our government and our public schools and everything else of that nature. I am by no means saying that the Church should fight against the secularization of our society, that is a fools battle. However, we, Christians, must fight against the secularization of our Church. We must fight to ensure that our worship is never lost, sacrificed on the altar of prideful knowledge. We must study our Scripture, even having classes to help edify and encourage, reprove and instruct one another that we all may be fully knowledgeable about the things of the Lord, however, our worship, our Sunday services, can never be reduced to that. Our Church service must be about our joining in with the heavenly choir, hymning and praising our beloved Lord. I have been to “worship services” which felt more like theology classes than worship, often reminding me of Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures, thinking that in them you will find eternal life; and these things are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39). The whole purpose of studying the Scripture is to help us to grow in our knowledge of God, not to replace our relationship with Him. And while I may have left feeling emotionally convicted, it was a very empty conviction, because it conveyed no true change within me. It was the theological equivalent to a “self-help” speech, with much guile and convincing words, and all beginning with the current state of our culture and how sad it was that we have drifted so far from the course; rather than looking to the beginning of all things and determining the solution. GK Chesterton said that “The reformer is always right about what’s wrong. However, he’s often wrong about what’s right.” Rather than looking back to determine what’s wrong, which is usually obvious, we need to look back to determine when it went wrong, how and why, and restore, rather than reform. If the Schism in the Church over the last 500 years has taught us one thing, it’s that using our current method isn’t working. After 1000 years of one Church, then 500 more of two churches, in the last 500 years, we’ve divided into thousands (literally), all dividing over our acceptance of the world as a part of our Church. Better that we should look back to the methods that worked from the beginning, which were joining in the heavenly worship, rather than rejecting the faith further and further until only a select few hold the faith that we see in the New Testament Church. In Revelation 2 and 3, we see seven letters to seven churches, two of whom have accepted sin, one of whom lost their love for the Lord, one which was lukewarm, one which was completely dead; and two which were doing well. I fear that, if we’re honest, we’d say that the Church of America, as a whole, goes into one of those two categories. They either stray so far from the Scripture and discipline that they join with those who accepted sin, or they become so focused on doctrine, that they never take the time to actually love Jesus and enjoy relationship with Him. They reduce Scripture to scientific formulae, the Holy Spirit to strengthened conviction to quit using profanity, and reduce Jesus Himself to a hermeneutic. They replace worship of God with worship of knowledge and allow the wisdom of the age to guide us in our growth, whether it’s specifically rejecting it or affirming it. Being created for the purpose of worship; when we remove the worship from our faith, then we shift it to something else. We worship our celebrities, our favorite sports teams, our families, our jobs, our government. Consider this, what do we change our life to conform to? Do we work our prayer around our families, or our family time around our prayer? Do we shift our work schedule to make sure we can be at Church on Sunday to fellowship with our beloved brethern? Or do we only go on days that we happen to be off and wake up early? And even then, do we spend time actually enjoying fellowship with them, or do we leave as soon as the service is over so we can watch the football game? When we compare our worship to the apostles, to the saints, to 2000 years of Christian tradition; and then compare our worship to the world; which one does it more closely resemble?
Have we maintained the apostles decree that “you are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart for His purpose,” or have we allowed secularization, the rejection of the worship of God, to infiltrate our church buildings, our homes, our hearts? We must be so guarded against this, my beloved brethern. As adopted children of the most high, our lives should not make sense in absentia of our faith, our lives, our goals, our priorities, should never be understood by someone who is not of the faith. If it does, then we should truly, deeply, evaluate ourselves to see that we are walking in the faith. As Jesus warns us, “woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did they about the false prophets who came before you.” If our lives, our goals, our morals, make sense to those without faith, then we need to question whether we are living the faith, or whether we are living just like the world.
May the peace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved family.