The normal Christian life is one in which Jesus is everything. Yet sadly for far too many believers, it is more a case of everything but Jesus. We have allowed anything and everything to get in between us and Jesus, and we have managed to substitute 1001 false idols for the real thing.
The lures of the world, the glitz and glamour of things, and the deceitfulness of sin, have all crowded Jesus out of our lives. And not just in our individual Christian lives, but often in our churches as well. Thus we have gimmicks, gadgets and games competing with the presence of the living God.
As David Wells wrote in his important 1994 volume, God in the Wasteland: “The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to stanch the flow of blood that is spilling from its true wounds. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.”
Or as A. W. Tozer so powerfully stated decades ago: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
I mention all this because of my Sunday worship experience this morning. I was attending a different church in a different city, only to experience an unusual and unique situation. For some reason all their power was out, so it was a very different sort of service.
They rent a university auditorium, and with no electricity, the only light was the few exit signs, and doors at either end of the long stage, letting in some daylight. The rest of the place was quite dark, and torches were used to help folks to find their seats.
Because of this there was no AC, no lights, no sound system, no PA, no rock bands, no video clips, no PowerPoint presentations, and no razzamatazz. As I told the pastor upon entering, “All you have is the Holy Ghost – which is a good place to be in”. He readily agreed. All the stuff modern churches so very much depend upon and rely on were taken away, and all that was left was singing some songs and preaching the word.
I thought it was great. The song leaders and pastors could barely be seen. Relying on what was heard was all there was. No entertainment to tantalise the senses, no visual appeal, no nothing. So it did not matter if the preacher was short or tall, fat or skinny, handsome or ugly – you could not see him anyway.
While most of us are so influenced by what we see, and how a person looks, and so on, none of that mattered this morning. We just sat there and listened to the word being taught. It did not matter how spiffy the surroundings were, how jazzy the atmosphere was, or how neat everything looked – all that was largely taken away from us this morning.
As I say, I thought it was terrific because that is just how things were when people heard Jesus preach, or Paul teach, or Peter evangelise. Indeed, that was how things were for much of church history, and for much of the church around the world today.
Forget the fancy surroundings, the glitzy buildings, the mega-structures, and all the work of interior decorators and those seeking to create a mood. Just sing to Jesus, celebrate communion, and hear the word taught. It is probably time we got back to these simple things once again.
And it is time we got back to Jesus alone. I was reminded of what Corrie Ten Boom once said, “You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have.” Yes quite so. And in a small way, that occurred this morning – just the way it should be in my books.
Of course eventually some lengthy extension cords were brought in from somewhere, so a mike and amplifier were hooked up, allowing the pastor to not have to shout to the 800 or so people there. But such amplification is again a relatively new thing, and not always found elsewhere in non-Western churches.
Jesus addressed the multitudes without a PA system. So did all the Christian pastors, preachers and teachers for so much of church history. Just think of how George Whitefield used to preach in open air meetings to upwards of 20,000 people at a time – all with the sound of his own voice alone.
Or think of the 40,000 sermons preached by John Wesley, and the quarter of a million miles he travelled to deliver them. No jet planes, no computers, no amplification, no smart phones, no slide shows, no internet, no entertainment, no nothing – just Christ and him crucified.
And look at the tremendous impact such preachers had, all of whom were deprived of 90 per cent of the gizmos and devices that we have today. The contemporary church has every device, every technique, every gimmick and every marketing ploy available, yet is doing a woeful job of representing Christ and winning the lost.
The early church – and much of the church until recently – had none of this. They only had God. They only had Jesus. They only had the Holy Ghost. And they turned the world upside down.
Maybe there is a lesson in all this for us.