Not Quite Like Our Church Services Today

Why is today’s church so far from what God expects of it?

Let me say straight up that there are plenty of great churches around, plenty of great pastors and ministers, and plenty of great Christians. But our job as believers is to keep striving to become even more like Christ, more biblical, more holy, and more obedient. As such, we must keep encouraging each other and keep spurring each other on.

And let me also say at the outset that being a pastor or a youth leader or involved in any number of other ministries in the church is among the hardest, most difficult, and often most thankless jobs you can be involved in. All the more reason to pray even more for our church leaders.

So to write articles about how the church is not always all that it should be is NOT just being negative or being an armchair critic. This is about being a Barnabas to one another. We ALL need to be encouraged, pushed and prodded along to become all that God wants us to be.

After all, when Jesus said that we are to be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), that means we all have a long way to go and none of us have fully attained what God wants from us. So to set the bar high and to help each other to seek to be all that God expects of us is not amiss, but the duty of each believer.

So here I am doing my part in this. Yes I know, in many ways I may be the last person to write about such things. I know I fail so often and I let down my Lord so often. Yet God is gracious, and when I feel something has been laid on my heart to share, then I best do that.

And my morning Bible reading has resulted in that very thing. I just finished the book of Exodus. The closing chapters are all about the building of the tabernacle for the Israelites who were recently delivered from Egypt, but who would spend some 40 years wandering in the wilderness before finally making it to the promised land, where a more permanent temple would eventually be constructed.

The last third of the book’s 40 chapters is all about the construction of the tabernacle and instructions on worship (with the story of the golden calf appearing in the middle of these chapters). There is plenty of fine detail about how worship in general and the building of the tabernacle in particular should be carried out.

So many chapters devoted to these matters tells us how important God thinks such things are. Let me mention just one point about these chapters before looking at some verses that really stood out to me. When we read these chapters we see how concerned God was about good craftsmanship and artistic endeavours. Some believers might think these matters are unimportant, but God did not feel this way. Consider just two passages on this:

Exodus 31:1-11 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

 

Exodus 35:30-35 Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.

When God seeks only those who are filled with the Spirit of God to do such work, then you know this is no small activity. God considers it to be very important indeed. See a bit more on the place of art for the Christian here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/28/art-and-the-christian/

But the verses that really stood out for me just moments ago were these. In Exodus 40:16 we find these words: “Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him.” And in Exodus 40:33-35 we read: “So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

Doing exactly what God had commanded Moses to do concerning the building of the tabernacle was paramount. And the result was plain for all to see: the glory of the Lord filled the place – so much so that even Moses could not enter into it.

When I read those words my mind immediately sprang to the church today (thus the words of my title). Is there really any comparison here? We tend to be so blasé and so casual and so carnal when it comes to church and worship that we seem to be light-years away from what Moses and the Israelites experienced.

We waltz into church, usually with no heart preparation, keep a close eye on our smartphones, and think about lunch and the sporting matches to be held later in the day. There is little holiness, consecration and seriousness about being in the Lord’s presence. It is a one hour ritual that we go through each week, little different than going to a movie or taking the car through a car-wash.

There is nothing different about church. There is nothing special about church. There is nothing holy about church. And I too am guilty of having such a cavalier attitude and superficial response when going to church to worship the living God.

Image of The Knowledge of the Holy (General Press)
The Knowledge of the Holy (General Press) by Tozer, A. W. (Author) Amazon logo

But I can point you to others who were in a good position to chastise us along these lines. One great saint of recent times, A. W. Tozer instantly comes to mind. He wrote about the sad state of the evangelical church and our low view of God and worship constantly.

So let me conclude with just a few choice quotes from this great American pastor and writer. He said this:

“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, worshiping men. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.”

“The only power God recognizes in His church is the power of His Spirit; whereas the only power actually recognized today by the majority of evangelicals is the power of man. God does His work by the operation of the Spirit, while Christian leaders attempt to do theirs by the power of trained and devoted intellect. Bright personality has taken the place of the divine afflatus.”

“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.”

“It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to attend a meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”

The church “appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theatres where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against.”

“Almost everything the Church is doing these days has been suggested to her by the world.”

”It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.”

If Tozer is correct – and I certainly believe that he is – then no wonder so much of the church today bears no resemblance whatsoever to what was found in the early church, or what was found when God appeared to ancient Israel in a cloud of glory.

As I have said so often, the world is in a mess because the church is in a mess. We need to pray that God will convict us deeply, and once again allow the church to be a place that the whole world knows is different, is holy, and is filled with God and his glory.

[1796 words]

16 Replies to “Not Quite Like Our Church Services Today”

  1. Thank you, Bill, for another insightful message. You are so correct in saying almost everything about the current-day church is an idea the church got from the world. As you also said, the church today is far removed from the worshipful attitude of believers in past centuries.

  2. It really saddens me the disrespect some churches show towards the Godhead. During my 26 years of church fellowship, I have worshiped at megachurches, medium-sized churches, and now at a much smaller church.
    What turned me away from a couple of those churches was their absence of giving glory to Jesus and ignoring to invite the Holy Spirit to come to have his way.
    Most preaching was far from Jesus-centered, instead was a seeker-sensitive style no, challenges, no conviction, and no encouragement to “fame the flames” of the gifts God has given.

    Now I’m at a small ACC church with a pastor who’s on fire for Jesus.

  3. John 3:1-21
    There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

    3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born [a]again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

    5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”

    10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man [b]who is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should [c]not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

    18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
    ……………………………………………………..

    No-one can study their way into the Kingdom of God! If so, the Pharisees, including Nicodemus, would have known the way!

    The really sad thing is that it seems entirely possible to have gained a PhD in theology, and yet still be just as spiritually blind as the learned Nicodemus!!

    God’s Word warns us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

    We know that Jesus challenged Nicodemus about the fact that he, Pharisee and “Teacher of Israel”, had not the slightest idea that unless a man is “Born Again of water and the Spirit”, he cannot either see or enter into the Kingdom of God!

    We know that Jesus also said this to the Pharisees:

    Luke 16:15
    And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
    …………………………….

    Jesus also made the inescapable point that the absolute first requirement, to personally “repent”, applies to all men, otherwise we will perish:

    Luke 13:1-5
    Repent or Perish
    There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had [a]mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
    ……………………………………………..

    Being “Born Again” is the only way to become part of the Kingdom of God; it is the only way to belong to Jesus! All other ways are futile, because Jesus Himself said it is the only way to even see or enter into the Kingdom of God!

    This is why we read what Jesus said to the disciples just before His ascension:

    Luke 24:44-49
    Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

    46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, [l]and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city [m]of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
    ……………………………………………………………..

    It is absolutely no surprise then to read what happened when the Day of Pentecost came; when the disciples were “endued with power from on high”; and thousands of people were added to the Kingdom of God; precisely because they personally repented of their sins, were baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins and received the promised “Gift of the Holy Spirit”; the Spirit of Christ, without whom no one belongs to Jesus!

    Acts 2:38-43
    38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the [k]remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

    40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this [l]perverse generation.” 41 Then those who [m]gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ [n]doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
    …………………………………………….

    Much of what still passes for “Church” today is, like the learned Nicodemus “Teacher of Israel”, unable to see or enter into the Kingdom of God; Unable to distinguish between the “Holy” and the “Unclean”; and therefore spiritually desolate!

    Funny how the need to be Born Again is hardly mentioned in churches these days and yet it is the very beginning of and absolutely essential to our belonging to Jesus (John 3, Acts 2)

    How many church attenders are actually Born Again?

    Indeed, how many of those who minister as priests are actually Born Again?

    If we are merely religious, we remain “Natural Man”, holding to a form of Godliness” only and actually at enmity with God!! We then cannot either see or enter into the Kingdom of God!

  4. “God does His work by the operation of the Spirit, while Christian leaders attempt to do theirs by the power of trained and devoted intellect.”
    Reading about Bezalel and Oholiab raises the question whether one should say “Both.”
    Also, I hear that the attendance at some church services has been halved since the Contagion. This article is therefore all the more relevant.

  5. Thanks John. Yes I am sure Tozer would have agreed to both. A sanctified mind is crucial. The greatest commandment is abut loving God with our minds. Tozer would likely mean that human reason alone often takes the place of the Spirit in many churches.

  6. I very traditional in I’m not dancing in the aisles whooping and hollering but I do want a preacher and a congregation that is on fire for Jesus. I like that Pentecostals and Baptists have a great deal of theology right but there use of CCM and “nightclub” effects to “draw in/keep the young people” ruins things. They want to praise the right God but in the WRONG way. A church service should be sacred. Full of life not dead ritual yes but still sacred. Turning the house of the lord into a discotheque is NOT sacred worship.

    I’m not saying Christian entertainment can’t exist outside of church in cinemas, in theaters, in in concert halls, but that church is NOT the venue for entertainment. In the entertainment venue we could use help most Christian media isn’t very good and mainly preaches to the choir and even for the purpose isn’t the best. Since we abandoned Hollywood decades ago we don’t have the talent needed to make great films, TV shows, and theater shows. Even true operas and good music not recycled worldly music. Maybe we could use B and C or even D listers to get better productions??

  7. Hi Bill, I look for your posts daily, you are one of the few bright sparks in this darkening world. Ever since my conversion experience (4 feb, 1974) I have looked for evidence of the vibrant 1st cent. church. Real expressions of power and courage are quite rare in western society. The speed of the decline of influence from the church into almost total irrelevance has been astonishing. The elephant in the room is evolution verses creation. Ever since it reared it.s ugly head, the church in general has been bending over backwards to cram millions of years into the first chapter of genesis. It does not work people, either you believe in the miracle of creation by an omnipotent loving god or you believe in the miracle of materialistic accidents. Make no mistake, both are religious statements and the overwhelming weight of the real scientific evidence is on the face value reading of the bible. Look it up for yourself, there are thousands of articles, written by phd scientists on the internet that corroborate the truth of it. I know it takes courage. If you even mention this debate in a bible study group you have an immediate fight on your hands so most people avoid the topic. Jesus included cowards amongst those that will not inherit the kingdom of god. So lets get back to the whole TRUTH and proclaim it, show us how Lord Jesus.

  8. This is one of those times when I react in my core to your opening lines so I wont proceed into your article until later because it reads like one of those apologies which say words to the effect of ( Im sorry you feel…) then goes on to say, without saying – I am sorry that you misunderstand me.
    Surely you have received one or two of these kinds of apologies Bill ?
    You write” let me say straight up there are plenty of great churches around….” maybe so ? But I don’t think post locking down churches n ALL that went with that, is the time to stake the claim you make in your opening line.
    I do not believe that “encouraging each other’ or ” spurring each other on “should take such a form – not in times such as these.
    I do pray for our church leaders, often. I do appreciate them, more than you could possibly know.

    And, when you write ” our churches are not always all that it should be ” I start to get nervous again .
    May He continue to bless you n yours.

  9. Thanks Kaylene. I read your comment a number of times now and I am still not 100% sure if I get what your main point is. If you are chastising me for offering qualifications in my article, then let me respond (if not, please write in again and clarify for me just what you do have in mind!). But this may be a case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’.

    Those who know me and my site know that I often just give a strong word without qualification. This is as much a rhetorical device as anything – something the prophets and others usually used. They would make strong absolute claims including everyone (‘you are all a bunch of sleazeballs’) when they knew full well that a remnant of God’s people did not fully fall into that camp. But I have written on such language elsewhere: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/02/15/on-biblical-rhetoric-and-prophetic-speech/

    But of course whenever I do strong pieces like this, I invariably get pastors and church leaders and others attacking me: ‘Bill, not all churches or Christians or leaders are this way…’ So I had these criticisms in mind I guess as I wrote this piece.

    Yet other folks will complain when I do make such qualifications. So it seems no matter what I do, I will always have some folks unhappy with me and my writing! Ya just can’t win!

    One final thought: to offer such qualifications, or to preface my remarks this way now and then, does NOT mean I am merely a people-pleaser or I have the fear of man. I am simply trying to share biblical truth the best I can. Seeking to not unnecessarily give offence, and to have a bit of tact and prudence does not go astray.

    We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. I do not always get it right. I often say that if my critics prayed for me as often as they criticised me, I would probably do a much more Christlike job! But as I say, if I am misreading you here, let me know thanks.

  10. Thank you for making the time to reply in such depth Bill. Not sure what I expected but it was probably not, a respectful request for clarification.
    On rereading my comment I can see why you are not sure what my main point is, because I was in full reaction mode to your opening lines and did not make it even close to clear.
    Now having actually read your full article I can understand your ‘please explain’ so I will try.

    I like so many, am still in shock n disbelief about Australian churches actually locking down.
    When it first happened I went on line to check over seas news because our own media seemed to be….well perhaps I wont go there right now but what I found was that churches world wide had locked out the faithful and at a time when it was indeed a matter of life n death ie (the elderly being left to die alone in ‘ care ‘ and prevented from having family contact . Or for others who ended up in hospital where relatives were (not allowed) and both relatives and patient were pleading. And our church leaders were silent, or at least I could not hear them and I went looking.

    Then there is the issue of segregation, those who have complied and those who have not – so again my shock is absolute. Can our church leaders actually go against the word of God in such a way (because some say its for our own good)? Apparently so.

    With the grace of God I found (on line) Martyn Iles, Australian Christian Lobby then the Canberra Declaration and here I am, still standing. But what about those who for what ever reason cant go on line ? I keep Imagining believing that the only information available is that which is offered by our own media and not having access to church to our pastor’s n priest’s

    Slowly I learned to consider the pressure church leaders might be under, but when I read an article by Rv Andrew Matthews titled , The Church – weighed – measured and found wanting. I felt was able to take a deep breath in. It gave me hope because it speaks of the need for the Australian Church (all denominations) to repent !

    The author spoke of a great deal and I believe he was indeed Spirit led and he went some way to restoring my ability to even begin to consider that I might once again hope, to trust church leaders.

    So when you opened your article in the way that you did, I felt n thought………as above.

    Sorry this is so jumbled n all over the place. Especially sorry if it feels as though I am targeting you, because I am not. Thank you for treating me with respect n asking for clarity. Thank you for understanding that communication is fraught n fragile. Thank you for your article and for being a pastor to me right now. Most of all thank you your love of and faith in, our Lord Jesus Christ …as someone once said, “the rest are details “.

  11. Thank you, Bill, for your powerful and timely message about the shortcomings of today’s church.

    And thank you, Kaylene Emery, for pointing out that article by Rev. Dr Andrew Matthews, “The Church weighed, measured, and found wanting”, found on his blog, Nails and Goads, October 29, 2021. URL: https://andrewwgmatthews.blogspot.com/2021/10/the-church-weighed-measured-and-found.html

    On a number of occasions I have heard Pastor Matthews preach at Scots’ Presbyterian Church, Melbourne, and have been most impressed by his biblical understanding and sound teaching.

    In the article referred to by Kaylene, he writes: “Despite the plethora of biblical injunctions to ‘fear not!’ the church on the whole has not exhibited a robust spirit of courage.”

    So we need to ponder deeply the words with which Bill concludes his message above: “The world is in a mess because the church is in a mess. We need to pray that God will convict us deeply, and once again allow the church to be a place that the whole world knows is different, is holy, and is filled with God and his glory.”

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