You know, I heard it again just this week. A young person pointed to the “dead” worship and “uninvolved” manner of his older brethren, and used this as the reason for leaving the church. Though we might deplore his judgmental attitude, we also need to ask if there is any truth in these charges.
Could we do better?
I think of worship services I have witnessed in Zimbabwe: To hear the matchless harmony of Shona voices raised in song still brings tears to my eyes. It breaks my heart to see row upon row of God’s people sitting like bumps on a log during a song service, consulting IPhones or balancing their checkbooks when they should be worshiping an incomparable God.
This is not the way God envisioned it. The Psalmist calls on us to offer the praise that God deserves: “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of peoples,” he begins solemnly, “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord,” – please note the next few words – “the glory due his name!” (Psalm 96:7,8).
We might respect many people – magistrates and rulers – but we can only properly worship one individual. That is why the twenty-four elders fell before God’s throne and cried, “Worthy are you, O Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power …” (Revelation 4:11). To praise anyone less would be “over the top,” mere flattery. For God it is right and proper, for he is indeed worthy. The basic meaning of the English word “worship” is from the old English “worth” – (worthy) and “ship” – (condition), the condition of being worthy of such honor.
I read of the early Restoration movement, and in my mind’s eye I can hear the voice of a Campbell or a Stone, a Raccoon John Smith or a David Lipscomb ringing the rafters with their messages drawn from Scripture. I see the message spreading “like fire in dry stubble” (Millennial Harbinger III, 138). But I do not see brethren sitting in pews carping about how little they “got out of” worship.
When I read of the first century church, I do not see the indifference and apathy towards outreach, worship and benevolence I see today. The early church had zeal! They were imprisoned, threatened, torn apart by wild animals, yet they remained steadfastly loyal to Jesus Christ. As Tertullian declared, “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church” (Apologeticus, Ib 50). Relentlessly they spread the gospel across the Mediterranean world.
Can you imagine Peter as an elder choosing a church parking lot over a worthy mission work?
Can you imagine Priscilla and Aquila hiring a preacher and expecting him to do all the work of the church while they sat in the pew?
Though we have substantially restored the church in its organization, its terms of entrance and its worship, we still need to restore its zeal! The God who demanded the best of the flock from Israel will not accept the emotional and spiritual “crumbs from our table.” Restored churches begin with restored hearts.