April 23, 2014

Open Mic: The Fading Glow of External Experience

By Chaplain Mike

While I’m reading Skye Jethani’s superb book, The Divine Commodity, and preparing to review it, I thought I’d post this Open Mic question that grows out of a post on his blog, “What Should Worship Look Like? And why that question completely misses the point.”

Jethani is responding to some who have misread his book and assumed that he believes a certain style of worship is the only acceptable form. Using the misunderstanding as an opportunity to talk about his real concern, Jethani points to the experience of Moses as an example. Moses met with God on the mountaintop and the encounter made his face shine. Coming down the mountain, Moses veiled his face. Why? So that the people would not see the glory fading. “Whatever transformation Moses experienced in God’s presence on the mountain was temporary, and the veil hid the transient nature of this glory from the people.”

Then he writes this, the passage I would like you to read and discuss:

Moses’ experience is all too common among Christians today. Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. And, as we’ve already seen, many churches have engineered their ministries to manufacture these experiences for crowds of religious consumers. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multi-media theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. One pastor, explaining why his church opened another location across town, said “We decided, if you can’t get the people to the mountain, bring the mountain to the people.”

Ascending the mountain every Sunday morning, millions of Christians want to have an experience with God and this is precisely what churches promise. And not disappointed, many leave these experiences with a sense of transformation or inspiration. They feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.” No doubt many people, like Moses, have authentic experiences of God through these events. Others may simply be carried along by the music, crowd, and energy of the room. Whether a result of God or group, what is beyond question is that many people depart feeling spiritually rejuvenated and capable of taking on life for another six days.

The problem with these external experiences, as Moses discovered, is that the transformation doesn’t last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunch on Sunday, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event you were certain would change your life forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. And to hide the lack of genuine transformation we mask the inglorious truth of our lives behind a veil, a façade of Christian piety, until we can ascend the mountain again and be recharged.

This philosophy of spiritual formation through the consumption of external experiences creates worship junkies-Christians who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that does not fade. In response, churches and Christian conferences are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations….

The mic is open.

You know the rules.

Comments

  1. Chap,

    Right on target. Skye has identified the common practice of narrowly defining real worship in degrees of human emotion aroused by artful staged entertainment and performance.

    That is why many forms of “worship” today require an attractive multi-talented “worship leader” who commands the congregation to stand, with a heavy rhythm track call to worship, all while the “worship team” dances into view.

    Other believers who are less moved by the “worship leader” are immediately characterized as being out of step, or out of fellowship, or are said to be “quenching the spirit of it all.”

    I, for one, prefer to encounter the Creator in reverent worship that is absent high intensity entertainment no matter how attractive the worship team appears under the key lights up front.

    Don’t misunderstand. I’m an old rock-n-roller who really appreciates high value entertainment. I enjoy a great stage show, with heavy rock sounds, and really good looking performers who are very talented. And the Christian subculture has some very talented performers who produce great entertainment shows too. Most people enjoy, if not worship, all that talent on display in the entertainment business! And I do too.

    But that’s not what I’m seeking when I join, with brothers and sisters in Christ, for corporate worship of our Lord, in His church…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That is why many forms of “worship” today require an attractive multi-talented “worship leader” who commands the congregation to stand, with a heavy rhythm track call to worship, all while the “worship team” dances into view.

      “You Spin Me Round Spin Me Round Round Jeesus Round Round…”

      Other believers who are less moved by the “worship leader” are immediately characterized as being out of step, or out of fellowship, or are said to be “quenching the spirit of it all.”

      “There are Infidels and Traitors Among Us…”

      Just like how Spiritualist Mediums suddenly found their Spiritual Powers would not work when an Unbeliever or Skeptic (like Houdini or the Amazing Randi) was present at their seance…

    • As one who once enjoyed a Black Sabbath concert, I would have to agree. I am no more changed by the typical worship service today than I was when I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, or Deep Purple. It’s entertaining, but that’s about it.

      There are a few bright spots in the “Christian” music industry, but I have yet to hear Casting Crowns’ “What the World Needs Now” in a worship service.

    • I completely agree with you Marv and with the spirit of Jehani’s point. I think we run into a problem however when we start to say that one experience is good for sacred and another for secular.

      I would say that true worship is always an experience. The turning from self to the Ultimate Reality Himself is a cathartic and healing experience. I think to impose artificial guidelines externally by saying that quiet or ceremonial worship is more sacred than loud rambuntious worship will miss the point.

      I think it is this Sacred/Secular division that has created this weird Christian subculture in the first place. Instead of being IN the world but not of it, we have created our own space where we can be of the world but not in it. Now we have our own Christian music industry with its own economic motivations. We have our own sales charts. Hot sellers are more “anointed” than ones that don’t make money.

      I truly redeemed mind can hardly find a “secular” situation in which worship is not only possible but indispensable. Regardless of the sickness of the church and the worship leader, I can choose to worship in that service. I can choose to worship at a Led Zeppelin or a U2 show. God can illuminate a point for me in a glass of wine or a completely “secular” film. This may not be completely to your point but it produced these thoughts so I offer them :-).

  2. From Skye Jethani’s blogpost you link to:

    In Exodus 34 we are told that Moses covered his face with a veil so that the people would not be frightened by his appearance. In truth, according to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, Moses covered himself with a veil so the people couldn’t see that the glory was fading away. Whatever transformation Moses experienced in God’s presence on the mountain was temporary, and the veil hid the transient nature of this glory from the people. His mountaintop experience was genuine, glorious, and full of God’s presence-but it did not bring lasting transformation. This is the critical part of the story we seem to have forgotten…. The problem with these external experiences, as Moses discovered, is that the transformation doesn’t last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunch on Sunday, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event you were certain would change your life forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high.

    So, where and when did this idea that the glory/shining of Moses’ face was a “fading” or transient glory originate? ISTM from the OT account that it wasn’t simply a “mountaintop experience” but was Moses’ continual state after coming down from Mount Sinai such that he only removed the veil when he went in [the Tabernacle(?)] before the LORD to speak with Him (Exodus 34:29-35). Did Paul make up this story? Was it based on a Talmudic legend or tale? My Bible’s cross-references to this Exodus incident are only to Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17) and Paul’s statements in 2 Corinthians; i.e., there is no indication that the Torah elsewhere mentions that Moses’ face stopped shining at some point or that this shining faded or was fading away.

    • I mention/ask the above because if Moses’ shining didn’t fade and/or wasn’t limited to being on the mountaintop, then that somewhat invalidates the comparison being made between it and contemporary worship.

    • He is referring to 2Cor 3:13, where it describes the glory as fading away.

      • I know Skye is referring to it (i.e., Paul’s statements in 2 Cor.), but I’m asking what is Paul’s basis for saying/claiming this about Moses’ glory/shining beginning to fade? My point was that there is no mention in the Torah or anywhere else in the Tanakh that Moses’ shining was either limited to his time or his experience on the mountaintop or that it began to fade when he was not in the presence of the LORD.

        • I’ll do some more research, Eric. I know the interpretation, but am a little fuzzy on its details at this moment. Regardless, Jethani is making an important point.

          • I have some 2 Cor. commentaries at home, as well as Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the NT use of the OT, so I’ll check those tonight.

            Paul’s use of the OT in 2 Cor 3 does raise a question, i.e.: If we are to be like the Bereans and examine the Scriptures to see if the things that Paul says are so (Acts 17:10-11), what happens if we find out that things are not as Paul says?

          • Eric,

            I recall that is what happened with the Thessalonians–they thought what Paul was saying contradicted the (OT) Scriptures and many rejected his message. Too lazy to pull out the Bible right now though to cite passages… :)

        • JoanieD says:

          I agree, EricW, that it would be interesting to know why Paul thought this way about the veil over Moses’ face. Perhaps it is just his interpretation.

          • JoanieD:

            Now that I’ve been able to examine the text in more detail, it seems to me that Paul could be saying in 2 Cor 3:13: “and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face so the sons of Israel would not stare till (as far as) the end of the thing that is transitory.”

            I.e., he is claiming that the old covenant was a transitory thing, but saying nothing about whether it manifested its transitoriness or fading away from Moses’ face.

            And in 3:7, “… so that the sons of Israel were not able to stare at Moses’ face because of the fading glory of his face” could be such that “the fading” refers to the transitoriness and temporary nature (i.e., until Christ came) of the glory of the old covenant, but not necessarily that the glory/shining itself faded over time from Moses’ face.

            I.e., Paul does not have to be saying that the reason Moses covered his face with a veil was so the Israelites would not see that the glory was a fading one. Thus, there need not be any contradiction between what Paul is saying and what Exodus 34 says.

            So while this solves an apparent contradiction between Paul and Exodus, this then means that, contra what Skye writes and applies to worship, the glory/shining did not fade after Moses came down from his mountaintop experience atop Mount Sinai. The shining/glory didn’t leave Moses, but he did wear a veil over his face the rest of his time except when he went in before the LORD to speak with the LORD.

            That’s all I have time for right now re: this.

    • Lisa Dye says:

      Luke 9:28, 29 “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

      As the time for Christ’s crucifixion drew near, the glory hidden behind the veil shown through Him and became apparent to the three disciples. Glory shines through Christ coming from the Source. Glory was reflected onto Moses and so faded. When we are indwelt by Christ, we have access to an ever-increasing glory because we are abiding in the Source.

    • In truth, according to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, Moses covered himself with a veil so the people couldn’t see that the glory was fading away.

      I think Skye Jethani has it wrong. I belive Paul is saying that even a fading glory was too much for the people to look at.

      That is certainly the plain sense reading of the N.I.V.

      2 Corinthians 3:7Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was

      Seems to me like he is proof texting to try to make a point.

      • After looking more closely at the text, esp. in light of Ex. 34, I would tend to agree with you, Michael Bell, re: it arguably being an instance of proof-texting to make a point. But I think that part of the problem that can lead to a misunderstanding re: the “fading away” in 2 Cor. 3 is due to how some Bibles translate or understand the participles in the passage.

        • Just to be clear, I was talking about Skye Jethani proof texting, although Paul could certainly be said to be guilty of that as well.

          • I, too, was/am referring to Skye, not Paul, likely being wrong and proof-texting to make a point.

  3. Interesting….Jethani says “the transformation doesn’t last…..” but I’d argue that really nothing is being transformed, and if it is, I’d like to know WHAT it is. This cannot be the kind of inner transformation (spiritual formation) that Dallas Willard and others write about, can it ?? If real change were happening, how could it “fade” in a day or two or three ?? I have no doubt that some kind of spiritual/emotional experience happnes, and maybe more emotional than spiritual, the Sunday moring thing is not unreal, but I’m not at all certain that it is real change “from glory to glory”. Wouldn’t there be a lot more Christ-likeness in our churches if it were ??

    I’m not saying that Willard is the answer guy for every question, but the change he writes about in “The Great Omission” seems night and day different from this Sunday morning hallelujah fest.

    • Lukas db says:

      I think the transformation going on in such external experiences is itself external. It operates at a psychological and biological level, as that is the level the experience (at least usually) occurs. And the body and mind do not change quickly, as those who try to lose weight, or change long-kept habits, no doubt can testify. It takes lots of repetition and persistence.

      I do not mean to minimize the value of such experiences, or whatever transformation it may bring. Humans are amphibious creatures, living in both the world of body and of the spirit. Changes in the body and its habits are important. Emotions of rejoicing and peace are valuable. They comprise a small part of what it means to be a Christian. So far as it goes, the development of such capacities for peace and rejoicing in community should be encouraged.

      • Lukas db says:

        Addendum:
        That said, I think a worship service should be about far more than simply trying to foster such experiences.

      • Key phrase: “So far as it goes.” But when this becomes the be-all and end-all of worship, which in all too many churches it has, then we’ve got a problem.

  4. Hope you don’t mind a somewhat long cut and paste from the article:

    We should be careful to not assume worship gatherings are the problem. The early Christians gathered regularly for worship, and the writer of Hebrews even commands his readers to not neglect meeting together as some were in the habit of doing. The problem is not our gatherings, but what we expect from them. If corporate worship is an external display of an internal reality, the glory of Christ that abides within, then these gatherings will not be full of passive spectators. These events will be where Christians gather to show a watching world the continual worship that marks their lives-whether it is celebratory, reflective, or even repentant.

    Allow me to connect some dots with this article and the little league metaphor: I’m not sure that our current worship “package” encourages the players to really play: we might just be encouraging a spectator religion built more for the little league PARENTS than for the ball players themselves. Though the article doesn’t reference this aspect , I’m wondering if the massive over empasis on the sermon for many ev. services does not also add to the “spectator” role of attendees. In other words, is this thing put together for the “screamers” mentioned in the ball park post, or is it REALLY for the players ??

  5. Is this just a modern, or even Evangelical issue. Would not the high liturgy (candles, incense, organ, etc…) of an RC, EO, or Anglican service fall into the same category?
    Isn’t some kind of experience part of any service?

    Likewise, isn’t the overall message of the church the determining factor. If a church pushes for deeper involvement and discipleship through other means (ie. small groups), doesn’t that negate an idolization of the experience?

    Don’t get me me wrong, I think this reliance on “experience” is a problem, and I have seen pastors ask the congregation if they were “fired up”. It is very troubling.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Don’t get me me wrong, I think this reliance on “experience” is a problem, and I have seen pastors ask the congregation if they were “fired up”.

      “ARE YOU READY TO ROCK??????”

    • I think you’re right, Rick. Attempts by the church to induce or manufacture certain kinds of experiences and emotional responses is certainly nothing new. Heck, even church architecture has long served as a means of producing psychological responses of awe and worship. Whether it’s gothic structures designed to represent man reaching upward toward God or laser light shows, Gregorian chanting or rocking worship music, Greek sophist-style oratory or revivalist-style preaching — all these things are means which the church has found to be effective in producing particular emotional and mental responses. Now, I’m not saying all these things are bad — though I think that whether or not genuine worship can be manufactured or induced through such means is a question worth asking.
      According to Jesus, the Father desires worship conducted in Spirit and truth — and, if we truly have the Holy Spirit within us, then I think He will inspire the kind of worship He wants from the inside out. And, when it flows from Him, through us, and back toward Himself, I think genuine worship will occur regardless of any environmental factors.
      Sure, Jethani is right that a lot of Christians have become addicted to religious experiences. But I also think that it is true that we are all in desperate need of more genuine experiences of Him, from Him, and with Him. The trick is learning to tell the difference between the real and the manufactured — when you’re just surfing a wave of emotion or environmental influences and when you’re truly stripped down naked, broken, and open-hearted before the One who made you.

  6. dumb ox says:

    Whenever I hear the rhetoric about contemporary worship – and even some traditional worship, the emphasis is upon God inhabiting the praises of his people, or God “showing up”, or the Holy Spirit filling a place in response to our worship “experience”, or God accepting our sacrifice of praise. It seems like worship becomes an incantation that we use to conjure God – a rubbing the worship lamp. So much pressure is placed on the worship team and the worshipers to get it right, so that the Spirit doesn’t pass us by.

    I would like to make a distinction between what he refers to as “external experiences” and the sacraments, or even sacramentals. Not sure if that is off-topic. To keep it short ,God “shows up” without us doing anything. He shows up, offering hope and forgiveness, not judgement and condescension. He shows, up even if we have had a bad week or our hearts aren’t 100% pure. It seems what is truly similar between the Mount Sinai experience and contemporary worship is burden of law and terror of God’s wrath.

    • this would do my Catholic dad a world of good to hear this from his protestant son: maybe it would do us a world of good in the ev. wilderness to focus MUCH more on the present reality of GOD in the sacrament, and what that means to us, and less on everything else. For all the talk of “it’s all about GOD….” I’m wondering if our worship package ends up being more about us…..

    • The preoccupation with form over reality by no means new. Only a few years ago, the fad was solo performance tapes in worship, replete with full canned orchestra. Since those modest days of Christian karaoke it seems things are growing exponentially, although I can’t say, no longer hanging around for the spectacle. Kierkegaard observed that many people attend church with the same expectancy with which they attend a play. They are spectators watching the main characters perform on stage. Worship is judged good or bad based on how well they pull it all off. The dilemma is, when we attempt to use God in this manner, he is such an unpredictable cast member, his “showing up” may not be all that important anyway. Is the essence of collective worship using God, or is it allowing him to use us? It’s only when we are agonizingly aware of the failure of our own efforts that God begins to move. What I find so refreshing in the proclamation of the word and the sacraments, is that God takes the initiative and reveals himself.

  7. Likewise, isn’t the overall message of the church the determining factor

    This might be a very important point, and I’m wondering if it’s importance, or lack thereof, is demonstrated Monday thru Saturday, by how the flock LIVES; in other words, the rah-rah speech on Sunday is only as meaninful and real as it is incarnated during the week. Sorry to ‘cross post’ so much, but this is back to thot of leaders being ‘face to face and personal’ from the little league post. That is something that happens, or doesn’t , Monday to Saturday. Or perhaps Sunday between services.

    • cermak_rd says:

      How can anyone know how the flock lives? I think of two churches, both close to my home. One is a Missionary Baptist congregation. It’s a huge, new building, parking lot full on Sunday at least 1000 people attending, I would imagine some traveling quite a bit of distance to get to it. The other is an Antiochian Orthodox Church. Again, it’s a large church (remodeled and expanded former Lutheran church) with a body of believers that travels some distance to get to it. How does anyone know how anyone is living day to day with that kind of congregation? And has that become the norm for churches in metropolitan areas?

  8. Good piece Mike.

  9. While this piece seems geared towards more evangelical services (i.e. “… multi-media theatrical equipment …”), and I agree, I feel the same danger resides in the obsession over sacriments.

    Immersion or sprinkling in water and the bread and wine (or juice) can make a person “feel” like they have experienced something profound and deep. But like the mountaintop experience, I believe these ceremonies can be the Upper Room version of pop culture church.

    Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are reminders of Christ and it is knowledge of God and of Christ (John 17:3) that drives me onward in life. I do not, however, require either to motivate my faith.

    • Except of course that we don’t have life in us without baptism and the Eucharist, as per the Scriptures…

      • Au contraire. Per the Scriptures, he who has the Son has the Life. And the Son can be received apart from the so-called sacraments.

        YMMV

    • I have come to appreciate the idea of quiet simplicity and the way it counters the cacophony of both pop-evangelical and overly ornate sacrimental services.

  10. But you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is nothing wrong with “Whether a result of God or group, what is beyond question is that many people depart feeling spiritually rejuvenated and capable of taking on life for another six days.”

    I think there is such a thing as a horribly boring and unengaging service, all intellect and no emotion, all Bible and no Spirit. And the pastor who runs it would have it your duty to attend it every week because it’s good for you.

    On the other side of the coin, “here we are now, entertain us” entertainment-style worship leaves no room for the small voice of God in all of the human emotion.

    I know that worship shouldn’t be about me, but it’s so nice when I do get a spiritual recharge from it. It’s a catch-22.

    • Lukas db says:

      Are the two really that mutually exclusive?

      The question is more serious than it is rhetorical. It seems like the two results of worship shouldn’t be mutually exclusive – that you should be able to make the service about God, and yet get a ‘spiritual recharge’ from it. But I rarely see it.

      • Damaris says:

        I’ve never been spiritually recharged by any service that wasn’t about God; I guess I would hope that was a given. The word “spiritual” is the key word. There are other ways to be recharged, some of them more immediately exciting. Maybe — referring again to the Little League post — we need to ratchett down our expectations and responses in order to recognize spiritual recharging.

        I leave every service of the liturgical church I attend feeling refreshed. I wouldn’t say every Sunday is a mountaintop experience, but it is a blessing — and one that I don’t need to worry about, because I know there will always be God’s word read aloud, preaching on God’s word, and time for reverent prayer. I can find God there, or perhaps He can find me there.

        I don’t mean to sound smug or preachy. After many years wandering the spiritual wilderness, I am just happy to find a place of calm, where I can hear God speak.

        • we need to ratchett down our expectations and responses in order to recognize spiritual recharging.

          booo-yah……another home run (and from a GURL !!!! :-) ) serously, great points, and the expectation theme to your post is huge: if something is quiet and not laced with adrenaline (of some sort), can the Holy Spirit possibly be in it ?? Or must we feel (fill in this blank) ?? with the wrong expectation, we will walk right past the everyday miraculous working of GOD, and never see the miracle…..

          • MAJ Tony says:

            One of the reasons I’ve come to love a well executed Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal) is that it doesn’t rely on any adrenaline-dump-inducing music, although, if you have an Orchestral setting, it certainly can I suppose (only heard one about 6 years back). Good Gregorian Chant CAN send a tingling up your spine, and by it’s very nature, can produce a certain mood very well (Good Friday “Reproaches” and the Latin Tenebrae “Lamentations” are excellent examples). However, even if you have the most complex musical arrangement and accompaniment in the world, the consecration is almost dead-quiet, allowing the mind to “shut up and listen” to God. It’s the reason some folks like the Low Mass, which is entirely devoid of music. Even the priest merely reads everything in a speaking voice instead of chanting. That is a very Roman concept, one which I don’t believe exists in the eastern rites.

        • Lukas db says:

          Perhaps the problem I’ve faced is that I so infrequently attend a service about God; usually it’s about Theology or the Christian Life. I tend to hear more about Those Evil Catholics and their idolatrous mass, or That Evil Television and its corrupting influence, than I hear about God’s Wonderful Son.
          Or maybe I’ve just become jaded on nonsense, and so when God is the subject of the preaching, I’m not even listening.

          • OK, serious question: how much theology is too much? Or, sketch me the difference between a sermon on Theology and one about God. I’m not sure I follow your point.

          • Lukas db says:

            Well, I’m not sure if it’s about how much theology there is, as it is about why we’re presented with the theology. Any amount of theology is probably appropriate in a given sermon, so long as it is attempting lead the congregation to a greater understanding about God. However, I often hear theology preached for its own sake. Most often it takes the form of exposition on the differing theological underpinnings and definitions of other churches or denominations. As in, ‘we believe in doctrine A. Church X is heretical because it believes in doctrine B, which is wrong.’ End of story; wash, rinse, repeat. Not a word about why we believe in said doctrine, or what we believe it tells us about God or ourselves.

          • Maybe this is just sematics, but Theology literally means the study of God. So whatever it is you are hearing, it is not Theology.

          • Damaris says:

            The Eastern Orthodox say that a theologian is not one who studies but one who prays. If your preacher is that sort of person, then you get not just knowledge about God but knowledge of God. Lukas db, I know what you mean. We recently gave up going to a church that defined itself solely as what it was not: not Catholic, not Calvinist, not that other breakaway denomination . . . It was unpleasant.

    • dumb ox says:

      Bonus points for quoting Saint Cobain! :-)

  11. Chris K. says:

    Chaplain Mike,

    Thanks for your comments and for prompting this discussion. My take on Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 3 is an effort on his part to show the contrasting glory found in the Mosaic law and the glory found in the Spirit of the living God; that not written on tablets of stone, but the human heart. ‘But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’ (2 Cor. 3:16-18, ESV)

    I am convinced that any worship service, regardless of ‘style’, will be somewhat shallow and have only transient results for anyone who participates in worship if that person has not encountered the transforming power of the new birth made available to all through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As a bivocational minister in the United Methodist Church, I serve a four-church charge in a rural setting. I have been appointed to this particular charge for the past five years, and expect to have my appointment continued at this year’s Annual Conference. I am continuously humbled and amazed at the very high percentage of members that regularly worship each week; I know I am not the reason for their attendance; it’s certainly not because I ‘entertain’ them. I can only conclude their enthusiasm for coming to worship must be something else, and I am convinced it can only be attributed to their transformation through Christ.

    I pray for God to move in the hearts of all who attend their respective house of worship, regardless of ‘style’ of worship offered, regardless of denominational affiliation. I am reminded that the followers of Christ are as Paul relates in Ephesians, “… the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.’ (Eph. 1:22b-23, ESV). I believe worship is to be the communion of the body of Christ with God; we are to be the ‘fullness of Christ’, the vehicle by which Christ will ‘fill all in all.’ Only a life transformed by Christ and governed by that transformation will not fade.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    This philosophy of spiritual formation through the consumption of external experiences creates worship junkies-Christians who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that does not fade.

    It also creates phonies in-between the highs, duckspeaking the Oh-So-Spiritual Party Line lest the others turn on them and peck them to death like a defective chicken in a barnyard.

    • Lukas db says:

      Dude, sometimes I think you post just because you thought of an awesome sentence.

      That’s not criticism, mind.

      • Hey, how can it be criticism when you just called it an awesome sentence?

        HUG often alludes to Animal Farm (one of the most important books ever written) but I think with this allusion he may have meant The Emperor’s New Suit.

  13. Where are we getting the idea that worship has something to do with Sunday morning gatherings? I know that this may not be in view by any of the above posts, but I find myself reading
    - worship leader
    -appears under the key lights up front
    -the Sunday morning thing is not unreal
    -candles, incense, organ
    -contemporary worship
    -traditional worship
    -evangelical services.
    I was previously involved within a Church Worship Team; it was 99.9% focused around Sunday morning and Evening.
    Is Worship an event with all its attendant experiences or is it a state of being. An event you can tie down to ‘place’ be it Sunday morning, Small group etc. And yes here you can engage and meet with the living God.
    As a state of being then it’s a wonderfully broad canvas. Standing at the kitchen sink washing the dishes with the words of There is a Redeemer running through your head and the mysterious encounter with God as you give praise for everything you see. Or walking into your place of work giving thanks that you have been privileged to work with and support individuals whose lives are immeasurably shattered.
    Worship is 24-7 and not just 11-7 Sunday.
    I hold my hand up as guilty when I look for an experience. It happens.
    I need to meet with God and offer my worship in a bigger pitch than the gathering of the Saints, and perhaps when I do gather with my brothers and sisters then the experience won’t be dominated by all the high tech jazz around.

  14. Patrick says:

    Never really understood the whole mountaintop experience thing. It basically offers a view and some inspiration but not much else (other than a long hike down). Moses’ mountaintop experience is where he (and we) was told to go to the “valley” and get to work. It is in the valley that one prepares, plants, hunts, harvests, builds, travels, etc in order to actually accomplish something.

    This post is a good reminder that we must not travel from church to church looking for the “spiritual high”. It is not Biblical, the NT church was tasked with preaching the gospel, caring for widows/orphans, the poor, the imprisoned, maintaining church discipline and discipleship, etc.

    I disagree with the author’s remark that Moses’ transformation did not last. It completely changed his life from a shepherd of animals to a shepherd of peoples and comsumed the last 40 years of his life.

    Searching for a spiritual high is self-serving, searching for how to minister to the “least of these” is what Christ called us to (as well as repentance and faith in Him). We are told that we will be blessed (fed/recharged/made happy/etc) when we do so.

    Scripture is sufficient for our needs and can answer the “how” when it comes to the search.

    • Moses’ mountaintop experience is where he (and we) was told to go to the “valley” and get to work. It is in the valley that one prepares, plants, hunts, harvests, builds, travels, etc in order to actually accomplish something.

      very well said…..and this is starting to look like (to me at least) real inner, lasting transformation

      nice post

  15. It should be evident to the world by the way that we perform the simple act of opening a door that we worship God.

    Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

    It is in the quiet… the mundane…. the ordinary that we find God…. not the manufactured, high-voltage epistemology that purports the equivalent of living on the cusp of ecstasy ad infinitum while in this mortal coil. I seem to recall someone saying once that The Kingdom of God belonged to the least of these…. to the outcast…. to the “trivial”…. and I have to wonder why so much of Christianity in North America endeavors to be the opposite…. to be loud… to be ostentatious…. to be bigger, better and more ________.

    • Actually, it could be argued that God likes the noise and fireworks, etc. :o

      “Now there was a great wind…but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence” (11-12).(3)

      -(3) On the translations of this phrase – sheer silence, still small voice, soft whisper, etc., see Professor Niehaus’ article in 36.9 of Pratico and Van Pelt’s Grammar, 2nd edition, 413-414, where Niehaus argues that “either translation is possible. But genre considerations make the new translation [“roaring, crushing, thunderous voice”] preferable.” J.J. Niehaus, “A Still Small Voice?” in Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt (2001, 2007), Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

      • couldn’t it be argued then, that the “genre considerations” that make “sheer silence” into “[roaring, crushing and thunderous voice]” are nothing more than a sort of generational anthropomorphism, whereby we place our own ideals, values and zeitgeist framework onto God? for example, in as much as the values of the early church influenced roman culture, so too (and some argue that perhaps more so) roman culture (values, ideals, etc.) influenced the early church post Constantine. To put it bluntly and plainly, are we not just rationalizing our prodigal-ness, our drift, our efforts to manufacture the presence of the Holy Spirit?

        “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must
        be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal and spirit of self-sacrifice, it will become an
        irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

        mlk, jr.

        i contend that the church has become an almost entirely irrelevant social club to the faculty of conscience within the human being, and deservedly so. how can we claim to worship the prince of peace and to espouse love and forgiveness but be so pro-war?!?

        • The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that war, for lack of a better word, is good. War is right. War works. War clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the religious spirit. War in all of its forms – war for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind, and war – you mark my words – will not only save the Gospel, but that other malfunctioning entity called the church. Thank you very much.

          • evidently we differ on our understandings of what propels mankind forward. if you live by the sword you will die by it….. that, ladies and gentlemen, is the point.

            as a christian, there are only two kinds of people in this life that i will ever meet: a christian or non-christian. now, if i meet a fellow brother or sister i cannot kill them, because they are a brother or sister. on the other hand, if i meet a non-christian then they need the gospel. not a bullet, explosive device or long-range missile. moreover, if i kill a non-christian i have just decided that they are not worthy of heaven and of redemption.

    • to add: it is a dangerous thing to divorce worship from the simple acts of day to day living. worship is not something that “we do”, it is a way that “we are”.

  16. Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today wrote an article entitled ‘The End of Christianity as We Know It’ in which he talks about what it means for the church when a spiritual experience resulting in lasting personal and emotional change can be produced in a laboratory.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/aprilweb-only/25-41.0.html

    I wrote a blog post on it here:

    http://www.newreformationpress.com/blog/2010/05/20/the-one-needful-thing/

    The whole system by which we ‘measure’ spiritual progress, and test to see if worship is ‘really working’ is an outgrowth of the pragmatism of the 20th century rooted in the ‘Business Model’ philosophy for ‘doing Church.’ It is fueled by our constant need to look inward to check our spiritual progress and our level of sanctification moment by moment.

    We also have a distorted view of what ‘the end product’ of the Christian life should be and so ever more time, effort ,and money are poured into bigger productions to produce these results.

  17. I have a strange feeling I may have a different angle on this.

    Hmm…

  18. Matthew says:

    So, does this post relate back to the posts on the Holy Spirit, and baptism in Him, and such? I guess my question being, (and this is in total ignorance – I know next to nothing on the teaching of baptism in the Holy Spirit), isn’t the experience that’s taught as baptism in the Holy Spirit a fleeting experience? Or is there a difference?

    No agenda, just asking out of ignorance…thanks for responses in advance!

  19. I think any style of worship is OK, or any aid to worship, as long as it means to glorify God—whether smells & bells, silence, Gregorian chant, rock n’ roll, dance or PowerPoint.

    The problem comes when the medium becomes the message–then it can cross over into idolatry and the Lord gets left in the dust of the experience.

    “And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made…” —Simon and Garfunkel

  20. Let us not forget the classic maxim: “Doxology without theology can easily become idolatry”. I think we are seeing this all over the church in our country. I don’t think the solution is in the world of worship forms: Being more theological didn’t work for many denominations. Being less theological has been a huge commercial success but is coming up spiritually bankrupt. I don’t think a perfect theology or doxology ought to be the goal here. What we want, and we need, is a perfect Savior. Seek him at all costs, and through any means necessary.

    Now with the clear objective in mind, the question becomes: “What will most effectively aid in this quest?” Remember, do ALL things for the edification of the Church. Lights and big drums are NOT in and of themselves sacramental. They don’t point to Christ. That doesn’t make them wrong, but should they deserve the center of attention? The solution to the dispute about which style is NOT answered by showing one style to be superior, and it is not answered by throwing all style whatsoever out the window. It is not possible to worship with no forms whatsoever.

    If what we need is worship that transforms, then we are in trouble. God transforms. We receive that transformation as we gaze upon Him and He shines His light upon us. As far as what that experience should look like, I am tempted to go with a strict regulative principle of worship. Do precisely what the Bible says and no more. It’s not that doing more will cause problems by itself. But for Pete’s sake, some of our instructions are pretty darned clear. When we come together we ought to share at God’s table, hear from his word, and respond to Him in prayer and the singing of psalms (among other music). Those are the forms. God has told us how we are to worship Him. The vast majority of Christian traditions do utilize the majority of those. But here’s where we go astray:

    1. We loose focus on Christ as the means and the goal. Communion is not served for shallow reasons. Psalms are no longer sung because they’re not “in” at the moment. Prayer becomes narcissistic, and the Word is approached for what we can get out of it and NOT out of humility and submission to it’s authority.

    2. When that content goes out the window, it is replaced with whatever the culture tells us will sell.

    The answer is not found in any of man’s traditions. All traditions have churches all across the board, from rampant pragmatists to rigid fundamentalists to emerging relativists. God have mercy on those of us who are simply seeking a community of Christ followers with whom to share our journey. I’m not sure anymore I’d know what it looks like if I were able to find it.

    • Damaris says:

      “If what we need is worship that transforms, then we are in trouble. God transforms.”

      Brilliant point, Miguel. Buy billboard space, and paint it on barns.

  21. I don’t see the “worship service” as we commonly think of it in the New Testament, so it’s difficult for me to say what such a thing should look like. At a minimum I think the Sunday meeting should contain considering how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds as well as encouraging one another (Heb. 10:24-25). I think it should also include each member having the opportunity to use their gifts to edify one another (1 Cor 12-14), and I think it should also include a celebratory meal, during which the Lord’s Supper is shared (1 Cor 11).

    Other things such as type of songs/music/hymns, length of any preaching, order of service, etc., I think are more secondary issues, but that should at a minimum be done decently and in order. To go home actually being built up instead of merely feeling good is a better way to go.

    • Damaris says:

      Steve Scott — Don’t neglect to look to the book of Revelation for a portrait of worship. In it we see perfected worship, not just the struggling attempts of the early churches, valuable though those are.

  22. Whatever happened to 1 Kings 19:11-12? “…but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”

    My most noticeable spiritual “high,” if you want to call it that, was a quiet moment during a liturgy at Weston Priory, the Benedictine monastery at the foot of the Green Mountains.

    How much do we wish to overpower that still small voice sometimes?

  23. I just went back and re-read Exodus 34 (“The Shining Face of Moses,” as the ESV titles it). I don’t really see where it would suggest a discrepancy between the account and Paul’s statements in II Corinthians 3&4.

    I dunno.

    • See my post to JoanieD of May 24 at 10:45 pm. I, too, now see no discrepancy between Paul and Exodus 34 (I’m the one who originally raised the question). However, I also don’t see much support for the idea that the glory/shining faded when Moses came down from the mountain.

  24. It seems to me that 2 Cor 3 contrasts “the ministry of the Spirit” with the ministry of the law, which is variously described as something that “brought death” (v. 7) and “condemns men” (v. 9) yet by way of concession “was glorious” (v. 10) though it “was fading away” (v. 11).

    The “ministry of the Spirit,” however, “brings righteousness” (v. 9), which everyone knows the law doesn’t and couldn’t do, (cf. Rom. 3:21, 8:3) so “how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” (v. 11) This is consistent with Jesus’ statement that he appointed his disciples to “go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). The fruit of righteousness, that is.

    That makes this (2 Cor 3) a weak text from which to make the author’s point, as Michael Bell said. Worship services are part and parcel of a ministry’s “package” offered to their members and visitors. Certain styles are currently more popular right now and, I guess you could say, expected. But the spiritual bottom line will always be, Are we making disciples, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded?(Mt. 28:19-20)

  25. I’m in the process of starting a support group for people who want to progress in love, in the way of Christ, in their lives. If worship services are mountaintop experiences, these are meetings of friends in the valley, headed in the same direction, seeking to help each other walk as Jesus walked, in all terrains.

    I’m not opposed to either meeting or experience, but I do have the suspicion, even the conviction, in line with the post, that our mountaintop-experience services alone are not sufficient for lasting transformation for most of us. We need some thoughtful and relationally supported follow-though in the valley, assuming that a life of love is even something we prioritize, let alone make our “highest goal.” Good post.