Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Going to Church With Mindless Offerings

How do you go to church?

I'm not asking if you get there by car, or subway, or bicycle.

Nor am I asking how often you go to church, whether it's weekly, twice a week, monthly, "C & E" (Christmas and Easter), or never.

I'm asking "how" you go to church.  With what mindset do you approach your church's sanctuary?  What kind of demeanor and attitude do you adopt as you enter through the doorway?

How do you go to church?

What difference does it make how you go to church, you ask?  Well, consider this obscure little passage a Facebook friend of mine, Kris Swiatocho, blogged about today:

"Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong."  Ecclesiastes 5:1

Now, that's the New International Version's translation of the text.  And it sounds pretty serious, doesn't it?  I mean, how many of us tread carefully, like we're trying to avoid something calamitous, as we approach the sanctuary where we worship?

If you still don't see what the big deal is, then consider this version of the same text, from the normally casual New Living Translation:

"As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut!  Don't be a fool who doesn't realize that mindless offerings to God are evil."

Keep your ears open and your mouth shut as you prepare for worship.  Don't just go through the motions.  This is not about you, it's about the Holy God you claim you're intending to worship.  Unless it really is all a pretentious show - whether your church is traditional or contemporary - and you're simply there because it's what Christians do.

Indeed, this has nothing to do with music style, or how liturgical (or not) your corporate worship style may be.  King Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, doesn't really care whether you're about to be serenaded by a praise band or enveloped by a pipe organ.  Strip aside every consideration for what you're wearing, whomever else you might see in the next aisle, whether you remembered your Bible and nametag and nursery pager.

Are you focused on worshiping God in the splendor of His holiness?  Are you even aware that three times, God's Word instructs us to do that?  To worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.  God offered Peter three opportunities to confirm that he and Jesus were associated, but all three times, Peter denied his relationship with Christ.  Christ invites us three times to worship Him specifically by acknowledging the splendor of His holiness.  That involves our recognition of His holiness.  Which should invoke some degree of awe.  Which we usually demonstrate with silence, right?

But as we enter His house, how often are we less prepared to keep our ears open and our mouths shut, and more prepared to present a mindless offering?  Going through a routine?  Checking off a box?

When we go to church this way, don't we leave ourselves open to all sorts of distractions?

How do you go to church?  I have to confess, even though I attend a church with grand music and glorious liturgy, I find myself lately going through the motions.  Sometimes I'm chattering with fellow choir members as we line up in the rear of the sanctuary before each service begins.  Most of the time, however, I quickly become angry at the throngs of "worshippers" who stream through the sanctuary's doors even as the service has already begun.  They've been chatting in the foyer, laughing loudly with friends, and sometimes even screaming in exclamation at seeing somebody with whom they haven't spent much time in a while.

Regular readers of mine know the church I attend is one of the most affluent Presbyterian churches in the country.  Not all of those rich Dallasites who attend, however, act in church like the cultured WASPS they like to pretend they are.  And virtually every Sunday, I allow them to distract me, divert whatever attention I might have tried to bestow upon God, and generally go into worship with a bad attitude.  Not a frivolous attitude, or a silly preoccupation with how I look or whomever else is there, or an obligatory resignation that doing church is probably better for me than sleeping in - even though all those things are just as bad.

I go in, do my duty as a member of the choir, and go home.

Is church a place of fellowship?  Of course it is.  Is church a place of celebrating our common joys and trials, of sharing our lives with each other, and building each other up?  Of course it is.

But corporate worship is not about us.  It's about God.  He has invited us to fellowship with Him, but this invitation is on His terms, and He is jealous for our attention and commitment.

A few congregations around the world still meet daily for corporate worship.  Here in North America, hardly any congregations do.  Many people use that as an excuse for spending the time before and after the corporate worship program to wander around, giggle, babble, gossip, tell anecdotes, say "we're praying for you," talk about the week you just spent in Las Vegas, hug, air kiss, and otherwise participate in lateral communication with people who, if we really cared about them and wanted to be an active part of their lives, we'd commit to setting up times outside of church for getting together.

All the while, forgetting it's not the fellowship that we're doing wrong, but the time we choose to engage in it.

How do you go to church?

I hope it's not with mindless offerings, but open ears and shut mouths instead.

After all, this isn't some arcane Old Testament law intended for a type of works-based salvation before Christ's death, burial, and resurrection freed us to be loud and self-centered.  It's deference to sovereignty.

God's.

Not the sovereignty we - however subconsciously - claim for ourselves.

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