Today, a different track. For some, a refresher; for others, a hearing for the first-time process. Here is the deal. Some of us grow up attending church; others, convert, or are awakened to the truth. We come. We join. But, no one taught us certain basic points. Some may feel out of place while at church. Embarrassing as it is to say it, we don’t know how to behave in the house of God. And so, let’s hear things grandmother never told you about how to behave in church.
But first, does it really matter? We’re all fallen human beings, aren’t we? So are we not at risk of lifting ourselves up, becoming critics of others, how they have mis-tied their tie, or come to church wearing one blue sock and one black, or critiquing a woman who accidentally came without her slip, or wearing some little bit of worldly adornment—something perhaps one hasn’t thought about?
But you didn’t come to church seeking to offend God or man. Even so, it has been a long week, you are tired, old habit rears its head and you suddenly become self-consciously aware that you are wearing something that you didn’t mean to. Is God such that He will condemn you for these unintentional human weaknesses? Don’t think it for a minute. He is not looking for opportunity to be picky at you. So this is not about a vengeful God waiting to cut you down for one stylistic mistake. Right?
But you do long to please God. You do want to come before Him respectfully. You do want to be an ideal representative of the King to others. You do want to grow spiritually. You do not want to be a distraction in church. In that positive spirit then, let us turn to the Word of God.
Let us begin now with this text from Psalm 111:9, the last part:
Holy and reverend is His name.
God’s name is a representation of His character, and Psalm 111 gives instruction about praising God. So here is what we have. God is holy. God is reverend.
Reverend means “deserving of deep respect.” Our text says that God’s name, that is, His character, is worthy of deep respect. Our God is gentle, humble, and does not gain personal satisfaction from someone coming and bowing down to Him. He does not sit on His throne in heaven and say to Himself, “I am great!” He is great. He is deserving of immeasurable respect. But He is not a Nebuchadnezzar, lounging round his palace, eating grapes, and hooting, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and by the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).
God is great, He is infinite in power, He is full of honor and majesty! But Jesus as God left behind powers of Deity His by right (Philippians 2:7), came here, became a sweating, coughing, can-be-bitten-by-mosquitos, can-be-nailed-to-the-cross human, and took a towel and washed the dirty, unpleasant feet of thief Judas. The high and holy God came down into human flesh and walked midst the perspiring, stinking, often oblivious crowd. So no, He is high and mighty as fact, but He lays that all aside and comes to save fallen, troubled, psychopathic man.
Let us be quick to remember. The root of Lucifer’s problem was that he forgot the distinction between the creature and the Creator. He thought that he, Lucifer, should be worshipped. He thought that unlike other created beings, he was worthy of receiving worship. He thought that the name Lucifer was "worthy of deep respect," that is, deep as the respect that God gets. And it wasn’t. Lucifer forgot the distinction, lost his mind, and at last became a rebel.
This brings us back to the point. Reverence is appropriate for God although human bowing and scraping is no satisfaction to Him. But it is for our mental health that we should maintain a clear sense of respect, that is, reverence, for Him. It is good for our heads.
It has become popular today to approach God as a friend. It should be that we approach God as a friend. Who would be a friend that you would visit in your everyday clothes? What about the president of the United States? Now whatever you think of the man, and admitting that the prestige given the office is greater than is appropriate, it would still seem that if you went to visit the president today, that out of respect for his office you would not go in tennis shoes and blue jeans and tee-shirt.
And if you went to your best friend’s wedding, or a family member’s funeral, you would not go in your work duds. You would, out of respect for your friend, or the occasion, or his office, go "up" several notches.
But some have it exactly backwards today. Like Lucifer, they behave in such a way that they remove the distinction between the holy God and the creature. Some dress very informally when they go to see God but will dress up for a wedding or funeral, or an oval office visit.
<p[>It is popular to dress down to go to a worship event today. It is popular to approach God in a back-slapping, informal way. Is popularity the criterion?
The difference between Lucifer and most of us is that Lucifer knew what he was doing; his rebellion was high-handed and intentional. Most who today worship God in their blue jeans probably don’t know any better. They may be dressed as they are intentionally, but they may not be approaching God irreverently intentionally. Their “pastors” and worship-leaders, on the other hand, likely are aware of what they are doing. The theory goes like this. If we hold God in too high reverence, we remove Him so far away from us that it is unhealthy. Like the Catholic Church, we may feel a need of introducing others, saints or angelic mediators, to bridge the gap between. God is said to be viewed as too transcendent. The opposite plan is to emphasize God’s immanence—His closeness to us. By coming dressed as we please, and emphasizing how much God accepts us coming in this way, His immanence, His closeness to us is emphasized—supposedly a healthier thing.
But the problem comes right back; the distinction between creature and Creator is undone. Psalm 50:21 tells the problem. The wicked loses the distinction. God says of him, “thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.”
Consider this. By making God too far away the need for mediators is introduced. But by making God too close, the need for interpreters is introduced. The worship-leader becomes the visible authority to tell the worshiper how a God that is this close, this friendly, this immanent, is to be worshipped. The God who is unnaturally close introduces the need. The result, as with creating human saints into mediators hundreds of years ago, is not only to lower the conception of God in the eye of the worshipper, but an unnatural authority is given to the clergy. They fill the role of mediator/interpreter/priestly authority. Everything is distorted. This is seen in the megachurches today.
And so, we see that in Christianity there is a problem. Let’s work on resolving it today by restoring reverence for God and by upgrading our behavior as Christians in His church.
Because today we are going to touch upon several areas that might touch some closely, let’s clarify a couple of items…
Special Word for Today
Please realize that the last thing we want to do is make you feel self-conscious or embarrassed. The Word of God is profitable for “instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We want you to be helped and instructed. You want to grow, we want to help you grow.
You likely didn’t know what we would address here today beforehand. You did not plan to come before God in any way that would be deemed disrespectful. We take that as our starting point.
Keep in mind that while Scripture calls us to examine ourselves, it is very careful about how far we should go in inspecting others. For this message in particular, we ask that you give attention to self examination. Give others an opportunity to seek the guidance of the Holy spirit, and make their own upgrade.
My First Time in Church
I well remember my first time in the Adventist church. I had not been in church for perhaps 20 years (except for weddings and funerals). It was my first time ever in an Adventist church. I had just recently begun to attend prayer meeting. My first prayer meeting I had come with long hair, but had had a short haircut when I read Paul saying to Timothy, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” (In my case it was Scripture that taught me this).
But now I summoned yet more bravery and finally came to church. I rooted out an old suit and tie, dressed in the best clothes that I had, and came.
I was directed to some kind of youth sabbath school class (I would be about age 27). There we were sitting around the edges of the room and it suddenly dawned on me that everyone else there was wearing different shoes than I was. I was the only person wearing tennis shoes in the room. Everyone else had on shoes that were more appropriate.
I had worn the best that I had, but suddenly I realized that it was less than what was appropriate. I had come to the house of God, to worship a holy God. I quietly did my best to hide my shoes under the chair.
No one said anything about my strange appearance (wearing a suit and tennis shoes). As far as I heard and saw, no one snickered or laughed at me. I was not judged a heathen for coming to church in tennis shoes. But with my very next paycheck I upgraded.
My point? I know exactly what it feels like to be in church and suddenly feel that every eye is upon you and that you have committed a significant breech of protocol. But I did not, upon my discovery, run out of the building, and I pray that no one here today will either.
Now, the question may arise in your mind, Am I about to be subject to a serious dose—or even a light one—of legalism?
Here is something to think about:
Unless correct ideas of true worship and true reverence are impressed upon the people, there will be a growing tendency to place the sacred and eternal on a level with common things, and those professing the truth will be an offense to God and a disgrace to religion (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 500).
How can we worship God in spirit and truth if we are not seeking to have correct ideas of true worship and reverence? If we lose our way in these matters, we lose the right associations between common and sacred. And what we think to be a true Christian experience will become offensive to God and a disgrace to all who are spiritually seeking.
As soon as someone begins to chatter about legalism, I turn up the power on my baloney detector. What is and is not legalism? Let Jesus help: Matthew 23:23:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
It was not tithing and obedience that Jesus condemned, but selective obedience and the omission of larger principles. This is the grim combination of religion and self that Jesus condemned as hypocrisy, but which also constitutes legalism. In short, obedience is not legalism. And an obedience in small matters that ignores larger moral matters, is not obedience.
And so, all that we are about to address has first to do with justice, mercy, and faith. Yes, some of these points will seem small, petty even if seen in isolation. But if we recognize how, in the larger sense, many times smaller things can add up to give impressions that misguide to those who might otherwise break out into the light of eternal life in Christ, we will understand why it is worth our attention to address the matters we now pass to.
There will be something here to offend everybody. But keep in mind, there is little merit in taking offense if unintended.
How to Behave in Church
Let us embark now on our little journey. Hear God’s Word in Paul’s counsel to Timothy:
These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14, 15).
Paul’s instruction to the young minister addresses a variety of questions about how things should be done in the church. Some of the questions are different today, and a letter written to a modern minister would cover questions current in our day. I cannot claim inspiration for my counsel to you, but I pray that you can consider carefully, prayerfully, and in the light of the inspired writings we do have, whether the following is right.
Where to Greet and Visit and Talk
Church architecture is thought out carefully. The locations of the various spaces are intended to help things run smoothly and appropriately. Adventist church design follows the philosophy of utility and simplicity. The most sacred space is the congregational worship space; the entrance foyer and other spaces are more informal.
Our churches in the earlier years were much smaller affairs. Some church buildings of 150 years ago consisted of only a large single room with wood stove on one side. Some had a cloak room or foyer at the main door and an internal door into the worship space. Few if any of our churches in our earlier years were as elaborate as our Mentone church.
Ellen White has an article in the fifth volume of the Testimonies that centers on how we should behave in church. Consider some excerpts:
To the humble, believing soul, the house of God on earth is the gate of heaven (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 491).
This marks the church as a special place. It is not the same as a department store or a sports stadium. When we go up to the church we are going up to the gate of heaven.
The house is the sanctuary for the family, and the closet or the grove the most retired place for individual worship; but the church is the sanctuary for the congregation. There should be rules in regard to the time, the place, and the manner of worshiping. Nothing that is sacred, nothing that pertains to the worship of God, should be treated with carelessness or indifference. In order that men may do their best work in showing forth the praises of God, their associations must be such as will keep the sacred distinct from the common, in their minds. Those who have broad ideas, noble thoughts and aspirations, are those who have associations that strengthen all thoughts of divine things (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 491).
Here is a key insight: association. We should be careful to differentiate between the sacred and the common. And it is not so much about the actual spaces as about the mind. If we would have broad ideas, noble thoughts and aspirations, we must maintain clear difference between the sacred and the common.
If the church is the gate of heaven on earth, then there is today no space more sacred in the community or on the planet. The home should be a sacred space for the Christian as well, but the church building is where we meet with fellow believers to receive His word to His congregation. Thus, we should regard our church building, and particularly its hall for worship, as as sacred a space as one can find in 2008. Many of the insights that follow have to do with this question of association.
When the worshipers enter the place of meeting, they should do so with decorum, passing quietly to their seats... Common talking, whispering, and laughing should not be permitted in the house of worship, either before or after the service. Ardent, active piety should characterize the worshipers (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 492).
Here we see that the church sanctuary is marked as a distinct space, a place which because of sacred associations should be treated in a special way. The closer we come to the church sanctuary, the more reverent we should be. Again, this is not for the space itself, not for the minister or church members or officers, but for the benefit of the minds of the worshippers. There should be no common talking, whispering, or laughing.
This does not mean we should be somber, frowning, and joyless; far from it! But we should be careful to encourage a sense of being in a holy place. We are here to meet with the holy God! We should be attentive, receptive, friendly and kind, by no means dour and sour. But we should keep a sense of where we are. Since we have the benefit of a building that has been provided with several spaces, let us use them aright. Any talking that we have to do should be done in the outer foyer, or somewhere else, where we will not distract those who have come. Greeting and visiting should take place somewhere other than in the church sanctuary.
If some have to wait a few minutes before the meeting begins, let them maintain a true spirit of devotion by silent meditation, keeping the heart uplifted to God in prayer that the service may be of special benefit to their own hearts and lead to the conviction and conversion of other souls. They should remember that heavenly messengers are in the house. We all lose much sweet communion with God by our restlessness, by not encouraging moments of reflection and prayer. The spiritual condition needs to be often reviewed and the mind and heart drawn toward the Sun of Righteousness. If when the people come into the house of worship, they have genuine reverence for the Lord and bear in mind that they are in His presence, there will be a sweet eloquence in silence. The whispering and laughing and talking which might be without sin in a common business place should find no sanction in the house where God is worshiped. The mind should be prepared to hear the word of God, that it may have due weight and suitably impress the heart (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 492).
Here we find four very significant points given: (1) prayer in the sanctuary is fully appropriate; (2) it is appropriate to spend some time in reflection concerning one’s spiritual condition, which we are admonished should be often reviewed; (3) it is appropriate for us to discover silence in the sanctuary; (4) the atmosphere should be such that we may enter into preparation to receive God’s message.
This material does not mean that music is inappropriate in the sanctuary; far from it. All the elements of worship have their time and their place. However, some go too far and would remove every silence from the church and fill the air with recorded music if nothing else is happening. Let us not forget the value of silence.
But then the question rises, is the congregation mature enough to embrace some silence? Will not the people, if there is a silent space in the service begin to feel themselves justified in talking? We, each one of us, will have to model the right behavior.
Let all pass out without jostling or loud talking, feeling that they are in the presence of God, that His eye is resting upon them, and that they must act as in His visible presence. Let there be no stopping in the aisles to visit or gossip, thus blocking them up so that others cannot pass out. The precincts of the church should be invested with a sacred reverence. It should not be made a place to meet old friends and visit and introduce common thoughts and worldly business transactions. These should be left outside the church (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 494).
Stopping in the aisles to visit and make talk is wrong. We should be thinking about the message that has been given in the church service. However, let us remember again that most of our churches when this was written were very simple affairs. The concern as I understand it is that the hall of worship be kept distinct in our minds, that we avoid the introduction of anything that would lesson our sense of reverence in that place. The outer precincts of the church, the outer foyer, the patio, the parking lot, the fellowship hall, offer appropriate places for friendly, Sabbath-appropriate talking.
It is important that church not become a place where we feel it is too holy to talk, where we would become aloof to others. By no means should we remove the life out of the church. But when it comes to the hall where we meet for worship, the church sanctuary itself, let us mark that off in our minds and ever exemplify while we are in that space the best of what we hear find.
We stop here for now. Yes, rather an abrupt ending. Our next part will take up right here where we have left off. We have a list of interesting items; talking in the sanctuary was just the first on the list.
Mentone CA SDA 2008-01-02