I love being an American. Despite all of the troubles our country faces today, the cultural and material advantages that we experience as modern Americans are really so far beyond the standard of living of the vast majority of humanity across the world and though the ages that they are almost incomparable. Oh how blessed we are! Thanks to God’s grace to me through the blessings of this land, I am warm in winter, cool in the summer, medicated when sick, fed when hungry and even entertained at the touch of button. Statistically speaking, I can be reasonably confident, Lord willing, that all of my children will survive to adulthood, and I’ll probably one day even enjoy grandchildren. This is a combination of blessings that most of humanity would have, at one time, considered only available to the richest of the rich.
You and I have so much to be thankful for, but least we stop there, we would be wise to remember that blessings in the hands of sinners (read “us”) are easily misused and can quickly become curses. Abundance of food becomes gluttony. Abundance of leisure time becomes idleness. Abundance of provision becomes entitlement and thanklessness and the list goes on. How, you may ask, could this relate to corporate worship? It’s actually quite simple. We come to worship as Americans and not as Christians. This is not at all to say that the categories “American” and “Christian” are necessarily exclusive, but to assume that they are necessarily connected is to do so at the peril one’s own soul. As Americans, we are always looking for the return on our investments. This is the way that we are taught to think about our money, our time, our attention, and sometimes even friendships. Thus, rather than arriving at our corporate gathering as the redeemed adopted heirs of the Kingdom of Christ, we often find ourselves in worship as consumers, spectators, thrill-seekers or even critics.
The fact is, when we apply these habits to worship and come with underlying assumptions and expectations of a capitalistic-type transaction of mutual benefit (i.e. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”) we are treating the church like the market and thinking like pagans. Sadly, much in contemporary Evangelical church culture even encourages us to think just this way. Rather than describing our own churches in terms of what we believe to be true of God (theology), we drop theological words from our names and instead advertise our churches as if they were time-shares, attempting to coax prospective members to spend a weekend with us while we show our amenities (programs, activities, worship styles for every preference) and eventually push toward closing the deal and working out the payment plan. Thinking like this is worlds removed from the biblical concept of the church as the “Pillar and support of the truth” (I Tim. 3:5) and a gathering of “aliens and strangers” (I Peter 2:11), or the fellowship of redeemed sinners (I Pet. 1:18) and it will destroy your joy.
In contrast to the spectator/consumer mindset that we can so easily (and even unknowingly) adopt, the Christian response in worship to God’s person and work is one of overflowing thankfulness (Eph. 5:19, Ps. 23:5, I Thess. 5:18, Rom. 1:21) and praise (Eph 1:3-10, I Pet. 2:9). This is not at all to suggest that when we come to worship we should check our minds at the door, but rather that the central desire of our hearts should be glorifying God through joining together in communion with Him around the elements of worship. If we come to worship looking for fulfillment and perfection from the “forms” of worship or even other worshippers, our focus is misplaced, for these things can only be found in Christ himself. Again, this is not to say that we should adopt an “anything goes” attitude, but rather that our hearts should be set upon the Christ who pardons and sanctifies sinners, and thus gracious towards our co-heirs of God’s unmerited favor. The idea that we should offer or withhold our praise based upon our preferences in worship style, personal comfort with public singing or even approval or disapproval of other believers is completely alien to the Bible. Try to imagine a “Consumerist” among the worshipers pictured in the book of Revelation. It’s absolutely inconceivable! In John’s view of the throne room of God, everyone in the company of Heaven worships: the Elders, the Living Creatures, the Angels and especially the Redeemed. The only people in the book not joining in to worship the Lamb are those who have no purchase with him. Oh dear Saint, do you love the Lamb? If so, you have no business being among those who stand before him with no praise to offer for their place is a sad one indeed.
If you find yourself attending corporate worship with the mindset of the concert-goer or a critic, then you probably need, in that moment, to privately repent to God of making your preferences the true object of your worship. Be thankful for the earthly blessings that your citizenship in our country affords you, but reject the idols of our culture! Oh dear Believer, fight to remember that you have received more from Christ that you can ever measure or repay and let thankfulness consume you! Consider anew your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and fight to remind yourself that you come to worship as one purchased by precious blood. Consider the depths of sin from which Christ has redeemed you and tremble in joy that the Lamb has written your name in his book of Life, the great register of all of His worshippers.
In His Eternal Mercies,