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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Going to Church

By Ken Horn
Aug. 21, 2011

Awhile back, Peggy and I drove through one of those little Midwestern communities that you miss when driving the interstate. We enjoy what can be found in many of these rustic, charming old towns. But this one was striking for another reason. Closed churches.

We saw three in the space of just a few blocks. All were the idyllic steeple-topped country sort of houses of worship.

The first we saw was now an antique mall; the second was home to a lodge. The third boasted a large sign that proclaimed it was there to help ... with real estate.

We finally found one that was open. I wondered if all those people ended up in that church, or moved or died or just quit going.

I also thought about all the storied old churches in Europe that are now museums, or vacant and providing spacious homes for swallows. Churches in the U.S. have also recently been facing foreclosures at a record clip, due primarily to the struggling economy.

The charming little town made me wonder, Will America follow Europe?

History of churchgoing

The history of churchgoing is not all roses. There have been a lot of thorns.

Reformer John Calvin was a bit stricter than the typical pastor today. Three men were once arrested for laughing during one of his Geneva, Switzerland, services. If that were enforced today, there would be whole jails filled with nothing but evangelicals. We’ve come to realize it’s a good thing to express the joy of the Lord.

Puritans were the original Christmas grinches. They outlawed the celebration of the day in England. They even passed a law making December 25 an official workday! In Colonial Boston, the fine was five shillings if one’s December frolicking was deemed to be related to Christmas.

The Colonial era was not kind to churchgoing women. In the Church of England, women had to either stand or bring their own seats. They usually brought stools.

Puritans loved sermons to go at least two hours. Any preacher who stopped short of this was considered a slacker. An opening prayer might be a mere 15 minutes, but the closing prayer often reached an hour or more. (Poor Brother T. In the church I grew up in, we youngsters complained about his lengthy prayers ... which certainly never exceeded 10 minutes.)

Dozing attendees were typically embarrassed by being awakened with the touch of a feather or foxtail on a stick, or worse, a blow from a blunt object such as a doorknob.

At New Haven Colony the only excuse for nonattendance was illness. If you skipped the meeting for any other reason you could be fined. Repeat offenders might even be whipped.

Music controversies are not unique to the modern era. At one time only psalms could be sung, and those had to be sung without instrumental accompaniment, which was deemed sinful. One tradition maintains the no-instruments rule to this day. The organ was a more controversial instrument in its day than drums have ever been. And the early hymns were the Christian rock songs of their era.

There has been great variety in church services down through the ages, but no single era has seen as much variation as the current one.

And there is certainly room for differences. Churches of senior citizens always look different from churches that are predominantly made up of young people. Cowboy churches and biker ministries have distinctives that separate them, as do various other interest groups and ethnic groups. One of the key emphases of church planting today is the concept of focusing on a target group.

Regardless of all these differences, both today and down through the ages, there are certain non-negotiables that one should expect to find in any genuine house of worship. Here are a few of them.

When you go to church you should expect:

To hear God’s Word

The Bible guides the life of the believer. Unfortunately, in many congregations it is being squeezed out, little by little. In its place are a surfeit of movie clips, skits and other salutes to the culture. It’s not wrong to use various means to illustrate a biblical message. Illustrated sermons can be powerful. But it is a problem when time spent on illustrations greatly exceeds the ministry of the Word. Many postmodern-oriented groups no longer direct attendees to Scripture references, focusing more on the “story” of Scripture.

Why would anyone want to dilute or eliminate the living and powerful Word of God (Hebrews 4:12)?

While some are cutting back on the use of the Bible in many free nations, Christians continue to risk their lives to own and read this Book in restricted lands.

Yes, you should expect to hear the Word of God in your church ... lots of it.

To hear from God

If someone wants to hear a recitation of today’s news or an individual’s personal opinion, he doesn’t need to get it from the pulpit. He could stay home and listen to talk radio.

Preachers should have high expectations placed upon them. Those who listen should be offered more than an opinion — they should expect to get something from God.

John Calvin wrote: “It is certain that if we come to church we shall not hear only a mortal man speaking but we shall feel ... that God is speaking to our souls, that He is the teacher. ... God calls us to Him as if He had His mouth open and we saw Him there in person” (Manifestation of God in Public Exposition).

I don’t share Calvin’s enthusiasm that this is certain. History casts some doubt that it even happened all the time in Calvin’s churches. But it is certainly a just and godly expectation.

When the Word of God is opened, there should be evidence that the speaker has been in God’s presence and has a word from the throne room.

To have no punches pulled ... and no stones thrown

If you find a church with a pastor who is a compelling speaker, always lifting you up and making you feel better about yourself, yet never challenging you or mentioning sin, you’ve found a church with a serious problem.

We indeed must do what we can to reach the culture, but we are in a day when accommodation has become more likely than judgmentalism. Both are wrong. Dorothy Sayers rightly said, “It is not the business of the church to adapt Christ to men, but men to Christ.”

To not be manipulated

Yes, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, NIV). He also said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). But He never promised you a hundredfold return for supporting a TV preacher who spends 90 percent of his broadcast time on money and who pledges to speak a blessing over your donation.

Unfortunately, older saints are the ones most frequently manipulated by the unscrupulous. Gladly, local churches seldom appear like many of these TV churches. Your church should instead be open and forthright about their financial conditions. (It is important to note that there are many good television ministries as well.)

To have anointed music ministry

Music in the church must certainly be excellent, but talent never comes first. Regardless of the style of music played in your church, two questions need to be asked about those involved in the church’s music: Are they gifted? Are they godly?

You should be able to expect that those who sing or play up front are both.

What you can do:

• Thank God for your church.

• Realize no church is perfect.

• Strive to understand change before criticizing it.

• Pray about problem areas and work constructively to improve them.

• Participate — in worship and ministry.

One crucial thing your church must do

A few years ago I was in a coastal city in South Korea, touring a church of 60,000. As the pastoral staff guided us through the multistoried building, I kept hearing a sound that got increasingly louder as we worked our way from the top story to the ground floor.

By the time we were there, it was clear this was the continuous sound of many voices. I asked where they were.

There was one floor we hadn’t seen, I was told — the basement. Here we found this church’s modest version of Yoido Full Gospel Church’s Prayer Mountain — only here it was in a basement.

There were individual prayer cubicles, but the sound emanated from a small room packed with 15-20 people fervently calling out to God. The prayer director told me the room had a continuous prayer meeting that never stopped. I was impressed. Then they told me there was only one topic for the prayer in that room. At any time of the day or night, people were praying for their pastors.

Most churches cannot sustain a 24-hour prayer emphasis. But every church can be intentional about praying for their lead pastor and other pastors on the staff.

What would the effect be if fervent prayer went up regularly for the pastors in your church? I have no doubt it would have a transforming effect on the pastors and the church.

If this is happening in your church, participate. If it’s not, get it started. Surround your pastors with prayer, and going to church will be better for everyone.

KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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