Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Churches of Buyers

There is a growing trend in our churches today. Our churches seem to have a growing focus on the desires of the congregation at the expense of focusing more upon the desires of God. After all, those two sets of desires usually work opposite of each other. It is as if the congregation are the buyers or consumers. The only problem is that this thinking is completely upside down. In church as in the rest of life, God is the consumer and we are not. Frequently used statements that sound like we have a consumer attitude include:

·        “I’m just not being fed.”
·        “His preaching is just not dynamic.”
·        “I prefer contemporary music.”
·        “I prefer hymns.”
·        “I need more doctrine.”
·        “I need less doctrine.”
·        “My church serves donuts every morning.”
·        “That church makes me feel uncomfortable.”
·        “The service is too long.”

The list goes much longer than that. Are you starting to get the point? If we are going to defend the Gospel, we have to live it, especially in church. And, living out the Gospel does not look like a bunch of picky buyers complaining until they get what they want. It should look more like a bunch of motivated sellers than picky buyers. In fact, have you ever wondered why we even have a desire to be the consumers? That is because we are made in God’s image. And, God is a consumer – the ultimate Consumer. Therefore, everything is supposed to be conditioned for His consumption, not ours. That is why our desires must be put to death (Galatians 2:20).

By way of reference, we see this clearly depicted in the Old Testament sacrificial system. When the priests of old would offer up the sacrificial lamb, God would not look to the condition of the worshipper. He would look to the condition of the lamb. If the lamb was without blemish, the worship was acceptable. But, when we don’t offer the right sacrifice, as in the example of Cain, God has no choice but to ignore the blemished sacrifice and look to the blemished condition of the worshipper. When the sacrifice is not perfect, the worshipper is exposed as entirely displeasing. The way we offer acceptable worship in church today is to lift up, exalt, praise and draw attention to the Lamb of God. Only then, is our worship acceptable because it is what God wants to consume. And, then and only then, does God not look to the condition of the worshipper because He is focused on the perfection of His Lamb. When someone worships without exalting the true Lamb of God or doesn’t even believe in the Lamb of God, those worshippers and their worship is rejected by God – as it should be. Everything about church is directed towards worship. And, our worship has one consumer – God. And, here is a hint: we are not Him.

This is why church worship is not meant to be oriented for the non-believer. We are to orient church for the Consumer. And, since God is the Consumer, the only way to do that is for the components of our corporate worship to be channeled through believers who believe in and exalt the Lamb to the Consumer. That does not mean that non-believers are not welcome. It just means that they should observe something that only believers can give to the only God worthy to consume it. We are selling in church and we have only one Buyer. When we start to migrate our mindset to that of consumers in church, this may be the worst form of idolatry. As an illustration, using the paradigm of a musical play, the actors on stage are the prompters, the audience are the actors, and God is the audience.

By the way, this is also another reason why Jesus ran the money changers out of the temple. He referred to the temple as a “house of prayer”. Prayer is through the Lamb and reserved for God’s consumption. And, instead of offering to God that which He desires to consume, the people were buying and selling – they were being consumers in a place designed for only one Consumer - and, a jealous Consumer at that.

For another modern example, when churches morph towards being seeker sensitive, they run the likely risk of being God insensitive. Seekers are not the consumer – God is. Likewise, believers are also not the consumers, but those who are selling to the Consumer. When we make people, any people, the consumers of our worship, we water down truth to make it more acceptable to the people. But, the truth of God is as ferocious as God is. This dynamic of designing our worship for people is precisely why 2 Timothy 4:3-4 foretold, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

In conclusion, the same God who consumed Elijah’s water-soaked sacrifice with fire on Mount Carmel, is the same God who consumes our worship on Sunday (and every day for that matter). Can you imagine what you would have felt if you were there on Mount Carmel and observed a furious column of fire come down from heaven upon the prompting of Elijah on that day? You would have probably moved past awe to rightful fear in less than a heartbeat. The truth is that our God is to be feared in awe through our worship. Yes, if we lift up Jesus the Lamb in faith, God’s love will remove our fear. But, if we lift up something sensitized for human consumption, we have plenty to fear. After all, Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

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