A perceptive Pentecostal once said to me, “There is nothing deader than a dead charismatic church.” Now I, for one, think we have a lot to learn from charismatic churches. And one of the things to learn is that you can die with your hands up and die with your hands down. Deadness is no respecter of postures. Spiritual corpses can speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 13:1). Unstructured services can be as lifeless as a book-read liturgy. If God is absent, he is absent no matter what the form.
So what? This: we will never equate any form of expression with life. At Bethlehem we will aim at life. We will aim at God. We will not kid ourselves as though our form of worship is the last word. It is ours and it is good for many of us. But it is flexible, because life is what counts. Meeting God is what matters.
I think some of you have gotten wrong signals from me and Bruce. Two people recently asked me what I would feel like if they said “Amen!” when something moved them. Now the only reason anyone would ask that is if they are getting wrong signals. The answer is: We would feel great! It’s the same with lifting your hands in praise. When it is in your heart, do it! Anything that helps you express your heart for God and does not hinder other people is OK with us. We want life in the sanctuary on Sunday.
Listen, I really mean this. There is not much that would delight me more than a hundred people so in tune with my preaching that when my heart said, “This is great,” your voice said Amen! Not only would it tell me that our hearts are in tune, it would witness to visitors and lifeless members that there is more than one person here excited about this great Gospel. An electric atmosphere of worship could happen during the sermon if you joined me in it—even if only with a moved moan or an agreeable “ummhmm.”
Have you ever wondered why a sermon is part of worship, anyway? Isn’t it too much like school to belong in a worship service? Here’s why. James Stewart, in his book Heralds of God, tells of a man who visited Scotland and heard three preachers. The man said, “Robert Blair showed me the majesty of God. Samuel Rutherford showed me the loveliness of Christ. David Dickson showed me all my heart.” James Stewart asks, “If in a congregation one soul here and another there may be receiving, as the sermon proceeds, some vision of the majesty of God, some glimpse of the loveliness of Christ, some revelation of personal need beneath the searchlight of the Spirit … is not such preaching worship?”
If it is, then the sermon-event will be heightened by your verbal expression of deep joy and agreement. So don’t hold back. It won’t take long before even the message will be a community event! What a witness to our corporate joy in the truth! Someday no one will wonder if the people at BBC love the truth which the preacher proclaims. Amen? Amen!
Your partner in worship,