Years ago, when the trend began for churches to remove such perceived barriers to outreach as pulpits, pews, hymnals, organ music and traditional rituals, it was explained that these “churchy” elements were off-putting to those not raised in the church. They made the church seem like an exclusive club, we were told, and kept seekers out.
This was during the decline in church attendance after the “glory days” of the 50’s, you see, when churches were snatching at any theory or program which promised to once again fill the sanctuary.
Although I was of the younger generation in those days and open to most changes, I felt uncomfortable with throwing out all the trappings which made church so special. I liked the feeling that worship was different from attending a performance or listening to a lecture at the local community center. This space and time were uniquely set apart for God.
I was unable to voice my feelings coherently enough to influence the church leaders, however, and watched as my beloved church became unrecognizable. When, as with so many new ideas, these changes failed to produce the hoped-for results, the leadership looked for ever-newer gimmicks and programs.
While reading about the life of C.S. Lewis recently, I came across a quotation of his that finally put into cogent words those youthful feelings I’d had that the church was taking a wrong turning.
He said in his Preface to Paradise Lost,
“Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connection with vanity or self-conceit….The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual.” (Emphasis mine)
Wearing flowered Hawaiian shirts and strolling up and down the aisle, rather than dressing more formally and preaching from behind a pulpit, seems to speak to a lack of respect for both the sermon and its object (God).
An unbeliever coming into many of today’s sanctuaries would be forgiven for thinking he’d stepped into a self-improvement lecture at the Rotary Club, rather than a church during the act of worshiping the sacred Creator God.
God is special, unique, Holy…we should enter His presence with a sense of awe and wonder.
The authentic worship of such a being should cause a certain degree of discomfort in anyone who grasps even a tiny portion of His omnipotent glory.