With my new responsibilities of overseeing the worship along with the youth at Gracepointe I was thinking of my own role in God’s worship and directing the people. I want to point the people to God and not be a distraction. With last’s week’s blog and the poor signage pointing the wrong way I thought this one would be a nice compliment to it. It reminded me of some thoughts I had from John’s gospel last year.
Last Year I was hosting a Bible study at my house and we were going through the Gospel of John. John chapter 2 has the famous story of Jesus clearing the temple. We usually focus on the problem that was the traders and money changers making huge profits in the house of the Lord. Jesus gets upset rightfully so and says “That they are turning his father’s house into a market or a house of robbers!” So we in turn nod in agreement and say you greedy jerks.
But going through this book again I was stuck at how another reason that Jesus had such zeal for his Father’s house. His Father’s house was about meeting with the people, but in this situation was that zeal also about the prevention of Gentile worship?
The only area that the nations had to approach God at this point in history was in the court of Gentiles. What the Jews were effectively doing was preventing Gentiles from approaching God in any meaningful way. Imagine trying to worship in a church with men walking up and down the aisles yelling “Peanuts? Popcorn?!” This would be disturbing to say the least. This would have been a complete misunderstanding of their mission to the world. Israel was always supposed to be about presenting God to the world, instead they withdrew and made it about themselves and stunted evangelism.
Hmm…This made me think about where we are as a church. Do we actively promote non-Christian participation? Is this the same thing? This was about gentiles wanting to worship God. Do non-Christians want to worship God? Should the church have a non-believers section? Is the function of the church to cater to the desires of the people? We could go this direction but the seeker sensitives have already tried this. It really amounts to watering down the Gospel to reduce all the uncomfortable squirming in the seats.
In fact I have been involved in these kinds of discussions many times. I think it is a good question to ask, but I think it is misdirected to ask this of Sunday morning worship rather than of the people themselves. You can never water down the message or else the question “Will somebody want to come hear?” has answered it self. You want to change the look of the building? Go right ahead, that doesn’t really matter so much.
Later in John 4 Jesus told the woman at the well that with his advent the place of worship was no longer the issue. It was now about how they worshiped. Why? Because the place of worship at the temple was replaced in his own body and thus the place of worship is replicated in our own bodies. We are the temples now (1 Peter 2:5). So do we invite non-Christians to worship of the true God or do we repel it? Do our lives promote interest in God? Do our lives point to his?
A much better question.
The way the church has a court of the gentiles is in outreach. The Gospel. This means just as the gentiles had to enter through the gates of the temple and come to the house of the Lord on his terms. They now have roaming temples that approach them, but they still have to enter by the Lord’s terms, his Son.
So the question is as a roaming temple does my witness present the Gospel or prevent it? Now let’s not confuse this question with their response to it. A lot of people have been doing this lately. If someone is offended that Jesus is the only way out of their slavery to sin, then that is not the temple’s fault. See the challenge should be at the moment of this question “Who do you say that Jesus is?” When we try to put other things before this question we are in danger of getting them offended/interested because of the wrong message. We make it about the temple grounds rather than who the temple is supposed to be pointing them to.
This was the money changers problem. In their effort to make people use the right currency and the right offering they sidelined the actual worship of God. This is not to say that using the right currency and the right offering wasn’t important. It actually was important. But where they were doing it, and how they were doing it took focus away from the people meeting with God.
This is why it is dangerous for us to try and come up with new ways to present the Gospel or ways to soften the blow of the message or to try and avoid unnecessary offense in presenting it. It has to be raw because it will always be a rock of offense, a stumbling block, or the first building block in their own temples. This is what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:6-10.
When we tell people that Jesus loves them unconditionally before they come to terms with the Gospel, apart from the Gospel, well the Gospel itself seems a bit unnecessary. If Jesus already loves me why do I need to repent and believe? If Jesus is all about loving me then why do we need all that theology and those doctrines? This can get confusing to say the least. We don’t want to cause confusions and cause them to ask “Am I unconditionally loved? Then what is all this denying myself temptation and self-control about?”
See, if we mess up the message we accidentally present universalism and then we wonder why people get offended when they actually come into church. And they hear some of that theology. This is how people get upset with institutions. This is why they say they like spirituality but they dislike the church or religion. They like all the he loves me talk but they don’t like all the what loving him looks like talk.
That is not to say “let’s have the gospel without this love business” no, not saying that, but love has to be properly couched in the gospel to the get the message right.
We should say “You are loved by God and that looks like him giving his Son for your sins to break down the wall, the chasm, between you both.” We have to enter into his love through his Son. This is the point of John 3:16, “Yes he loves you, but it looks like something, it looks like this.” If we do not present it this way we let the world bring their own definitions of what love means into their belief and that can get sticky.
Just like gentiles couldn’t bring their own currency into the temple, or use a blemished lamb as a sacrifice.
Was there any way for Morpheus to have softened the blow for Neo when he explained to him what the Matrix was? No, Neo had to see it for himself so he could come to understand his place in it. Once you understand what the Matrix is there is no going back, that is why they had to choose the red or blue pill first.
Someone is either going to continue their journey towards God or continue their journey away from him. These are the only two options, so we need to make sure our presentation of the Gospel is not unnecessarily sending people on their way away from him. Or worse yet, letting people think they are travelling with God when they haven’t been born again.
This does not mean that it is all dependent on us. God draws those who he will. All we can ever do is water and plant because it is God who gives growth. But as we saw with the money changers in the temple, God still has something to say to way we treat his worship and direct the worshipers.
Hopefully we encourage the worship of God and not prevent it. I want to encourage God’s worship in all aspects of my ministry, with both the youth and with the actual worship service, so help me God.