Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 2, 2012


Will holy things survive in our casual culture?



        Our culture has become increasingly casual. People seldom “dress up” to go out anymore. The church reflects this change. Blue jeans have replaced suits and ties as the attire of choice in worship services.

        I doubt that God is bothered by casual clothes as some old timers may be. To be sure of this we have but to recall what God told Samuel long ago, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” That being true we need not get heartburn about what people wear to church.

        However there may be more basic questions to consider. As the worship experience becomes more and more casual, are we at risk for losing a sense of the holy?  Will the casual style slowly rob our children of reverence for sacred places and sacred things?

        In trying to answer these questions it may be helpful to consider the biblical story of the “ark of the covenant.” The ark was sacred to the Israelites but more than once it was taken from them by their enemies. The story of David returning the ark to Jerusalem offers                      

valuable insights into the nature of authentic worship.

        David had reverence for holy things. The lessons of Hebrew history were not lost on him. He understood the sacred place of the ark of the covenant in Israelite worship.    

While David did not have the wisdom of Solomon, he did have the common sense to learn from his mistakes. When his first attempt to move the ark failed, he took great care to move it successfully the second time. No stone was left unturned. He made sure the right people, the Levites, would carry the ark in the prescribed manner, on their shoulders using poles that extended through the gold rings on the ark. We can imagine David saying to the leaders of the Levites, “Don’t even think about loading the ark on a wagon again!”

        David prepared a special place for the ark. It was a sacred symbol so it deserved a place of honor. It would not be stuck in a corner somewhere and pulled out on special occasions. Having a designated place elevated its significance to the Israelites.

        The arrival of the ark called for a celebration so David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem for a carefully orchestrated time of worship. While they had no bulletins to pass out, they did have an “order” of worship. Their worship was not haphazard or spontaneous. They did not call on the audience for requests of favorite songs. Gifted musicians were asked to play all kinds of musical instruments and to sing “joyful songs.” David made it a memorable day for the people.

        What may we learn from all this?

        First, it is wise to have reverence for holy things in our houses of worship. While we may no longer designate a sacred place for a historic relic like the ark of the covenant, we can consecrate a special place for the communion table, the altar, the Bible, the baptismal font and the cross. We can teach our children to share our reverence for holy things in a holy place.

We can choose not to eat spaghetti and play basketball in the same space used to house the sacred symbols of our faith. Though the trend is to become “casual” about everything, there may be a line beyond which we should not go.

        Second, formal worship can be consistently awesome when we allow the Holy Spirit to help us carefully plan worship services. Casual worship can be tempered with historic liturgy that reminds us of our spiritual heritage. While liturgies can become tedious, a simplistic pattern of singing and preaching does not fully “connect” worshipers with the living Christ who is the Head of His Body, the Church.  

The recitation of a creed may seem obsolete but it helps us Sunday after Sunday to remember who we are and why we have gathered to worship. We may be cheating our worshipers if we offer them a steady diet of “new” songs and deny them the benefit of singing the great old hymns of the faith. Thankfully there are churches that continue to offer excellent worship in both contemporary and traditional styles, thus preserving reverence for the holy.  

Third, authentic worship will always help people hear God’s call to serve him in the common life. David helped the people to “connect” the ark of the covenant with daily living. True worship inspires us to “go forth” into the world to honor Christ in all that we do.

Authentic worship is not an end in itself. And it is surely more than a “spectator sport” where people come to admire gifted people performing on a stage. True worship inspires reverence for the holy as well as love for God. It does more than make us “feel good.”  It motivates us to serve God in deeds of love and mercy. Our praise of God should not end with the benediction but so infuse our common life that everything we do becomes an act of worship. + + +