Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Front Vs. Back of the Church

Q: There seems to be a feeling that the front of the church has a greater value than the pew we set in for prayer and worship. Is there a difference? It disturbs me that some like to go to the front of the church to worship, which I think causes God to disregard their worship and may cause less of a presence of God in the service.

A: In the Old Testament, we see much significance invested in particular “places” of worship. These places were significant because of the manifest presence of God. A few noteworthy examples: Jacob and his dream (Genesis 28:16-22), Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-9), on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18-25), the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11), the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38), and the Temple (1 Kings 9:1-5).

One of the most significant realities of the New Testament is that God no longer “dwells” in tabernacles made by human hands but in the “temple” of His people (see Acts 17:24-25 and 1 Corinthians 6:19). Jesus explains this when talking with the woman at the well:

The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:19-24, NASB)

When Jesus completed His work on the cross, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the tabernacle was torn from top to bottom, signifying that there was no longer a barrier keeping God’s children from entering boldly into His presence. Just as it isn’t a matter of “this mountain” or “that mountain,” we also shouldn’t make such a distinction between the front or the back of the church building. God’s presence isn’t more manifest because of some specific location.

However, just as we shouldn’t be restricted by thinking that a particular location is “holier” than any other location, we also shouldn’t restrict the freedom that worshippers have to worship Him as He leads. All throughout the Scriptures we see that posture plays a role in worship. The lifting of hands, clapping, dancing, laying prostrate, and other such gestures are not intended to make a person “holier” or get someone closer to God; yet there is a tie between our physical actions and our inner spirit.

It is good to humble ourselves before the Lord by kneeling or lying prostrate. Our posture helps to humble our spirit. Likewise, we should not be embarrassed to follow the Lord’s leading … and if He is leading us to come forward in an act of adoration and praise, we should not stifle this leading because of what others may think. Likewise (and this is related to the previous question: “Should We Worship in Secret?”), we should not be going forward in order to be noticed by others and to make them think that we are particularly pious!

The Scripture does warn us to not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and the context relates to the corporate gathering. However, the specific command is tied to despising the prophetic and not allowing the Spirit to lead. By extension, this same principle can be applied to any area that the Spirit is leading … and it cuts both ways.

It is possible to quench the Spirit by failing to follow His lead by going up front if He’s leading us to stay put in our pew, or likewise to quench the Spirit by staying put in our pew if He’s leading us to go up front!

We don’t want to put the Lord in a box. He has given us parameters for worshipping Him but also freedom within those guidelines, and we should not be too judgmental of our brothers or sisters who come to the Lord in a different style than we do. There is no place in Scripture, that I’m aware of, that would prohibit coming forward in an act of worship, so it seems that on this particular issue we must entrust the individual worshipper(s) to God, knowing that He judges justly.

On our end, we should remain committed to being led by the Spirit and being willing to follow His lead … even if He makes us uncomfortable! He is worthy of our purest devotion and obedience.

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