As Alan Jackson sings, “I love to tell the story. . . to tell the old old story of Jesus and His love,” I am reminded of Alan Redpath. He came to the podium to address a large group of seminary students. He was older at the time, and stood tottering, grasping the podium to steady himself. He looked out at the audience and began to sing, “Jesus love me. This I know. The Bible tells me so.” His voice cracked. He continued to sing, “Jesus loves me. This I know. The Bible tells me so.” He sang until there wasn’t a dry eye among those students. Those young students began to feel the love of Jesus, to experience the love of Jesus through the Spirit’s move in their hearts. Pastor Redpath continued his song, “Jesus love me.” The Spirit continued to move, to melt the hearts of those students to be receptive to the message for which Pastor Redpath was to deliver.
It takes time be rid of the clutter brought into church. At least it does for me. The worship at the beginning of the service used to begin with songs that led to a place in which I experienced directly the love of Jesus through His Spirit. The Spirit melted away the clutter so that everyone could, as another song Alan Jackson sings explains, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” For then we “look into His Face and the things of earth grown strongly dim in the light of His face.”
Yesterday at the church I’ve been attending, the rock band and the multimedia big screens on the wall seemed to only drive me away from Jesus. Too loud. There used to be an alter in front of the church. Now it’s a stage. Singers prance across it wailing, screaming, mostly inaudible words that have to be put on the big screens because I couldn’t make them out otherwise. Deep bass notes rattled me. My heart wasn’t melted, just abused. The shell that once would crack, and let the Spirit point me toward Jesus simply closed further. It just wasn’t leading me to worship. The pastor comes up and directs those gathered to lift their hands. The musicians begin to play in the background as the pastor talks, leading into the sermon. It had been ten minutes of rock performance and now the pastor was going to lead to the alter call. Nope. Money collection time. Then an hour of multimedia sermon of victorious living.
After the service I realized I’d come into the church at peace, ready to praise the L-RD, and left unsettled. I felt as though I should have worn the armor of G-D into the church to protect my heart. Why? I feel conflicted. I don’t want to be a grumbler, whining, complaining about things that may be just fine. Others seem to enjoy the service; they keep coming back. Perhaps it’s just me. Perhaps it’s just me wanting things to be the way they used to be at church. A friend said that churches follow contemporary music styles and both young and old enjoy it. I think I’m just a crodgedy old man.
The pastor and his wife are good teachers. The teaching is Bible-centered and sound. They’ve been with that church for ten years. I’ve attended on an off for longer than that. I remember services in an old metal building that now is an office and classroom building next to the new church building they built as the membership grew. The area in which the church is located has grown, too. From once very rural, it’s grown rapidly briefly through a suburban stage becoming almost metropolitan. Even the name of the church has changed. It was once an Assembly of God church. It’s still associated with AG, but only uses community church in its name now.
On the way home yesterday I thought about how I’d left the Episcopal church when I was eighteen years old. I’d grown up with hymns played on an organ, with a set liturgy from the 1923 Episcopal Prayer Book. I’d rebelled against the stand up, sit down, knell format of those services, eventually finding Calvary Chapel to be more to my liking. And yet, I thought yesterday, i’d almost like to return. But the mainstream denominations such as the Episcopalians have much doctrinally in which I disagree. They no longer, in my view, follow the Biblical teachings that I see as critical to Christian growth and maturity.
What do I want in a church service, then, I asked myself. I want reverent worship, sound doctrine, and a time of Spirit-led communion and fellowship with others who seek the same.
“I can have church,” a woman told me many years ago, “in a walk in the forest.” I had disagreed, feeling that it was important to be in fellowship with other Christians. I still feel that way, but understand the way she felt. Now I understand. I want to go to church to get away from the World, not be exposed to a church format that is modern and what I see as Worldly. And the crux of the matter is that I see rock-band performance not as worship, but as simply Worldly, irreverent. Worship should melt my heart, draw me to Jesus, prepare me to receive the Word of G-d. Like the seminary students that felt the Spirit melt their hearts at an old man singing “Jesus love me,” I want to be moved. I want to be elevated into Heavenly places to see Jesus.
Six days a week, inundated by all that is going on in our country, all that is happening in the world these days, filled with the cares of life, I need a day in which I can put all aside and find the Sabbath Rest of the L-RD. Sunday services should take me back to where I first met Jesus, as one song goes. More worship, less talk. More fellowship with Jesus, less performance. More melting of hearts, not a music festival with all the technological bells and whistles. There’s something about stringed instruments. And while electric guitars have strings, they’re not the same as a simple classical guitar. There’s a big difference, in my opinion, between the sounds of a piano and an electronic keyboard.
That’s what I think. That doesn’t make me right; it doesn’t make that community church wrong. If I ever find a perfect church, I’ll have to heed the advice I heard once, “Stay out, it won’t be perfect when I enter.” I’m a sinner save by grace—saved by the grace of G-D through Y’shuaJesus by the power of the Spirit.