Reverence in Church Services

(reprinted from The Primitive Monitor Feb 1966)

by Elder Edgar T. Aleshire

Some time ago we printed in the Monitor's pages an article on "Irreverence". Before and since that time we have had many comments from our readers on this subject. We have rejoiced to know that so many of our people earnestly desire to see a greater degree of effort on our part when we assemble to worship our God, to do it in reverence. We have had many requests for copies of the article, but have not had time to duplicate copies. Accordingly, we are reprinting the article in this month's issue of the Monitor, and are adding to it some thoughts that many of our readers have mentioned from time to time.

When we consider the high and lofty place that our God occupies, we can hardly comprehend the reverence with which He ought to be worshiped. It is a fault of many of us (though sometimes it is an unthinking, rather than a deliberate fault) that we enter and leave the church house at service time with a light-hearted and talkative manner. When we enter upon the worship of our God, surely we ought to do so in a quiet, reverent manner, and when we leave the service afterward, ought we not be still concerned with the truths which we have heard proclaimed, and the beauties of God's house? Rather, too many of us are inclined to talk about most everything else but our God and His goodness right up to the moment the song leader asks for our attention. There is often a buzz of voices that is distracting to those who feel inclined to spend the few moments before the service in prayer and meditation that the Lord might bless the congregation and minister with His presence.

The time before and after the worship services is not an appropriate time to check up on each other's health and family's affairs, but rather is a time for self-examination, thinking upon the Lord Himself, and bringing our wandering minds in to concentrate upon the service into which we are entered. Elder N. P. Vandiver has often been heard to remark that the prayer that we sometimes hear, "Lord, draw in our wandering minds..." is an inappropriate one, because this is something we ought to do. We ought to center our attention and our thoughts wholly upon the Lord as we try to worship Him together in the church service. Courtesy alone would demand that we give the utmost in attention to the speaker, and far more than that, we are commanded to take heed that we hear, and how we hear. It is indeed a blessed sight to see all the members giving their full attention to the song leader and the preacher, and not turning about to see who is coming in late.

Lateness in arrival in the house of God is in itself an indication of a lack of reverence. Were we to have an appointment with any high dignitary of our land, we would do our utmost to be on time, yet many carelessly and habitually come late to the church services. If one must be late, how much better to come in quietly, rather than to insist on shaking hands, speaking to those around, and causing a general commotion. Leaving the service, unless it is absolutely necessary is another way in which we show a lack of reverence for our God, and every member ought to make every effort to avoid disturbing the service in this way. Surely, it is not to much to ask, except for necessity, that we sit quietly without leaving for an hour on an hour and a half. Ministers who insist on holding the people longer than that are much to blame for a restless, irreverent attitude on the part of the congregation. Such things as leafing through the song book, permitting children to play with toys, and whispering, laughing, and looking out the window all show that we have forgotten in Whose august Presence we are.

Moreover, there is much that parents can do toward developing a reverent attitude and behaviour on the part of their children. All of us realize that there is a stage through which young children go when they are too little to understand clearly why they must be still for a while, and yet are too "old" to sleep through the service as tiny babies do. However, when children are old enough to understand instructions at home, they are old enough to be controlled in church. If they are permitted to play with coins, noisy toys, tear books, or to climb up and down on the seats, run from one parent to the other, run down the aisle of the church, or out of the auditorium at will, it is not only distracting to those who want to be attentive but is also poor training for the child. Young babies should not be brought to church dressed in clothes that include bells or other ornaments which make a noise every time the child moves. Neither should children be played with nor permitted to dominate their parents about taking them out of the service or permitting them to go out except when necessary. It is certain that if children have to learn to sit still in school, they can do so much earlier at church. Many of our readers have expressed appreciation for mothers who are courteous enough to sit a little to the back of the main body of the congregation, so that their babies' movements and the attention needed for them do not distract others. A young preacher brother of our acquaintance who has since married, told his congregation on occasion, "I know that you are thinking, 'Well, he doesn't have any children, so how does he know how hard it is to control them?' But I can tell you that I know what worked on me when I was a young child!"

One subscriber to the Monitor wrote us: "The very condition you write about (irreverence) has bothered me quite a bit, and I have wondered if any one else felt as I do. I love my brethren and sisters, and feel to be the least among them. I do enjoy being with them so much, but at service time, I want to keep close to the reason for my being there-that is, to worship and get as close to my God as I can, for the Good Book says, "Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you.' Another thing I have noticed is that in some of our communion and feet washing services, the pastor has to call for quiet, even after singing, before communion can begin. We are instructed that, after it was over, 'they sang an hymn and went out.' We don't do that. We stand around in the church talking for quite a while, and somehow it has a tendency to draw us away from the sweet spirit that we want to keep close to and take home with us."

Many of our readers have written us about this subject of irreverence, expressing the desire that someone, preferably the pastor or deacons, would take the initiative in their church to promote more quiet and reverent services. Too often we are afraid of wounding people's feelings, and of having them say our services are "cold" because we do not engage in much talk and handshaking before, during and after the services. Yet we have found recently in three or four churches with which we are intimately acquainted, an increasing appreciation on the part of the members and visitors for observing these things, no matter what people will say. We do not go to church to see our brethren, much as we love them. We go to church to worship God. This is such a simple truth that it is often overlooked in our desire to be with the brethren.

J. C. Philpot, and English preacher, once wrote in this regard:

"Again, a careless spirit, a reckless, thoughtless, light and trifling spirit, is a spirit of falsehood and a spirit of error. To trifle with God in a light and frivolous manner; to profess the solemn verities and heavenly realities of our most holy faith, and yet carry into the house of God that light, trifling spirit which we see manifested in the world, all with eyes to see and hearts to feel, must see and feel that this is opposed root and branch to the Spirit of Christ. And yet how rife it is in the professing church! How we seem to be surrounded on every hand with a company of trifling, carnal professors, who not only in their habitual life and demeanor, but even at the very moments when we think their minds should be solemnized and their levity subdued, seem more give to it than almost at any other time. Mark them as they come stumbling out of the house of prayer; hear their light conversation with each other; watch their smiling countenances, and their loud familiar greetings with which they hail those of the same spirit of themselves; and see how all these solemn impressions, and that grave reverential demeanor which become the saints of God after hearing the word of life are swallowed up in an overflowing tide of almost rude merriment. Sure there is enough of what we see and feel of evil in us, and of what the Lord suffered to deliver us from it, but instead of this chastened spirit and of a grave and solemn recollection (which is a very different thing from a mere sanctimonious assumption), in how many places is rather seen the exuberant spirit of a worldly holiday."

We would not leave our readers with the impression that we feel there should be no joyousness shown in our meeting together. We want, as David said, to be glad when we go up to the house of God. But our joy, our attention, our conversation, our demeanor and our attitude should be one of worship and not one of social intercourse. Neither will the truly hungry and humble soul find any service "cold" where quiet and reverence are noticeable in the service. It is the blessed Spirit of God which warms our hearts and causes true love to flow from breast to breast in public worship. His influence is not smothered nor stifled when we come in quietly, take our seats, pray for the service, refrain from conversation before the service starts, give our full attention to all parts of the service, and go out quietly, speaking of the goodness of our God. We can quench the Spirit, if we give our minds and time over to worldly thoughts and conversation when we go to church.

We as Christians would do well to emulate the Hebrew people in their practice of observing their Sabbath from sundown on the preceding day. If we spend Saturday night in foolish entertainment, go to bed late, and are sleepy and inattentive in church, we have shown irreverence. It is nothing short of insolence to sleep habitually in church, for thereby we show our indifference to the things of God. How pleasing it is to god and how beneficial to us to think upon the coming services, pray for the pastor, and read the Scriptures on Saturday evening, and get a good night's sleep.

"...holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, forever." (Psa 93:5) "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him." (Psa 89:7) "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved [the church], let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." (Heb. 12:28)-Editor

-From The Primitive Monitor, February, 1966

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