*The following is an adapted excerpt from Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness by Allen S. Nelson IV (2019).
No Room for Meh
When it comes to responding to the holiness of God we have two options (See Isaiah 6:5 and Revelation 4:8). Woe is me or worthy are You. Do you know what we don’t see in either of these passages? “Meh.”
Apathy toward God is actually a big problem in many churches today and one in which many people have sought to address. Lots of well-intentioned folks creatively seek to “fix” this issue. The problem, though, is that we’ve replaced boring church with more boring things. We are constantly inundated with not only new ways to do church but even new names and new affinities to attach to churches.
The problem is, none of those things fix the real issue. None of those innovations can sustain the need we have within us to be captivated by the holiness of God. Narrowing a local church toward one specific “affinity” doesn’t fix the issue. Nor can lattes, guitar riffs, or fog machines demand our eternal gaze. Bang the drums louder, play the violins sweeter, set the ambiance to “spiritual,” dress more casual, speak more hipster, and crank the amps to 11.
But, what’s flashy to the culture today winds up in the landfill tomorrow. Even worse, most churches that try to be flashy always seem to be two steps behind cultural flashiness anyway and thus come across as hokey and out of date. Some churches are a little better in terms of worldly flashiness, but this is not a compliment. Churches long to be “relevant” but many have forgotten that the infinitely holy triune One is the epitome of relevancy. Some perhaps never knew it in the first place. Apart from Him, nothing matters.
Many local churches today (not all mind you!) have created an environment in which people feel they cannot worship unless the outward circumstances are customized. “I just can’t sing those old songs, they are boring and outdated.” “I just can’t sing this new stuff, it doesn’t feel like worship.” We live as though emotive stimulation is more important than truth.
We have become too consumeristic in our worship practices. We are bored with God. The family minivan pulls up to a church drive-through window: “Hi, yes, I’d like to order a 15-minute practical sermon, also something great for the kids, uplifting music (in which we get to define what is uplifting, of course), and also we’d like to have multiple services so we can find a time most convenient for us to attend when we want. Thanks!”
Too many churches have responded by scrambling over the top of themselves to accommodate these demands. Too many churches have become just another business model. CEOs have replaced pastors. Consumers have replaced congregants. Amusement has replaced holiness.
We have an awe problem. We are enamored with the shiny fool’s gold all the while the creatures around God’s Holy throne, day and night, never cease to say: Holy, holy, holy. The very thing we must show people, the one thing that cannot be outdone by the church, movie theater, or strip club down the street, the chief object for which our hearts were made, “it” if you will, is the holiness of our triune God.
Therefore, we dare not customize our churches to fit the desires of carnal men. We shape our church based on Scripture. Christ is King. We let the Bible tell us what is relevant and what is not. And we see that continually jumping off the pages of Holy Writ is a God who is holy, holy, holy. I am not suggesting the lights and smoke and man-eating sharks with laser beams attached to their heads are sinful in and of themselves. I am saying they are sinful when we hold those things up as a replacement or even helpful addition to the unspeakable, untamable, unblemishable, unmatchable, unquestionable, uncontainable, unchangeable, uncompromising, unapproachable, unborable holiness of God. We must give the people more of God as He has revealed Himself to us in His word.
At best, we have a misguided zeal when we seek to replace or detract from the holiness of God in order to win people to Christianity. And that’s at best. Too often it’s much worse than that. Essentially, we participate in rank idolatry as we dismiss the holiness of God, yielding to the whims of fallen man. When we, intentionally or unintentionally, pursue diminishing, replacing, or corrupting God’s holiness in any way, this directly affects the gospel. There is no gospel apart from a holy God. And there is no salvation apart from the gospel.
We will explore the gospel in part 2 of this post…