Monday, May 29, 2017

CHURCH ETIQUETTE: HOW CHURCH SHOULD BE DONE

This is not intended to be a dogmatic check-list on how church must be done, based upon my own personal preferences, but rather, upon what honors God and His Word which reveals how things should be done: “… decently and in order …” (1 COR 14:40). 

As we consider all the aspects of the church gathering, and all that this entails, we quickly realize we must talk about how we greet one another, conduct in the sanctuary, the ministry of worshiping the LORD, the ministry of the Word at the pulpit, in Sunday School, youth ministry, etc. And many other things besides.
As we are living in the last days and the apostasy is growing exponentially, we are witnessing a diminishing respect for the Word of God, and even – dare I say – for God Himself. And sadly, it shows in our congregations today! Yet God exalts His Word even above His own Name (And His Name is utterly Holy! See PSALM 138:2)! If the LORD God esteems His Word that much, who are we to ignore or disrespect it?!

Let us then examine the issues, see what the Scriptures say on these matters, and submit to the LORD and His ways.

When we come into the house of God, as it is often called, we should come with our hearts prepared to meet with Him. A sense of humility as well as excitement should be evident (AMOS 4:12; ISAIAH 2:3; 66:2). We should come with our Bibles in hand: too often we see Christians coming into the sanctuary without their Bible. I always bring what I refer to as my ‘buddy Bible’ – that is, the one that I most frequently read.
Why is this important? Because I want to record what I’m learning in its margins: jot down cross references given in the teaching, write down key words and phrases that will remind me of what I’ve learned. 

Just as the Israelites bound passages of Scripture upon them in their phylacteries, in a sense we bind the truth of Scripture in notes as the teacher elaborates on verses out of the Bible (DEUT. 6:8; 11:8). Scribes of both the Old Testament and New, were constantly recording teachings about Scripture, passed down to them from various rabbis. How much more so should we record in writing the teachings of our ‘rabbi’s’ – our pastors and teachers, these gifts of God to the church (EPH 4:7-12).

If you use a pew Bible, or simply follow along on the overhead, you can’t do this. How many times through the years, when getting a brand, new Bible, because my buddy Bible has worn out, have I carefully, meticulously transferred all my precious notes from the old one into the new one!
Yet before the teaching even begins, there is customarily a time of worshiping the LORD, which absolutely prepares our hearts to receive from the LORD His Word. Yet how often I have seen Christians come regularly late into the sanctuary, missing out on part or even all of the time of worship! Somehow they see the worship time as something to occupy the people until the important part of the service: the teaching. This idea couldn't possibly be more wrong! There are cherubim whose entire existence revolves around worshiping God 24/7. How much more should worship be a priority for us!

PSALM 96:7-9
7 Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. 8 Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. 9 O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.

During the time of worship, our hearts, devotion and attention needs to be settled upon God. We are not engaged in a song-fest about God, we are actually, genuinely interacting spiritually with and addressing personally, the LORD of heaven who is seated upon His throne, hearing our voices and song, receiving the honor of our worship. Worship leaders need to lead the worship by worshiping God, and not by coaxing, coaching and directing the congregation to do so. If the worship team is genuinely worshiping, it’ll be contagious, and the saints will worship genuinely as well. 
It’s been said, “He who worships, prays twice.”

We should understand that when we pray, we are addressing our LORD and worship is nothing less than that! Again, right now, as you read this, there are myriads of angels, seraphim and cherubim – these mighty, well-nigh god-like beings who humble themselves, prostrating and worshiping the LORD with the greatest of reverence (ISAIAH 6:2-4). Should our conduct, we who have been bought by the blood of the Lamb, redeemed from our sin, be any less?

One of the most significant problems I have during times of worship, is when with my eyes closed, hands raised to heaven, my voice and heart engaged in extolling and praising God, and someone walks into the sanctuary and stand next to me and nudges me with their elbow or extends their hand and says, “How’re you doing brother?”

The LORD is utterly worthy of every second of our attention as we bring our offerings of praise. For someone to interrupt that devotion, in my mind, is robbing God by getting my focus off of Him and onto another; even if it’s only for a moment. 
There is time for greeting one another, usually at some point either during, before or after the service; I don’t believe our ministry in the worship of God, in the very act of our devotion, is that time.

So often when the priests of the Old Testament were ministering in the Temple, the presence of God was so potent, that they couldn’t even move (1 KINGS 8:11; 2 CHRON 5:14)! Such was the wondrous atmosphere of awesome holiness, that I’m sure that they didn’t want to move! 

And in medieval days, when the king was on his throne in his courtroom and his subjects were in attendance while he declared some royal pronouncements, no one dared to speak, even in a whisper, while the king spoke.

The apostle Peter declared in his epistle how they heard God’s voice from heaven – and the experience left them on their faces, trembling. Yet he then told his readers that “we have also a more sure word of prophecy”, referring to the Scriptures (2 PETER 1:18-21). I recall how one old time TV preacher would read the Holy Bible on his knees before his televised audience.

And yet while the Spirit of the LORD is guiding the saints in worship of the LORD, the King of heaven and He is speaking to us through the Word being taught, I have too, too often heard people chatting, giggling, or any number of things, causing distraction among God’s people, who are trying to focus their attention on the Word of the King. 

Where is the reverence, where is the holy fear and trembling? Would these people fall off their chairs and reverence the LORD if they actually heard Him speak audibly to their congregation? And yet the apostle states that it’s the written Word – “that more sure Word” – that even God esteems more than His own Name, which we should give our pious and humble attention to.

And I must admit, that I myself engaged in such foolishness, in my younger days. This shows a disregard not only for the pastor, and even more so, a careless attitude towards the LORD. Some might think my assessment rather harsh, but considering Who and what God is, I don’t think so.

Another distraction is children crying or making a fuss in the sanctuary during the ministry from the pulpit, either in worship or Word. Therefore, the institution of cry rooms came to be: to ensure a distraction free environment in which the saints may focus, unhindered on what the LORD would speak. Again, letting everything be done decently and in order (1 COR 14:40).
The Holy Spirit's ministry is to draw people to Jesus, to exalt Him and direct our attention, our hearts, our lives to the LORD in our devotion - when babies or small children are crying, screaming or causing a ruckus, our attention is distracted from the LORD and the Holy Spirit is quenched (1 THESS 5:19). Is this an extreme view? I don't believe so.

Even in home Bible studies, we would often take up a little collection to pay a babysitter (if no family members were available) to care after the little ones while elsewhere in the house, or the house next door, the Bible teacher could teach without distraction.

It’s also why children’s ministry came into being: sadly today, unruly, undisciplined children seem to be the norm. The old motto of “children should be seen and not heard” is unheard of today.
My spiritual mother in the faith told me that when she was a small child, she and her only somewhat older sister were silent in church, attending to the teaching as well as they were able to at their age, but never thought of raising their voices, much less throwing a tantrum and causing havoc.

For this reason children’s ministry is a practical necessity today: ministry is designed to address them and their needs at their level of comprehension and discipline. I have been involved with children’s ministry, and it was as much a blessing for me as for the children. And it was always very apparent which of them were being taught the Bible at home, and which were not.

Yet there are parents who are adamant about not allowing their children to attend such Sunday School classes, and permit them to create distractions, even though people near them are having difficulty concentrating on the teaching. 

The creation of youth ministry is perhaps another matter: most adults read at a comprehension level of a 6th or 7th grade student. I tend to wonder if it’s really necessary for these youth, who can sit in a school setting for 6 hours or more a day, to have a special place in the church setting, when for all practical purposes, they could easily remain with the adults and comprehend what is taught just as readily as their elders. Considering what passes for ‘youth ministry’ today I’d say our youth are better off. However, thankfully, there are those blessed exceptions where the pastor of youth truly has a heart for these young souls.

There are some teens today look like they’re about to die of boredom in today’s sanctuaries, and routinely pull out their smart phones and commence numerous rounds on their favorite video games to keep from falling asleep (which others do). 

Have they no spiritual appetite? Is their knowledge and love for the LORD not being cultivated by their parents? I know that there are parents who feel inadequate to teach their own children, abdicate that responsibility on their children’s or youth minister, and somehow hope that their child will grow up to “fear the LORD”. Certainly there are those parents who agonize in prayer over their unsaved teens and young children – and I stand with them in their intercessions! There is a need to disciple parents in the faith, so that they may in turn be equipped to disciple their own children.

From the article, Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith, we have the following quote:

"Our fervent prayer is that God will raise up Spirit-filled, Bible-preaching, Christ-centered, family-integrated assemblies from the ashes of our man-centered, family-fragmenting churches," McManus adds. "Plus, the church needs to begin to equip Christian fathers to communicate the gospel to their families. Today, Christian parents are beginning to realize that they have not fulfilled their spiritual duties by simply dropping off their kiddos to Sunday school and youth group, allowing other parents to disciple their children by proxy.
"Let's not forget the powerful words spoken by Moses in: 

DEUT 6:4-7
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

"It is the parents' primary obligation to disciple their own children, impressing God's commandments upon them in the home on a daily basis."

Something else that I find entirely inappropriate are people getting up in the middle of the teaching to go get a drink of water, or to use the restroom (barring health issues that some people have that require more frequent bathroom visits, the average healthy individual is well able to control their bladder for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour), or even go outside to have a smoke or talk on their cell phone.  

Speaking of which, how often we have been listening to the pastor speak when suddenly we all hear a ring-tone, and wonder whose cell phone just rang – more distractions! More quenching of the Spirit of God!
There have even been a couple of occasions where a congregant’s phone went off, they answered it, and began a conversation for all to hear, including the pastor who’s trying to communicate with the flock of the Good Shepherd!

The ministry of the Word goes on an average somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes, typically around 40 to 45 minutes. I will usually go for a bathroom break right before I enter the sanctuary for the commencement of ministry, and that will hold me over until the conclusion of the service about 98% of the time. I check my cell phone to make sure it’s off or on vibrate mode. And I always discourage people from talking to me during the ministry in the sanctuary.

Yet we can’t seem to give God our undivided attention even for this short amount of time?! 

There should be no reason, in the main, for the congregation members to leave the sanctuary or engage in behavior that causes distractions when the Word of God is being taught. Yet I have witnessed church-goers as I sat at the back of the sanctuary looking like a host of jack-in-the-boxes, getting up, leaving, coming back in, only to see others do the same.

Then there are those who seek to stand out, to draw attention to themselves, who participate in bizarre behavior but claim that “it was the Spirit that led me”. That is not being Spirit-filled! If you want an accurate portrayal of what a Spirit-filled person looks like, you need look no further than the LORD Jesus Himself. Too much foolishness takes place in our fellowships and then the Holy Spirit gets blamed (remember “Holy Laughter, Toronto Blessing, and that false teacher Rodney Howard-Browne, who referred to himself as ‘God’s Bartender’ – getting people ‘drunk in the Spirit’?).


Or they will stand out by dressing immodestly – I am not at all exaggerating when I say I’ve seen people dressed for church like they are going out ‘clubbing’. Some of them were professing Christians for many, many years. I believe the admonition for modest apparel is applicable to men just as much as to women (1 TIM 2:9).

I’ve seen even ushers who are supposed to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in a ministry, who are to never draw attention to themselves but to the LORD; but some of them dress in provocative clothing, either flashy or too snug, which can cause others to be distracted.

There are some that maintain a belief that church fellowship is for saints only; sinners are not welcome because it’s inappropriate for them to congregate with the body of Christ. They insist that such should receive the Gospel and subsequent salvation, being them baptized into the body of Christ spiritually, and then permitted to join the congregation.
As I see it, while we the church are in this world, and the buildings (whether public or our homes) where we attend fellowship are likewise in this world, that we should expect the lost who are seeking, to find the Gospel inside or outside ‘the church’. 

The distinction between the saved and unsaved should be recognized, but that by no means should disallow the lost from our places of fellowship – unless they are in some way bringing harm to the body. Certainly, they should never be given a place of ministry or position, but if they are willing to attend, a place should be made for them. Otherwise, how could we even invite such a one into our homes, if our family is redeemed – is not that family considered part of the church, and if so, then by the same reasoning, shouldn’t we disallow them from entering under our roof?

Besides which, unless God were to grant us absolute discernment, how could we possibly get rid of ‘unbelievers’ if they are professing Christ, attending service, seem to maintain a godly life style, but in truth, are not genuinely saved? There is a difference between what is called the visible church and the invisible. The visible church are members of professing Christians, who may or may not be saved, and anyone may join (this comprises a mixed multitude) and the invisible church who are members of possessing Christians, who indeed are saved because of the indwelling Spirit of grace that they possess, and He them, and no one can join the body of Christ except through spiritual rebirth and faith in Christ and His gospel. Consider MATT 13:28-30

I hope everyone who reads this article takes it in the spirit in which it’s intended. I sincerely do not wish to be overly critical of people and fellowships, but pray that we may all – myself included – consider our conduct, and our attitudes while congregating before the LORD, Who is in our midst, His church and body.

For more about this issue, see the following articles (note: this author does not necessarily agree with and, or endorse everything that is stated in these writings):

7 Church Etiquette Rules Everyone Should Know

Church Etiquette by Elliot Ivey

Church Etiquette by Tom Wilson

Church Etiquette – Manners