In one of A.W. Tozer’s later works on the Book of Hebrews entitled, “Experiencing the Presence of God”, he makes some sobering remarks as to the Churches calling and current proficiency in that calling. In the chapter entitled,”Enjoying the Manifest, Conscious Presence of God”, the author draws a stunning parallel between the Holy Place of the Temple and the calling of the Church.
As we peer into the center of Jewish faith we come to the Temple. We begin our journey walking through the Court of the Gentiles, where those who were interested in being associated with Jehovah through religious practice could be sort of close. Access to the inner court was a privilege only to for the Jewish worshiper. In this place we can see the alter and the laver. This Inner Court was not a pretty sight but a place of sacrificial death, and cleansing. It foreshadowed Jesus as our living sacrifice completely consumed on our behalf, and the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit in the one who would follow Jesus by faith. As important as this place was it was not the place to meet with God.
Passing through the Inner Court we arrive where only the Priests could go. Here in the Holy Place we would see four things. We would see the Golden Lamp Stand with seven candles representing the seven-fold wisdom and power of the Spirit of God, and His ministry in the Son of God who is the Light of the world. We would see the Table of Show Bread or the Bread of the Presence, pointing always forward to the “Bread of Life”, who is Jesus our Lord. We would see the Alter of Incense, revealing Christ our High Priest who ever lives and makes intercession for us. And finally we would see the great curtain that barred the way into the Holy of Holies, to all but the High Priest. As we reflect on the first three sights and what they reveal about Jesus, let us understand they also reveal the calling and identity of the Church of Jesus Christ in all the ages until He comes.
Tozer’s comments illustrate this calling; the local church is to be a place 1) lighted by the light of the Word of God shed forth by the Holy Spirit in His seven-fold wisdom and power 2) where we gather to eat the bread of life-not only on communion Sunday, but as we partake of His living presence among us every time we come together 3) where we as the alter of incense send forth prayers that are a sweet smell unto God. Truly this is a high and holy calling, yet in an extended quote Tozer calls us to consider if we have not just become Dim Light, Stale Bread and Odorless Incense.
“Right here I want to say something that will no doubt land me on the wrong side of popular Christian opinion. But I will say it anyway. I do not believe the church is the place for entertainment. With that said let me explain what I mean.
We have churches today, in desperate need of attendance, advertising in the newspapers for the world to come and enjoy “clean entertainment”. We have, so the boast goes, what the world has, only ours is much cleaner and, to add insult to injury, in my opinion, its family friendly. I am not totally against entertainment.; I am just against entertainment in the church and entertainment used by the church to try to win the world. How can we battle the world if we have locked arms with the world?
From my reading of the Holy Scripture, church history and Christian biography, I find that there is nothing in the church that appeals to the world and nothing in the world that appeals to the true Church of Jesus Christ. Every revival in church history has occurred when the Church stood in stark contrast to the world around them. Our worship services should be so holy and so filled with a sense of God’s presence that unholy men will be very uncomfortable. Now we have done it the other way around. The most unholy person in town can come into the church and feel quite comfortable. People should come to a church worship service not anticipating entertainment but expecting a high and holy manifestation of God’s presence. When this begins to take place, several things will happen.
First, all the carnal and pseudo-Christians will let out a yell and head for the nearest exit. Attendance will plummet and the offerings will all but disappear. Many churches are not willing to pay this price. But then the next thing that will happen is the church begins to draw people with an insatiable desire for God. Tired of the trite entertainment style of the world they long, as the deer pants for water brooks, for a real experience with God”.
I believe brother Tozer is on the wrong side of popular Christian opinion, but so is the Word of God and so am I. We have lathered ourselves with the philosophy of back door ministry, which says get them in the door with things that are relevant to them in the sphere of culture, entertainment and a million other things, then we will give them the gospel as they go out the back door. If we endeavor to draw them in in any other way than what the the Living Word Himself declares (“If I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me”), we work opposite our calling and become… Dim Light, Stale Bread and Odorless Incense. I think of the last words from Tozer’s quote, where he speaks of people who are tired of being entertained, but looking for a real experience with God. Let’s be honest Church, we who are supposed to usher them into that experience cannot if we have not experienced Christ in His personal empowering presence. Is this perhaps why we try so hard to find relevant ways of connecting with the lost?
There once was a married couple who had it all, yet after being married for 30 years they were on the verge of divorce. It was not that they were beating one another, but their love connection was nonexistent. They both agreed that they had all the fun and excitement a couple could enjoy together. They had bought and sold homes, lived in beautiful places and vacationed where most only dream of. Over the course of their union, they had shot up the ladder of success together. In spite of all that, it was just over. One day the wife was moving the furniture as she noticed a stain under the couch. She remembered she had moved the couch over that stain, when she had spilled her drink while moving the furniture two years earlier. Then the lights went on. She had moved furniture tens of times in her marriage, and it always made her feel better. After much thought she saw that all the moving in and out of homes and decorating, all the vacations and promotion’s, parties and social stuff they did together, was simply moving the furniture of their life. Rearranging their environment had become their effort to prove a relationship still existed when in actuality no tangible connection remained.
We need to be mindful, that the Church can become dull of hearing, can lose its first love, can be side tracked by the devil and can substitute “relevant ministry” when we are no longer experiencing the River of Living Water. He calls the thirsty to come and Him and drink, calls to us…
Revelation 2:4-5 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place–unless you repent.