There was a time when the church was very conservative in our expression of worship; today, spontaneous, lively, expressive and Spirit-led worship can be found in so many local churches. And it is indeed a wonderful thing! You will also find churches with traditional adult services permitting young people to have their own vibrant contemporary worship services! There has been so much interest in developing and revolutionizing worship that getting believers to engage in passionate worship is no longer a challenge as it used to be. Glory to God!
Now, what we need today is a different kind of revolution – the revolution of the Word of God! While general literacy has made quantum leaps in recent decades and most Christians in a modern city like Singapore are way more educated than Christians in the past, say 30 or 40 years ago, yet Bible literacy is embarrassingly low! In his article, The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches (published July 6, 2015 in Christianity Today), Ed Steyzer said, “Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. We claim it’s God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it. A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible – essentially the same number who read it every day.”
In my observation (and I do hope I’m wrong), I suspect the statistics here in Singapore are not far different from the US. Just look at current trends: more worship events, more leadership conferences and more supernatural gatherings held in our country compared to events that actually teach the Bible. In fact, I wonder how many and who would attend a conference on how to interpret the Bible compared to a Hillsong Conference or Kingdom Invasion Conference for instance? (I’m not saying the latter two conferences are no good, they are good – I’m just making a point here about the degrees of interest and how worrying it could be.) Since early 2000 till now, I have often heard young people asking to hold worship events or worship nights without sermons. They say, “Pastor, we just want to worship!” Since when was preaching the Word and listening attentively to it no longer an expression of worship?? 🤔Many cell groups spend more time socializing, sharing personal prayer concerns and struggles than digging into the Word. (If your cell group is not like that – praise the Lord! And if your CG is all study with no community and sharing of lives and personal struggles, that’s a problem too!) Have we not considered maybe if we have a deeper understanding of the Word, knew God better through His Word, apply His Word and walk by faith, we would have fewer problems, struggles and crises? There are many more examples but I won’t belabor the point, I think you get the idea. And this is why we need a Word Revolution today!
I’ve heard several testimonies of young adults saying how they didn’t learn much about the Christian faith in the mainline churches they grew up in – such as the Anglican or Methodist church. And now that they are in XYZ Church, they have learned so much about the Word and their faith has grown. While I think some of these criticisms of mainline churches may be misled or even unfair because it gives the impression that all mainline churches have lousy discipleship programmes which is certainly untrue, yet at the same time, I think there is some validity to what is being said. Maybe not every young adult who grew up in mainline churches feel this way, but a good number of them do and because they do, it is therefore well worth our time asking ourselves a few hard questions such as “is our Sunday School effective in teaching the Word of God or are we just telling Bible stories?”, “is our youth ministry effective in teaching the Word to establish faith in young people or are we relying too much on emotionally-charged passionate worship and sermons?”, “are our Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, ministry staff and age-group ministries pastors properly equipped for the work of building faith in the next generation – and faith must be founded on the Word of God, are they able to teach the Word of God faithfully and properly?”, “what are our children’s and youth ministry staff busy with mostly – organizing activities or preparing to teach the Word? related question: what degree of importance is given to the preparation and teaching of the Word? how much time is given to it?” The future of the church rests in the hands of the next generation, thus our careful attention to the discipleship process is of utmost importance. (Just to add and clarify: true faith in God is not only about an inner spiritual formation and growth but an outward expression in love and ministry so that the gospel may be made known throughout the world.)
There are quite a few worship songs these days in Charismatic circles about the atmosphere, the environment in the room when Jesus walks in, etc., all focused on feelings and experience. I appreciate the fact that they help us remember that corporate worship is not just about singing enthusiastically but also about experiencing God in a personal and even tangible way, after all God is so real. You just cannot sing to God without feeling anything in your heart, He is not a stone tablet or an inanimate idol! What is important though is that while we lead people into the presence of God, leading them to experience the Lord personally and warmly, we must also lead them through other types of songs to make sure that our Christian faith is not founded upon feelings and emotions but primarily upon the foundation of the Word of God. For instance, we need to remember that our faith in God is founded upon the redemptive work of Christ on the cross – a historical fact that remains unchanged no matter what we may feel in our hearts. Negative feelings do not negate the historical fact. Our circumstances do not change our identity as children of God – deeply loved and highly favored. We also need to remember that we receive grace in order to give grace, it’s never for personal consumption only. Don’t you feel annoyed when some think that it is all for their own benefit? We receive love to give love and we receive hope to give hope. Jesus is the Light of the world and He tells us “you are the light of the world, so let your light shine!” (Jn.8:12; Mt.5:14-16)
Is there an over-emphasis on atmosphere and emotional experience in church worship today? Are we manufacturing it deliberately, creating moods with our music and our sound pads, writing lyrics that encourage the seeking of an experience? I love good flow in worship music, in fact I believe in it so much I named my former worship team, FLOW. And I would do it again with my next team! I believe that corporate worship in church services should lead worshippers from the outer courts into the holy of holies – the deeper place where we encounter Holy God and quietly hear Him speak and He does speak to us through His still small voice, not only from the Bible, though whatever we believe we hear from Him must never contradict the Bible. When He does, everything changes, our lives are transformed. I love 1Cor.14:25 where the non-believer saw amazing things happened in church, the exercise of spiritual gifts, and he fell to the ground, worshipped and exclaimed, “Truly God is amongst you!” Wouldn’t it be great if both church members and visitors in our churches leave every Sunday exclaiming, “Truly God is amongst you!”? I would love that – and I have prayed for it many times. Yet at the same time, I am truly concerned that we might consciously or unconsciously over-emphasize atmosphere and experience and make them the all-sufficient end in themselves. And when it comes to the Bible, we appear to be a lot less enthusiastic. How do we check ourselves? Just look at the lyrics of the songs we sing in church. How much of it focuses on experience – and I’m not saying we shouldn’t emphasize experience and encounter – they are important, crucial even, but we must not OVER-emphasize it. And do our lyrics cover the whole counsel of God’s Word or just the parts of the Bible that are inspiring and encouraging? We have many songs that focus on the cross – about the love of God demonstrated on the cross, Jesus paying the price, His death and His resurrection and the empty grave. That’s all good. But what about the cross we are to carry today as Christians? What about the price we are to pay living the truly Christian life, serving God wherever the Spirit leads us including places that are challenging, uncomfortable and even life-threatening like how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil? How about songs about putting to death the carnal man in us, songs about living holy lives in eager anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ, and in anticipation of His final judgment? How often do we sing songs about that? When we don’t, we are skewing the worship experience and worshippers only learn a few things and not everything about God through our corporate worship and songs we write. No wonder shallow faith is not uncommon amongst God’s people today! While we emphasize the importance of experiencing God in corporate worship, let’s be careful not to over-emphasize it. I find this philosophy I heard about three decades ago very helpful: “All Word and no Spirit, you DRY UP. All Spirit and no Word, you BLOW UP. But with both Word and Spirit, you GROW UP.”
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” – Acts 2:44-45 NIV
People often talk about how the church today should return to biblical Christianity in the New Testament. For instance, we should see the same or more miracles, signs, wonders and exercise of spiritual and power gifts today than what were recorded in Acts. I agree, we really should. But what about Ac.2:44-45? Should we not see the same or greater generosity amongst believers today than what was recorded in Acts? “… had everything in common… sold property to give to anyone who had need.” Is that even possible today? How far can we go with this? I have heard of pastors urging and people selling property to live in a cheaper home in order to give money to build a multi-million dollar church building. But I have not yet come across people selling property to give directly to the poor. Truth is, more often than not, these two verses are ignored – they are seldom preached or taught. Even in our study of the Ac.2 passage, we tend to focus our attention on other things in the passage and say little or nothing about verses 44-45. But Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church went against the grain and did something quite unheard of – asking those who were in need in his church to take as much as they needed from the offering baskets (see https://www.christianpost.com/news/relentless-church-pastor-john-gray-knocks-pulpit-pimps-lets-members-in-need-take-from-offering-baskets-228772/). What will we do today? Do we give to those who are in need? Do we give from our spare change or do we give till it hurts? Is our church known for generosity? Will we astound the world with our selfless giving? Why shouldn’t we.
This is not just a time to educate the church on LGBTQ, marriage and family issues which is very important and not enough churches are doing that, but more importantly this is a time to review and scrutinize the effectiveness of our discipleship process and a key question to ask is, “Are my church members conforming to the rule, image and will of God?”
Rom.8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
1Jn.3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.