But Is It A Tree?
C.S. Lewis pointed out that one of the distinguishing marks of the Christian faith was the existence and work of the Holy Spirit. No other religion, he said, has anything approximating the Spirit and His work. A lot of ink and blood has been spilled over exactly how the Spirit works and moves. I will quickly confess to any and all that I don't know the answers. However, several incidents in my life have given me insights you might find interesting.
I had worshipped one morning with a small group of believers in a town in the west of Scotland. They did everything the way we do things -- the five acts of worship, etc. They had even imported American songbooks and sang our traditional hymns. The worship seemed formulaic and there wasn't much in the way of spirit there. No worries, though. I knew that God could do things I didn't know about so perhaps that worship helped some there to get through their week.
That night we were invited to attend a worship service held over a barn in its loft. The people there, we were told, had left denominations and were looking for pure, simple Christianity. I took a member with me and we climbed the steps to the loft where we were warmly greeted. They used an acoustic guitar while they sang. Several danced during the songs. The Lords Supper was offered with wine in the cup and a huge dinner roll as the bread. Tears flowed down their cheeks as they took in Christ's sacrifice.
I left that night very troubled. Raised in a very conservative branch of the church I was still its loyal son, but I could sense a seismic shift occuring as I wondered: We have been told to worship in spirit and in truth. We worshipped in truth this morning, but there was no evidence of the Spirit. They worshipped in the Spirit this evening, but they didn't hold to the old paths and the ways I considered the truth. So... would God condemn them for not having the truth but spare us when we didn't have the spirit?
Somewhat like the scrubbed nativity scenes I discussed last post, I think we have done the same with our worship. We have scrubbed them, made them clean, orderly, clinical and sterile (in every sense as they do not seem to produce baby Christians very often). Perhaps it is because we tried to discover -- in a scientific fashion -- the basic facts and then put them on display in a clear, minimalist way, just as we do the nativity scene. When we do so, do we have worship as God intended?
The mighty redwood tree is made up of less than thirty types of element/compound/ or substance. If I were to isolate those compounds through diligent study, place each in a jar, and then arrange those 28 different jars in front of someone and declare: "Behold! The mighty redwood!" you would fit me for the funny jacket and fling medications at me. I have the elements of a tree... but is it a tree? When we do the same to our faith and worship and bring those elements in front of the crowd and declare "Behold! Worship pleasing to God!" is it really? Just asking.
Without diligent study, though, we can go "all spirit all the time" and end up, not with God's Spirit, but with our own. We are warned to test every spirit to see whether it is from God. While we invite the Spirit into our worship and life (and ask Him to bring life to us, to fill us so that we seem drunk to the world), we must make sure that what we are being led to do agrees with the story of Scripture. God may lead us in many directions, but the devil is also poised to lead us while wearing a poorly designed "God suit." We search the scriptures to make sure that we are hearing the same voice the apostles heard. And then we ask the Spirit to come and revitalize us, take over our sterile and lifeless forms, to kick over the tables where we've kept the jars, and bring us the power and joy of the Lord.
It takes more than the elements. It takes the Giver of Life. Without Him... is it really a tree?