I came across this lovely post recently:
Plan worship only for people who can worship.
Many churches plan their worship services as though unbelievers can worship. But the Apostle Paul makes plain in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” Anyone can utter the words, of course, but unless the Holy Spirit indwells a person they cannot say such things as a sincere expression of true worship. In other words, those who do not know Jesus as Lord (and thus do not have the Holy Spirit) cannot worship God, so why design the worship of God for those incapable of worship? We plan evangelistic services and events for unbelievers; worship services are for believers.
I cannot describe the way this post affected me. Let’s just say we’ve heard things like this before:
- “The Jews do not really have feelings. They are animals. They are not like us. Therefore it is okay to kill them.”
- “Animals do not really have feelings. They are animals! Their experience is different from ours. Therefore it is okay to kill them, no matter how cruelly, and to act as if we have the God-given right to do so.”
- “Black people are not fully human. They do not really have feelings. They are not like us. Therefore it is okay to enslave them, to separate them from their families, and to treat them as the beasts we believe they are.”
Obviously the post I quoted is not in any way saying it’s okay to kill non-Christians. That is not my point. My point is that man’s inhumanity to man (and beasts) always begins with drawing the same kind of line they draw here. “Their experience is not like ours.” “They can’t really know and worship God.” “They are of a fundamentally different kind than we are.” “There are ‘them’ over there, and there are ‘us’ over here.” Therefore, of course, we can either mistreat them, or at the very least consider them lower, lesser, and different from the rest of us. They do not share in our experience of being human — or perhaps, better said, we do not share in THEIR experience of being human, sin-bound and secular as they are.
For those who can’t let this post rest without knowing what other way could there be to interpret the scripture above, this is easy. God (the Holy Spirit) is the one who enables us to recognize God, as Jesus affirmed with Peter’s confession, and with Nicodemus’ recognition of him. If a person recognizes or acknowledges God, it is because God allows himself to be seen. A person can, like Nicodemus (John 3, for whoever cares), see God but not even realize what they are seeing. In fact, no Christian has ever been alive on this planet who realized what they were seeing. God has never been seen — not by anyone — even those who claim to see him. So if a person who is not a Christian comes into church and seeks to worship God, then God is already stirring, already alive, already moving within that person. And of course he would be, for God is doing this in all of us at all times. [Heaven forbid that a person might actually be attempting to respond to God in a way that doesn’t fit properly in the box. That’s definitely something we have to squash immediately!]
So if it is true that in God we live and move and have our being, then God is making himself known to everyone throughout the creation. We do not get to say, “Those people over there cannot worship God.” All we get to say is that God is mystery, and reveals himself to people in ways that he chooses. The only way the post above makes sense is if a person has already decided a priori, that certain people cannot worship God (this happens through the building of a so-called “Biblical case” which, ironically, ends up at odds with the clear message of Christ). But in Jesus we have the linchpin of the Christian faith, who:
- Was not a Christian and had never heard of the term Christian. It’s not even a huge leap to say Jesus would probably not have even cared for the term.
- Was a full-blooded Jew. His understanding of the world was shaped not by 20th century Christianity, but by ancient Judaism.
- Never discussed the importance of knowing God through any version of what we now call “the sinner’s prayer.” Jesus was definitely not an evangelical.
- Habitually and wantonly forgave sins. He forgave sins of people who were coming for physical healing, perhaps people who were often not even aware they needed forgiveness. He didn’t even wait for people to ask.
- Uttered the words, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Those were his words, and yet when someone believes those words and repeats them out loud, the church gets weirded out and often charges a person with being New Age.
Of course non-Christians can worship God! Of course someone who has not said “the sinner’s prayer” can know and be known by God. Of course God is moving and active in every heart, every mind, every life. And of course, if you are not a Christian and found the quoted post above offensive and/or hurtful, it’s not just in your head. Something harmful has happened. Someone has tried to tell you where God can and cannot make himself known and who is and is not in a position to “receive the signal” God is transmitting. This is garbage, dear readers. Don’t think for a minute that God is not as close to you — flawed, broken, imperfect you — as your own heartbeat, right now in the exact condition you are in. That’s the message Jesus preached. The only reason Jesus is still remembered today is because his message was different from what was common in his time. It is sad to see how many ways we’ve gotten around what he said and gotten back to the very message he came to oppose.
No matter how much someone screams, “Get away from my God!” and no matter how many people are listening, fortunately God himself ignores this kind of language. At least we know that’s true as God is embodied in Jesus.