The hilarious "Wrong Worship" video captures the pervasive mood in many a church's pew, as we sit in beautiful professional services that lull us into a comfort zone of fake security.
This apathy bugs me ... a lot! Three times in the last week I've been in church situations when I've wanted to cry "just do it, at least do something!"
How many in church are engaged? What percentage are once-a-month attendees? And even the regulars, how many actually do anything beyond showing their faces? Surely "make disciples" means "do something". And if we're not doing something, then are we failing at what is arguably the third greatest commandment.
So what makes someone take action? What motivates activism? How does someone arise out of apathy? Make it personal: when did YOU (when did I) last actually do something about poverty, societal injustice, climate change, the financial system, political corruption or any one of the myriad other ills in our world? Let alone the suffering of our neighbour. And I'm not talking about that dinner party moment where we all love express our indignation about the current headline of the day.
OK, so it's easy for me to say, and the finger also points straight at back me. But my culpability in no ways changes the fact that our churches are often the perfect quiet backwaters of good intentions.
There are two practical sides to this problem: permission givers, and motivated hearts. If someone is moved to action but unheard by leaders, then their passion becomes passive. And if leadership cries "we need to do something", but there are no motivated hearts, then their voices fade as echoes in a cave.
Lets say little about the permission givers (for now) - in our church I believe we have good permission givers. Suffice to say here that globally there is a striving for an ever-more professional church, but often there serves only to comfortably massage the consciences of the pew patrons. Any latent activism among the amateurs of a congregation can face an immense hurdle to find official mandate, let alone proactive support. Churches need leadership that says "Far better for our people to get down and dirty with their hands as they seek to serve", and then be willing to accept the inevitable mistakes by some. At least then church would be filled with people who are not only there to cheer on the professionals.
The key question is "what will motivate us?" There are no shortages of needs and our churches are overflowing with disengaged talent and capacity. Where does the apathy come from?
Have you ever witnessed a bad car accident, or know someone who's had a first hand experience of tragedy? Compare the personal impact of that with how we respond to the endless bad-news in the media ... shootings, famine, rebellion, disasters. We're surrounded in our culture of immersions, yet we're strangely numb to the suffering. We walk by the destitute in the street with barely a thought.
Without personal comprehension we remain unmoved.
We need to comprehend!
God will use any little bit we dare give him, but we've got to get a bit of comprehension to trickle down from our head knowledge and into our heart.
No wonder the Bible talks of how Jesus was moved ... in his heart! Compassion is not a mind-thing, it's in the heart. Sadly, in our culture of material acquisition we are deeply fearful of heart-pain, and we're expert at building defenses against it. We are so successful at this that now we can even find perverse pleasure in a media fest of violence (just look at the tabloid culture), as long as we're not personally involved.
Where do we find comprehension?
Holy, its an odd word. If I say to someone in church that "God is holy", they'll nod in agreement, yet our shared understanding is shallow, poor, and peripheral at best.
Jesus spoke to those who knew a language of religion, and so he turned his message into powerful metaphors and parables. He broke the familiarity of language that they thought they understood, and opened their eyes.
The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not merely once holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath.
Yet, all that this tells me is that holiness is really important. It doesn't help me comprehend holiness and misses the concept that God is completely other, entirely unique, no one is like him. His holiness is above all his other attributes, its his defining attribute: his love is holy, his power is holy, his justice is holy, "Because He is holy, all His attributes are holy" (Tozer).
This is not like the common uniqueness of a snowflake ... yes, each snowflake is unique, but then there are so many "unique" snowflakes. Imagine instead if there was only ever one snowflake. It's attributes (pointed, spiky, cold, star shaped, etc) are all uniquely expressed in this one snowflake. The attributes don't define it's snowflakeness, instead this singular snowflake defines its attributes. Only one snowflake would be truly unique, without compare, nothing can measure against it.
If we say God is love, then we imply he should be able to excuse sin (and how much do we hear that today!). But if we say God is holy, then that is what defines his love, and his justice, wrath, and compassion. These only exist because he is holy ... because of his total and singular perfection without comparison.
Because of holiness, I am undone. He tells me to be holy because that was how he chose to create me, and the choices of an unchanging God holds for eternity. Yet his very holiness destroys me.
"Some Christians spend the first six days of each week sowing their wild oats, then they go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure." (Anonymous)
As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, "What gives us conviction of sin is not the number of sins we have committed; it is the sight of the holiness of God." Corollary: if I have no sight of the holiness of God, then I have no conviction, and if I have no conviction, I have no motivation, and if I have no motivation, and I am dead in apathy.
Instead, if I keep alive the big question, not get bogged down in the minutia of personal peeves, then I can begin to understand what it means to have sight of holiness. If I can only surface from the twitter culture, the reality shows of trivia, the ego-trips of facebook, the self promotion of instagram selfies, and the tyranny of time. Only then can I find a reference, only then can I find the root of motivation for my response, and only then as a church will we ever get our collective butt off the pews.
Tozer again: “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? ... tuned, not to each other, but to another standard ... each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be."
The comprehension of holiness is the underpinning of all great revivals. If we want to see people moved to serve, we need to begin to comprehend holiness. And as we gain comprehension, so we'll be irresistibly moved to attempt the impossible.