How to Act in Church
When I was a child, the adults use to talk to us often about how to behavior in church. The rules on church behavior was important. There were things that you just couldn’t do. Things written in stone. There was a proper way to act in church, and it was stated firmly and consistently, as if from the Old Testament itself.
You didn’t chew gum in church. You didn’t run in the sanctuary. It was not proper to play or talk in church. It was frowned upon to walk during the invitation. Ushers would literally frown at you if you did so. Above all, you didn’t enter the pulpit. It was holy ground. These rules were drilled into us, sometimes painfully, so that we would know exactly how to conduct ourselves in the household of God.
Surprisingly, the Apostle Paul was also concerned with how we ought to conduct ourselves in church. Not surprisingly, however, he does not mention any of the things I was so often told. In his letter to Timothy, whom he left to pastor the church at Ephesus, he states plainly that his purpose for writing was so that Timothy would know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God. In order to bring gravity and perspective, Paul adds that the church of the Living God is the ypillar and support of the truth. A strong hint that what the church is and who it belongs to would have much to do with how one ought to conduct oneself.
No Different Doctrines in Church
In the opening chapter he urges Timothy to instruct certain men not to teach different doctrines. He considered correct teaching essential and proper church conduct. In the household of God there should be but one doctrine; that which was handed down to the church through the Apostles.
These different doctrines of his time took the familiar form of ethical teaching arising from mythical stories passed down through endless generations as truth. Unlike the doctrine of the church which leads to faith and love, these doctrines led to mere speculation and fruitless discussions.
When someone walks into the household of God, the pillar and support of the truth, they should hear a trustworthy message that deserves full acceptance. They should hear that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and not that He came to call the righteous to a higher standard of ethical behavior. That, Paul says, is an unlawful use of the Law. They should hear that even violent aggressors and the foremost of sinners, like Paul, can find the grace of the Lord more than abundant through faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. They should not have to hear the myths of men, which amount to speculative ramblings about the ethical standards of the law.
Unlike so many who were concerned about what children were saying in the pews, Paul finds it more necessary to be concerned about what teachers were saying in the pulpit. How to act in church has more to do with the sermon than with chewing gum. The ushers should frown upon any teaching that would suggest that salvation is the result of anyone’s walk, or that we could in any way be found pleasing to God by our behavior. We should know how to conduct ourselves in the householders opf God. We should be examples of Jesus’ perfect patience for all those who would believe in Him for eternal life. We should not simply lift up a standard of righteousness, but lift up the one from whom we have all received our righteousness.
As You Have Been
It may be the most daunting command in all of scripture. Forgive. It causes immediate defensiveness and fretful feelings of inadequacy. We all know just how hard it is to forgive. We all know the pain of wounds inflicted by others. So much of the counsel on forgiveness minimizes very serious offenses. As result, we run in defeat or in defiance from scriptures command to forgive. These feelings will inevitably come while our eyes remain fixed simply on the command. How unfortunate. We miss the grace of God in the command, believing that God is asking us to do what His grace is insufficient to accomplish in us.
If we can move beyond the command to forgive, what we may find is that God has acted in our lives in a way that supplies us with a grace sufficient to forgive. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. In this is the sufficiency of God’s grace. The key is not to try to scale the mountain of effort to forgive, but to plumb the depths of the grace that has forgiven. And when the waves of grace wash over you, those who stand in need of forgiveness get caught in its deluge, by virtue of their proximity. Is it really possible to be guilty of a capital offense, receive pardon, and press charges on your brother for a petty crime? Can it be anything but unwillingness, for the power is in the pardon?
I must warn you that this is no formula or recipe for forgiveness. There is no impersonal principle to be applied. This is worship. In this you must deal with God. To plumb the depths of His grace, is to also delve the depths of one’s depravity. We must know the true nature of the forgiveness we have been given. You must let go of the notion that by your efforts you remain afloat in the sea of sin. It is only when we know that we are at the mercy of sins undercurrents, and lost to the safety of the shore, that we will know what it means to have been forgiven in Christ. In this is the truest sense of salvation; to have been rescued. Then, forgiveness of others is simply an appropriate response to how much you have been forgiven. Then forgiveness is what it should be, worship.
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