by Rayola Kelley
Q: I am confused about what is the right way or wrong way when it comes to the religious services that are being presently conducted in different churches. For instance, some use Bibles and others do not. Some emphasize long drawn-out worship times and others do not. There are churches that appear to be presenting elaborate shows to make some spiritual point, while others seem to have a simple forthright presentation. Is there some way to determine what would be considered a proper “protocol” if there is such course of action when it comes to church services?
A: I can see why you are confused. Church services can vary. Is there a right way or wrong way when it comes to church protocol? You can listen to arguments from every side about how churches should conduct different ways and means in their services, and you can still walk away even more confused. The truth is, you must ask yourself what are you looking for in a Body of Believers. For example, for me I am looking for a Body of Believers who is distinguished by their commitment to truth, their genuine love for others, and who have a vision for the lost. This vision is made apparent by the body being active in different mission outreaches. As Scripture states, true followers of Christ are distinguished by love and recognize that they have a commission to share the Gospel with others (John 13:35; Mark 16:15-16).
Local bodies are to exist for the purpose of edifying and building up the different members of the Body of Christ so they in turn are prepared for ministry and can build others up as well. The members of the body are there to encourage each other to walk in the ways of righteousness, pray for one another, and ensure a spiritual edge is maintained in order to preserve the testimony of the whole. Each local body must serve as a light in their community in order to ensure the integrity of the Gospel message. It is for this reason that we are instructed to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Ephesians 4:12-16; Colossians 1:17-23; Hebrews 10:25).
The next question you must ask yourself is what do you want to personally see happen when it comes to your spiritual well-being. For me, I am not going to church to have some fleshly experience, to be entertained like the world, or to soothe my religious conscience for the week so I can live as I please the rest of the week; rather, I go to church do business with God.
Christians make up a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9). As part of the priesthood, we stand as a representative of God to man and on behalf of man to God. In essence, we are there to do business when it comes to the matters of God. If there is such a thing as ensuring a proper “protocol” when it comes to such matters as worship, I have only been able to draw from the examples and shadows of the tabernacle of old (Hebrews 8:4-6).
If you study the tabernacle of the Old Testament, you must note it had three compartments: the outer court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. By studying the route of the priest, you can see a pattern immerge concerning how man is to conduct himself in religious matters. However, the one thing we must recognize is that as priests it is all about preparation to enter into all that God has for each of us. Man cannot receive from the Lord until he has first been prepared to receive. For example, the flesh cannot receive the things of the spirit and the man of the world will see things of the spiritual nature as being foolish (1 Corinthians 1:17-23; 2:10-14). Therefore, much of the preparation when it comes to the matters of God’s kingdom is to get self out of the way so that God can have His way with us. Let us now consider the pattern.
The only place that men could initially enter the temple area was through the gate of the outer court. There they brought their sacrifices. Scriptures gives us the example of entering the gate with praise and thanksgiving. In fact, one of the sacrifices we can offer the Lord is that of praise. We know that God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3; 100:4; Hebrews 13:15-16). Praise prepares the mind to break free of the earthly entanglements to consider the unseen things of heaven. Thanksgiving prepares the heart to become tender with gratitude for who the Lord is and what He has done for us. It is only when the heart is tender before the Lord that it can properly receive from Him.
The priest would stop at the laver and wash himself. The laver represents the Word of God. The Word must cleanse us in all manner of living. So many Christians are practicing hypocrites because the Word of God does not serve as their mirror (James 1:21-25). Service that is done outside of the cleansing and preparation of His Word will be considered profane and unacceptable. It is important to point out that the one who delivers the Word, and the ones who receive it must be prepared to do so or it will have no impact.
Once the priest has prepared mind and heart then he or she is ready to enter into the Holy Place to do service before God. It is important to note that the priest did service before God, not to God. In a sense, the Holy Place was a place of rededication and consecration. Once again, the priest was preparing him in service before the Lord. The priest had to fill the candlestick with oil. We need to be filled up daily with the Spirit and walk in the light to ensure all personal sins are taken care of. We must take care of the table (of showbread) by ensuring the quality of bread, for in due time we will partake of or identify with the very divine nature of Christ through His promises and as we put on His attitude and way of life more and more(Ephesians 5:18; Romans 13:14; 2 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 1:3-7).
Then there is the altar of Incense representing our prayer life. We must come there to seek the heart, mind, and will of God about the matters that affect our life in Him and His kingdom (1 John 5:14). Andrew Murray said, “We only pray the way we live.” Robert McCheyne stated that a man is what he is on his knees before God—and nothing more. The light of the candlestick will expose who we are, but the Altar of Incense will show us who we are becoming in the inner chamber of our hearts.
The Holy Place represents us doing business before God, but the Most Holy Place points to God doing business with us. The High Priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year. He took off His outer garments that had the bells attached to it, and walked into it clothed only in his linen garments that represented righteousness (Leviticus 16:4). He offered the necessary sacrifice in the presence of God’s Shekinah glory to ensure right standing. We cannot personally come to God in the Most Holy Place unless we first have right standing with Him.
The Most Holy Place is a place of silence, for the Bible tells us to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). It is in the Most Holy Place there is no other knowledge present but the presence of God. There is no breath other than His that we can hear in the secret chamber. In this place there is no outside clamoring, just the consuming awareness of the majesty of God. It is in this place where worship in Spirit and truth take place and intimate communion is the end product.
The beauty about being part of the present day priesthood is that we can make this journey daily into the Most Holy Place. After all, the veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place has been ripped in two, and now we can come to the place of mercy in order to find grace (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-25). Since we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, We can humbly approach God and give Him the opportunity to do business with us, knowing that we will walk out satisfied and complete.
I learned a long time ago that it is not what I do for God that counts; rather, it is what I allow Him to do in me (Philippians 1:6). When God is able to have His way in my life or in a matter that concerns me, I know that He has done business with me. I also know when I enter into a place of true worship, that I am ready to avail myself to become a living extension of His life to others. After all, I cannot offer others what I have not yet received from His precious, loving hand.
I am thankful for those pastors and churches that understand that everything done must become an avenue or opportunity for people to prepare to come into those quiet, secret places to gain a greater knowledge and awareness of God. People should never walk out of a service with the sole awareness of how the leaders perform or how sensational the activities of a church were; rather, they should always walk out with a greater awareness of Christ and Him crucified, lifted up on the cross for the world to see so that all who will come, can come and experience the fullness of His salvation and His eternal, abundant life in greater measure(John 7:37-39; 12:32; 1 Corinthians 2:2).