“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
This post was originally written in 2016 at the Holy Spirit’s leading concerning spiritual gifts. It’s been updated to reflect the current state of the church. The church is in decline and in need of revival and reformation. A recent Gallup poll states that the U.S. church membership has falling below majority for the first time.
- In 2020, 47% of U.S. adults belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque
- Down more than 20 points from turn of the century
- Change primarily due to rise in Americans with no religious preference
This is not an attempt to discuss the history of the New Testament Church nor to malign today’s Church in it’s present state. My purpose is to convey God’s heart for the Church. As someone embracing the ‘apostolic gifting’ to act as a catalyst to facilitate change in the ‘local church’, I humbly share what the Spirit of the Lord revealed to me in August 2016:
Earlier this week, I awoke around 3:00 a.m. as I often do. I heard the word stagnant in my spirit, then I heard, “A stagnant church is a stench in the nostrils of God!”
I immediately thought what does this mean? I promptly woke up and jotted down these words. The Spirit then led me to the Book of Isaiah Chapter 1 verses 13-17:
“Do not go on bringing your worthless offerings, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the proclamation of an assembly— I cannot endure wrongdoing and the festive assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you offer many prayers, I will not be listening. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil, Learn to do good;
Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor, Obtain justice for the orphan, Plead for the widow’s case”.
The Message Bible (MSG) translates it:
“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evil doings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.”
In these Scriptures God is obviously trying to get the attention of the priests and people of Judah. God hates their empty religious ceremonies. Truth be told, we can offer God all kinds of religious rituals and ceremonies, all kinds of religious service, and He may hate it and consider it an abomination! Judah thought the answer was in religious ceremonies, in their ancient version of church attendance and a few dollars in the offering. But if their heart wasn’t changed, and humbled, and surrendered to the LORD, it made no difference. Without the right heart, God hated their religious ceremony and service!
Is it possible God is not pleased with our acts of worship today? Worship is not about how we want to worship God, but how He desires to be worshiped. Pastor John Piper writes, “Our worship on Sunday morning doesn’t meet a need in God. It meets a need in us.”
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25 ESV).
True worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in thrush are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.– John Piper
The Bible says we are to worship God in Spirit and in truth. ”The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:23-24 ESV).
Jesus says true worship is in spirit and truth. So, what does it mean to worship Him in spirit and in truth? The “truth” part is plain enough — God’s Word is Truth. Jesus, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me. In John 17:17 Jesus asked the Father to sanctify His disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Jesus is the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (Ps 33:4-5).
As Pastor John Piper writes, “True worship comes only from spirits made alive and sensitive by the quickening of the Spirit of God” God’s Spirit ignites and energizes our spirit. In Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist he sums it up this way, “strong affections for God rooted in truth.” (Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper, pages 81-82).
“Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit and there must be truth. . . . Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers . . . . On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship”.
It’s surprising how much emphasis the Bible puts on the sense of smell. All throughout the law and the Old Testament we see examples of the sense of smell, often referring to a sacrifice.
“The priest shall then remove from the grain offering a token and burn it on the altar as a sweet-smelling oblation to the LORD” (Leviticus 2:9).
“As for the offering of the firstfruits, you shall offer them to the LORD, but they shall not be burned on the altar for a sweet aroma” (Leviticus 2:12).
In the New Testament, Apostle Paul tells the Church of Ephesus and in in turn Christians that we are to imitate Christ, walking in love as dearly loved children, “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Eph. 5:1-2). Our lives as dearly beloved children should reflect the image and love of Christ on earth.
In part 2, I’ll talk more on the importance of the spiritual gifts operating in the church today.
May the grace, joy, and peace of God be yours through Jesus Christ our loving Lord. To Him be glory, now and forever.
Minister Dr. A. Francine Green
All Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.
- Jones J., (2021). News.Gallup.com: U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time. https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx . Accessed 30 March 2022.