I was several minutes late to prayer meeting that evening. As I walked in, I sensed a somber atmosphere, different from the usual cheerful one to which I was accustomed. Among the twenty or so saints who had gathered for the midweek meeting, I noticed a middle-aged couple whom I had never seen before.
I also saw another new face at the meeting. I had seen him working at the local supermarket, but now he was sitting by one of our newer baptized members, who had invited him. The prayer meeting finished, after which the middle-aged couple departed.
“I don’t know why they singled us out,” spoke the man I had seen at the supermarket. “We weren’t talking loudly, or any more than anyone else.” He looked hurt and confused. His new Adventist friend who had invited him to church shook his head in embarrassment and responded, “Yeah, I don’t know why they picked on us.”
It became clear that the middle-aged couple were part of an offshoot group in another town. They attended prayer meeting that evening and decided the church needed reform on behavior in the house of God—and now. They stood up and rebuked all present, especially the two men sitting nearest to them. Sadly, our acquaintance that we had seen at the supermarket never returned to our church, and his friend, our newly baptized member, left the church not long after. Perhaps there were other reasons he left, but this might have tipped the balance.
It is true that we want more of God’s presence in our midst. When He counsels us on how to conduct our sacred assemblies, we ought to notice and align ourselves with that counsel.
We are counseled, “The house of God is often desecrated, and the Sabbath violated . . . And the place that should be holy, and where a holy stillness should reign, and where there should be perfect order, neatness, and humility, is made to be perfect Babylon, ‘confusion.’ This is enough to bring God’s displeasure and shut His presence from our assemblies” (RH, March 28, 1893).
If someone is wounded by a sharp object, it is dangerous for an onlooker to yank out the object. The object should be removed, but only at the right time, and in the right environment, by skilled persons. The patient needs to be transported quickly and gently to the hospital, where trained personnel will operate to remove the object, stabilize the patient, and nurse him until he recovers. Reforms are needed, to be sure, but reforms must be done carefully and wisely.
If you are a pastor or the leader of a church, consider doing the following:
1. Pray to God for wisdom. It is promised to all who ask (James 1:5). Also, pray that all you do, will be done in the right spirit of love as well as zeal for God’s glory.
2. Communicate your thoughts to the elders, deacons, and church board. Pray, educate, and pray more.
3. Preach a sermon on the topic, or include the topic of reverence in a sermon on knowing God.
4. Teach the deacons to kindly and gently remind people to be reverent.
5. Put up kindly worded signs on the sanctuary doors which include Bible texts on reverence in God’s presence. (E.g. “Let’s remember, God says, ‘Keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the Lord’” (Lev. 19:30).)
6. Every Sabbath, display a slide before and after service reminding of God’s desire for reverence in His sanctuary.
7. Invite reverence consistently in all meetings that take place in the sanctuary. Children are confused when forbidden to run in the sanctuary when adults stand and visit with each other. These meetings include vespers, prayer meeting, and practices (choir, wedding, sacred school programs, etc.). Consider having rehearsals in another room such as the fellowship hall, and then reverently have the final rehearsal in the sanctuary if need be (quietly walking in and out, not talking to each other, etc.). God’s people made the effort of chiseling all the stones at another location, and then quietly and reverently putting them together at the temple site, so that no a sound of a hammer or chisel was heard in the construction of the temple. Let us learn from this.
8. Keep the doors to the sanctuary closed if there is visiting in the foyer, before, during, and after the service. People come to church burdened, and they need to seek God’s presence, forgiveness, and renewal. There should be a sanctuary, a quiet place where they can meditate and pray. As a child, I remember watching my grandparents enter the sanctuary quietly and reverently, and then bowing their head in silent prayer when they reached the pew.
9. Help each other remember to do this. Lack of reverence is so ingrained and widespread in almost every church today, and it has been for many decades, that it will take reminding and a concerted effort by all of us to change our habits.
If you are a member, humbly follow God’s desires and pray for and talk to your leaders about these ideas. Do what you can in your sphere to be a thought leader, but without sharp thrusts and criticism. “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24, 25).
Our primary purpose for coming together is corporate worship of God, praising and petitioning Him as a body, but the means of accomplishing reverence are as important as the desired end. Let us avoid going from bad to worse. May God help us walk the narrow path of right by being humble and kind, while resolutely standing for truth.