To honor God is to honor and revere His holiness. On a personal level we honor His holiness by being cleansed from all sin through confession and repentance, and by keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. We devote ourselves to him in the spiritual disciplines and we seek to obey the Lord and His word in all things and we are rewarded with his grace being given to us in generous measure. But to honor God’s holiness on a corporate level is more complex and difficult but we must learn how to do this if we wish to experience revival on a corporate level
I believe that a major hurdle that we must overcome if we are to understand God and His holiness is the barrier of sloppy inarticulate speech. There are many terms and phrases thrown around in the church with great confidence which in fact have little or no meaning or are completely misleading. One such term is ” the release of the Holy Spirit”. It is used to describe the manifest presence of God, when God is pleased to make His presence sensible to our spiritual senses and on rare occasion to our physical senses. This phrase is found in sentences such as, songs of worship release the Holy Spirit, or the reading of God’s word affects the release of the Spirit. Perhaps unintentionally this phrase leads toward the notion that the Spirit is a non-personal power or energy that can be in some way manipulated by what we do. The truth ( as of course we know) is that The Spirit is the third person of the Godhead, and that being God He is far beyond every kind of manipulation. We can however, please Him, and when we please him individually and corporately we can reasonably expect that he will be pleased to be manifestly present in our services. The single most important way to please God is to be personally revived. If we attend church in a unrevived state, (which is to say backslid) all the efforts of the church leaders to quote ” release the Spirit” will be in vain for God is not pleased, and neither worship nor scripture reading will please Him, under these circumstances. But this leads to a serious question. How many people in a service need to be revived in order to please God such that He is willing to reveal his manifest presence. Is one enough? or, Does it have to include everyone? I would answer yes to both questions. One is enough and yes it must include everyone. One is enough if that one sanctifies all the rest with his or her intercessory prayer. In Matthew 11:8-14 Jesus teaches this fundamental principle that we need to clothed properly to attend Gods feast.
Then he said to his servants , the wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find. So the servants went out to the streets and gathered all the people the could find both good and bad and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to see the guests he noticed a man there was not wearing wedding clothes. Friend he asked, how did you get in here without wedding clothes? The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants , tie him hand and foot and throw him outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited but few are chosen.
You would think the king would have been more lenient considering that the servants had practically dragged anyone they could find loitering on the streets to the banquet both ” good and bad“. But in fact the king was not lenient at all but incredibly harsh with the poor man who was not suitably dressed, and had him hurled from the feast bound hand and foot.
What lessons can we take from this text. First of all there are no exceptions. Everyone at the feast must be properly dressed. We can only deduce that this stringency can only be due to the seriousness, the sacredness of the occasion, ie the wedding feast of the Kings son.
Now some would object that this text must be about the wedding supper of the lamb and that the wedding garment must be salvation itself, which I agree is the central teaching of the text. But I dont feel that using this same principle to teach that folk must come to the Christian service properly dressed does this text any disservice. Of course I am not speaking in this instance of our material clothes but rather of being dressed in the Holiness of God, for while the marriage supper of the lamb is far more holy than our services, the service is a type and a preparation for the marriage supper of the lamb and partakes of it’s holiness.
Back to our contention that one revived person is enough as long as that one sanctifies all others by their prayer. Of course the more revived persons present and the more that they join together in sanctifying all who attend the service , the more pleased the Lord will be. Another way to characterize this is to say that the more holy the people are who are attending the service the more God is enabled to share His holy presence with them. Even one unsanctified person at a a meeting is enough to displease the Lord, and prevent Him from sharing His glory. This underlines how serious it is sanctify through prayer every person who attends a meeting.
The Principle of Progressively greater Holiness.
Another way to deal with the matter of holiness is to organize the worship service according to the principle of progressively greater holiness. The tabernacle of Moses is our principle type for teaching holiness and it was clearly organized according to the principle of progressively greater holiness. The tabernacle itself was situated at the center of the encampment of Gods people. The outer court was where all the priests and people could gather to worship and where the animal sacrifices were prepared. It was very holy. numbers 4:38 Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp on the east of the tabernacle toward the sunrise in front of the tent of meeting. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary on behalf of the Israelites. Anyone else who approached the sanctuary was to be put to death.
Just inside the door to the sanctuary was the outer court with the Brazen altar of sacrifice and the bronze laver. This area was more holy than the tabernacle itself. In this area the levite priests labored , preparing the sacrifices and at the bronze laver the priests who were assigned the ministry of the holy place in the tent of meeting, prepared themselves by washing and putting on the sacred garments that were used only for that service. And of course behind the holy place was the most holy place in which was placed the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat overshadowed by the great wings of the cheribim and into the most holy place, only the high priest could go and that once a year. Thus we see that the tabernacle was organized according to the principle of progressively greater holiness and i believe strongly that if we organize our services according to this same principle, as best we can, it will be very pleasing to God for it will effectively address this requirement that worshipers be dressed in holiness before they are guided into His presence. I have a disturbing sense that in saying this i am reinventing the wheel for liturgical churches have been doing this for centuries and it is also something which evangelical churches used to do, though it has now become somewhat of a lost art in this 21 century of postmodernism and seeker sensitivity. It was common in the 70’s for instance for a worship leader to organize the worship service according to the principle of progressively greater holiness a practice which I havn’t seen attended to for years.
To organize our services according to the principle of progressively greater holiness (PPGH) we need to rate everything which we do according to its degree of holiness. Of course this is rather subjective and perilous to do but I believe the exercise itself is worthwhile and we will probably find a reasonable degree of accord. I will submit to you my reader a possible organization of a service based on PPGH. It is of course not the only way and God is always free to reorganize our services any time He wishes. I merely hope to clearly illustrate what I mean by PPGH. PPGH is important because of the principle of Holiness by association. We become holy in two ways. One is by righteousness,. Romans 6:19 you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness,so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. And the other way is through association. A good illustration of holiness by association is how if you put metal driver bits onto a strong magnet in short order they become magnetic themselves. Their magnetism is a derived from the magnet and will begin to wane as soon as the bit is removed from the magnet. In the same way a seeker who associates with holiness in a respectful way will himself become holy in the process. The story of the rebels who offered strange fire upon the altar is a good example of this. The rebels themselves were judged and destroyed by God, but the censors they had used had to remain in the tabernacle for they had become holy by association. Now as a seeker is exposed to PPGH so he himself will become progressively more holy and thus prepared to experience even greater holiness. His is not the holiness of righteousness which is a more durable holiness but the holiness of association which though of a passing nature , makes him or her acceptable to God at that moment. Although of supreme importance in the case of seekers, this principle is relevant to us all, for we come out the world, soiled and defiled in various ways, and need to be cleansed and prepared to enter into the secret place of the most high.
A Suggested Church Service order based on PPGH.
1 Signs on the door which instruct worshipers to remove hats, be dressed modestly, to turn OFF phones and devices, and to enter the sanctuary in a attitude of reverence and encouragement to prepare to meet with the lord.
2 Welcome, ,announcements, stuff.
3 A season of prayer, in which various people pray, including prayers of confession and repentance, prayers of consecration and dedication, and prayers of intercession for the lost and seeking.
4 Testimonys , building expectation and encouragement.
5. Bible reading, in which a significant portion of Scripture is read. All should stand for the scripture reading.
6. Short season of hymns or chorus about the church , salvation, heaven. etc etc. but not about God and definitely not directed toward God.
5 Hymns about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
6. Offering as an act of worship.
8. Altar call and hymns directed toward God,
9 A season of intense and intimate worship
10 . Benediction.
As you can see in this order of service, the intimate worship of God is the last item before the benediction. It certainly is a long way from the opening prayers. Putting direct worship hymns and chorus’s at the beginning of the service are very insensitive to the holiness of God. The hymns of the church are not for the most part hymns of direct worship. They do not address the God head directly but speak rather of the manifold aspects of the Christian life, and in this they reflect a great sensitivity to the holiness of God. These manifold aspects of the Christian life are in themselves very holy. Redemption, grace, peace, the love of God, the church, heaven and eternity are all in themselves very holy but none are nearly as holy as God Himself. And so, as we partake of these songs about God we are associating with their degree of holiness and thus are preparing to sing songs unto God in direct and intimate worship and thus partake directly of His holiness. And if we are truly ready and holy as we boldly enter into this worship, God will be pleased with our reverence for His holiness, and will deign to meet us there in sweet communion.
I believe that this sweet communion is something that is very substantial. Miracles and healings and revelations and blessings of every kind will occur when we are genuinely being embraced by the Holy Spirit, and this is what we typically characterize as revival. Something devoutly to be wished indeed.