Should we expect to encounter God when the Church gathers?
If the teacher or pastor speaks the Word from God, there should be a God-encounter. But what will it look like? How will it affect people?
A God-encounter at Church
When God’s people assemble in His name. “…if the whole church comes together and ….an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (I Corinthians 14:23-25).
There’s certainly nothing seeker-friendly about this kind of experience! This is what we desperately need in our Churches.
When truth about God is declared it should jolt those who live outside of His truth. Do we want these people walking out of Church saying, “That was pretty cool.” “It didn’t even feel like Church”?
I want them to be reeling a bit. They should be jolted — mentally, emotionally and volitionally — when they encounter God.
Imagine someone greeting the pastor at the door after a message from Scripture saying, “Being in your Church today made me feel like I was a sinner. I felt a little judged. I felt like my anonymity was violated, like the secrets of my heart were exposed.”
My response? “Good!”
If the person is “an unbeliever or someone who does not understand,” this is what should happen.
I delight to see this type of response week after week at our Church. I can almost read it in their faces. But this doesn’t make it easier to speak for God. The one who speaks is himself a sinner and must deal with the secrets of his own heart. I don’t want to make the mistake of Job’s three friends who were rebuked by God ”because you have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7,8).
But remember that misrepresenting God can happen in what is not said as well as what is said.
Reflect on a distinction made centuries ago by St. Thomas Aquinas.
“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.”
According to the New Testament, people do not seek God unless His Spirit first works in their hearts. Jesus told us what kind of inner work the Spirit would accomplish. He said the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (see: John 16:8). This conviction is what should come with a declaration of truth from God in Church.