Should we expect to encounter God when the Church gathers?
If the teacher or pastor speaks the Word of 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 very seeker-friendly about this kind of experience!
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.” or “It didn’t even feel like Church”?
Should they be reeling a bit – 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 judged. I felt like my anonymity was violated, like the secrets of my heart were exposed.”
If the person is “an unbeliever or someone who does not understand,” this is what should happen.
This response is not because those who speak are morally superior. The one who speaks for God is himself a sinner and must deal with the secrets of his own heart. This is simply the expected impact of Scripture on everyone.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
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. And Jesus told us what kind of work the Spirit would accomplish. He said the Holy Spirit would “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (see: John 16:8). This comes with a declaration of truth from God in Church. Let’s not forget that conviction and contrition precede conversion.