Do I go to church to encounter God in worship, or to hear the Bible taught?
This is a dilemma which I think many Christians feel as they consider which church to belong to. Which do I choose? A church which is all about encountering God in a unique and supernatural way, or a church which is about learning from the Bible with other Christians.
The ‘encountering God’ church could be quite a formal style of church, and the service full of formal ritual and images and liturgy. Or it could be quite contemporary, where God is encountered with the help of dynamic music and emotive appeals from the front. However, in both churches, God is experienced more through a mystical encounter than through the Bible.
On the other hand, the ‘Bible’ church sometimes feels like an educational experience for many people. There is no sense of meeting with God, no sense that God is especially present. Rather, church is about Christians meeting together to encourage each other. The ‘Bible’ church is eager to emphasise that God is known through his Word, but sometimes forgets that God is known, present, and relates to us through his Word.
Some ‘Bible’ churches think the solution is just to inject a bit more emotion into church. If we can put on some more lively music, and have a bit more energy and emotion and passion, then maybe church will be less of a classroom experience for people. Other churches just have a bit of both, one half of the service is ‘worship’ and the other half is ‘teaching’.
(Of course, these are all gross generalisations, and any resemblance to actual churches is purely coincidental, etc).
You may guess that I don’t think the ‘inject more emotion’ option is the right approach (although I don’t think it would hurt!), nor the ‘half-half’ option. Rather, I wonder if ‘Bible’ churches could do with rediscovering the Reformed and evangelical conviction that church is indeed an encounter with the living God through his Word. Church isn’t just a bunch of people who have a common interest, but is the very temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16). It is a unique place of encounter with God himself, not through mystical experience, but through the Word of God read, proclaimed, and responded to in praise, confession, trust, thanksgiving. In these different activities of hearing and responding to the Word, we are engaged with God himself, and with the living Lord Jesus who reigns from heaven through the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on his church.
I wonder if this sense of encountering God in church, through his Word, is actually what many people are looking for.