Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Interesting Juxtaposition

My friend John Anderson and I are in Rome today so we thought we'd stop by Saint Peter's Bassilica which, of course, is home to the Popes and the epicenter of Roman Catholicism. We happened to catch a mass while we were there and, as I said to John, I felt at once a sense of awe and disgust. I felt awe because of the magnitude and architectural genuis and artistic beauty of the structure, as well as the reverent way in which the mass was carried out. Everything is designed, it seems, so that one almost cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of the holy. But these very things also provoked in me a sort of disgust because they seemed so much like a flexing of the muscles, like a display of earthly power, like Roman idol worship with a veneer of Christianity. The day before we had toured the ruins of the Roman empire and learned a little bit about how they conducted their religious affairs. Frankly, I could hardly tell the difference between those ancient practices and what I was now experiencing, except of course that it was all decorated with Christian language and symbols. I thought more than once, "Surely, this is not what the Lord and his apostles had in mind as they laid their lives down to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him throughout the world."

But on a more redemptive note, I did come away thinking that we American Evangelicals have gone too far in forsaking almost any sense of reverence in our architecture and liturgy. In reacting against things that must be rejected we have, I fear, dispensed of other things that are valuable and perhaps even desirable. Granted, we must labor to keep ourselves from venerating structures and traditions rather than God but I wonder if there is a way to utilize the gifts God has given us to exalt his name and inspire his people to look upward toward him. I don't have the answer to my own musings but I do have a longing to nourish a deeper sense of reverence for God in my soul and the souls of those I'm privileged to shepherd.

Once the mass was completed, we had to race back to the main part of Rome because we were scheduled to attend the worship service at The City of Church of Rome where a friend of John's, Corrado Primavera, serves as Pastor. John met Pastor Corrado in Italy but then also attended Dallas Theological Seminary with him. The building was very small and the congregation was even smaller but the praise was sincere and the preaching was "tethered to the Word," as John Piper is fond of saying these days. The people sang and Pastor Corrado preached in Italian so I didn't understand the majority of what was being sung or said but I could pick up a few words here and there and, more importantly, I could see love for Jesus radiating from Corrado and the people. It's strange how being in the presence of Jesus causes one to worship even if he doesn't understand everything that's going on. We have all the most important things in common and therefore nothing can truly divide us, not even the deep and high walls of language and culture. I felt very privileged to be there and I rejoiced that one day the curse of Babel will be removed and we will, with one voice, worship him who was and is and is to come forever and ever.

After the service was over we visited for a while and then walked back to our shuttle which was near the ancient Coloseum. As we strolled along I could not help but feel somewhat jarred by the juxtaposition of these two worship experiences. One was the most amazing display of earthly beauty, power, and ceremony one could imagine but it left me with a deep sense of tumult; the other was almost completely devoid of these same attributes and yet it left me feeling that I had been in the presence of Jesus and of his people.

I will leave the ultimate judgment of these things to our God and Father but I have come to the conclusion that as for me and my house we will choose the simple. We will choose the church where Jesus alone must captures people's attention by the wooing of his Spirit rather than by earthly means. There's more than one way to breed a sense of the awe of God in the soul and, at the end of the day, I think the best way is careful and regular meditation on the Word of God.

Tomorrow we leave Rome for Assisi, Florence, Venice, and Bologna--not all in one day, of course! Please continue to hold us up in prayer. God is doing much in my heart and I am eager to listen well. Thanks again for your faithful partnership.

Soli Deo Gloria

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