Monday, July 02, 2018

The Beauty of Holiness: Insights from a Life Time of Pioneering New Churches

By Robin G. Jordan

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. Psalm 96:9

The liturgical approach that seventeenth century Caroline divines championed, with its emphasis on worshiping in the “beauty of holiness,” I believe, has caused a lot of mischief. It has encouraged us to focus on secondary matters, to the neglect of far more important things.

I appreciate a well-choreographed celebration of the Holy Eucharist as much as anyone. I have no argument with communion rails and stained glass windows. At the same time I have been witness to what can be described only as the pathetic attempts of new Anglican churches to replicate in a store-front or other non-traditional setting the interior of a nineteenth century Catholic Revival church out of the mistaken belief that is how the interior of a church is supposed to look. Psalm 96:9 has often as not been cited as the rationale for such efforts.

I have also met folks who have told me that they are unable to worship in a storefront because it does not feel like “church” to them. What these folks are saying is that they miss the particular ambiance that they have come to associate with the Anglican Church—the organ music, the needle point hassocks, the ornate vestments, the flickering candles, the polished brass, the wooden pews, and the like.

Whatever those planting a new Anglican church do will never make these folks happy. We will never meet their expectations. We will always be disappointing them. They are not cut out for pioneering a new church. It is a mistake to try to cater to them. They are rare, hard-to-catch fish in a pond swarming with much more catchable fish. New churches who do try to cater to them will experience very little growth if they experience any growth at all. We do better to point them to the nearest church which offers them the ambiance that they miss.

The “beauty of holiness” to which Psalm 96 is referring is not the ornaments of the church or the ornaments of the clergy but the beauty of a life of righteousness. While the Caroline divines had a high view of the Bible, they were not past taking a Scripture passage out of context or using it as a proof text. For the Christian, the beauty of holiness is the life that we live when we become a disciple of Jesus Christ, when we honor him not just with our lips but with our lives.

Beautifying our lives, adorning them with Christ is far more important than trying to beautify our rites and services with poorly-executed ceremonial and shabby, second-hand vestments and our meeting places with second-rate artwork and stained glass window film. We adorn our lives with Christ when we enthrone Christ in our hearts. Christ is beautiful in himself. He is our wisdom from God, our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

When we give Christ his rightful place in our hearts, his beauty transforms us and makes us beautiful. It makes beautiful even the meanest surroundings where we gather to worship him. Whatever the place—house, barn, fire station, school auditorium, mortuary chapel, storefront—Christians are worshiping in the beauty of holiness, the beauty that is his. When you pioneer a new church, it is this beauty of holiness that you come to value the most.

Church pioneering offers many challenges but it also affords many opportunities. Among the greatest opportunities that it furnishes is the opportunity to grow spiritually, to live our faith in a way that we have never lived it before.

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