In a recent meeting reviewing the progress of Perth Prayer one of the most insightful brothers said we were suffering from “hardening of the artistry” (Charles Slack). By this he meant that our format of worship, testimony and prayer was slipping into a highly predictable pattern, much like that of traditional liturgical churches with their prayer books. After discussion we agreed that today “even” the Pentecostal churches had become very scheduled. Sadly, this is not a recent thing. As a newborn Christian I was amazed at the prophecies, tongues-interpretation etc. that flowed in Sunday services, but soon observed these always came at a set time in our meetings and generally involved the same people. What has happened to the Pauline injunction, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Cor 14:26)? Why is it that after a profound uncontrolled move of the Spirit of God churches of all persuasion slip back into protocols, hierarchies and set structures? The simple answer is that we cannot cope with the reality that human life is experienced as a string of chaotic events. The strict regularity in our churches is a protective mechanism compensating for the disorderly state of the world surrounding us. Until we come to terms with this brutally messy situation we will never recover the vitality of New Testament Christianity.
Pain and Repression
Human trauma starts in Eden. God cast Adam and Eve out of Paradise stripped of glory, ashamed and under the sentence of death (Gen 3:7-24). Reality tumbled further downward when their older son kills the younger. Cast out from “the presence of the LORD” Cain defies God’s decree, instead of becoming a “wanderer on the earth” he builds a city, the epitome of order and stability (Gen 4:14-17). The prevailing foundation for the building of cities, churches, empires, dynasties, denominations and households has ever since been the fear of death and disorder. Paul tells us, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all…who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”, and he highlights how humanity has “exchanged the glory of the immortal God” for many forms of idols (Rom 1:18, 23). At the heart of the great human enterprises of culture and religion is an attempt to suppress all painful conscious awareness of the loss of God’s glory by filling our lives with beautiful and pleasure-inspiring things. Art galleries and “seeker centred” church services have a great deal in common. All fallen human beings want to control life to maximise pleasure and minimise pain; because of its unprecedented technological and economic progress Western society has brought this exercise in management to a new pinnacle of ungodliness. Christ however shows us a totally different way to live.
Jesus refused to be the anticipated Messiah-king who would arrive on a white horse and fundamentally alter the conditions of life in this world as we know it (John 6:15 cf. 16:33). For New Testament Christians tears remain a part of this age (John 11:35; Acts 20:19; Phil 3:18). Christ knew that a world order in rebellion against God could not be remodelled but must utterly perish if it was to be born again (Mark 13:31; 2 Pet 3:10). A new world fit for eternal life requires a new birth that does not spring from the structures of this creation (1 Pet 1:23-25). The radical deconstruction and remaking of this fallen universe requires nothing less than the death and resurrection of the Son of God.
The great saving work of the Spirit is to take all the chaos, suffering of the world and place it on the crucified Christ for us (Heb 9:14). Where human beings crave the connections that produce a sense of control Jesus experiences utter abandonment, ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). Such dereliction means that Father and Son have lost all contact with one another in this god-forsaken creation and Christ experiences nothing but disorder. What we most fear, absolute loss of control, he takes as his own. The fruit of Christ’s willing sacrifice is not misery but a resurrection order that can never perish (1 Cor 15:53; 2 Tim 1:10). It is the vision of the crucified-and-risen Lamb that imparts to the people of God that measure of hope which alone imparts peace in a world disordered and perishing (Rev 5:6). This is the vision which the Church of today must see once more.
The earliest forms of Church service were birthed not from pain avoidance but by a powerful experience of suffering with Christ. The most hymnic and liturgical book in the New Testament is Revelation (4:8-11; 5:9-13; 7:10-12; 15:3-4; 19:6-7). In Revelation it is the order of heaven that breaks into the worshipping Church on earth empowering it to maintain a constant testimony to Jesus in the midst of horrific persecution (Rev 1:9; 12:17; 20:4). This is the very opposite of the escapist mentality that dominates the present Western Church’s desire for stability and order. Whereas most Christian leaders have buckled under social pressure to sanitise and present life as orderly and manageable, Revelation paints reality as it is, gruesome. Its mythic images of beasts, dragons, demons and rivers of blood are the Lamb’s way of keeping his people (us) in touch with the true horrors of a fallen universe. Only as we willingly embrace with naked honesty the suffering-and-victory of the Lamb can we find the courage to remain in touch with the real measure of pain in both the world and the Church. Facing life’s pains through Christ is the first step in experiencing the healing power of his resurrection life (Phil 3:10).
The reality of New Testament Christianity can only break in upon us when we openly and honestly acknowledge the chaotic disorder in our own lives and in our culture. Such “New Testament Christianity” is no idyllic state but one in which both mighty works of God and mighty disarray coexist in the one Church (1 Cor 11:30-32; 12:7-11; Gal 3:1-6). Two thousand years on the lens of the cross still teaches us to let go of control and embrace the chaos within and without as an open door to evangelising our post modern world (2 Cor 7:5). Those cynical young people captivated by the dark mythological world of role playing games, vampire films and apocalyptic scenarios need to see Christianity not as the dated religion of comfortable predictable middle class people but the one worldview that has the guts to face up to the messed up state of their families, friendships and inner lives. The Christ who lives in us is not the least bit intimated by the disarray of modern life, so why should we be (Col 1:27)? As the unpredictability of our lives and meetings together reveal that the heavenly Father is no control freak the “hardening of the artistry” which for so long has plagued the worship expressions of the people of God shall pass away. PTL.
 Think smart phones, social media etc.