Recently, I posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter: “A disappointing trait of modern American Evangelicals is their inability to see themselves as merely beggars.” This prompted some to ask me to elaborate on what I meant. The following is that answer.
“We are beggars: this is true.”
These are the last words written by Dr. Martin Luther.
According to a volume of Table Talk, an account of Luther’s sayings and teachings to his students as they sat around his kitchen table over the years. This one statement was the last line of a document that Luther had written upon and placed on his bedside table.
It was the only line of the document written in German, the rest written in Latin.
This was Luther’s confession, and is every man’s confession.
We are beggars before a holy God, with nothing to offer Him.
We have nothing He could ever need, and He has everything we need.
We are so lowly and needy, we wouldn’t even see our need, if He didn’t enlighten us.
As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory:
”… like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
Every good gift from God is for our own benefit, not His. Creation, law, His son, redemption… it’s all given for us because we need it whether we feel as if we need it or not.
This extends, also to the assembly of ourselves, Sunday morning, the worship service.
Have you considered why it’s called a worship service, and not a worship giving, worship bringing, worship lecture, worship class or a worship show?
The Germans have a term for the worship service: Gottesdienst. Also known as God’s Divine Service, where God is the main actor doing the serving, and man is being served.
The order of a historical worship service follows this model:
- Call to Worship
- Reading of the Law
- Promise of the Gospel
- Absolution of Sins
- Preaching of the Word
- Service of Communion
Imagine, if you will, God putting on an apron, rolling up His sleeves preparing to serve you, to wash you, to feed you.
The very one who has no right to be served, who has nothing, is being served and given everything by the one who deserves everything.
- In the call to worship, God is calling sinners unto Himself — into His banquet hall to receive His gifts and nourishment.
- In the law, we are told of our sin and our need for a savior.
- In the promise of the Gospel we are reminded that only God can fix our problem, and we are promised that Christ’s finished work has accomplished just that.
- In the absolution, our sins are forgiven, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit on account of what Christ accomplished on the cross, for us.
- In the preaching of the Word, we are served by having the Gospel proclaimed to us again, pointing us to the cross.
- In the service of Communion, Jesus feeds us his true body and blood which was given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
- In the Benediction, the blessing of God is placed upon you and you are sent back into the world with His forgiveness and His blessing because of His son’s finished work.
Compare this to a modern American Evangelical service:
- A welcome and “thanks for coming.”
- A greeting and hand-shake to those around you.
- A song service lasting way too long, filled with 7-11 songs about me, and what I do for Jesus.
- A message/motivational speech sometimes from the Bible, often times not, about how to do something better… for Jesus… full of law, law and more law, (How to Tell if You’re a Man of Integrity; 7 Steps to be a Better Neighbor; 5 Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life; etc.) and usually ending with a directive about how badly you need to do the thing you should be doing, or question your salvation if you don’t.
- An invitation to be coerced into walking down an aisle usually backed with an emotional song.
- Another thanks for coming.
How do they compare?
One is a service for beggars, and one is a show by beggars who think they’re better than they are.
Is it any wonder why so many modern mega-churches have such high turn-over? Yes their pews are full, but often full of first time visitors, and not so many long-time attendees.
What about those who say they’ve had it with church; those who hate going because they don’t see the point; tired of the same old songs about ‘me’; tired of the never-ending building campaigns; tired of being coerced, week after week by emotional stories and sappy songs?
Is the answer to stop going to church? That you don’t need it anymore? That you’ve matured and moved on past the same ole’ weekly drivel?
Or is the answer to look back to what Christ instituted and told his apostles to do for his sheep?
Why are we always looking for something new, and then when we concoct that new thing, and it doesn’t satisfy us, we look for something else new?
Instead, shouldn’t we trust what the very one who created us says we need?
Only when we admit we’re beggars, that we have nothing to offer, and that what our soul cries out for and needs is to hear of Jesus, and how he’s already done it all for us, will we ever find rest for our weary soul.
We need to hear that our greatest problem, sin, has been taken care of.
We need to be told that our sins are forgiven.
We need to be washed with his Word.
We need to be fed with his true body and blood.
We need to be blessed by the one for whom our soul hungers for.
And we need this every single week because God, the creator of our soul has told us that we need it.
“We are beggars: this is true.”