One of the characteristics of the ancient Stoics (Acts 17: 18) was ataraxia -- meaning "freedom from emotions." The word, "Stoic," means "unmoved by joy or grief." The Stoics strove to master their feelings in order not to be affected by even personal tragedies. Their personalities, therefore, were cold and lifeless.
In over-reacting to emotionalism, some of us have taken on the spirit of stoicism. This is obvious in the atmosphere of worship in many places. From beginning to end it is bland, stereotyped and formal, with the environment of a morgue. Worship should be a joyous occasion where the spirit is lifted up and the heart is satisfied. Like David, we should be able to say, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go to the house of the Lord" (Psa. 122:1).
Stoical Singing: -- The leader stands like a statue, head buried in the songbook, dragging along a song that has been worn out by over-exposure. The singing is atrocious! But he works his way through the first song and the second one goes about the same way. After the singing of two songs (routine for years), it is time to stand for prayer.
The third song has an "Amen" at the close, but, no, you cannot sing that as it would show emotion or is too sectarian. I do not know what we are going to do with all the "Amens" in the Bible. The song is finished and the leader retreats to the back of the auditorium where he sits until the invitation song, and then there is a fifteen-second lull between the time the preacher stops and the song begins.
Brethren, song leaders can make or break a service. How uplifting is worship when there is good singing -- songs that warm the heart and brighten our hope. But brethren will allow anyone to lead singing, frequently dressed in untidy clothes, and we wonder why people are getting turned off.
In meetings, some brethren use a different song leader each night, and some are not ready. Churches send hundreds of miles and pay a lot of money to have a good meeting only to hinder it by not having the best man available to lead the singing. Some places would be wise to bring in a song leader for the meeting and do some extra singing. What great meetings could be had if such were done.
Stoical Prayers: -- Sometimes prayers are uttered in rote -- empty sayings that are used over and over (Matt. 6:7). Spontaneity is lacking as phrases are used over and over. We need to ask, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk. 11:1). The brother leading the prayer should speak loudly enough to be heard and when he finishes, there should be some "Amens." Paul said an "Amen" is in order at the giving of thanks, provided we understand what is said (1 Cor. 14:16).
Stoical Observance Of The Lord's Supper: -- At a given moment men come from all directions and line up at the table. A brother, without explanation, gives thanks and the bread is passed. The fruit of the vine is treated similarly. After the Supper, they grab the collection plates, also without explanation, and start down the aisles. By habit the members know what is happening but the visitors are unprepared. Brethren, the greatness of Jesus and his unspeakable love at Calvary deserves more from us than a hurry-up appearance at the table.
Stoical Preaching: -- Preaching, with not a few, has become "talks." There is not much preaching to it. The audience is asleep in five minutes from a monotone and maybe a topic that is as irrelevant as the Pony Express. Preachers need to put some "fire" and enthusiasm in their sermons instead of acting like a Harvard theologian. We are preaching to common people with common problems, hence, we need to gear our preaching to common needs, and preach with all the vim and vitality we can muster.
Have you noticed how gospel preachers are introduced anymore? It's usually, "After the next song, George will bring us a lesson." With such an exuberant introduction, dull singing, a stereotypical prayer and ritualistic communion, the audience is comatose by the time the preacher is ready to preach. What has happened to the affectianate designation of "brother?" And, has the word, "sermon" become obsolete, or the expression "preach to us," antiquated?
From the pulpit the preacher sees stone-faced zombies who sit emotionless. There is no response, no "Amens," no expression of approval when the truth is preached. We have become too austere! Hearing Christ preached should excite us with jubilation and joy.
Thank God for vibrant churches and vigorous Christians who sing with tears of happiness, who pray with fervency, who are touched with gratitude when the Supper is taken, and who appreciate gospel preaching and show it. Give us live, active, caring, Spirit-filled (Eph. 5:18) churches that endeavor to serve the Lord in a world of sin.
By Weldon Warnock, in Searching the Scriptures, Oct. 1984, via. Biblical Insights, Vol. 6, No. 7, July 2006.
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