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Monday, January 29, 2007

Restoring the Ichabod Church to its Former Glory

Genesis 28:10-21, 35:6-7 & 1st Samuel 4:3-5:2

Jacob had already experienced God. Like many of us, he grew up with a religious upbringing. And he even knew what it was like to experience God for himself. As he lay on the stone, he saw the vision of the angels ascending and descending. Awake and trembling, he dubbed the place “Beth-El” which means, “The House of God”. He was, as of this moment, a church-goer, who was acutely aware of the presence of the church. He was no longer just coat-tailing his father’s and grandfather’s legacy. He knew that a supernatural Providence had crashed in on his reality. But he still needed another experience.

Many of us are tempted to let the church be central to our Christian lives. We are especially susceptible to this if fellowship and corporate worship are the things we are naturally inclined to. And to be honest, most Christians are inclined thus. Most Christians place faithful church attendance as a higher priority than regular, in-depth Bible study and quality, isolated prayer-time. Most Christians chisel out adequate time to attend at least one weekly service and the majority of true born-again believers attend every service their respective church offers. And yet, the vast majority neglect to spend quality, and quantity, of time in prayer and the studying of Scripture.

Preachers today even focus on the necessity of church-attendance at the expense of other Christian disciplines. Pulpit rebukes for being inadequately fluent in the scriptures are getting rare, as is reprimands for neglecting to get into the presence of Christ daily. But the quantity and vehemence of rebukes for neglecting church attendance are still strong. But this over-emphasis can lead to something dangerous.

Jacob knew the House of God, but he did not yet know the God of the House. Granted, they are located in the same spot, but different actions are required to acquire the apparatus to see each. The vision of the ladder gave Jacob the understanding to recognize, “… this fearful and wonderful place must be none other than the house of God.” simply because he saw celestial creatures about their business. But when he was fleeing Esau, he called the very same place, El-Beth-El, “The God of the House” in Genesis 35:7 because, “there God appeared unto him.” It is not enough for Christians to see The House of God, they must see the God of the House. You see, the current disproportionate emphasis on the church that is prevalent today can cause what I feel is the largest case of idolatry among contemporary Christians, Worship of the Church.

Before you snap to disagreement with me, ask yourself these questions. How do I inquire if someone is in the will of God or not, or if they are saved or not? Do not most Christians ask, “Are they in church?” as if being “in church” automatically made them in alignment with Heaven’s agenda? But this is not the case. Church attendance, and church participation, is not what makes a man or woman in the will of God. Church attendance is a mandated, and good, practice for Christians. It is the over-emphasis that I hold disdain for.

Jacob’s case is the most direct example I can find in scripture, but there is another that is more subtle. It is in the story of Eli the priest just before the reign of King Saul. Eli neglected to foster discipline and order in his sons, who perpetually plagued him with their indiscretions. Being a priest, he knew the Ark of the Covenant was the manifestation of God’s presence and that when the Ark preceded the army to war, the army couldn’t lose. One day, in Eli’s old age, the dreaded thing happened. The candle (representing the Holy Ghost) went out, and The Ark was taken by the opposing army. At the shock of the news, a blind and elderly Eli fell dead, and a child was given a very morbid name, “Ichabod”. Ichabod essentially means, “The glory of the Lord has departed.”

Shortly after the ark was taken, Saul was instilled as king. Saul obeyed God at first, but never asked God about the ark. He never thought, “Well, now that I am king, perhaps God wants the Glory to come back to Israel. Maybe the first thing God wants me to do is reclaim the Ark and bring the glory back to Israel.” Instead Saul sought the prestige and the reputation commonly associated with being king. He was more worried about feeding his men than obeying God. He let Agag the king of the Amalekites live, and allowed some of the cattle to live in order to feed his army. Those who have sympathy for Saul’s plight must realize that his heart wasn’t right in the first place. He wanted the prestige, and missed the principle.

Keep in mind that in the camp, the sacrifice didn’t cease. The Levitical priesthood went along just as it always did since being instilled by Moses. All the priests did the sacrifices and wore their ordained garments. They washed their hands and feet and burnt the fat. They dipped the blood and carried the coals from the sacrificial alter to the incense alter. But there was no Ark. There was no glory. It was the vain observance of ordinances. All the obedience in the world is useless unless the Ark is in the tabernacle.

This is a remarkable picture of the today’s church. To watch the church, it looks very much the same. Songs are sung, preachers preach, and people go through all the motions. But where is the glory that followed the original church? Appearance-wise, it looks the same, but where is the impact? I do not necessarily mean miracles. When Elijah passed Elisha, he merely got a touch of Elijah’s mantle, and it whetted Elisha’s hunger for righteousness so much, that it led him to ask for a double-portion in the end. Why isn’t the world being touched with our mantle, why aren’t they saying to us, “If I could get a double-portion of what you have, I’ll be satisfied.”

King David had the right idea. As soon as he assumed the Kingdom, he wasn’t concerned right away with conquering kingdoms and acquiring the land promised to his forefathers the way Saul was… No… He wanted the glory back. His priority was getting the Glory of God back into the camp. He knew that Beth-El needed to be El-Beth-El again. He needed the God to be in the House of God again.

Next time you are in church, do this. Look around and ask yourself, how many of these people have a real, vibrant, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ? How many are here based on a sense of obligation or at the urging of family tradition (I was raised in church) How many see this place as Beth-El and how many see this place as El-Beth-El. Don’t do this long, since church is the place where you are supposed to focus on man the least. But take a little time and ask yourself these questions, then ask the question regarding yourself. Why do I go to church? Why do I really go to church? Routine? Family? Friends? Looking for a mate?

Bring the glory back into the camp. The sacrifices and obedience will have no meaning unless the God of the House is in the House of God.

Written by Scott Conway

Scott's Blog: Aslan's Country

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