Doing church well, but is the Spirit in it?

Learned an annoying but useful new word today:

“afflatus” [Latin: act of blowing or breathing on] a divine imparting of knowledge or power: INSPIRATION (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary)

That’s something I could really use as I sit here, unable to sleep, way before I’d normally be up. A shot of good coffee would help too. Drawn today to *The Pursuit of Man by my old mystical friend A.W. Tozer—no stranger to deep theology and the life of the mind. He’s calling me out to a supernatural experience of the Spirit that goes beyond good doctrine and well-done worship, as vital as that is. The man knew his God and loved His Church enough to confront it head on! But Tozer confounded me with constant use of the above unknown term, afflatus, in his chapter on “The Spirit as Power.” What kind of archaic word is this, known only to Noah Webster, the bibliophiles at Oxford and a few dusty theologians? Turns out it’s the very best possible term in the context of this kind of truth-bomb:

How empty and meaningless is the average church service today [he was writing a few decades ago largely bucking the slide into liberalism]. All the means [of religion] are there; the one ominous weakness is the absence of the Spirit’s power.

That is often the case here some 50 years later. Tozer called for a churchwide self-examination and prayer for an afflatus from above. That’s been necessary at regular intervals in my own life and seems historically to be the way the Church is brought out of her lethargy and carnal blindnesses. For those of us in really traditional churches that pride themselves on the high art of fine music and good preaching, or perhaps those in a liturgical church where deep truth often turns to rote recitation, this trap is especially likely. Tozer continues in that meddlling yet undeniably bull’s-eye way of his:

The form of godliness is there, and often the form is perfected till it is an aesthetic triumph. Music and poetry, art and oratory, symbolic vesture and solemn tones combine to charm the mind of the worshiper, but too often the supernatural afflatus [there’s that word again] is not there… This is nothing less than tragic, and all the more so because it falls within the field of religion where the eternal destinies of men are involved.

I hasten to add that my own fellowship, megachurch Stonebriar Community Church, is not in my mind guilty of empty, man-centered services. Nor will it ever be a liberal-minded shell of what God intends. Pastor Chuck Swindoll and a bevy of Dallas Theological Seminary profs and graduates will never allow that! My church is a rare traditional one, nearly an anachronism, with its presentation of Baroque and Romantic era orchestral music, traditional hymns sung by a robed choir, and now one of the world’s largest organs: fine art to the glory of a magnificent God whose boundless worthiness and creative largesse lay to rest my misgivings about any seeming excess (like a several million dollar organ). Nevertheless, with every strength there is a corresponding danger zone. We (certainly I personally) can easily be numbed into satisfaction with the trappings, tradition, even the God-given, often Spirit-inspired beauty of the service itself—not to mention the worldclass talent of one of Christendom’s best storytelling expositors. Humanly speaking, it’s enough to sit near the pit and hear virtuoso musicians perform classics by Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. No move of the Spirit needed, thank you very much. Beautiful music itself—all to the glory of God, no less—should suffice.

That spiritual formation stuff, the life-in-tune-with-God-not-the-world experience is, well, messy. Let’s just have a professionally prepared service, to the glory of God, do our best and do it Christianly. I regularly feel the pull of this drugged state that can imitate Spirit-filled worship.

God save me from the tepid, limp religious rites that rob me of the mystery, the danger, the unexpected grace of discovery and wonder that is trusting the Spirit to move where and when He chooses. Oh, and please if You will, allow me to keep making transcendent music with highly trained, seasoned and gifted brothers and sisters—by the power, orderliness and loveliness of Your Spirit. Amen!

*Apparently renamed God’s Pursuit of Man in a later printing. Note that it’s the prequel to The Pursuit of God, another classic.


One thought on “Doing church well, but is the Spirit in it?

  1. Thank you for the contents of your blog. My wife and I were commenting on the very issue on the way home from this past Sunday’s service. Worship music done well. Great expository. But, we left longing for the the “afflatus” that we had been privileged to witness during earlier days of our walk.

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