Affections Inside Out

When we apply the various elements of worship prescribed in the New Testament to our corporate meetings, we have to decide how to order and combine these elements.

For example, we know Scripture tells us to pray. Should we have someone praying a spontaneous, unrehearsed prayer, or someone reading a prayer from a prayer book? Should we have a pianist playing mood music in the background while someone prays, or should it be quiet?
We know Scripture tells us to sing. Should we sing hymns to the power of an organ, or modern ‘choruses’ to the power of a drum? Should we do both?
We know the Word must be preached. Should the preacher dress soberly, or casually?
We know we must assemble. How should we arrange or decorate the space consecrated for worship?

The answers to these questions are not found in the pages of Scripture. A conservative’s answer to these questions will be rooted in the affections.
Ordinate affections are a way of knowing and understanding. The fear of the Lord (an affection) is the beginning of wisdom (a way of knowing) – Proverbs 9:10. Ordinate affections guide us in the application of the circumstances of worship. In other words, when you feel correctly, you will know best how to answer these questions.

This phenomenon can be illustrated in a number of ways. One is the matter of propriety and modesty. Manners and politeness cannot be explained objectively, they must be sensed and felt within a community of polite people. Try explaining to a barbarian why a loud shhlurrping sound is not fitting at table, or why bodily sounds ought to be muffled. He will argue such things are natural; why suppress them? Some things cannot be explained, they must be felt.

Try explaining to a profane man that he is using God’s name in vain with his exclamations referring to the Deity, damnation or glorification. He will ask for a chapter and verse – and you will lack one. The fourth commandment’s application is not spelt out – it must be sensed, and applied.

Try explaining to a nudist that nudity is obscene. He will ask you to define obscene and to explain the process by which the revealing of the human body becomes obscene. It cannot be explained this way – it must be felt.

The conclusion is seemingly paradoxical. The polite man knows politeness, but until the rude man becomes polite, he cannot know it. The reverent man knows reverence; the irreverent man thinks his desecration of sacred things is, in fact, quite respectful.

The Christian rocker cannot see the incongruity of using musical rape of the senses as worship, until he becomes reverent. The clowning pastor cannot see the sacrilege of kidding about eternal matters, until he becomes sober. The yawning parishioner cannot see the profanity of dressing like a beachcomber when presenting himself for worship, until he becomes humble. The understanding follows the bowing of the heart, not the other way around.

The principle is simple:

“For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” (Mark 4:25)

A couple of applications:

First, we have no answer to the person who wants to arrange the circumstances of worship based on measurable criteria, except to point them to Proverbs 9:10. Let them accuse us of being subjective or even evasive, or ‘being led by your feelings, not by Scripture’. So be it. Let us pray they will come in from the outside.

Second, we must make the affections a matter of serious reflection. We can be no wiser than our affections. To put it another way, our worship can be no better than we are. People with ordinate affection love God ordinately. We must work on being on the inside of where God wants us, so as to judge correctly.

Far be it from us to embrace the pseudo-conservatism that says we should “not be so emotional”. On the contrary, we should give full attention to the wide range of affections, their nuances, gradations and shades. Instead of generalising, we ought to give attention to the subtlety of this matter.

It may be the difference between profane and God-pleasing worship.

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