The Presence More Important Than the Program

by A.W.Tozer on February 4, 2020


The Presence More Important Than the Program


It seems to me a significant, if not a positively ominous, thing that the words “program” and “programming” occur so frequently in the language of the church these days.

I am well aware that the words have been borrowed and adapted as expressing more nearly than any others the order of religious items on the agenda of the average church service. But the very fact that they lend themselves to the service so neatly is itself extremely disquieting to the few who still want to follow New Testament order in the public worship of God.

When we compare our present carefully programmed meetings with the New Testament we are reminded of the remark of a famous literary critic after he had read Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey: “It is a beautiful poem, but it is not Homer.” So the fast-paced, highly spiced, entertaining service of today may be a beautiful example of masterful programming—but it is not a Christian service. The two are leagues apart in almost every essential. About the only thing they have in common is the presence of a number of persons in one room. There the similarity ends and glaring dissimilarities begin.

For one thing, the object of attention is not the same in the two meetings. Whether it be a communion service, morning worship, evangelistic meeting, prayer meeting or any other kind of true Christian gathering the center of attention will always be Christ. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mat. 18:20). These words of our Lord set the pattern for all Christian assemblies. Throughout the New Testament after Pentecost one marked characteristic of all Christian meetings was the believers’ preoccupation with their risen Lord.

Even the first Church Council (which might be called a “business” meeting if such a thing really existed in Bible times) was conducted in an atmosphere of great dignity and deep reverence. They talked of God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and the Scriptures and consecrated men who had hazarded their lives for the name of Jesus. They conferred for a while, then drew up a letter of instruction and sent it to the Gentile churches by the hand of Judas and Silas. It is of course unthinkable that such a meeting could have been held without some kind of agenda. Someone had to know what they had gathered to discuss. The important point to be noticed, however, is that proceedings were carried on in an atmosphere of Christian worship. They lost sight of the program in the greater glory of a Presence.

Again, evangelistic and revival services in New Testament times were never divorced from worship. The Book of Acts is a record of evangelism and missionary activity, but the Presence is always there, and never for a moment do those early Christians forget it. Never do the disciples use gimmicks to attract crowds. They count on the power of the Spirit to see them through all the way. They gear their activities to Christ and are content to win or lose along with Him. The notion that they should set up a “programmed” affair and use Jesus as a kind of sponsor never so much as entered their heads. To them Christ was everything. To them He was the object around which all revolved; He was, as He still is, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending.

Christ was everything in the minds of those first believers, and that mighty fact dictated not only their conduct but their inner attitudes as well. Their mood, their demeanor, their expectations sprang out of their childlike conviction that Jesus was in the midst of them as Lord of creation, Head of the Church and High Priest of their profession.

Now, I freely admit that it is impossible to hold a Christian service without an agenda. If order is to be maintained, an order of service must exist somewhere. If two songs are to be sung, someone must know which one is to be sung first, and whether this knowledge is only in someone’s head or has been reduced to paper there is indeed a “program,” however we may dislike to call it that.

The point we make here is that in our times the program has been substituted for the Presence. The program rather than the Lord of glory is the center of attraction. So the most popular gospel church in any city is likely to be the one that offers the most interesting program; that is, the church that can present the most and best features for the enjoyment of the public. These features are programmed so as to keep everything moving and everybody expectant.

The evil of it all lies in its effect upon Christians and churches everywhere. Even persons who may honestly desire to serve God after the pattern shown us in the mount are deceived by the substitution of the program for the Presence, with the result that they never really become mature Christians. Their appetites are debauched and their sense of spiritual values dwarfed at the very beginning of their religious lives. Many of them go on year after year totally unaware that the program they go to see and hear each Sunday is not a Christian thing at all but a pagan concept superimposed upon the church by zealous but misled persons.

We’ll do our churches a lot of good if we each one seek to cultivate the blessed Presence in our services. If we make Christ the supreme and constant object of devotion the program will take its place as a gentle aid to order in the public worship of God. If we fail to do this the program will finally obscure the Light entirely. And no church can afford that.