Why public worship is better than private worship

by David Murray

If you had the choice between private Bible reading and prayer, or going to church, which would you choose?

The Puritans would choose church.

Surprising isn’t it. We all know the Puritans’ welcome emphasis on private devotion and personal godliness. But they actually rated public worship even higher. For example, David Clarkson, colleague and successor to John Owen, preached a sermon on Psalm 87v2 entitled Public worship to be preferred before private, and gave 12 reasons why:

1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private.
God is glorified by us when we acknowledge that He is glorious, and He is most glorified when this acknowledgement is most public.

2. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private.
He is present with his people in the use of public worship in a special way: more effectually, constantly, and intimately.

3. God manifests himself more clearly in public worship than in private.
For example, in Revelation, Christ is manifested “in the midst of the churches.”

4. There is more spiritual advantage in the use of public worship.
Whatever spiritual benefit is to be found in private duties, that, and much more may be expected from public worship when rightly used.

5. Public worship is more edifying than private.
In private you provide for your own good, but in public you do good both to yourselves and others.

6. Public worship is a better security against apostasy than private.
He who lacks or reject public worship, whatever private means he enjoy, is in danger of apostasy.

7. The Lord works his greatest works in public worship.
Conversion, regeneration, etc., are usually accomplished through public means.

8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven.
In the Bible’s depictions of heaven, there is nothing done in private, nothing in secret; all the worship of that glorious company is public.

9. The most renowned servants of God have preferred public worship before private.
The Lord did not withdraw from public ordinances, though they were corrupt. Public worship was more precious to the apostles than their safety, liberty, and lives

10. Public worship is the best means for procuring the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments.

11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship.
Private worship was required of, and performed by Adam and his posterity, even in a sinless state, but the public preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments have a necessary dependence on the death of Christ.

12. The promises of God are given more to public worship than to private.
There are more promises to public than to private worship, and even the promises that seem to be made to private duties are applicable and more powerful for public worship.

You might want to print this out and put it beside your alarm clock for next Sunday morning.

Principles For Living God’s Glory

by John MacArthur

1.  The Edification Principle: Will this activity produce spiritual benefits?
In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul explained that “all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.  All things are lawful, but not all things edify.”… So based on this verse, believers should ask themselves, “Will doing this activity enhance my spiritual life and the spiritual lives of others?  Will it cultivate godliness in me and in them?  WIll it build us up spiritually?”  If not, then is it really a wise choice?
2.  The Enslavement Principle:  Will this activity lead to spiritual bondage?
…Don’t allow yourself to become addicted or enslaved to that which is sinful or even just potentially destructive.  If what you are considering can be habit-forming, why pursue it?  Don’t allow yourself to be in bondage to anything or anyone.  You are a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.
3.  The Exposure Principle:  Will this activity expose my mind or body to defilement?
Speaking specifically of sexual immorality, Paul commanded the Corinthians to avoid anything that might defile them.  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Elsewhere, he told the Ephesians to reprove and avoid the sensual deeds that characterize the wicked, “for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret” (Ephesians 5:12).  Instead, believers are to dwell on those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, praiseworthy, and of good repute (Philippians 4:8).  So ask yourself if the decision you are about to make will expose you to the sinful, lewd, and debauched elements of fallen society.  If it will, then stay away from it. … Thus, anything that defiles your body or pollutes your mind ought to be avoided.
4.  The Esteem Principle:  Will this activity benefit others, or cause them to stumble?
[1 Corinthians 8:8-9, 12-13; Philippians 2:1-5]
… If you know that your choice – what you consider “in bounds” and approved by God – will cause another Christian to stumble and sin, love that brother or sister enough to restrict your own freedom.  That is not very popular in our self-absorbed society, but it is biblical.
5.  The Evangelism Principle:  Will this activity further the cause of the gospel?
… Christians should always consider how their actions will affect their witness to a watching world. … Whether or not you are aware of it, what you allow or disallow in your behavior affects your witness for Christ.  It is an issue of testimony – what your life says about God – to the friends, relatives, coworkers, neighbors, or even strangers who might be watching you.  Your testimony either tells the truth about God, or it tells a lie.  The choices you make in the gray areas should reflect your concern not to bring offense to God’s reputation but to bring Him praise instead.
6.  The Ethics Principle:  Will this activity violate my conscience?
… “He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).  We sin if we act in any way that goes contrary to the convictions of our own faith and good conscience. … Never train yourself to violate your conscience.  If your conscience is troubled by what you are thinking about doing, don’t do it.  If you are not sure about it, don’t do it.  It is hard to overstate the value of a clear conscience, and it is definitely worth keeping your conscience clear so that your relationship with God will not be hindered. (cf. Psalm 66:18).
7.  The Exaltation Principle: Will this activity bring glory to God?
The summary and goal of the aforementioned six principles is found in this one.  Paul declared, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). … Our heart’s cry is to glorify our Lord and Savior with our lives.  So when it comes to the gray areas, think about your decision.  Will God be glorified, praised, and exalted?  We genuinely honor Him when we make choices that are consistent with the principles found in His Word.  On the flip side, when we make foolish and sinful choices, our actions dishonor Him.  If an activity will glorify God, then do it.  It if won’t, or if it is questionable, then do something else.
A Few More Thoughts About the World of Entertainment.
The Seven principles we’ve examined can apply to every gray area in life, including those related to entertainment, amusement, and leisure.  At the same time, however, there are some additional principles that are specifically helpful in considering how we choose to be entertained.  …
The Lordship of Christ Demands Good Stewardship
…[A]sk yourself how much real benefit you receive by watching television and movies or playing video games, and how that compares to the time you spend in spiritual pursuits.  How much money do you spend on temporal amusements, and how does that relate to your eternal investments?  How hard do you labor not to advance your own agenda but to further the work of Christ’s kingdom?  These are heart questions every believer needs to ask.  As stewards of the King (Matthew 25:14-30), we have been called to so much more than our own entertainment.
The Lordship of Christ Denounces Impurity and Worldliness
Ephesians 5:3-4 has excellent words in this regard: “Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”  Those two verses alone rule out much of what passes as entertainment in our world today – sexual immorality and impurity, dirty jokes and silly talk, and anything that promotes greed or undermines the giving of thanks.  That list is a pretty good summary of what is wrong with much of contemporary American media.
Movies, for example, are usually rated according to language, violence, sexual content, and thematic elements.  Many of them are not just non-Christian, they are anti-Christian. I don’t mean that they openly attack the Christian faith [often they do, though].  But at least in some cases they might as well.  They employ filthy language and lewd humor…; they glorify violence rather than peace…; they glamorize lust and immorality rather than holiness…; they instill feelings of discontentment and desire rather than thankfulness…; and they promote worldviews that are antithetical to biblical Christianity….  Does this mean a Christian should never watch movies?  Not necessarily.  But we must be discriminating about the things we allow in our minds.  We are called to renew our minds…. When we continually fill our minds with the filth of this world, we do ourselves a great spiritual disservice.
The Lordship of Christ Determines Right Priorities
Our media-driven culture has redefined the pursuit of happiness.  The American Dream – which used to consist of a loving family, a nice house, a white picket fence – now includes instant fame, endless riches, easy romance, and the blank-check promise that anyone can achieve his or her dreams.  Reality television and the rise of the Internet are perhaps somewhat to blame for this phenomenon.  But ultimately the problem lies in the human heart.
We were created to long for satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy, and those desires are good in and of themselves.  But our fallen world tries to meet those desires with money, romance, fame, and other earthly pleasures.  Yet temporal things can never bring lasting satisfaction to a heart that was created to find its ultimate joy in God. …
Christians should not allow entertainment to define their understanding of happiness, romance, modesty, masculinity, success, fulfillment, justice, or anything else.  The Word and the Spirit should shape our worldview, not Hollywood.  Sadly, however, many Christians today are more affected by the movies they watch than the sermons they hear.  They show more enthusiasm for video games or television sporting events than they do for pursuing Christlikeness.  They fill their minds with the sounds of talk radio or perhaps the latest hit albums rather than letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within them.  Deep down, they enjoy exploring the pleasures of the world – even if only vicariously – as they watch actors play out scenes in which sinful pursuits are seemingly rewarded with happiness.  The irony, of course, is than in real life those same actors are just as miserable as everyone else, a sobering reality that keeps supermarket tabloids in business.
Our priorities, passions, plans, and pursuits must be grounded in our love for Jesus Christ.  Only in Him can we find true satisfaction….
The Lordship of Christ Defines a Proper Perspective
Right priorities and godly passions stem out of a proper perspective – a heavenly mind-set that understands eternal realities and interprets this life accordingly.  If this world were all there was, we would be wise to amass treasure and search for happiness in the here and now.  But that is not reality.  This world is not all there is.
Reality, as revealed by the truth of Scripture, encompasses much more than the temporal pleasures, priorities, and pursuits of this world.  God is real; His Word is real; heaven and hell are real; the gospel is real; Jesus is real; His death, resurrection, and ascension are all real, as is the fact that He will soon be coming back.  The brevity of this life is real; the certainty of death is real; the promise of future reward is real; and the threat of eternal destruction is also real.  In contrast, the world of entertainment is not real.  In fact, most entertainment is about escaping from reality, not portraying it accurately.
As Christians, our worldview must be grounded in reality, not in the imaginary worlds of Hollywood.  People can deny reality, and the can distract themselves with fantasy, but they cannot change the fact that one day they will stand before God (Hebrews 9:27).  At that moment, the riches, pleasures, and accomplishments of this world will be of no use to them.
Right Thinking In A World Gone Wrong, pp. 18-27

Agape love is decisive and determined action

From The Truth Project

Agape love is decisive and determined action. It’s not enough to cultivate feelings of compassion for the needy. Instead, we must have the humility and courage to reach out. Only in this way can we become faithful imitators of our Lord and Master.”

Is the church failing us?

by G.S. West

It bothers me when Christians say, ‘The church has failed us’, as if it is the board of directors at the Southern Baptist Convention, the Vatican—or whomever—is responsible for failing to make the church into what the church ought to be. ‘’Church’ might be a denomination, a building, or an organized group of believers, but THE Church consists of followers of Jesus Christ who have been saved by grace through faith in him—the ‘body of Christ’. Instead of pointing fingers and saying the ‘church’ has failed at this or that, we might want to pause and take a hard look at ourselves first. Is the church failing us or are we failing the church? 

“You never let go”

Adapted from West Main Baptist Church’s blog by Ben


Have you considered Colossians 1:15-17 lately?  It says:

  • He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Friend, if you are in Christ, that is the Lord and Savior who has you firmly in His benevolent grasp.  Since He holds all things together, you’d better believe that He upholds you.  Today’s Wednesday worship offering reminds us of this truth.

“You Never Let Go” was written in 2005 by Matt and Beth Redman and published through Thankyou Music.  It was first released in Redman’s 2006 album “Beautiful News” (listen to Redman’s version here) and has been covered by Christian artists such as Rebecca St. James, Stellar Kart, and Jeremy Camp.

I’ve really enjoyed worshiping the Lord with this song because it puts hope under my feet that God will not let my foot slip, even in the treacherous places (Ps 66:9).  What a firm and loving grip He has on me!!

Worship the Lord today along with Stellar Kart as they lead us in their version of “You Never Let Go.”


Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know you are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
We’ll live to know You here on the earth

I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You, still I will praise You


Verse 1 starts out with an allusion to the beautiful, faith-building 23rd Psalm and reminds us that God is always with us, which should erase fear.

The pre-chorus asks the same question that the 27th Psalm asks:  whom shall I fear?  The answer to the rhetorical question is “Nobody, if God is on your side.”

Verse 2 reminds us of the truth told in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  The verse and bridge go on to encourage us to continue in faithful following until our Deliverer returns.  Praise Him ever the more strongly until that day!

The chorus breaks in celebrating that God has ahold of us at every moment of life.  We often do not think much about His sovereign grasp in the calm and in the highs and often wonder where He is in the storm and in the lows, but in both He’s there, never leaving us or forsaking us.  What a blessing He is to us!

May this song encourage you and lead you to consider all the ways God has blessed you through good and tumultuous times.  He’ll never let you go!!

God is not lonely, bored, or selfish

by Fred Sanders

Just think of the many unworthy ideas and attitudes about God that the doctrine of the Trinity can help us name, reject, and even deride. The doctrine of the Trinity expels unworthy ideas about the perfection of God’s life. It is unworthy to think that God without us is lonely or bored. God is not looking something to do in the happy land of the Trinity. God did not create the world in order to fill the drafty mansion of heaven with the pitter-patter of little feet. God is not pining away for companionship in a lonesome heaven.

Good theological reflection, taking its lead from the Bible, would always reject the idea of divine loneliness or boredom. But as soon as you entertain the truth of the doctrine of the ontological Trinity, the unworthiness of the idea of a lonely or bored God becomes patently obvious. The triune God is one, but not solitary. Nothing that God does in creation or redemption is done because God lacked employment and occupation. The incarnation of the Son of God was not undertaken as an excellent adventure to provide diversion from the dullness of being the eternal Son. All these ideas are unworthy of God, as the doctrine of the Trinity makes obvious.

….God is not lonely, bored, or selfish. But if we turned it around and said it in a positive way, we would simply say that God is lvoe. Not by conincidence, this is also how the Bible puts it. This is what the Bible helps us learn with greater precision: that God is love. The triune God is a love that is infinitely high above you, eternally preceding you, and welcoming you in.

The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, pp. 95-96

Our greatest need is not better community

by Larry Crabb

Let’s be clear. Our greatest need is not better community in our small groups or better preaching from our pulpits. Our greatest challenge is not to Christianize secular culture into accepting family values and biblical morals.

Our greatest need is for a fresh encounter with God that exposes sin as repulsive and reveals as repulsive sin our determination to make this life work, no matter how spiritually we may go about it.

The Pressure’s Off, P 51

Seven Obstacles of Spiritual Maturity

I read a very challenging book a few weeks ago. Here is a blog about that same book by Shane Lems at The Reformed Reader blog:

 I’ve been making my way through this outstanding book: Love God with All Your Mind by J. P. Moreland (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1997).  Among other things, I appreciated Moreland’s discussion of the “seven traits of the empty self” that are so prevalent in many Westerners today.  And these seven traits, Moreland argues, undermine and stand in the way of spiritual growth and maturity.  In other words, if we as Christians want to grow in Christian maturity, we’ll have to fight obstacles like these.  This post is a bit longer than usual, but I  urge you to take a moment to read these seven – they are very astute observations.

1) The empty self is inordinately individualistic.  …The empty self-populating American culture is a self-contained individual who defines his or her own life goals, values, and interests as though he or she were a human atom, isolated from others with little need or responsibility to live for the concerns of a broader community.  Self-contained individuals do their own thing and seek to create meaning by looking within their own selves.

2) The empty self is infantile.  It is widely recognized that adolescent personality traits are staying with people longer today than in earlier generations, sometimes manifesting themselves into the early thirties.  Created by a culture filled with pop psychology, schools and media that usurp parental authority, and television ads that seem to treat everyone like a teenager, the infantile part of the empty self needs instant gratification, comfort, and soothing. …Boredom is the greatest evil, amusement the greatest good.

3) The empty self is narcissistic.  Narcissism is an inordinate and exclusive sense of self-infatuation in which the individual is preoccupied with his or her own self-interest and personal fulfillment.  The narcissist evaluates the local church, the right books to read, and the other religious practices worthy of his or her time on the basis of how they will further his or her own agenda.  God becomes another tool in a narcissistic bag of tricks….

4) The empty self is passive.  The couch potato is the role model for the empty self, and without question, modern Americans are becoming increasingly passive in their approach to life.  We let other people do our living and thinking for us.  From watching television to listening to sermons, our primary agenda is to be amused and entertained.  Such an individual increasingly becomes a shriveled self with less and less ability to be proactive and take control of life.

5) The empty self is sensate (preoccupied with sensations).  As Christopher Lasch has observed, ‘Modern life is…thoroughly mediated by electronic images.’  Lasch goes on to point out that today, we make decisions and even judge what is and is not real on the basis of sense images.  If it’s on TV, it’s real.  Advertisements sell us things based on images, not on thoughtful content about a product.  The widespread emergence of the sensate self has caused us to be shallow, small-souled people.

6) The empty self has lost the art of developing an interior life.  …The self used to be defined in terms of internal traits of virtue and morality, and the successful person, the person of honor and reputation, was the person with deep character. [Today], however, the self has come to be defined in terms of external factors – the ability to project a pleasurable, powerful personality and the possession of consumer goods – and the quest for celebrity status, image, pleasure, and power has become the preoccupation of a self so defined.

7) The empty self is hurried and busy.  …The empty self is a hurried, busy self gorged with activities and noise. …A frenzied pace of life emerges to keep the pain and emptiness suppressed.  One must jump from one activity to another and not be exposed to quite for very long or the emptiness will become apparent.  Such a lifestyle creates a deep sense of fatigue in which passivity takes over.

Moreland is exactly right.  These are some brilliant observations about the “empty selves” of our culture.  He wrote these observations 15 years ago – these traits seem to be more pronounced today.  These are indeed the things which stand in the way of growing in Christian maturity – these are the things that stand in the way of the renewing of the mind, the taking up of our cross, denying ourselves, and fighting the good fight of faith on the narrow road to the Celestial city.  Get this book (Love God with All Your Mind),reflect on these seven traits (Moreland says more about them), and fight against them in your own life.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

We’re not reading the Bible (and why it’s a problem)

from Communicate Jesus blog.

The Bible has never been more accessible, but this doesn’t mean we’re reading it more than ever.

Daily time with God is critical to the Christian life.

Jesus said: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Matthew 4:4

We need God’s word like we need food. We simply can’t live without it. What happens when you don’t eat? You’re starved, lacking in energy, irritable, distracted, prone to temptation, tired.

Christianity is about a relationship with God. God speaks to us in different ways, but primarily through His word. Scarily, in recent research, when Christians were asked “How does God speak to you?” the number one response was: “Through my pastor”. Perhaps this is because this is the only time of the week when people spend time in God’s word. Perhaps even more scarily, the Bible came in at number 7.

More and more research is empirically proving what God has told us (and what Christians say they believe) – namely, the Bible is essential for Christian growth.

  • The Center for Bible Engagement discovered that the number one thing you can do for yourself spiritually is read the Bible 4 times a week or more. Read is this frequently, and your life looks completely different to those who don’t read the Bible, or read it less than that.
  • survey of 1,000 churches came up with this conclusion (via an ice-cream illustration): ”If your local ice cream parlor could sell only one flavor, it would sell vanilla. This isn’t just because vanilla ice cream is the most popular flavor, although that is true. It’s because vanilla ice cream is hugely popular; in fact, it’s twice as popular as the second favorite flavor, which is chocolate. In turn, chocolate is twice as popular as any other ice cream flavor available. So your ice cream parlor would choose vanilla. Hands down. No contest.

Here’s the core discovery from the survey:

“Church pastors have an equally compelling option. If they could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice would be equally clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives…Reflection on Scripture is the spiritual equivalent of vanilla ice cream because its influence on spiritual growth far exceeds the potential impact of other catalysts.”

I am convicted that there is nothing more valuable for my life, and the lives of other Christians than spending time with God, in His word each day.

However, we’re not doing this. According to the Bible Society, 2 out of 10 Australian Christians are engaging with God on a daily basis. This isn’t 2 out of 10 Australians. This is 20% of Australian Christians!

I feel convicted that increasing the number of Christians who spend time with God each day is the single most beneficial pursuit for our churches. More than more small groups. Or better music. Or outreach programs. It is essential to the spiritual growth of our church members (perhaps the key means, with prayer, of “presenting them mature in Christ”) and the health of our church.

This living relationship with God is the source from which the fountain of Christian fruit (to mix analogies) flows:

  • Giving is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
  • Serving is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
  • Evangelism is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
  • Loving others is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.

It all flows from knowing God and loving Him. If there isn’t an abundant source, there isn’t a fountain. Sure, you might get dribbles or the odd spurt, but these aren’t reliable or sustainable. Worse, without an abundant source, there is a real danger that ‘fruit’ is manufactured through other means – guilt, tradition, etc. The only catalyst we want for fruit-bearing is a daily connection to the source (or, to use the language of John 15 – the vine).

For example, we want people to give because they know God and have understood that God has been exceedingly generous to them, that God will supply all their needs (and more) and it’s their joy to use all they have to make Him know. God wants cheerful, not reluctant givers.

We can encourage people to invite their friends to church or evangelistic events, but if they aren’t fostering a personal relationship with God:

  • They won’t be convicted of the glory of God (God is worthy of people following him).
  • They won’t be convicted of the urgency and sufficiency of the gospel (there is only one way, and people need to repent – urgently).
  • They won’t be empowered to boldly speak about their faith.

But more than an inner conviction:

  • Their lives won’t be transformed and look any different to those around them. This ordinary life won’t commend the gospel to their friends and colleagues. It won’t prompt questions about the hope that they have.

Put simply, unless people are walking closely with God each day, they won’t want to share the gospel with their friends, and their friends won’t be interested in hearing about it from them.

Now I recommend you go to the site and read some of the discussion, too.


When Worship is Wrong

Here is a thought-provoking article from Christianity Today re-posted from Out Of Ur blog:

When Worship is Wrong

A new study finds large worship gatherings can be chemically addictive, and why it is a serious problem for the church.

by Skye Jethani

In 1515, Michelangelo completed a sculpture of Moses. The marble figure depicts an old but very muscular Moses with the Ten Commandments under his arm and a billowing beard. But tourists are often shocked to see what appear to be devilish horns protruding from Moses’ head.

The horns can be traced to a mistranslation of the Bible in the 5th Century. The story from Exodus 34 says that after Moses met with the Lord on Mount Sinai, the people were afraid because, “the skin of his face shone.” The Hebrew word for a ray or beam of light was mistranslated into Latin as “horns.” So, when Michelangelo read his Bible he believed the people were frightened because Moses had grown horns while meeting with God on the mountain.

Today we no longer depict Moses with horns, but a misunderstanding of his mountaintop experience remains all too common. According to the Apostle Paul in the 2 Corinthians 3, Moses did not hide his face because the people were frightened, but to hide the fact that the glory of God was fading away. Whatever transformation he experienced in God’s presence on the mountain was temporary, and the veil hid its transient nature. Moses’ mountaintop experience was genuine, glorious, and full of God’s presence-but it did not bring lasting transformation.

Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multimedia theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. Many of us ascend this mountain every Sunday morning wanting to have an experience with God, and many of us leave with a degree of genuine transformation. We feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.”

No doubt many, like Moses, have an authentic encounter with God through these events. But new research indicates another explanation for our spiritual highs.A University of Washington study has found that megachurch worship experiences actually trigger an “oxytocin cocktail” in the brain that can become chemically addictive. The same has been found at large sporting events and concerts, but attenders to these gatherings don’t usually attribute the “high” to God.

“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshipers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the study.

The problem with these mountaintop experiences, whether legitimate (like Moses’) or fabricated, is that the transformation does not last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunchtime, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event we were certain would change our lives forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. And to hide the lack of genuine transformation, we mask the inglorious truth of our lives behind a veil, a façade of Christian merchandise or busyness, until we can ascend the mountain again and be recharged.

This pursuit of transformation by consuming external experiences creates worship junkies who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that will not fade. As one church member interviewed for the University of Washington study said, “God’s love becomes … such a drug that you can’t wait to come get your next hit. … You can’t wait to get involved to get the high from God.” In response, churches are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations. But if lasting transformation is our goal, mountaintops–even God-ordained ones–will never suffice.

The New Testament emphasizes a different model of transformation. Rather than seeking external experiences, Jesus and his Apostles speak of an internal communion with God through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Contrasting the fading glory that Moses experienced on Sinai, the Apostle Paul says that we are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another,” and that this comes from the Spirit. This transformation is not from the outside working in, but from the inside working out. To encounter the glory of God no longer requires ascending a mountain, but learning to embrace a divine mystery-”Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Why then are we so tempted to abandon the new covenant, inside-out model of transformation for the inferior old covenant, outside-in strategy? The reason is simple–an internal communion with God through the Spirit cannot be packaged, commoditized, and marketed to religious consumers. It is far easier for us to create mountains than shepherd people toward the inner life of divine communion.

The problem, of course, is not our gatherings, but what we expect from them. If we have an ongoing, internal communion with Christ, then our gatherings will be where we reveal the continual worship that marks our lives. However, if we have no real communion with Christ through his Spirit, we will come to worship seeking a transient dose of glory to carry us along, and we will demand these external events to permanently transform us–something God never intended them to do. We may draw people to our mountaintops with promises of transformation and a genuine encounter with God, but we must ask whether they leave these experiences radiating the unfading glory of the Lord, or merely sprouting the horns of consumerism.