The great British Bible teacher David Pawson was in fine form. Visiting a rather traditional church with a large choir, he made this statement: “Sentimentality is the worst enemy of the kingdom.” And then he stuck his hand out in the general direction of the choir and said, “That is sentimentality!”
I never ceased to be amazed he was not shot from behind before he finished the rest of his message.
You may argue with the way he made his point, but the point itself is worth considering.
Forgive me for what will probably be the last of my moving illustrations, but when I went to close up the house for the last time, our daughter Julia had written on the message blackboard we had in the kitchen these words: “God bless this house.” I closed the door behind me on the utterly empty house and burst into tears.
It wasn’t because of the house itself, but because of all the memories it contained. Our youngest two, Julia and James, had lived all their lives there.
And yet it brought David Pawson’s comment back to my mind.
Elaine and I chose to leave all those memories behind because we felt the Lord had called us to move on, and we couldn’t obey him unless we did that.
The past can become the worst enemy of the future. We can’t live in the past, no matter how many precious memories there are. And neither can churches.
I have had the privilege of living through many amazing times of God’s visitation. In those times when things are tough, it’s all too easy for my mind to go back to former days and wish I could recreate them.
But what is past is past. What God did then he is not doing now. Proverbs warns us against looking back to the “good old days.” The truth is we don’t need the good old days, we need God to meet us in the present.
Sentimentality may not be the worst enemy of the kingdom, but it is an enemy. Sentimentality makes a god of the way we have done things in the past. It represents the forces of tradition, of “we've always done it that way, even though we don’t know why.” We can replace pews with chairs, but we still go ahead and sit in the same chairs every week. I go to a new gym and realized after four or five visits I am using the same locker every single time (number 358 to be exact!).
Why is this? I think it’s because part of us longs to find security in the static. In an increasingly turbulent world, we seek stability in what does not change. But the kingdom of God is never static - it is always moving forward. If you stay in the same place, you fall behind.
The greatest danger of sentimentality is that it sets up the idea that what we have been used to or become comfortable with is the ultimate standard of how things should be. And that is never the case.
Hebrews says the Word of God is living and active. God’s Word may be unchanging, but it is a rushing stream, not a stagnant pond. The Holy Spirit is continually speaking fresh applications and directions of his timeless truth into the new situations we are facing. If we don’t listen, or if we get stuck in what worked yesterday, we will fail to apply God’s Word accurately to the challenges of today, let alone tomorrow.
This is why I’ve aways argued that when we come to worship - the centre of enormous sentimentality and many a dispute in the church - the words are far more important than the music. Music can be adapted to reach the culture around us. The Reformers, the Wesleys and William Booth did it - why shouldn’t we? But the songs that endure are the ones with Biblical substance at their heart.
So not everything should change. God never changes. His Word never changes. But we need to be careful that the place where we have made ourselves comfortable - whether it be a house, a chair or pew at church, our taste in worship songs, or even a locker at the gym - can always be adjusted to meet the needs of the kingdom today.
Let everything in you that needs to be shaken be shaken, so that his unshakeable kingdom can move forward in your life.