Humanism and existentialism dominate the current American worldview, whether or not we’re cognizant of it. Hopefully, this should not be mysterious to the Christian, for when attempting to communicate the gospel to non-believers, the chief obstacle is often selfishness born of pride. Humans, in general, are simply unwilling to hear news that there is someone more important than the self, but Americans have really pushed themselves to to the top of the hierarchy despite having “Christian” leanings, statistically speaking.
It might be beneficial to look at some history for context. In the 17th and 18th centuries, several prominent thinkers shirked traditional lines of thought, giving up the possibility of a deity, or at least limiting its influence on earth and upon individuals. We’ve since labeled this the “Age of Enlightenment” in history classes. Meanwhile, America was busy being Protestant buttfaces, punching British ideologies in the face and doing church like Luther wanted all along. Good stuff, if you ask me. But it took a little bit longer for the far West to “catch on” to the European movement (which has resulted in rampant atheism in that continent), but this sort of thing is seeping into our churches without our notice right now.
If you’re not sure this is for real, check out 2014’s best-selling “Christian” books (along with some clever commentary from adam4d)*. The modern church, ultimately, is not as concerned about worshiping God as much as they’re concerned about bettering and exalting the self, achieving “peace” through personal means, and getting everything they want while they’re still alive.
*[I checked adam4d’s source, which is a real-time list; the rankings have since adjusted based on updated sales. It’s possible that, in a few months, the same books he cites will not be listed on the charts at all, giving way to other trendy best-sellers.]
These ideas, while both widely accepted by mainstream Christianity and respected by the majority of society, directly contradict the teachings of the Bible, which always suggest submission, service, sacrifice, and denial of the self, and never promote personal renewal or achievement. Check out Ecclesiastes if you’d like to discover what the pursuit of self-fulfillment leads to.
In Revelation 4, John has quite a vision: a bunch of elders sitting on thrones, beasts with wings and lots of eyes dancing around, and a sea of glass. You can find adequate commentary on this if you check context in your Bible as well as some good explanations on gotquestions.org, but I’d like to focus on the elders, since, frankly, they’re humans, and so are we, making this aspect very relatable.
The vision takes place in heaven, and the Lord Himself is present. Surrounding God’s throne is a circle of thrones occupied by 24 elders. Their identity is debatable, but regardless, they’re human, and they wield some sort of authority, being in thrones and all.
Further down the chapter, the men do something interesting. Whenever the strange-looking beasts decide to worship the Lord, the 24 men follow suit; they leave the throne, fall on their faces, and chuck their crowns at God’s feet.
By leaving the throne, they are giving up their position of authority.
By falling on their faces, they’re showing themselves subservient to someone else, namely the Lord.
By casting their crowns before the Lord, they are abdicating their rank altogether.
The elders do not find significance in their position of rule, whatever that might be, even in heaven. They still lay it all down and show utmost reverence unto the Lord.
This is rare here on earth. Many times, we see the Christian, and even more so the American, refuse to submit to the Lord. While we might pay lip service to Him on Sunday mornings, a desire to work hard, prove oneself right, and show up at all the meetings take precedent to real submission. We’d rather not vacate the throne of our self-righteousness, nor lay down in a position of service and risk shame and a tarnished reputation, nor push aside the works of our hands and credit someone else for “our” accomplishments.
Indeed, this world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another, but the Lord desires obedience as an expression of devotion, and He deserves intentional, sincere worship, in word and deed, in song and speech, in lifted hands and hands put to the plow.
Let us emulate these heavenly elders, vacating the little thrones of self-importance we’ve constructed, throwing aside the frivolities of self-righteousness, and taking up the posture of one that desires nothing less than absolute resignation and inherent glorification of the Lord. We cannot achieve peace or salvation through our personal means, but only through Him who humbly grants it to us.