There has been a recent trend to eliminate kneelers in liturgical churches. Some see the act of kneeling as demeaning. In many Pentecostal churches, the practice of kneeling in prayer has also virtually disappeared, as has the practice of tarrying at an altar, the congregation gathered before God on their knees.
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for He is our God” (Psalm 95:6).
Kneeling is an act of submission and worship, referencing the devotion of a servant and yet offered by the believer freely, not only as an acknowledgement of the dominance of God’s power and might, but also of the preeminence of His holiness and majesty. It is a clear indication of our humility and a declaration of God’s supremacy.
Americans take pride in bowing to nothing or before no one. Ego-centricity and virtual self-worship have given rise to a level of self-assertion and rights advocacy which now threaten the stability of the whole society. All humans are equal and are to be valued, that is a biblical tenet. But such level social ground is impossible unless the kindness and deference expected by the one is also given to all others. That demands the personal practice of the rule of love and truth and the awareness that our treatment of the other is a matter of conscience before the God to whom we will have to give an account. In no other context can such abundance of liberty exist. It is our public moments of prayer that remind us, that though we are free, we are not gods. If man is God, and therefore makes his own rules, anarchy results.
Reverence and respect are terms which are sometimes used as synonyms. However, reverence denotes worship and is particularly appropriate in referencing our relationship with God and the attendant sphere of interaction. Reverence is higher and deeper than respect. It involves veneration and devotion, in a worshipful manner. Respect esteems and admires, but it does not worship. Today, in a culture that reverences little if anything, we have confused the two concepts. As a result, reverence for God has degenerated to mere respect, even among Christians. We are to respect parents, for example, and honor them. And we are to respect, honor and obey authorities with more than superficial verbal deference. We are to act and live in a manner that respects or honors all others, that avoids insult and injury, a manner that values others. The absence of the fear of God manifest has a lack of reverence and respect for church sanctuaries and facilities. No longer are children taught to be respectful in ‘God’s house.’ If the tent of meeting in the wilderness was to be revered, then the humblest meeting house should also be honored as a spot that is sacred.
Pentecostal worship, by its character, is informal and spontaneous, without formal liturgy. Freedom in worship has been a special distinctive of Pentecostals. But informality can sometimes degenerate to inadvertent impertinence, and a lack of reverence for the things of God. We know that even our bodies are ‘temples’ of the Holy Spirit. As a result we can pray anywhere and anytime. But if there is no space that is sacred in a marked manner, by deliberate corporate agreement, there will soon be no place that is regarded as sacred. Sanctuaries remind us that holy spaces are important. Even when the sanctuary is not being formally used, it should be respected. And that respect is meant not for ‘the place’ so much as it is the ‘Person’ who is honored there. On this ground, in this space, we have met with God, read and heard his Word, prayed and worshipped, and it is holy ground, sanctified space. It is the place at which we cultivate in ourselves and our children, a fear and reverence for God. And yet, it is quite a different matter to teach others, or possess ourselves, an awareness that we should ‘show’ respect for God; and beyond that to ‘feel’ respect for Him. We may show respect for a police officer who approaches our car and demands to see our license after his blue lights flash and signal us to the side of the road; but it is another matter to feel respect for him. Generally, we show respect to the office, the badge, the gun, the authority; but we feel respect for the person. And it is only at this felt level that fear becomes worshipful awe and reverence in reference to God.