Making Silence Together
One of the most frequently commented upon aspects of the morning Lord’s Day service here at Capitol Hill Baptist Church is nothing we do. Or rather, it is the nothing we do. It is our moments of silence.
There’s silence between various aspects of the service. I encourage service leaders to NOT do the “no-dead-airspace” TV standard of busy-ness. We LIKE “dead air space.” “Dead air space” gives us time to reflect. To collect our thoughts. To consider what we’ve just heard or read or sung. The silence amplifies the words or music we’ve just heard. It allows us time to take it all in, and to pray. We have silence to prepare ourselves. We have silence between the announcements and the scriptural call to worship. We even have a moment of silence AFTER the service! I pronounce the benediction from the end of II Corinthians, invite the congregation to be seated. And then, after about a minute of silence, the pianist begins quietly playing the last hymn that we had just sung. During those few moments, we reflect and prepare to speak to others and depart. We do business with God. We prepare ourselves for the week ahead.
I’m a sound addict. Even as I write about silence now, I’ve got Paganini blasting in my study! But yesterday morning in church during one of our silences, I became aware of how corporate a labor such public silence is. Everyone works to be quiet. People stop moving their bulletins or looking for something in their purse. There’s no movement. We, together, hear the silence. It engulfs us. It enhances our unity. It is something we all do together. Together we consider what we’ve just heard. Together we contribute to each other’s space to think.
Why has the church forgotten this? Our culture knows it. At the most solemn moments, we have a minute of silence. And everyone listens to the silence. And thinks about why we’re being silent. Why don’t we do this in the church.
In the last century, E. M. Forster, in A Passage to India, referred to “poor little talkative Christianity”. Perhaps there was a day when all Christians did was gather to listen to the Bible read and preached, and to prayers. But that day is long gone in most evangelical churches. These days we gather more to watch than to listen. And to sing.
But in all the noise of our choirs, and drums, and electic guitars, and organs, and praise bands, where is the solemnity? Where is the dignity and majesty that is so often indicated in the Bible by a stupified silence, soaked in awe and covered with wonder?
Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent, but we seem to have forgotten today that there is a time for silence. God calls his people before Him in silence: “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him,” (Hab. 2:20).
Certainly as Christians we have much to rejoice over–loudly and joyfully and expectantly! But is no part of our regular assemblies to reflect the weightiness of our sinful selves before a holy God, the silence of conviction, even of sorrow? Furthermore, is no part of our regular assemblies to reflect the stunning weightiness of our forgiveness in Christ, the silence of marvel, and even the humility of some incomprehension?
We silence ourselves exactly because God has not kept silent. We silence ourselves in order to hear God speak in His Word (cf. Deut. 27:9) We silence ourselves to show our assent to God’s charges against us (cf. Ps. 39:9). We silence ourselves to show respect and obedience and humility and restraint (cf. Zeph. 1:7;
I Cor. 14:34; I Tim. 2:12). We silence ourselves to search our hearts (cf. Ps. 4:4).
We silence ourselves in our own times of prayer, reading and meditation on God’s Word. And we should also silence ourselves in our periods of corporate worship. Making silence together builds and unifies the church, witnesses to the majesty of God and tacitly proclaims His greatness to all who hear.