The other morning, while leading a morning prayer meeting, we concluded with singing “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.” Before we sang, as I often do, I exhorted the group to sing with gusto, verve, and what we might call “heartiness.” It reminded me of something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now. Although others have addressed this before, and far better than I will, I still want to take a stab at pointing it out.
The Protestant Reformation was not merely a seismic shift in understanding Salvation (i.e. by grace through faith alone); in fact, one of the primary battles which our Reforming forbearers fought for was the restoration of biblical worship in the Church. The Roman Catholic Mass became, largely, a spectator sport, where the whole service was carried along primarily by the priest. The Reformation reestablished the biblical approach to corporate worship; namely, that it was the role and work of the whole congregation of saints. Notice that when the Scriptures speak of corporate gathering of saints, it shows (among other things) primarily, that they both heard the Scriptures taught (as we see in Neh. 8:18 & Luk. 4:17-21) and responded in thanksgiving (1 Chr. 16:9). There are numerous examples of this in both the Old and New Testaments.
Rome, however, made the gathering of the saints into a confusing mixture of elements, culminating in receiving Holy Communion which was understood to be (because of the priest’s blessing) the very body of Christ. Because of other teachings of Rome, it came to be understood by the people that if they came, sat through the music and liturgy, and then received the bread and wine, then they could find favor with God. Thus, the Roman Catholic Mass traded out the corporate worship of Christ, for adoration and awe of the power of the priest. By the priest’s blessing, the meal became Christ’s actual body, and, if this were actually the case, ought to command adoration of the elements which the priest lifted high and administered. This is idolatry at the highest levels; mistaking the created thing for the Creator.
I’m sure that many a simple soul, sought spiritual comfort and ecstatic experience in and through this process, and I believe the line of thinking is not that far off from much of our modern thinking. It might have gone as follows, “I don’t feel God’s favor, and circumstances are difficult, perhaps if I show up, follow the liturgy, and take in the elements then I will receive God’s favor.” No doubt many people were led to feel emotions of wonder and awe as they were told that in faithfully attending Mass and receiving the Sacraments, administered by the Church.
The modern evangelical Church is not as far distant from this line of thinking. Rather than a priest blessing bread and wine, and therefore adoration of mere elements, we have a dude with a sweet hairdo crooning away, while most of us just watch and try to hum along, feeling adoration for how much awesome-sauce they put on stage. This approach to corporate worship is increasingly isolating the people of God from participation in the worship of God. Corporate “worship” has again become a spectator sport and has again mistaken the created thing for the Creator. Swap out a priest with bread and wine for Skinny Jeans, Designer t-shirt and a guitar and you get the idea.
The worship band rocks and rolls, with well timed “hair-flips,” and a whole lot of lights, fog, programmed music, and a large helping of senseless rigamarole (usually culminating in a lot of ooohs, and la-la’s); the result of this is that the music has become for us a weekly pilgrimage to some holy site, where if we sway to the music long enough, the gods will reach down and bestow their favor upon us for our dutiful deeds. At which point a tingle shoots up our spine, and we raise our hands, as tears stream down our face at this euphoric, ecstatic experience.
I am a staunch advocate that our affections ought to be deeply touched by our corporate and private times of worship. However, our worship ought to revolve around what Christ has done, not around endeavoring to procure God’s favor. Worship leader’s (wearing their trademark skinny jeans) all too often rely upon music’s manipulative effect to rouse in congregants the sense that they experienced some encounter with the Almighty. We repeat choruses, hang on a dissonant chord, and build the music, and like magic the people are worked into a state of fervor, wonder and awe. Do you see any similarities? The Catholic priest and the Skinny-Jean worship leader dude both work and labor in order that the congregants might receive a sort of assurance of God’s favor upon them. Modern congregants rely heavily upon the worship leader’s arrangements, soaring vocals, and hypnotic guitar riffs to ensure that they’ve “experienced” God.
What I exhort both worship leader’s and congregants alike to aim for is biblical, New Testament worship which must be gratitude and thanksgiving for what Christ has done. Christ and Him Crucified must be the axis around which the whole service turns, for indeed, we are not trying to guess at whether the Divine is favorably inclined towards us; we rest assured that justice and mercy have kissed a guilty world in love, by faith in the “Son of God.” We rejoice, sing, give thanks and remember His sufferings not as a means of procuring God’s favor, but as a result of God’s favor being bestowed upon us by the work of Calvary.
I fear that all too many worship services in modern Evangelical churches lack this understanding. We must not resort back to vain techniques that our forbearers fought hard to overthrow! Affections and intellect must be governed and guided by the preaching of God’s Word and the declaration of the Gospel’s glad tidings! When leading worship, I often exhort the body to sing loudly, thunderously, and to seek to be heard a long way off (Ezr. 3:13). I do this in the context of declaring that the work of Christ is finished, and now our only work is the work of joy-filled, and love-drenched faith. Our faith ought to spring forth with thunderous conviction of the reality that it is “not of good that I have done!”
Worship leaders, please remember it is not your job to seek to conjure up warm-fuzzies in the souls of the saints; you are to be declaring the unchanging truths of God’s Word and in turn leading the saints in giving thanks and praise to our merciful God for all His kindness unto us in Christ Jesus. Saints, sing robustly, raise hands in jubilation, stand firm upon the work of Christ, and with decency and order . . . make a ruckus.