Dr. Peter Masters
WORSHIP IS TRULY in the melting pot. A new style of praise has swept into evangelical life, shaking to the foundations traditional concepts and attitudes. The style of worship followed throughout the entire history of Bible-believing churches has been shunted on to the sidelines — and why not? Young friends are asking — ‘What’s the matter with contemporary music groups? Isn’t there every kind of instrument, including percussion, in the Psalms? Didn’t they dance in worship in Bible times? Isn’t God the same yesterday, today and for ever? Why should we be tied to gloomy Victorian culture in our praise to God?’
The aim of this book is to answer such questions, and also to focus on the four great pillars of worship — the principles which the Bible insists on. Are these in our minds when we think through our style of worship?
Many Christians today are amazed when you show them what really happened in the Old Testament, and then they feel cheated over the superficial ideas they have been sold. They become deeply thoughtful on hearing the definitions of worship given by the Saviour, and on seeing all the practical instructions of the epistles.
Our approach to worship is undoubtedly the most important issue confronting Bible churches today, and here is why. Six new, highly flawed styles of worship may be observed — often all mixed together. There is personal-pleasure worship, which puts the worshipper’s enjoyment in first place, rather than God’s desire. There is worldly-idiom worship, which borrows the current entertainment music of the world with its rhythms, instruments, actions and showbiz presentation, heedless of all the Bible’s warnings about loving the world. There is aesthetic worship, which imagines that orchestras, bands and instrumental solos are real expressions of worship, as if God is worshipped through these things, whereas Christ said — ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ There is ecstatic worship, in which people work themselves into highly emotional and even semi-hypnotic states, whereas Scripture says that we must always pray and sing with the understanding. There is shallow worship, which reduces hymns to choruses conveying one or two elementary ideas, because solid spiritual themes are not wanted. There is informal worship, in which casual, jokey, trivia-injecting leaders turn churches into sitting rooms, so depriving the Lord of dignity, reverence, grandeur and glory.
It is as though evangelical churches have caught six viruses at the same time. How can churches survive if their highest occupation is sick? How can God’s people keep themselves unspotted from the world, if the world has taken over the worship? How can we call lost souls out of the world, if we are the same as the world? Worship is certainly the most important topic of the hour.
In this book I would like to speak with great respect to fellow pastors and church officers who may be inclined to adopt some elements of new worship. There are numerous dedicated Gospel workers who have come to feel that they should give guarded partial acceptance to this trend. They may not care for it personally, but they have been persuaded that their reservations are merely a matter of taste and culture. To get people into youth meetings and churches (says today’s wisdom) we must employ contemporary worship songs.
Another suggestion is that we should introduce some of the new alongside the old, thus preserving the best of traditional worship. The problem with this proposal is that the old and the new represent opposing concepts of worship, as these pages will show. The new breaches all the biblical principles recovered at the Reformation. Even the history of new worship rings alarm bells, and demonstrates the chasm between the old and the new.
The development of new worship is now fairly well known, and can be sketched here in a few sentences. It mainly began in California in the late 1960s, when many hippies turned to Christ, becoming known as the ‘Jesus people’. They worshipped with the very same style of song which they had known as hippies. Various Christian movements were formed to encourage them, among them the well-known Calvary Chapels. Their worship consisted mostly of one-verse choruses, endlessly repeated. The words were simple — much simpler even than those of a traditional children’s chorus — and the themes also were elementary. There was seldom any confession of sin or any doctrine. However well-intended it may have been, the new worship was not shaped or influenced by any biblical model of worship, nor by the general practice of Bible-believing churches up to that time.
It was a form of worship fashioned and conceived in the womb of meditational mysticism, in which hippies in their hundreds and thousands would sit on Californian hillsides with eyes closed, swaying themselves into an ecstatic state, echoing their previous experience with drugs. Former hippies carried into their new Christian allegiance the same quest for emotional sensation to which they were accustomed, and, sadly, none of their Christian mentors showed them a better way.
This new approach to worship rapidly advanced, merging with another new stream of ‘Christian’ songs written by those who simply wanted worship music to be like secular rock music. In other words, the latter wanted a ‘good time’ in a worldly sense. We need to be aware that new worship sprang from these two stables, namely, hippie mysticism, and worldly Christianity. It was immediately incorporated into the charismatic movement, from which the vast majority of new worship songs have come. Such background information should lead us to great caution, but the biblical principles of the following pages should be the decisive factor in whether we accept or reject the new ways. We certainly cannot blend opposing concepts.
Dr. Peter Masters
THREE BROKEN PRINCIPLES
THE ‘CONTEMPORARY Christian music’ style of worship has now captured countless congregations of every theological hue throughout the world, though not without many a battle. At times the controversy has become so heated it has been dubbed ‘the worship wars’. As a rule the chief strategy employed by the advocates of new worship has been to reduce the entire debate to a matter of taste, style and generation.
‘Traditionalists’ are sometimes charged with a selfish refusal to adjust to changing culture. They have even been called the Pharisees of the 21st-century church, who are guilty of obstructing a great forward-movement of God’s people and forcing division over non-essentials. For all this, large numbers of churches still hold out against the new ways, believing that great principles are at stake.
The trouble with the rhetoric of those advocating new worship is that they seem not to recognise, let alone discuss, historic, biblical principles of worship. It is as if there is nothing much about worship in the Bible. It is as if the Reformation never reformed worship, articulating great concepts about how we should approach the living God. It is as though the bedrock definitions held over centuries have become invisible and non-existent. Where have these priceless and vital principles gone? Why are they hardly ever discussed? Do the advocates of new worship wilfully avoid them, or are they genuinely unaware of them? Certainly, it is an astonishing scene to find them passed over so easily.
The sixty-plus generation of believers remember that these principles were still being taught in their youth, but not any more. New definitions of worship have appeared which would never have been accepted as recently as fifty years ago — definitions which smash down the central principles of evangelical, Protestant Christian worship, taking us back to medieval and Catholic thinking. These chapters will identify three major deviations from biblical standards (as recovered at the Reformation) typical of the entire modern worship movement. (A fourth serious deviation appears in chapter 13.)
Churches that have adopted modern worship songs and music to only a limited degree must take account of the deeply significant errors which govern the writers and composers of the new genre. Moderate users of new worship plug into a radically deviant philosophy of worship and so train their people (possibly unwittingly) to accept pre-Reformation ideas, and eventually, the full-blown contemporary scene. This is not a complex and theoretical matter: it is straightforward and vital. We must know what worship is supposed to be, and we must assess the new style in the light of God-given principles.
I — Spiritual or aesthetic worship?
OUR FIRST MAJOR deviation is the espousal of aesthetic worship, in preference to the Lord’s requirement that worship must exclusively be ‘in spirit and in truth’ (see John 4.23-24). ‘In spirit’ makes worship a product of heart and soul. Aesthetic worship, by contrast, is the idea that things that are beautiful, artistic or skilfully executed should be offered up as an expression of worship to God. It is based on the notion that we worship not just with spiritual thoughts from our minds and hearts, but also with the creative skill of our minds and hands.
Aesthetic worshippers believe that genuine praise needs a ‘physical’ dimension greater than mere unison singing. It assumes that God is an ‘aesthete’ — sitting in the heavens and looking down with appreciation at the skill and beauty that we bring before Him. We may bring Him thrilling music, clever arrangements, brilliant instrumentalism and fine singing, and these will please Him. We may worship (it is thought) not only by meaningful words, but by wordless offerings.
This is of immense importance, because the aesthetic idea of worship is totally opposed to the Saviour’s standards, and is the very essence of medieval Catholicism. The Church of Rome, with all her masses, images, processions, soaring naves, stained glass windows, costly and colourful robes, rich music, Gregorian chants, and complex proceedings, makes an offering of worship by these things. All her theatricalism is an act of worship believed to be pleasing to God. The spiritual giants of the Reformation turned back to the Bible, unitedly embracing the principle that true worship is intelligent (and scriptural) words, whether said, thought or sung, winged by faith to the ear of the Lord. It is true that little bits of Roman ‘theatre’ remained in the episcopal churches, but generally speaking the rites, ceremonies, images and everything else that represented a virtuous offering were swept away.
We believe that the Lord trusts us with music and also with instruments to accompany the singing of praise, but these cannot actually convey worship. They are secondary. They are not in the image of God, nor do they have souls, nor are they redeemed. Modern hymn writer Erik Routley was way off the mark when he penned the lines (which he meant to be taken literally) —
Joyfully, heartily, resounding!
Let every instrument and voice.
Trumpets and organs, set in motion
Such sounds as make the heavens ring.
An earlier Anglo-Catholic hymn (by Francis Pott) made the same aesthetic point in these words —
Craftsmen’s art and music’s measure,
For Thy pleasure all combine.
The recently coined, popular statement that worship is ‘a celebration in words and music’ also breaches the Lord’s key principle that worship should exclusively be — ‘in spirit and in truth’. Words and thoughts are everything in worship. Music may only assist at a practical level; it cannot be used to express worship. To believe that it can is to fall into the tragic error of aesthetic worship. The singing of God’s people should certainly be grand and glorious in terms of fervour and effort, but it is the words and the hearts of the worshippers that God desires. All unnecessary embellishment is an offence to Him, firstly, because He has not called for it; secondly, because it is an insolent ‘improvement’ on what God has laid down; and thirdly, because it is a powerful distraction to spiritual worship. Does this sound strange? It may do so today, but fifty years ago — and all the way back to the Reformation — practically every evangelical Christian would have said this most emphatically.
Aesthetic worship has now flooded into evangelical, Protestant churches as people have been persuaded that they should express much of their worship via music and instrumentation, even through dance, other bodily movements and drama.
A notable advocate of the new ways has defined worship as ‘a discovery of God’s will through encounter and impact’. Not only is instrumental and song performance offered as a meritorious expression of worship, but from the very performance one is said to glean some form of revelation from God. This is seriously believed by some of the main architects and promoters of new worship. Do evangelicals who partially adopt their materials realise the deep mystical errors that lie behind them? To put it bluntly, aesthetic worship is a huge stride back to Rome, and has no place in the true church of Jesus Christ. It challenges and spoils spiritual worship, and is contrary to every praise instruction in the New Testament. When we evaluate new worship, we must do so in terms of those biblical principles recovered (by God’s mercy) at the time of the Reformation, the first of these being that worship is spiritual, and not an aesthetic performance. At the Reformation, simplicity, intelligibility and fidelity to the Bible replaced the impressive mystery and pageantry of Rome. It has been well said that the aesthetically splendid mass surrendered to the understanding soul.
Why did all this take place? The advocates of new worship do not seem to know. They are aware that the Reformation changed doctrinal teaching, but they do not appear to know why it also changed the manner of worship. Do the new-worship men think it was just a ‘generation thing’? Do they picture Luther, Calvin, and the Protestant martyrs as the youngsters who just wanted a new culture? Do they believe it was all a matter of taste? The truth is, of course, that the Reformers saw through the sensual worship of Rome and rejected artistic skill and beauty as a valid expression of worship. (They also rejected the ‘working up’ of supposed spiritual experience by things which entranced the eyes and the ears; but we will speak of these later.)
How has it come about that so many evangelical Christians have adopted the idea that worship includes an offering of beauty and skill? The most obvious reason is that the ‘church growth movement’ has adopted musical entertainment as the chief method of attracting outsiders, and this music has to be justified as part of the worship. Also, in the USA even the sounder theological seminaries and Christian colleges have greatly enlarged their music departments and courses for ‘worship leaders’. Inevitably the role of music and the use of complex worship programmes has increased even in conservative circles. Many churches have acquired ministers of music as well as professional worship leaders, and how could these highly trained brethren function if they did not feel that all their expertise and creativity somehow formed part of an efficacious offering of worship?
In biblical worship, only one offering counts, and that is the offering made once for all by the eternal Son of God on Calvary’s Cross. Nothing should be thought of as an acceptable offering, or as having any worship merit, apart from Calvary. Our thoughts and words are not an ‘offering’, but expressions of praise, thanksgiving, repentance, supplication, dedication and obedience, all made acceptable by Calvary.
Writers promoting new worship actually use language which depicts God as a satisfied viewer of a ‘performance’ (this is their term). They explicitly say that God is the audience. Some, in their books, provide illustrations of a stadium in which the church, with its choir and orchestra, are placed on the pitch, and the word ‘God’ is inscribed around the seating in the stands. They seem very pleased with this scenario.
It is salutary to note that C. H. Spurgeon would not have an organ at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in his day, because he saw how some of the larger churches had become carried away by their magnificent instruments, and by the expert capabilities of their organists. They were tickling the ears of the people (as Spurgeon put it) with beautiful musical items other than hymns. He was concerned that people would go to church to be entertained rather than to worship, but even more seriously, he saw how the skill and beauty of the music was itself likely to be regarded as an act of worship, and an offering to God. Today the Tabernacle uses an organ, but we are concerned to keep its deployment within bounds, so that it provides an accompaniment only, and does not become a medium of worship. In this way we express the same convictions about worship as the ‘prince of preachers’. We would never say, for example, that the organ ‘enriches’ worship. It disciplines the singing, and teaches and maintains the tune, but we know very well that in spiritual terms it can contribute nothing.
Contemporary worship, however, is fully aesthetic in purpose and practice. God is the audience and the worshippers are performers. Skilful instrumentalism is part of the offering of worship. We repeat, that many evangelical churches have, in this way, gone back to Rome, but they have actually surpassed Rome both in intricacy and decibel count. At the dawn of world history Abel’s offering was accepted by the Lord because it was the very act God had commanded — a humble offering representing the need for atonement. Cain’s offering, however, was rejected, because it presented his own skill, labour and artistry. It was a ‘works’ offering. To parade before God our skills as an act of worship is surely nearer to the offering of Cain than that of Abel.
Christians who have begun to savour new worship sometimes ask — ‘But what shall we do with our gifts if we cannot express them in worship?’ Here is the heart of the matter. Worship is not the exercise of our gifts, but the exercise of our hearts and minds. For many people this is the lost genius of worship, the principle which has disappeared from sight — that worship is not the presentation to God of skill or beauty, or of personal gifts, but the communication of the soul with God, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Worship is not an aesthetic activity. Incidentally, the desire to ‘express our gifts’ in worship opens the door to elitism, because not many people have musical gifts to display. Where will it end? If someone’s ‘gift’ is to play the bagpipes, and another’s is to play cricket, are we to fit these into the service of worship also?
We ask again, how is it that evangelicals have tumbled into this dramatic change of viewpoint? We have not been helped by a number of practices which have served as the thin end of the aesthetic wedge. We have already noted that a few pre-Reformation features survived even in the reformed churches — remnants of Catholic theatricalism, costumery and show. These have been kept up in Anglican churches (except in the ‘low’ churches), and they have always had an undermining effect, causing good people to lose sight of a clear-cut definition of spiritual worship.
Over the years, pleasing inconsistencies have also been adopted by nonconformist churches. Beautiful anthems rendered by choirs came to offer an increasingly aesthetic contribution to worship. Solo items in services seemed harmless enough, and edifying if worshippers followed the words. But then the solo often became an instrumentonly item, so that congregations were given ‘songs without words’, and taught to regard these as acts of worship. Such practices have helped nibble away at the biblical concept of worship, so that the Lord’s people have gradually lost sight of basic principles. By now, these have disappeared into oblivion, and the judgement of believers has become completely confused. More recently, simplicity has come under full-scale attack, and performing gifts exalted.
It may be protested that worship in Old Testament times was rich in actions and artistry ordained by God, and such worship can hardly be disqualified today. How can we deny the worship-virtue of skilfully executed music and song? But it is not true that Old Testament services included works of beauty and skill as a direct expression of worship. The symbolism in the design of the Tabernacle and Temple, as well as the ceremonial performed by the priests, represented the work of Christ for them. These things amounted to lessons, not vehicles of worship. They were intended as visual sermons, not meritorious acts. They were pictures, given and taught by God, of the way of grace. The people observed and trusted, but their personal response of praise was meant to be spiritual and from the heart. True worship has always been a matter of the heart. We again urge readers to consider this central principle of worship, because how we worship is not just a matter of culture or taste or generation, but a matter of God-given rules. Principles count. The great statement common to the Westminster and Baptist Confessions of the 17th century stands against all that is going on today:
‘The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself; and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men . . .’
It may help to conclude these pages on Spiritual or Aesthetic Worship? with a simple test question. Why would a church wish to increase or elaborate upon its customary instrumentation, and change its style of worship? If the answer is — ‘To enrich our worship and to express our gifts,’ then it will show that the principle of ‘spirit and truth’ has been lost, and the old aesthetic error has got in.
THREE BROKEN PRINCIPLES
II — Rational or Ecstatic Worship?
THE SECOND MAJOR deviation from biblical principles in contemporary worship is that it promotes a substitute for rational worship which we call ecstatic worship. The Lord requires that we worship Him ‘in spirit and in truth’. The ‘truth’ part of this means that worship must be right, and also that it must be understandable or rational. Paul echoes this when he insists that Christians pray and sing with the understanding. The conscious, sound mind is the vital human organ of worship. (See 1 Corinthians 14.15, and chapter 5 — ‘Let the Lord Define Worship’.)
Ecstatic worship is completely different. This aims at stirring the emotions to produce a simulated, exalted emotional state. Ecstatic worship takes place when the object of the exercise is to achieve a warm, happy feeling, perhaps great excitement, and even a sense of God’s presence through the earthly, physical aspects of worship such as music and movement. Among charismatics this is eagerly pursued, the programme being carefully engineered to bring worshippers to a high emotional pitch, and often to a mildly hypnotic state. In non-charismatic circles the objective is a little more modest, but essentially the same — to make an emotional impact. Worship leaders want to bypass rationality and get the feelings going by other means. They want to stir up ‘sensations’ in order to produce euphoria.
We do not accuse the advocates of new worship unfairly, because they say this themselves in their books and worship guides. The upbeat opening number will (they say) have such-and-such an effect upon worshippers, and then the music should take this or that direction to maintain the mood, and after that move on to another tempo, volume and key. Instruments, arrangements, chords and beat should be woven into a pattern that will bend and sway the feelings of the people to maximise their feelings for worship.
Frequently, tremendous musical expertise goes into the ‘production’ of a service, but it must be realised that any attempt to make a direct impression on the soul by the use of music or any other earthly tool is ecstatic worship as opposed to spiritual and rational worship. The latter does not try to manipulate the feelings by earthly techniques, but derives its joy from sincere spiritual appreciation of the Lord, of His words, and of the great doctrines of the faith. Of course, music (and instrumental accompaniment) is permitted by the Lord, but it is not to be deliberately deployed as a means of arousing feelings. ‘Feelings’ in worship should be our response to things we understand and appreciate in our minds.
It is true that many hymn tunes touch our hearts because of their strong association with salvation sentiments, and this is wholesome and acceptable. Such tunes have taken on a special quality derived from precious words. But the architects of ecstatic worship techniques have no right to hijack this pleasant phenomenon, and to use music as the chief means of moving hearts and producing feelings. This is carnal, cynical, artificial and manipulative.
It is only as we are moved primarily by intelligent thoughts providing a view of the Lord and His work, that we have genuine and legitimate spiritual feelings. Emotions fanned into flames by sentimental or stirring music may be enjoyable feelings at a purely human level, but they are not worship. The same goes for all artificially generated feelings. If a preacher moves people to weeping by telling ‘tear-jerkers’, their sense of need for God or their repentance will be nothing more than short-lived emotionalism. If, however, the people understand their need through hearing the Word (which is surely moving enough), their conviction and repentance will be genuine and lasting.
Music cannot really move the soul. It only moves the emotions. Valid worship starts in the mind. If it bypasses the understanding, it is not true worship. If it is overwhelmed by physical things, such as the skilful and moving performance of orchestras, it is compromised and spoiled. Such worship reminds us of the Israelites who wanted to supplement manna with other foods. Today many say to God (in effect): ‘You are not enough; I need unusually loud or rhythmic music in addition, to excite me.’
Paul states the prime role of worship in these words: ‘Let all things be done unto edifying’ (see 1 Corinthians 14.26). The word edifying refers literally to the construction of a building, but Paul always uses it to mean the building up of the understanding. Every element of worship must be understood in order to be valid. We are spiritually moved, not by melody, beauty or spectacle, but by what we understand. ‘Worship,’ says Puritan Stephen Charnock, ‘is an act of the understanding applying itself to the knowledge of the excellency of God. . . . It is also an act of the will, whereby the soul adores and reverences His majesty, is ravished with His amiableness, embraceth His goodness. . . and pitcheth all its affections upon Him’ (Works, 1.298). With our minds we appreciate the Lord, His mighty acts, and the doctrines of His Word. Whether we are directing our praise to Him, or receiving truth from Him, it is the mind that must be active and edified. Emotions must be activated by what is recognised in the mind, and not by the direct power of music, rhythms or bodily movements.
We repeat yet again that in Christian worship we have the privilege of many beautiful tunes, and we are allowed to sing with accompaniment, but these must be kept within reasonable bounds, so that we never depend on them to engineer our feelings. The new worship, however, is all about music and song being intentionally and blatantly used to have a direct and major influence upon the feelings. John Wycliffe, the ‘morning star of the Reformation’, was strongly critical of the use of song to ‘stir to dancing’, or to arouse the feelings in worship. He warned his contemporaries in the words of Augustine — ‘As oft as the song delights me more than that which is sung, so oft I confess that I sin grievously.’ Music is a wonderful gift from the Lord, but it must never rival or drown worship offered in spirit and in truth.
The same point is made by John Wesley in his advice to hymn singers written in 1781. He wrote:
‘Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature. Attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, AND SEE THAT YOUR HEART IS NOT CARRIED AWAY WITH THE SOUND, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when He cometh in the clouds of Heaven.’
To clarify the issue, let us try once again the simple test question put at the close of the aesthetic worship chapter. Why would any church want to increase its customary, traditional instrumentation, and change its style of worship? The answer may be along these lines: ‘Because this will lift us up, warm and excite us, and we will then feel the Lord more.’ Such an answer would show that rational worship is being set aside, and ecstatic worship is taking its place. There can be no greater enjoyment than to respond with spiritual appreciation to great spiritual blessings. Why should we need more instruments to improve on this? Any group, band or orchestra will be likely to introduce an ecstatic element to praise, and this is against the principles of New Testament worship.
It is undeniable that the new worship sets out to stir emotions externally and artificially. It is all so like Catholicism in this respect. Their worship, we have seen, is an aesthetic offering. It is also ecstatic, designed to engage and satisfy the emotions. It bombards the senses with smells and bells, processions, chants and so on. The old Latin mass was not about understanding but making an impression on the senses. Touching requiems were composed to move people emotionally. The mystery plays of Rome were calculated to appeal to and move the feelings. The medium was considered to be more enjoyable and emotionally effective than the message, and we are back to this in present-day evangelicalism. The tools are certainly different, but there can be no doubt that contemporary Christian worship shares the same theatrical and earthly ideas as Rome.
One of Britain’s pioneers of new worship outlined his own pilgrimage in a magazine article. His story was alarmingly revealing. He recalled how, as a young man, he once wearily rose in his pew at the beginning of a service —
‘. . . resigned to a miserable morning, and thought to myself how dreadful it was that the hymn we were singing had so many verses. Most of the lines made no sense to me at all. Worse still, there were three more hymns like this before the meeting was finished! The whole thing was dreadfully boring.
‘I tried my best to inject feeling into the “worship”, but it was like squeezing a shrivelled orange for the last drop of juice, only to be disappointed when nothing came.
‘Worst of all, I kept thinking over what the pastor had said at the start of the service. He told us that we would spend eternity engaged in worship. I couldn’t think of a more dreadful prospect. Surely that would be eternal endurance, not eternal life!’
The writer was very frank. He was not complaining that the service was unsound or poorly conducted. He was disparaging any traditional worship service. He went on to say that he discovered enjoyment in new songs and music, because these stirred his passions and allowed him liberty for the uninhibited expression of his feelings. But why could he not identify with the great hymns of the faith in the church of his youth? Why did the directing of sincere thoughts and words to God fail to touch him, and even bore him to distraction? The answer is that for him, emotions had to be worked up by external aids and uninhibited actions. Feelings had to be manufactured by rhythm, repetition and physical action. This is just what we mean by ‘ecstatic’ worship. Tragically, no one told this young man what he was getting into, and its artificiality and pandering to the flesh. No one helped him — assuming he possessed real spiritual life — to love the Lord with the heart and with the mind.
We can understand how necessary the techniques of ecstatic worship are within the charismatic movement. Here, because of the shallowness of preaching, large numbers of people are not genuinely converted. They therefore need artificial emotional stimulation for without this there would be nothing for them to enjoy. Similarly, in some of the so-called mega-churches of the USA, where the true challenge of the Gospel is greatly watered down so as not to offend those who attend, large numbers of unconverted people depend on the external emotional impact of musical-song productions. If people are brought to easy professions, and not truly changed by the power of the Spirit, they will not be capable of spiritual appreciation, which is the basis of true worship.
Leading exponents of new worship often speak against hymns as too cerebral and complex. They say that ‘meaning’ obscures ‘feeling’! They want mainly choruses, because these, with their minimal truth content, do not get in the way of the music and its effect upon the emotions. They have been charged with ‘dumbing down’ worship, and the charge is true.
A word must be said about the extreme exploitation of ecstatic worship, which really amounts to mystical worship. This happens when the emotional impact of music and song is designed to give the impression of a ‘direct touch’ of God, or an extraordinary sense of union with Him. In non-Christian mystical religions this sensation is produced by such techniques as contemplation and repetition of thoughts. In charismatic worship it is worked up by powerful musical manipulation, participants swaying with closed eyes, upturned faces and outstretched hands, yielding themselves wholly to the impact of repeated words, and music. The sentiments of their choruses and hymns often claim a direct touch from the Lord, or a strong sense of His surrounding arms. Instead of approaching God by faith, and reflecting on His sure Truth and His wonderful work, such worshippers manufacture a ‘direct’ impression of God’s presence.
Mystical worship represents the extreme flank of ecstatic worship, but it now has an immense following around the world. The understanding is unfruitful, but this hardly matters. Spirit and truth are outmoded. Artificially induced feelings are king. Is this mystical extreme now getting into non-charismatic circles? The alarming answer is that it is, as a statement by a non-charismatic American seminary professor shows. Here is his widely accepted definition of worship.
‘Worship is an encounter in which God’s glory, Word and graces are unveiled, and we respond, in songs and prayers of celebration. Worshippers seek an encounter with the glory of God, the transcendent power and numinous mystery of the divine.’
Notice the word ‘encounter’. Is it an encounter by faith? No, it is nothing other than a mystical encounter with the glory of God. Are we reading too much into this? No, sadly, because it is also described as an encounter with the transcendent power of God! Surely the language is far too powerful to describe anything other than a felt, mystical sensation. The use of the words numinous mystery are conclusive, because numinous refers to the awesome presence of divinity. This theologian seriously believes that worship is a felt encounter with the glorious presence of God in a fully mystical sense. He goes on to show how this is produced by the contents and trappings of a service.
We must take warning that the old definitions are being discarded with indifference and sometimes even contempt, and new ideas are being propounded which are totally contrary to biblical and reformational teaching. The new worship is firmly ecstatic (and also largely mystical) rather than rational and faith-reliant. Bearing in mind those who feel that an element of new worship songs may be safely adopted by ‘traditionalists’ — can it be wise even to sip from this ecstatic stream?
THREE BROKEN PRINCIPLES
III — Sacred or Profane Worship?
THE THIRD MAJOR departure from biblical principles of worship is the modern refusal to accept the great gulf between sacred and profane, so that the entertainment forms of the world are imported into the church for the praise of God. This writer, until recently, used the term ‘worldly-idiom worship’ to describe this, but it lacked precision. People would naturally ask, ‘What exactly is worldliness?’ Is a musical style (or instrument) unsuitable for worship simply because the world uses it? No, but it is unsuitable for spiritual use if it is used by the world to promote an anti-God, anti-moral agenda. The word profane focuses the issue more clearly. To be profane is to treat sacred and biblical things with irreverence or disregard, so as to violate and pollute them. Is classical music worldly or profane? Not in the main. It may be beautiful music, not identified with or promoting an anti-God, anti-moral message or culture. Are old-fashioned folk songs profane? Not usually. Many were innocently sung for generations in the primary schools of a more moral age. (Please note that this last comment is about old folk songs, not the new genre.)
Is the modern entertainment scene profane? Most definitely, because it is the most powerful and determined anti-God, anti-moral, anti-authority culture for centuries. It is profane because it treats moral and sacred things with utmost irreverence and disregard. It actively and militantly decries biblical morality, substituting the opposite. It blatantly and vigorously promotes an alternative society, including the worship of self and of lust as normal, reasonable and acceptable, and that is its undisputed standing in the mind of the public.
For this reason the new worship movement is immensely wrong, and sins against God when it borrows and employs all the distinctive components of today’s popular entertainment culture. Modern worship is a total artistic identification with that culture, contrary to the exhortation of 1 John 2.15-16:
‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.’
Modern worship equally abuses the parallel warning of James 4.4:
‘Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.’
The Lord calls for submission to His standards, and He will resist, not bless, those who set themselves above His Word. This is clear from James 4.6, where, immediately following the prohibition of friendship with the world, the warning to offenders is given — ‘God resisteth the proud.’
The need to distinguish between sacred and secular, or between sacred and profane, or spiritual and worldly has always been a ruling principle for Christians. The ‘culture’ of the house of God must certainly be joyful, yet at the same time honour the reverent ethos of biblical worship. Until the 1960s most evangelicals believed that the church and the world represented opposing standards and lifestyles and tastes, and so most of the world’s popular jollities were treated with great suspicion. Spiritual worship was never to be confused or mixed with, or even tainted by, the debased end of the popular entertainment spectrum, because one belonged to the realm of sacred things, and the other to the realm of secular and profane things. All were convinced that Almighty God would be offended, and believed that lost sinners could not be called out of the world by a church that had adopted its lifestyle and entertainment values. It was known by virtually every serious Christian that to employ in worship something that was obviously associated with (or had arisen from) an alternative culture of free sex, godlessness, drugs, and emotional orgies would be worse than inappropriate — it would be sinful.
Christians of the recent past saw that two different worlds and kingdoms stood in stark contrast to one another, the churches being the upholders of God’s sovereignty, and holiness. They represented the Holy and the High. They therefore disclaimed the help of a fleshly world and its idiom, relying instead on the power of God, and so they had spiritual power in their worship, not the carnal ‘power’ of entertainment-emotionalism. As if to test the convictions of believers the hippie and worldly-Christian movements came into being, and initially, most conservative evangelicals were appalled. Quickly, the new trends were picked up by numerous leaders of youth groups, shallow churches, and also by some international evangelists who had come to put earthly appeal before the standards of the Lord.
There are many today who have forgotten that the father of the faithful, Abraham, was called to come out of the culture of a pagan world, and live life in an altogether distinctive way for the Lord. Also, the children of Israel in the wilderness were severely judged for wanting to go back to the foodstuffs of Egypt, even though these were not intrinsically sinful, because God had provided something special for them. The Lord was teaching His church to be a distinctive people. Under the law of Moses the people were taught in many ways to distinguish between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean, even though it meant the forbidding of things not inherently evil, in order to drill into them the law of distinction and separation. Christians have traditionally believed (as Paul said) that these things ‘were written for our learning’.
Almost countless examples occur throughout the Old Testament of divine anger at any form of blending with the culture of the nations around for worship. In Nehemiah’s time, a foolish and corrupt high priest gave Tobiah the Ammonite a chamber in the Temple. Nehemiah ‘cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber’ and thoroughly cleansed the whole area. The same cleansing is needed today in the temple of Christian worship. God’s reproof to Israel (Ezekiel 22.26) applies particularly to this hour:
‘Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.’
Some glorious words at the end of Zechariah’s prophecy speak figuratively of the worship of the New Testament church, and how even the bridles of the horses will bear the words, ‘HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD’, and the cooking pots in the house shall be as sacred as the bowls before the altar. Nothing profane will invade. Whether we consult the Old or the New Testament, purity and separation are demanded in worship. There must be a marked distinction between sacred and secular. Wherever this world’s culture distinctively serves and represents fleshly living, it is to be rejected by believers. Historic, mainstream evangelicalism has always taken this very seriously. The founders and builders of virtually all evangelical churches existing before 1960 held tenaciously to the distinction between spiritual and worldly, and those ministers and evangelists, with their elders and people, would be universally appalled at what is happening today in the places they brought to birth. Were they wrong? Were they biblically misinformed? Were they fools, or in pathetic bondage to mere tradition?
New worship advocates repeatedly wheel out the absurd claim that today’s ‘traditional’ hymn tunes were once controversial novelties which gradually gained acceptance. New-style worship tunes, they say, will soon be an accepted part of the landscape. In other words, defenders of traditional hymns are making a foolish and petty fuss. It is also claimed that very many ‘traditional’ hymn tunes were originally tavern or music-hall songs. This claim is intended to obscure the fact that Christians in the past distinguished very carefully between sacred and profane. Are these claims, which we hear so often, true? The answer must be expressed bluntly, because misinformation is so dangerous with such an important subject. These claims are historical nonsense. Those who repeat them have trusted some ignorant or mischievous source which was unworthy of their respect. We would like to trace these claims to their origin, but it seems impossible. What matters is that they are entirely incorrect. They are much-retailed myths.
The jibe is heard, for example, that Luther used tavern songs and dance tunes for his hymns. His music, it is said, was heavily influenced by the secular entertainment of the time, and new-style worship is no worse. Did Luther borrow from the secular world around him? The charge is not true. Throughout church history great care has been taken with the use of music. Luther loved music and wanted the people to sing. He introduced congregational hymn singing in his day and he wanted hymns to have fine tunes. Before the Reformation, the Church of Rome had no congregational singing at all. The people just listened. They listened to such things as Gregorian chants, along with other items performed by monks and special choirs.
Luther was a composer himself, and also an adapter of other works. We read in Robert Harrell’s work, Martin Luther: His Music, His Message, that Luther wrote thirty-seven chorales, fifteen of which he composed himself, and thirteen being derived from existing Catholic church music. Four were taken from German religious folk songs. Only one out of the thirty-seven came from a secular folk song. This hardly justifies the idea that Luther helped himself to secular sources. In the case of the one item drawn from a secular folk song, it is argued that the secular world had stolen that melody from the church, and Luther merely reclaimed it (having adapted and sanitised it).
Promoters of new worship love to quote Luther as saying, ‘Why should the devil have all the good tunes?’ What they do not tell their hearers is that Luther was talking about Catholic church music, not tavern songs. He was not interested in stealing from the world around him. If, rarely, a secular melody was used, it was very greatly changed, and what else would we expect from the Reformer who wrote —
‘Take special care to shun perverted minds who prostitute this lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings. And be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on to defy their very nature. . . . They purloin the gift of God and use it to worship the foe of God.’
Luther clearly believed that music was to be identified with its source and users. It was the world of those days that stole from the church to obtain a melody line for a bawdy bar song, but not the other way round. Clearly, as we have noted, it would not be a violation of the distinction between sacred and profane for the church to borrow from relatively innocent spheres of secular music, such as the older genre of folk melody. But hymn tunes have never (before now) been drawn from, or fashioned by, any musical idiom associated with aggressive opposition to God’s authority and biblical morality. Luther boldly asserted that he had never used a bar song or a dance tune. People charge him with a ‘crime’ of which he would have been appalled. We repeat, it is a charge not substantiated by history.
In his book, England Before and After Wesley, J. W. Bready tells us that in the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century —
‘The popular hymns and choruses contained no trace of ranting jingo or syncopated clamour: they bore no kinship to the uproar and fury of modern jazz, or to the insipidity of crooning. On the contrary, this new hymnody . . . was expressed in music at once lyrical, dignified, soulful and sweet.’
Does evangelical worship reinvent itself every few decades by adopting new hymn and musical forms, controversial at first, but soon becoming the status quo? Yes, answer the glib advocates of new worship. But let any reader just visit the second-hand bookshop in town, and pick out old hymnbooks. There may be eighteenth-century books there. As you take them up and examine them, you may be surprised to see how many of the hymns are familiar to you. These form the backbone of conservative hymnbooks to this day. If you are familiar with the names of hymn tunes (often printed above the hymns) you will see that most of these are still the majority tunes in modern books. It is remarkable how stable the worship scene has been over very many years. This is because the church of Christ has long had its very own culture of hymns and hymn tunes, formed to suit reverent, intelligent, heartfelt praise, and kept well apart from the world of profanity.
It is true that several new ‘streams’ of emphasis have appeared from time to time in traditional hymnody — such as the affecting, subjective hymns of the late nineteenth-century American writers. But these have practically always held the line in steering a wide birth from profane, worldly music. They have added to, but never betrayed, the principles behind evangelical hymns. It is immensely sad to see this long-maintained testimony, based firmly on biblical principle, now torn to shreds by slick and dishonest ‘historical revisionism’. The claims and jibes of modern-worship promoters are wrong and even scandalous. It is a terrible shame to see good people being misled by them.
A significant statement appeared in a Christian magazine article about new worship. Thinking of ‘Willow Creek’, a mega-church in the USA noted for its contemporary worship, the writer said — ‘Only a generation that loved Woodstock could love Willow Creek.’ The worship leaders and performing artistes of Willow Creek would have been very pleased to read this, for this was exactly what they set out to achieve. Their worship was designed to close the gap between the church and the world to make the one more acceptable to the other. But according to James, to make the church resemble the world is to make it the enemy of God.
For the third time, we will ask our simple test question — why would a church wish to increase its customary, traditional instrumentation and change its style of worship? What is the aim? What will be achieved? What can guitars plus percussion accomplish? And what will be added by the inclusion of trumpet, trombone, drums, saxophone and xylophone (now so common)? The answer may come back along these lines: ‘This will commend us to the present generation, drawing them in and showing them that Christianity is not fusty, but right for them, and telling them that they have nothing to fear from us.’ Such a reply will show that the biblical separation of the church from the world is no longer understood and honoured. Both may now unite, and so eliminate the offence of the Cross. We have asked the same simple test question about the elaboration of instruments and change of musical style three times to show that the answers typically given today betray the slide into aesthetic, then ecstatic, then profane policies of worship.
The three deviations described in the preceding pages contradict crucial principles recovered in the blaze of New Testament light that shone so brightly at the time of the Reformation. Worship is to be offered in spirit and in truth, and not by works of skill or artistry. Worship is to be directed from the understanding, our joy being a response to things we sincerely appreciate, not a joy artificially generated and fuelled by ‘physical’ means. Worship is to be kept distinct from decadent and godless worldly culture. These principles must never be dismissed or surrendered. How we worship is not an accident of history — it is the application of principles. It is not a matter of culture or generation, but a matter of obeying and pleasing God the Father, to Whom worship is directed, God the Son in Whose name it is offered, and God the Holy Spirit, Who empowers it and translates it into the ‘language’ of Heaven. Are we clear about the great principles of worship? Are we teaching them, applying them, proving them? These things are essential if glory and honour is to be brought to the Lord, and the people of God truly sanctified and blessed.
There is a fourth basic principle of worship which we have detached from the three just reviewed, because this fourth did not need to be entirely rediscovered at the Reformation. Despite the widespread insincerity of the priests of the Roman Church, there was generally a realisation that awe and reverence was due to Almighty God. Professing Christianity has waited until now before deciding that reverence is optional. This fourth essential is the theme of chapter 13 — ‘Reverence Begins in the Place of Worship’.
Let the Lord Define Worship
THERE ARE no physical elements or actions in New Testament worship apart from baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which were ordained by the Saviour only as figures. Thus the Lord keeps to His own words — ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ It should be obvious from this that we cannot worship by dancing or by any other physical action. (Dancing and hand raising will be touched upon in later chapters.)
We have already repeatedly observed that worship cannot be conveyed by melody or instruments, music being no more than a wonderful help in the singing of praise. So, we should never abandon or minimise words, and try to worship through music instead. Another biblical source for this principle is found in the last book of the Bible where the worship of believers both in Heaven and on earth is portrayed in a magnificent, spectacular vision.
The Lord’s own definition of worship is set out in remarkable detail in a vision given to John, recorded in Revelation chapters 4 and 5. These chapters present a view of God’s rule over His Church, and also of the Church’s worship. At the centre of the scene is the glorious throne of God, with all three Persons of the Trinity present there (Revelation 4.2 and 5; 5.1 and 6). Exalted language is used to describe the throne, which projects powerful phenomena symbolising the attributes of God.
Around the throne appear four ‘beasts’ or living creatures, most usually identified as God’s cherubim of justice protecting the holiness of God (Revelation 4.6-9). Also, before the throne is a great sea of glass, representing (according to most interpreters) the atoning merits and the offered-up righteousness of Jesus Christ — the only means of approaching the throne (Revelation 4.6).
Outside and around that sea of glass, often pictured as forming a vast circle, are twenty-four elders, very obviously representing twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles — in other words, all believers of both Testaments. This is the Church, both Jew and Gentile, past, present and future; the entire company of redeemed people (Revelation 4.4 and 10). Outside and around that circle is the angelic host, numbering ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.
In the course of this vision we discover how God’s people, both in Heaven and upon earth, worship God. The choice of words is of tremendous significance. In Revelation 4.8 we read of how the cherubim of justice, perhaps the very highest angels, worship. ‘And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, SAYING, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.’ The word to notice is that single word — ‘saying’.
They said their worship. (We shall take this up in due course.) In verses 10 and 11 we read of how the Church of all ages worships. ‘The four and twenty elders fall down before him... and cast their crowns before the throne, SAYING, Thou art worthy, O Lord.’ They spoke their worship.
In chapter 5.8-9 we read: ‘And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they SUNG a new song.? They sang words of worship.
In verses 11 and 12 we are told how the main company of angels worship. ‘And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; SAYING with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb.’ They spoke forth their magnificent statement of adoration.
In verse 13, the record says that every person and every angel, possibly including both good and evil, will acknowledge (gladly or as defeated beings) that God is over all, and they will do so in intelligent words. ‘And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I SAYING, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne.’ In the very next verse we are told once again that the ‘four beasts SAID’. This is the worship of God in both Heaven and earth. They all said or sang.
In this vision of true worship, we see only one form of worship — and that is words. We must affirm this most emphatically — worship is words. Worship is not words and music. Music assists, but the efficacious or valid part is the words, whether thought, said or sung. There is no other vehicle of worship aside from words. The rational mind is the seat of worship. Certainly, worship is by faith and love, but it has to be in words, and this fact is a central standard of historic biblical Christianity. This is why the Reformation cast aside Roman Catholic theatricalism.
When we say that the Bible defines worship as something expressible in intelligible words, a query arises about praying with ‘groanings which cannot be uttered’, mentioned by Paul in Romans 8. Is this not prayer without words? The answer is, no, for the simple reason that these groanings are not ours, but those of the Holy Spirit. With our words we pray, and the Holy Spirit sifts them, translates them into the language of Heaven, and conveys them to the eternal throne on our behalf. We do not know what to pray for, or how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit takes our stumbling efforts, beautifies and perfects them, and presents them before the Father.
We should never say, therefore, ‘I may pray just by feeling, even though I cannot express it in words.’ It may happen that a believer feels so strongly about something that his feelings seem to outpace his mind. But if he were asked — ‘What were you praying for just then?’ — he would be able to reply. There is no prayer that cannot be put into words. We pray, says Paul, with the understanding. Every genuine prayer passes through the rational mind. This alone is true worship. Anything other than this is mystical worship — the very essence of occult religion — and is not historic biblical Christianity.
It is a matter of fact that if this chapter had been written 100 years ago, most Bible-believing readers would have thought it too obvious to be printed. They all knew this. It was fundamental to them that worship is words. In recent times, tragically, this principle has been so widely forgotten that even some ministers are not aware of it! Great fundamentals have slipped out of sight. If Christians of a few generations past were to be resurrected today, they would be amazed at the scene.
In my now rather elderly book The Healing Epidemic,* I have a chapter called ‘The Law of the Sound Mind’, a topic of pressing relevance to ecstatic worship, or the stirring up of feelings by physical means. The chapter title came from Paul’s words to Timothy — ‘For God bath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ It is about the centrality of the sound mind. Very strong feelings should be exercised in our worship, but should always arise from and support the intelligent thoughts of our mind. We must feel things because we think them. If we truly understand and mean the words, then the Holy Spirit (Who inspires all genuine worship) will touch our minds so that we see these things even more clearly, and He will also touch our hearts so that we feel what we see all the more strongly. The emotional system is a system of support and response. It is not the prime mover in worship. It must never be stirred into action or ‘worked up’ by musical techniques.
In the pastoral epistles, the apostle Paul makes many exhortations about sound-mindedness. He calls for rational control at all times. He insists on sensible words and thoughts. He says that the rational faculty must always be switched on. By these exhortations he condemns purely sentimental worship (and trances also). This matter is so important that the apostle goes to the length of making separate exhortations to ministers, older men, older women, younger men and younger women. He repeatedly makes this call to keep the mind at work. In I Corinthians he tells us that we pray and sing in the spirit, but always with the understanding also. In worship we think and comprehend.
Guided by the Lord’s own definition and picture of true worship, we do not major on instrumental excitement and pleasure, but meaningful word-content in hymns, prayers, and preaching. Here will be the deep things of God, and distinctive reverence, power and glory.
Is traditional worship too cerebral?
One well-known writer critiquing modern worship rightly charged its promoters with ‘dumbing down’ worship. The promoters claim that traditional worship is too cerebral, and its defenders are held captive by matters of ‘taste’. Theologian John Frame says the trouble with defenders of traditional worship is that they are musical and theological snobs. But it is not snobbery to be alarmed at the new worship. John Frame tells us he is delighted with choruses and other short, repetitive songs simply because there are very few thoughts in them. For him this is a virtue. He takes a verse from a hymn of Wesley and pronounces it inferior to a conspicuously vapid chorus as a means of efficient communication. His problem with Wesley and Watts and every other traditional hymn writer is that they say far too much. No one, apparently, can grasp all their thoughts, for they are too numerous and too sophisticated. Millions of believers over the centuries have (in Frame’s opinion) been left behind by over-complex worship.
Frame attempts some curious interpretations of Scripture to justify his denigration of great hymns. He looks at Job, noting the fine speeches he prepared to hurl at God when the opportunity arose. But when Job heard God’s voice, he put his hand over his mouth, and choked out the simplest words. Says Frame — that is the right way. That is the difference between traditional worship and new worship. Traditional is like Job’s fine speeches, and contemporary worship is evidently what Job should have done all along. It all proves that the fewest words and the strongest feelings are best. Moses and Isaiah are also brought into the argument by John Frame. They fell silent before the Lord, and said very little. This fact apparently supports the shortage of meaningful words in contemporary Christian worship. Such arguments will strike most readers as being irrelevant and even absurd, but we have not yet seen an advocate of new worship who can offer anything more credible. They simply cannot find scriptural support for the downgrading of words.
Writers like John Frame say repeatedly that we must be biblical in these matters, but they never refer to the Lord’s own hymnbook — the Psalms — in deciding what hymns should be like. It is a fact that the ‘mathematics’ of the Psalms are quite closely represented in most traditional evangelical hymnbooks. The complexity factor is similar, the ratio of praise to petition is strikingly close, and the same range of topics is accommodated. This is surprising, as it is unlikely that all editors sought a conscious correlation. It surely indicates the natural psalm-like balance of traditional reformed worship. However, the song books of the new worship scene in no way reflect the balance of the Psalms. New worship songs almost cry out against the balance and structure of the Psalms. It is worth noting, for example, that the modern chorus has no equivalent in the Psalms, as our table at the end of this chapter shows. We value choruses for children, but should they be found in adult worship, when the Lord never inspired any? Are our traditional hymns too complex? When God compiled a hymnbook for an agricultural people (who were probably 95% illiterate), He gave them not a book of choruses, but the book of Psalms. (We are not, of course, objecting to choruses that appear as refrains at the end of hymn verses, but to the substituting of hymns with choruses.)
There is a world of difference between ‘traditional’ worship and new worship at this point. If we bring short choruses with oft-repeated lines and shallow sentiments into adult worship, we severely strain the Lord’s demand for meaningful understanding of profound and glorious truths.
From the Psalter all the way down to the Reformation, and through subsequent centuries, great hymns (contrary to what is claimed by new worship promoters) have been clearly understood and appreciated by the Lord’s people. Indeed, hymns have lifted up Christians not only spiritually but even intellectually. The Bible first, and godly hymns second, have taught the great truths of the Word, liberating generations from ignorance and naivety, and articulating intelligent praise. Today, the new worship is pulling believers down to an intellectual and spiritual level lower than ever before in church history.
Our point throughout this chapter is that the only vehicle of worship is intelligible thoughts and words. Contemporary or new worship discards this central fact, minimising the role of the mind and emphasising the artificial stimulation of feelings.
The Psalter is Nothing Like a Book of Choruses
All psalms (except five) contain sufficient matter to be converted into paraphrases or hymns of at least five hymn-stanzas in short or common metre. Most psalms are much longer than this. Only the following psalms (3%) have fewer than five verses, and these cannot be regarded as choruses for the following reasons:
Psalm 117 (2 verses). Obviously a closing doxology, either for singing at the end of other psalms or the Temple services.
Psalm 123 (4 verses). This is still too long for a chorus, with too much matter. Lyte’s ‘Unto Thee I lift my eyes’ tracks this psalm in four verses.
Psalm 131 (3 verses). A very personal psalm to be uttered in great humility. Designed to be sung annually by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem, it is utterly unlike a modern chorus.
Psalm 133 (3 verses). Another annual pilgrimage song, this has the character of a ‘grace’ for meals, or for times when relations gather in reunion.
Psalm 134 (3 verses). Last of the pilgrim songs, this is an antiphonal blessing. In verses 1-2 the people bless the priests and Levites, and in verse 3 the latter reply.
The refrain of Psalm 136
Each verse of Psalm 136 (26 verses) includes the refrain, ‘For his mercy endureth for ever’. This is not a chorus, because each time it occurs it accompanies a line making a fresh, substantial point. A similar refrain is found in the first four verses of Psalm 118. Nowhere else does this occur in the Psalter.
*The Healing Epidemic, Peter Masters, Wakeman Trust, 1988, London.
Reverence Begins in the Place of Worship
NO ONE would deny that reverence is due to Almighty God by right. But how can He be properly acknowledged and worshipped if the worshipper has replaced Him with a god of his own making — a much smaller god? Today many evangelical Christians have remodelled God, turning Him into a being only a bit higher than themselves. He is no longer the infinite, almighty, holy God, Who sees and searches every heart. He is merely a chum or pal sharing our smallness and triviality, and enjoying our entertainment-based culture. He is no longer to be feared; no longer to be given reverence.
With this new God, Moses would not need to remove the shoes from his feet, nor the apostle John fall at His feet as dead. This revised God does not mind how we worship Him, and so we need have no inhibitions or qualms about anything we do in His presence. But to change God is to deny Him and to insult Him. So where is reverence today?
Where is the God of Elijah? Where is Old Testament Jehovah? Where is the mighty God so respectfully addressed in the recorded prayers of the New Testament? Amazingly, this glorious God is not wanted, even by many who believe His Word and seek His salvation. Reverence has become distasteful. It has been relegated to the debris of a cast-off former culture. ‘Give us a God,’ we now cry, ‘on our level.’
This chapter is about the necessity of reverence for God and how it brings great benefits and blessings to worshippers. Hebrews 12.28-29 provides a specially challenging verse for the present day:
‘Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.’
‘Reverence’ here literally means — with downcast eyes or great humility. ‘Fear’ means caution, or the reverence of holy fear.
The Lord Jesus Himself, when living out for us a life of perfect righteousness, maintained the deepest reverence toward the Father, the Bible telling us that His prayers were heard because He ‘feared’, using the same Greek term for caution or reverence (Hebrews 5.7). The term ‘fear’, indicating reverential fear, appears often in the New Testament. Cornelius of Caesarea, visited by Peter, was acknowledged by all to be one who ‘feared’ God. His reverence for God was conspicuous. When preaching at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul appealed twice to those that ‘feared’ God, using the same reverential fear term. They would be the people who truly received the Word. ‘Fear God!’ wrote Peter, using the same term (1 Peter 2.17). ‘Fear God!’ said the angel of the preaching of the everlasting Gospel in Revelation, using the same term, indicating that the ultimate objective of the Gospel is to bring men and women not just to salvation, but to reverence (Revelation 14.7).
The victorious people of God sang, ‘Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name?’ using the same reverential fear term (Revelation 15.4). And the voice from the throne of God commanded, ‘Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great’ (Revelation 19.5).
In the parable of the wicked husbandmen, the Lord spoke of a householder who let out his property. But when he sent servants to receive the produce, they were beaten and killed and stoned. Finally the householder sent his son saying, ‘They will reverence my son.’ Reverence, respect and deference is exactly what is due to the eternal Son of God, the Lord of glory. Its expression is to be seen first and foremost in worship, and if it is not there, it will not be seen in other areas of the Christian life either. Reverence-deficient worship soon leads to Christians who are shallow in commitment, seriousness, depth and even holiness. Reverence in worship is paramount for believers, and must be firmly maintained.
Another very valuable passage about reverence is 1 Timothy 4.7-9, where Paul says to Timothy:
‘Exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things.’
To show the pivotal importance of these words Paul attaches the comment — ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.’ He is talking about the necessity of reverence toward God. We may think that the key word in these verses — godliness — refers in a general way to righteous character. Paul’s exhortation then would mean — exercise yourself in sanctified living. This, of course, would be a correct thing to do, but the word godliness does not mean that. It is a highly special word with a very distinctive meaning. The Greek is eusebeia, meaning ‘well-devout’. It refers to our entire attitude toward God. It is far more specific than righteousness, and as this is so important we shall briefly prove the point by glancing at other passages where the word is used.
In 1 Timothy 6.11 we see a very interesting construction: ‘But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, GODLINESS, faith, love, patience, meekness.’ Here godliness sits among other specific qualities. Like them, it is distinctive. It is obviously not a general term for Christian living as it takes its place in a list of very particular virtues. The term is used in the same way in the famous ‘list’ of 2 Peter 1.5-7 — ‘And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience GODLINESS; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.’ Godliness again sits as a specific virtue alongside others.
The Greek word in question appears in classical literature where philosophers used it to mean an appropriate attitude toward the gods. This is the sense in the epistles, where the word means — right demeanour before God, that is, reverence and respect. It is all about the fear of God, humility before God, and deference toward God.
The root of all our problems today as evangelical Christians is the collapse of such reverence. With the new style of worship, all carefulness in God’s presence and all deep respect for Him has gone, and yet this is the ultimate purpose of salvation — to revere and obey Him. Paul therefore says, ‘Exercise yourself unto reverence.’ Other spiritual graces cannot flourish without this foundation.
Many believers exclaim — ‘Oh, but I want to have joy and happiness and the filling of the Spirit. I want a thrilling sense of God and of glory.’ Such a desire is fine, but it can only come with reverence. God must always be to us a great God, to Whom we come with reverence and submission. It is only when we truly hold God in respect that the Holy Spirit gives genuine Christian joy. If we dislike reverence, seeing it as a gloomy alternative to Christian joy, we will only achieve a sham, worked-up, shallow, emotional substitute. All the charismatic meetings in the world, with their noise, rhythm and sensationalism, cannot work up real Christian joy, because they do not have a foundation of reverence, fear and awe.
The prime movers of new-style worship, with its love of entertainment-style music and its utter shallowness, show the same indifference to reverence in their style of teaching. Paul, in giving Timothy his exhortation about godliness, says —‘Refuse profane and old wives’ fables.’ These fables had much in common with the way-out teaching approach of modern charismatic worship. They were myths based on Scripture. The teachers of fables would take Old Testament characters and embellish them, fabricating events and messages wildly beyond anything alluded to in the text. They appealed cleverly to popular taste, their stories gripping the minds of the people. The storyteller is always easy to listen to.
No doubt many of these fable-teachers possessed immense charm, and no doubt their stories were memorable. It was a fascinating, entertaining way of teaching. However, in commanding Timothy to refuse them, Paul uses an interesting word. He calls these fables profane — a word which indicates the opposite of reverence and respect. The Greek word for profane literally refers to a ‘threshold walker’, or someone who is free and easy and does whatever he likes. He has no reserve, no sense of caution, no fear or respect for the premises. The fable-teachers had no reverence and respect for the sacred text. They just made things up and passed them off as Bible teaching. The largest charismatic denomination in the world today invents a new spiritual duty almost every few months. New anointings (all at a price) tumble out as the preachers concoct and invent gimmick after gimmick, always, of course, finding a text to pin them on. Like the fable-teachers of old they have no reverence or respect for either God or the sacred text. They do not seem to realise that there is a God in Heaven Who will hold them responsible for all their wrestings and distortions of His Word. There is no fear in them. ‘Refuse their profane, freewheeling fables,’ Paul would say, ‘because such people are not governed by reverence, respect, carefulness or conscientiousness with regard to Scripture.’
It was teachers of just this character in recent times who were the first to launch away from traditional worship, substituting entertainment, lightness, showmanship, gimmicks and games. The showbiz style of worship has been the product of profane teaching. Reverence was jettisoned, and inane superficiality and emotional abandonment brought in.
How can some of these modern worship leaders behave as they do, when they run jauntily on to the platform like television celebrities showing off their personalities, and behaving in an entirely flippant and irreverent manner in the presence of the holy, all powerful, wonderful God? Reverence knows how to honour divine dignity, but for them it is burdensome and restrictive.
As it happens, reverence is a door to much blessing in this present life, as well as in eternity, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 4.7-8. So, he exhorts, ‘exercise thyself . . . unto godliness.’ The word godliness, as we have shown, refers to reverence and respect for God. The Greek word translated ‘exercise’ is literally gymnasticise. So Paul says — gymnasticise yourself to practise reverence.
There is no doubt that reverence is instinctual for new-born Christians. When we are converted, our new nature is impregnated with great reverence for God. But we can allow this to run down, and even lose it. Therefore, says Paul, it must be exercised. We know that exercise in the physical realm does not make muscles. It will certainly develop them, and it should preserve them, but it does not make them in the first place. Similarly, reverence comes with the new nature, but exercise is necessary to strengthen and maintain it.
Some years ago a medical practitioner friend was telling me about his church, and how it was adopting new charismatic songs, choruses, hand clapping, swaying, tongues, and producing considerable noise in services. This doctor had a good grasp of reformed truth, and I asked him what his feelings were. He replied that he was quite ambivalent, and did not mind what went on. Whether worship was conducted the old way or the new he felt it was all worship. It did not upset or offend him that reverence had fallen. His instinct for reverence had virtually disappeared.
The apostle Paul, incidentally, does not scorn bodily exercise when he says, ‘For bodily exercise profiteth little.’ Some believe he means — for a little time. However, the statement may equally be translated — ‘For bodily exercise profits to a little.’ Paul’s statement acknowledges that exercise achieves something. The apostle experienced considerable bodily exercise himself, walking great distances. Even in later years he would have walked us off our feet, as the saying goes. Also, when he found himself in a place where there was no support, he laboured as a tentmaker. In those days there were no industrial sewing machines, and workers had to put thongs and threads through heavy textiles and canvases by hand. We should never think of Paul as a present-day academic.
Paul was well aware of the athletic activities of his day. It was clear to him that the benefit of training was, first, effective only for a time, and secondly, was limited to preparing an athlete for his special event. The heavily trained wrestler did not necessarily make a fast runner. Moving into the moral realm, an athlete’s physical training would not help him control his temper, or any other sin-tendency. Physical exercise worked only in a limited area.
The apostle’s argument is that the exercise of reverence has a much broader benefit, because it deepens and strengthens every aspect of Christian life and service, and prepares for eternity. ‘For bodily exercise profiteth [to a] little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.’
Reverence is stated to be immensely significant and beneficial in the Christian life, but it must begin with worship. If worship is stripped of reverence, then reverence will be stunted in all other aspects of Christian living. What begins in worship, spreads into the whole Christian life. If worship is more like a performance, with showing off, imitation of the world, sensation-seeking, much noise, and everything for my pleasure, then reverence will not be found in any other department of life. How cruel it is, then, for churches to abandon reverent worship! The members will be seriously hurt and disadvantaged for their personal spiritual lives.
Reverence and understanding
Take our understanding of the Bible. Reverence for God produces humility and fear of offending Him in the handling of the Bible. We take the opposite approach of the fable-teachers and the charismatic teachers just referred to. ‘This is God’s sacred Word,’ we say to ourselves. ‘I must not rush through it. I must open my heart day by day to what God is saying. I must make sure I get it right, and if I don’t understand it, I must consult a reliable book or person for help. I must learn and obey.’ Reverence leads to conscientiousness with Scripture, and this in turn leads to right understanding. Reverence certainly helps us not to come to hasty and superficial conclusions. It safeguards us against many errors. This attitude of reverence and care is seen perfectly in the stance of the apostle Peter, recorded in 2 Peter 1.19-21:
‘We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.’
The person with reverence for the Lord and for His Word is concerned to get things right. The preacher always checks his work with conscientious care. If he thinks he sees in the text something he has not seen before, he worries lest his imagination should have led him astray, and checks his understanding more carefully. Reverence keeps him from falling into foolish conclusions and errors. Reverence checks his step and humbles his self-confidence. What a difference reverence makes! But if it is omitted from worship, it will not be found in handling the Bible. The essential exercising of reverence begins in worship. The house of God is the best gymnasium.
Reverence and sanctification
Turning from Bible study to holiness of life, reverence again makes all the difference, and strengthens our advance. Without reverence, repentance for sin becomes light and easy, but with it (sown and nurtured in our worship) we become far more serious and determined.
In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks of the repentance of the Corinthians, saying, in effect, ‘When you repented for sins you had committed, what heart-searching there was! What sensitivity of conscience there was! What hatred of yourselves was shown! What zeal and vehemence you had, to get rid of the wrong! You had such reverence for God, and awareness of His holiness, that you longed to be accepted before Him, and you were really sorry and struggled to get this matter right.’
Reverence for God says, ‘I must leave this sin behind. I must obtain His pardon and forgiveness before I proceed with anything, for God sees me!’ Reverence gives birth to great diligence.
The believer may always run into the presence of God as a child runs into the presence of a loving father, but not without reverence and respect, because our heavenly Father is demanding in holiness, and severe in His holy indignation against sin. Reverence never steals from our joy, but it maintains within us a right degree of seriousness, so that we do not collapse into lightness and superficiality. Once again we must say — if such reverence does not begin in worship, it will never grow and survive.
Reverence and bearing
Reverence for God shapes our lifestyle and conduct before the watching world like no other influence. To use an old-fashioned but very descriptive word — what is our deportment before unconverted people? What is our bearing, our stance and our behaviour like? If we have deep reverence and respect for God, we will always feel ourselves to be ‘on duty’ as His servants. The last thing we will want to do is to let Him down.
Reverence for God does not forget that He observes our every reaction to circumstances. It also gives rise to such a sense of privilege and responsibility that we shall never abandon our composure, and fall to bad behaviour. We will be diligent to witness, and careful to control ourselves when under stress. We will be very concerned to handle our troubles and our difficulties well, and not to lose our self-control. Reverence remembers that God knows best, and that He provides and trains us for our eternal good. Reverence never doubts the Lord, and certainly cannot be bitter against Him. Reverence holds us through many a valley, and sees us through to new phases of joy and peace.
Every department of life is considerably affected, blessed and strengthened by reverence for the Lord. Husbands and wives say to themselves, ‘God has given me a lifelong partner and a charge to keep my marriage pure and harmonious and purposeful. Because this commission is from the mighty and eternal God Whom I revere and adore, I will keep it with awe and diligence. I will keep alive the flame of love and the vision of marriage, and will behave with respect and affection in every situation.’
Through reverence, we subdue unworthy thoughts about one another, and practise appreciation. Reverence for God holds us to the rules. God observes, and chastises and rewards according to our conduct. However, this kind of reverence will never be maintained in us if it is not exercised and developed first in the time of worship.
Paul says that reverence for God is profitable unto all things, but how can it be exercised? ‘Gymnasticise,’ says the apostle. Train every day. But how? We have noted that God’s house is a fine gymnasium, equipped with the Word of God and the apparatus of corporate worship. Equally precious is the time of daily devotions. Much is to be learned from the training of athletes. One of the chief aspects of training in the physical sphere is sacrifice. In athletics, sacrifice characterises all training, and the exercising of reverence necessitates that certain things must be put aside. This begins with the purifying of worship. Levity (but not joy) must be put aside, and with it mere emotional self-indulgence and selfish pleasure. The Lord must have highest place. If we are ready to do this, and to place God first and foremost in worship, then we will find no hardship in doing the same in other areas of life.
In their personal lives, some believers need to make a pledge to sacrifice worldliness. Many things that the world does are attractive, and even in this world’s current musical products there will no doubt be some compelling melodies and arrangements coupled with brilliant instrumentalism. But if these accomplishments are wedded and glued to a rotten culture, they will have to be sacrificed. Reverence for God will cause us to say, ‘I do not want an immoral culture to dominate and train my thinking, nor should I condone it by association. I therefore sacrifice it to the Lord.’
Reverence also leads believers to consecrate their individual programme to the Lord. They do not say yes to every activity open to them. When friends come along and say, ‘Oh, let’s go there tomorrow evening,’ and others say, ‘Come here with us the following evening,’ they pause and reflect. What is proposed may be legitimate and wholesome, and the invitations may come from good friends, but believers are ready to sacrifice the luxury of saying yes to everything, lest their lives should become disorganised. If we yielded to every overture we would have no time for devotions, no time for Christian service, and no time to do justice to other priorities.
We are not talking here about being drawn into godless things, but about sacrificing the right to do everything that is good and enjoyable, for the Lord’s sake. We all have to learn to say no to certain things. Training starts here, as any athlete will testify. This kind of discipline — the fruit of reverence — applies to worship in the house of God, where extraneous activities are shut out. It applies also to daily life. But we repeat yet again that this consecrated attitude to life is only found where believers have deep respect for God, and that will be seriously injured if it is not first exercised in worship.
The athlete also sacrifices liberty of dress, and dons shorts and singlet for training, and, in a sense, so should we. The believer says, ‘I will sacrifice the right to dress however I like whether in church or at business.’ We may be under pressure in our work environment to follow prevailing styles, but we have a Christian dress code to observe, and must stay within the bounds of morality and decency. We therefore remember that certain things are unacceptable for us because we have reverence for God and want to please Him and live for Him. It is not surprising that wherever reverence has been thrown out of worship, even the dress code of believers has been lost also. Reverence begins in worship.
For some believers, it may be pleasurable superficiality that has to be curbed. They must pray, ‘Lord, I sacrifice my desire to live in constant lightness.’ Clearly this affects some people more than others. But some want to be light all day long, and never serious. They must say, ‘Lord, I realise I must have a larger serious element in my life. I must mature. I’ll sacrifice my perverse escape into whatever amuses. I’ll sacrifice the freedom to be a fickle person flitting from one thing to another as it suits me. I’ll abandon my constant avoidance of self-discipline and sustained thought. I will seek times of seriousness, and focus on solid things.’
Such a desire and pledge is vital daily training for some believers. This is the gymnastics of reverence.
It is observable that reverence for God keeps us in balance whatever our personality or gifts. For example, we have believers in our midst who are gifted with a great sense of humour, and it lightens the day, and we enjoy their wit. But if they have reverence for God, they also have a serious side, and we can enjoy mature conversation with them. They know when it is time to be humorous, and they know when it is time to be serious. And if they do not know when it is time to be serious and mature, then they have probably failed to exercise reverence for the Lord. Such friends will have no help in keeping their balance if the worship in their church is light and flippant, or if the worship leaders have no visible respect for God, and no sense of occasion.
Every day the believer in training goes through a kind of programme check. What am I going to do today? What is happening in my spare time? Am I aiming to do anything useful for the Lord? Should I visit someone, perhaps to draw back a faltering friend? Today I will serve and honour the Lord. If I find myself in trouble I will count my privileges and remember the promises. I will respect sacred duties. I will not skimp devotions. I will remember that I represent the Lord in all situations. I will be careful to recognise when I must be serious, so as to weep with them that weep, or discuss some important matter properly.
Reverent Christians do not insist on having their own way all the time. Reverent Christians work hard in the Lord’s service. Reverent Christians are sacrificial in their stewardship. Reverence influences all these things, and if it should be lost, we soon fall to superficial Christian living. Training in reverence benefits every department of life, producing a healthy measure of seriousness, conscientiousness, respect for the Word, and zeal for the work of God.
How is our reverence? Have we missed this crucial department of the Christian life? As we have repeatedly asserted — reverence in worship is the essential starting point! Take that away, and there is no hope that we will even remotely resemble the kind of people whom God desires to be His own.
Three Battles for the Soul of Evangelicalism
THIS BOOK BEGAN with the assertion that worship is the most important issue confronting Bible churches today. Some years ago a group of influential church leaders launched an attempt to bring Catholics and evangelicals closer together, proposing cooperation in mission. The cost would be heavy —the blurring of vital salvation doctrines that stood between them. Many evangelicals succumbed, but many stood, particularly when a number of prominent leaders sprang to the defence of the Gospel, insisting that justification by faith alone is the exclusive way for the salvation of lost souls.
At the same time charismatic practices were spreading rapidly through both Catholic and evangelical churches, leading many weaker evangelicals to believe that Catholics must be equally ‘saved’ because they experienced the same charismatic phenomena. Salvation distinctives suffered a severe setback, but large numbers of evangelical churches remained unaffected, never having accepted charismatic practices as biblical.
But then the new worship revolution accelerated its influence, proving far more dangerous than either of the previous trends. Churches that had defended justification by faith alone and kept clear of charismatic ideas came under immense pressure to adopt worldly-idiom and charismatic-style worship. Those that did so began to be shaped by the new songs they were singing and the music they were playing. Soon they could see no great difference between themselves and those who produced the new songs. Those churches are now being gradually but inevitably absorbed into the world of charismatic and ecumenical evangelicalism. Having formerly refused to forfeit their evangelical distinctives by the fudging of doctrine, or by acceptance of charismatic phenomena, they are now being overpowered by the euphoric drug of contemporary-style worship. Sometimes the preaching remains sound — but for how long once the ethos of the church has changed?
Whether its advocates realise it or not, the contemporary worship movement is the instrument of the hour to pull down the doctrinal walls of Zion. How the arch-enemy of the churches of Christ and of human souls must be straining to bring about such a catastrophe! The new worship scene is undoubtedly our enemy, not our friend.
If we give new worship the smallest foothold it will ruin the highest activity entrusted to us — the reverent, intelligent and joyful offering of spiritual praise. Those who begin by singing one new worship song at every service, will soon be singing two, then three, then adding the band, and so on. It is very noticeable that wherever new worship has been embraced by evangelicals, a perceptible loss of reverence, coupled with worldliness and shallowness, has set in. It is obvious from the experience of many churches that new worship brings in wood, hay and stubble, and steals away the power and glory of true praise.
In this closing respectful appeal to spiritual under-shepherds and all other believers, may I urge the consideration of three fearful possibilities. First, the adoption of new worship — with all its compromises of principle — could be an act of great pastoral insensitivity and cruelty, destroying in the young all sense of separation from the world, and delivering them as spiritual cripples into the power of secular culture. How can they be expected to keep their personal lives clear of sinful, worldly culture, if this is incorporated in the worship of their church? Never, before the present era, have evangelical churches considered adopting anything quite like this.
Secondly, the adoption of new worship may prove to be the most divisive force for many decades, because countless believers will feel compelled to stand apart from fellowships that surrender to it. We are already seeing this occurring on a very wide scale.
Finally, with the adoption of new worship, individual churches may dramatically change character in the months and years ahead. Where will your church be ten or twenty years from now? Will it be a lightweight, frothy, entertainment-based community, drinking from this world’s fountains, and stripped of all the strengths of truly biblical Christianity? Will it have become a charismatic church, with worshippers either dancing or falling in the aisles? Will it be unrecognisable as a once conservative, Bible-loving fellowship? Or will it still be standing for the Truth by the power of God?
How many churches will be lost to the old biblical ways through worldly worship? The great tragedy is already taking place with significant fellowships becoming ‘new evangelical’ and charismatic in towns and cities everywhere. May God help us to cherish and guard the great principles of worship expressed in His Word, rediscovered at the Reformation, and kept by millions over so many generations. May we prove the Lord in loyalty to them! May we be faithful to our charge as pastors and church officers!
Scripture matters. Principles count. The Lord must be loved and obeyed in all things. Never let anyone take away your biblical worship. Whatever the cost, hold on to God-focused worship, untainted by fleshly inventions, until the Great Day dawns, and the shadows flee away, and we look with rapture on our King, Whose all-surpassing glory will be unobscured by the things of the world for all eternity.