Actually, let me be more specific. I want to talk about the weekly worship service. Here’s why. There are some really dangerous trends in evangelical Christianity today and one of them involves the weekly gathering we call worship. Specifically I would like to opine on what we do in worship, why we do it and to whom are we “catering” in our worship.
Let me start with this question:
To whom are we catering when we gather for worship?
My wife recently overhead the lead pastor of a large church near where we live say that, at their weekly worship gatherings (they call them “worship experiences”), the majority of their gathering were not “saved.” This particular church has several thousand people that gather weekly at their worship “experiences” via different campuses.
Let me say that again in case you missed it. The majority of those who gathered, according to the lead pastor, were without a relationship with Christ. Read that again and let it sink in.
I feel several emotions when I read that statistic. First, I am sad that so many in that one gathering are without Christ. Second, I am staggered that this could be true. Third, it motivates me even more to preach the full gospel of Jesus the Christ. This led me to a recent discussion about the “seeker sensitive” movement that has been ongoing in evangelical circles for some time now. This also led me to ask questions of this church, such as:
If all those lost people are coming to your church week in and week out, why are they still lost without Christ?! If they are hearing the gospel over and over again, how can none of them be converted? To say that they remain lost can only mean one of two things. It can only mean that either God’s Word along with the Holy Spirit is not sufficient to convert hearts or that the full gospel of Jesus is not being proclaimed. Those are the only two options. You can guess which option in this case I’d vote for.
But this leads us back to the question of to whom are we catering in our worship services? I want to be very clear here. It is my firm belief that worship can only be done properly in the context of the gathering of the true church, the regenerated and converted followers of Christ. That means that those who are not converts cannot be a part of the church. Let me say that again. The church cannot be made up of those who are unconverted. So if your gathering is all lost people, that is not the church. So who is the church?
If you’ve read the Bible at all then you know who the Church is. The Church is the people of God. I think the Westminster Confession is helpful here. In Chapter 25 of the Confession, we find this definition in paragraphs 1 and 2:
The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or
shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth
The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before the law),
consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the
Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
What does that mean? It means that unless you are a regenerate, born again follower of Jesus (or the child of a believing household), you are not a part of The Church. So it is impossible for unbelievers to be considered The Church, because they simply are not members thereof. So if your gathering is made up of unbelievers, your gathering is not a church.
That’s going to strike some of you as harsh and insensitive in today’s politically correct climate. But the Bible is clear that the people of God are those who have been marked out and separated from the world by the Holy Spirit and by their professed faith. Now this is not to say that we should not be evangelistic and share our faith and invite unbelievers to our gatherings. Of course we should! Just know that they are not of The Church, so don’t be surprised when they don’t “get it.”
If this is the case, and The Church is made up of believers and their households, how then should we worship? In other words, what should be done in worship and why? I’ll start with what should be done in worship.
Have you ever heard of “The Regulative Principle?” I’ll give you a very brief description of it and I’ll paraphrase that. The Regulative Principle basically states that God is to be worshipped only in the ways found in Scripture. So what does that mean?
It means that, if God is God, He gets to set the standard for how He is to be worshipped and not us. We don’t “make the rules” where God is involved.
He is God. We are not.
Practically, how does that flesh out? Again, I find the Westminster Confession helpful. In Chapter 21 of the Confession, we find some help in paragraph 5, which says:
The reading of the Scriptures, with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience
unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as, also, the due
administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship
of God; besides religious oaths, and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions; which are, in their
several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.
So here we see some of the proper elements of corporate worship; reading of Scripture, the preaching of God’s Word, singing songs of worship to God and the proper administration of the sacraments. How is God to be worshipped? By the reading of His Word, the preaching and teaching of His Word, the singing of songs about Him and the proper outworking of the sacraments that He has instituted in The Church.
Yes but why worship this way? Well, because:
He is God and we are not. He has spoken by His Word and we are to obey.
Please hear me, I’m not criticizing smoke machines and laser shows…well, I kinda’ am. I think that is just silly and gives in to our obsession for entertainment, but that is just my opinion. Nevertheless, if in the smoke machines and laser shows, the Word of God is read and preached and the songs are about Him and the sacraments are properly administered, then bring on the light show!
However, what has become apparent in this “seeker sensitive” movement is that worship is not at all about God the Father or God the Son or God the Spirit and what He has said. It is apparent that, for many, worship is about us and our insatiable desire for entertainment. It then becomes about our experience and not our worship of Him. If God is God, He gets to say how we are to worship Him.
Let’s be really careful to put Him on the throne and make Him the center of our worship and not ourselves.