But Contemporary Worship Brings People to Jesus! Right?

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“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” [1]

Jonathan Aigner writes of a comment he received as result of a blog post. The commenter wrote, “I have tried to avoid God my whole life. I wouldn’t know a traditional hymn from a modernized hymn. I’ve never even stepped foot into a church … until this past Sunday. The people on stage sang a song by David Crowder, and I began to feel the very presence of God. It was like nothing I ever felt before. Tears streamed down my eyes and right then, I bowed down and made a decision to surrender my life to Jesus. I ask you a simple question … wasn’t David Crowder’s song—guitars, modernized lyrics and all—worth being written and sang that way? “The writer then signed the note, The person next to you in the pew. [2]

The writer of this particular note was no doubt sincere. Whoever this individual was, he or she undoubtedly believed that experience trumped what is presented in the Word. Truthfully, what is written in this note reflects the prevailing attitude of our world. It is an attitude that has occasioned unimaginable changes in society and has even managed to transform the churches. However, the transformation witnessed has not always been for the best.

A significant problem contributing to the transformations that have taken place among the churches is that few modern Christians have thought through the issue of what worship is and what it is not. Part of the reason for this is that many Christians are unable to define the purpose of worship. Why do we worship? Why do we come together? And why do we call what we do during that time a “worship service?”

WORSHIP AMONG THE FIRST CHURCHES — “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” [1 CORINTHIANS 14:20-25].

Let’s join the worship at New Beginnings Baptist Church in Corinth. The saints have gathered early on a Sunday morning. Quiet reverence is evident among the worshippers as people come into the house where the meeting will be conducted. As the believers enter, they exchange quiet greetings before bowing in silent prayer. There is an air of anticipation as the elders take their place before the worshippers. It is not quite light outside as one elder begins to read the words of Scripture—sometimes a letter written by Paul, or one of Peter’s missives and or yet again one of the letters written by John. At almost every service the words of one of the Evangelists will be read. At yet other times, a passage from the Old Testament will be read. The lector continues reading until the particular letter is completed. If one of the Gospels is being read, the reading will continue until the reader reaches an appropriate stopping point with the intent of continuing the reading the following week until the account has been fully read aloud. A similar plan is employed when the lector reads the Old Testament books.

When the reading of the Word is completed, the pastor stands to admonish worshippers, urging imitation of the truths that have been disclosed through the reading of Scripture. Perhaps one or two other elders will provide exposition of the same passages after the pastor has finished his exposition. The exhortation continues until a full exposition of the particular Scripture that was read is provided. The exhortations are referred to as prophesying.

When the exhortations are completed, a member of the assembly begins to sing a hymn of praise. As she lifts her voice in song, others join in singing. Other worshippers will likewise initiate a song or a hymn. Interspersed with the singing are believers standing to tell of God’s work in his or in her life, almost always urging the congregation to glorify the Son of God by offering praise to Him for His mercies. Then a sister provides a testimony of what she has discovered through meditating on the words of Scripture she heard as the Word was read the previous week and as the elders provided exposition of what had been read. And so the service continues until all have shared that wish to share what God has placed on the heart.

It is almost startling to witness the congregation standing together as they begin to pray aloud. Though some worshippers are praying silently—all are petitioning God for His blessings and seeking His glory. These prayers may continue for an extended period. Some worshippers will make their way to other worshippers to encourage them, praying for them or asking that they pray with them for courage or encouragement.

Simultaneously, as the Spirit moves in the hearts of the people the praying ceases and quietness settles over the congregation. Those who have never submitted to baptism are dismissed. When the uninitiated are dismissed, bread and wine are brought out. The presiding elder offers up prayers and thanksgivings, the people sing and give assent by saying “Amen.” The elements are distributed to worshippers and each one participates. Those who have ability to give and who are willing to do so make an offering which is presented to the presiding elder. He will entrust what has been collected to the deacons who will distribute what is necessary to the widows and orphans, those who have need because of illness or because of some other cause, those who are imprisoned or the families of prisoners and to any strangers sojourning. [3]

What is apparent, both from Paul’s first missive to the Church of God in Corinth, and from the literature of believers who participated in the worship practised among the earliest Christians, is that there was a liturgy. Every church or movement has a liturgy. The word “liturgy” should not frighten us; all the word refers to is that worship has a beginning and an end with something taking place between.

Scripture does not prescribe the order of worship, though certain elements are recognised. Perhaps the closest we can come to a statement of the cardinal components of worship is what Doctor Luke provides in his account of the meeting of the first congregation after Pentecost. ACTS 2:42 provides the following statement: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The earliest meetings of followers of the Way were composed of preaching (the apostles’ teaching), “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [the heart] [see COLOSSIANS 3:16]” (the fellowship), the Lord’s Table (the breaking of bread) and corporate prayer (the prayers).

What shines through this brief description of the earliest Christian worship is the corporate nature of worship. We should have no difficulty accepting that biblical exposition is important and that such preaching should be provided for all who worship, though many churches today appear to depreciate the preaching of the Word. We are less certain about “the prayers.” We will tolerate the pastoral prayer (provided it isn’t too long or too specific in confessing our particular sins). Undoubtedly, we recognise that the Lord’s Table should be a corporate activity. However, I don’t know that we have actually grasped the importance of singing. We often distort the act of congregational singing either through according singing undeserved prominence or through depreciation as though it had no relevance to worship.

Permit me to cite COLOSSIANS 3:16 using one of the contemporary translations. Listen carefully as the translators capture an aspect that is hinted at in many churches and missed by most. “Let the teaching of Christ live in you richly. Use all wisdom to teach and instruct each other by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” [4] [COLOSSIANS 3:16]. Would you not agree that this translation gives a different view of worship? The verse teaches us that through such corporate participation we teach and admonish one another. The verse echoes with even greater clarity what Paul wrote in the Ephesian letter: “Speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord” [5] [EPHESIANS 5:19]. Thus, singing is both to honour God and to build others. Moreover, according to what is written in these two portions of the Word, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in order to instruct others reveals that one is indwelt by the Spirit of God!

The hymnody of the church is very important—but it is not all important. What is important to remember concerning music in worship is that in light of the Scriptures we have reviewed to this point in the message, the songs we sing are to be doctrinally sound so that they instruct worshippers. In other words, we sing not to please ourselves, but to glorify God and to instruct our fellow worshippers. The Christians gathered in Corinth were said to each have a hymn [see 1 CORINTHIANS 14:26], suggesting that corporate singing was a vital part of the worship. Paul writes in that same chapter, “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” [1 CORINTHIANS 14:15b], indicating that congregational singing should be both joyful and meaningful. What is written here fits with something that James has written. James writes, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” [JAMES 5:13]—joy leads inevitably to singing!

An excursus from the text leads to the observation that hymns are powerful, so powerful that they speak to outsiders who listen to our songs. This is evidenced by an incident recorded from the ministry of the Apostle Paul. When the missionaries were jailed in Philippi, I read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” [ACTS 16:25]. The word Paul used indicates that not only did the other prisoners hear them, but they listened to what the missionaries sang with interest. [6] The prisoners were paying attention. What you sing is more important than you perhaps realise, for as you sing, outsiders may well be listening to what is sung.

Let’s assemble a comprehensive view of worship as practised in the New Testament assemblies as revealed through our studies to this point. The worship of the early churches focused on God, and not on the liturgy itself. This is an important point that should not be discounted. Again, the worship was corporate. Should someone claim that private acts of worship occurred during corporate gatherings, they would be on shaky ground. Private acts of worship prepare the believer for corporate worship; however, the community of faith meets as the Body of Christ and is therefore united in worship. I do not deny that the individual can and should worship God, but when we meet in assembly our worship is to be a united activity. The elements of worship as revealed in the Word include the reading of Scripture, exposition of the Word that is read, congregational singing, prayer, the Lord’s Table and the offering of one’s possessions.

When historians review evangelical worship until very recently, the liturgies were similar. Worshippers would be comfortable entering into a Baptist congregation or into any of a number of evangelical churches (including low-church Anglican, Methodist, independent Bible-church or even numerous Anabaptist churches); the worship would consist of Scripture reading, congregational singing consisting of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, receiving an offering to advance the Faith, a sermon urging the congregation to righteous lives and perhaps the observance of the Lord’s Table depending upon the regularity with which that ordinance was observed. However, during the past fifty years, worship has changed quite dramatically.

WORSHIP AMONG THE SAINTS TODAY — When you think of worship, what images come to mind? Chances are quite good that your mind turns to singing. Among contemporary churches, singing is promoted prominently as the sole act of “worship.” One church I pastored had worship teams that frequently would say to congregants, “Now we’ll worship” as they began to sing. However, both in word and in attitude, the team depreciated the idea that preaching or prayer or even the act of bringing our gifts was worship. For them, worship was singing.

As we’ve already seen, worship consists of those elements that bring us face-to-face with God. To be sure, we glorify Him in song; but our singing is also to serve through instructing one another in biblical truth. Our praying is surely to present our pleas to God; but we should also be engaging in fellowship with God—praising Him, finding ourselves lost in wonder and awe at His majesty and might. As the Scriptures are read and exposition of what has been read is provided, we are meeting God through His Word. If we are not meeting Him, we have not worshipped.

My service before the Lord has now spanned well over forty years. During that time, I have witnessed numerous movements introducing dramatic changes in what is accepted as worship among the churches. If there is a standard for worship today, it appears to be that the churches must adapt to culture, giving the target group what is wanted.

Among the changes introduced, and now commonly accepted among the churches, are worship dancers, dramatic skits and plays and various activities such as being slain in the Spirit and holy laughter. There is a new emphasis on music with a concomitant depreciation of preaching, especially expository preaching. A number of the changes that have been introduced are disturbing to those who seek the Lord. Let me speak to them in order that we may distinguish between what honours God and what is merely pleasing to the flesh.

In an effort to be relevant to culture, many churches instituted what are called “seeker” services. These congregations promote themselves as “seeker sensitive” churches. One great problem with the concept of “seeker sensitive” churches is that we are taught

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.”

[ROMANS 3:10b, 11]

Sinners do not seek God; they must be drawn by the Spirit of God to look to Christ the Lord. Jesus taught us, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” [JOHN 14:16]. Nevertheless, churches attempted to be relevant to culture in an effort to draw the lost to Christ.

However commendable it may be to long for sinners to come to the Faith, we must not rely on the methodology of the world in order to accomplish heavenly ends. Though we may adapt the methods for presenting the message of life, that message must not be altered. If we attempt to make the message of the Gospel palatable to those of this dying world, we will empty the cross of its power. The Body of Christ is a spiritual entity, and the work of this Body must be conducted in the power of the Spirit. If we attempt to harness entertainment such as is offered by the world, we will fail miserably in presenting the message of Christ.

Two portions of Paul’s writings are relevant to this matter. Early in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminded these saints, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” [1 CORINTHIANS 1:17-25].

In a similar vein, we must recognise that the message we present is odious to the natural man. Paul reminded the saints in Corinth, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” [1 CORINTHIANS 2:14-16].

The reading of Scripture is often relegated to a very minor place in the worship of God, if not eliminated from the worship altogether. While it is true that most worshippers today have access to a copy of Holy Writ, it has become increasingly common for worshippers not to bring a Bible to the service. True, churches often provide a pew Bible or the portion of Scripture that is being read is projected on a screen. This is not wholly a bad thing; still, it seems that modern Christians are impoverished by failure to bring their own copies of Scripture to the service. As we read the Word, the Spirit of God speaks to us, bringing to mind other portions of the Word. If we have our own Bible with us, we are able to make appropriate notes in the margins so that we can recall important truths as we read those same portions of the Word at another time. Worse yet is our failure in modern worship to read the Word, listening for the voice of the Spirit speaking through the Spirit.

Prayer is another area in which contemporary churches have accommodated the world. Prayer is hard work. This is obvious from two observations—the lack of support for specific prayer meetings and comments delivered to the pastor when the pastoral prayer or the congregational prayer seems overly long. Pressure to abbreviate or even to dismiss the specific prayer times appears to arise primarily from two quarters. We live in a busy world, and congregants are busier than ever. The Lord’s Day has become an antiquated concept; Sunday, rather than being a day set aside for worship and contemplation of the Lord our God, has become a day for recreation.

Surrender to what sometimes appears inevitable in church life has become a hallmark for many congregations. When we see churches advertising Super Bowl services and Grey Cup services designed specifically to get worshippers out the door of the church so they don’t miss the big game, or churches even providing a large-screen television (replete with popcorn and soft drinks for those watching the game), how else should we interpret the trend? There is always the pressure to get to the park in time for a picnic, to get to the trails for riding our snowmobiles or hitting the links for nine holes. If the children are going to present a recital, it will surely be on Sunday. If they are playing in a hockey tournament, a softball game or a soccer game, it is usually scheduled for Sunday afternoon. With such pressure on those providing oversight of the services, it is easy to justify truncating time for prayer.

The other argument often raised against prayer is that it is too invasive. Should the pastor actually mention sins, and in particular the secret sins that we don’t want exposed, the pain to congregants is palpable. Prayers are to be offered up for our physical maladies, for our situations that may cause acute discomfort, for our psychological comfort—prayer is not to become an act of confession. Pro forma confession of sin in general differs radically from contrition for specific sins; anything that compels facing our personal sin is to be avoided at all costs.

The placement of the Lord’s Table in evangelical worship should concern worshippers. Far too many churches today tack on the Communion Meal at the end of the service as though it was an afterthought. Often, the congregation rushes through the rite as though it was a mere formality that must be observed in order to fulfil some ancient liturgical requirement. Martin Luther was shocked when as an Augustinian friar he travelled to Rome and witnessed the Italian priests ridicule the holy feast. They solemnly intoned in Latin as they blessed the bread, “Bread you are and bread you shall remain!” These priests mocked the very act they confessed to be a so-called sacrament. I relate the story because the attitude of many Evangelicals when conducting the ordinance of Communion conveys an attitude of disdain. The sense we convey when we rush to get things over so we can leave is that Christ and worship of Him as the Lord God is a bother, is a distraction from things we really want to do.

Among the changes that have been introduced among many churches while attempting to make the worship of Christ acceptable to the world is elimination of the time to receive the gifts of God’s people. Many churches had treated the receipt of offerings as an opportunity to generate funding for the activities of the church. They introduced such concepts as the pledge, thus reducing this act of worship to a form of collecting membership dues. It was easy to justify this move since it is impossible to budget without knowing how much money to anticipate. Since the leaders of the church were often chosen because of their success in the world of business, it was inevitable that the church would be run as a business. Other churches have assumed that the receipt of the offerings of God’s people will offend the unsaved, so they have endeavoured to make the act of giving a secret venture—there is no time set aside to worship in giving. Consequently, it becomes difficult to realise that this is also worship.

The two greatest changes in worship must be depreciation of preaching the Word and exaltation of congregational singing. Preaching has become a sort of religious pep talk in many churches. Others use the time set aside for preaching to instruct listeners in ways in which they can get things from God. However, the biblical model is exposition of the Word, explaining what Scripture says and making application to the lives of those listening. It is difficult to believe that worship can occur when we fail to hear the Word of the Lord through exposition of the Word. Paul acknowledged that the substance of our message is despised by the world when he wrote, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” [1 CORINTHIANS 1:18].

Robert Dickie quotes J. I. Packer concerning the place of preaching in worship. “To the Puritans, the sermon was the liturgical climax of public worship. Nothing, they said, honours God more than the faithful declaration and obedient hearing of this truth. Preaching under any circumstances is an act of worship, and must be performed as such. Moreover, preaching is the prime means of grace to the church.” [7]

In a sermon delivered Thursday evening, February 3rd, 1887, Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no worship of God that is better than the hearing of a sermon. I venture to say that, if a sermon be well heard, it puts faith in exercise as you believe it, it puts love in exercise as you enjoy it, it puts gratitude in exercise as you think of all the blessings that God has given to you. If the sermon be what it should be, it stirs all the coals of fire in your spirit, and makes them burn with a brighter flame, and a more vehement heat. To imply that hearing a sermon is not worship, is really to slander your minister.” [8] Worship is not a mystical feeling manipulated by music, emotions or entertainment. Preaching the Word is essential to true biblical worship.

Preaching was integral to worship in the New Testament assemblies. I have already alluded to the account of the meetings of the first congregation in Jerusalem [see ACTS 2:42]. Notice some other verses of Scripture. The Apostles, functioning at the time as the elders of the New Beginnings Baptist Church of Jerusalem employed preaching as the primary means of outreach. “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, [the Apostles] did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” [ACTS 5:42]. As Paul was returning to Jerusalem, he stayed in Troas for a few days. Note particularly how Doctor Luke describes what happened on Sunday. “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight” [ACTS 20:7].

Preaching the Gospel is closely associated with the act of worship through giving. Giving is “your confession of the gospel of Christ” [2 CORINTHIANS 9:13]. Paul’s requested prayer in order to ensure that doors were opened “to declare the mystery of Christ” [COLOSSIANS 4:2, 3]. Again, as Paul closed his final missive to Timothy, he admonished him, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” [2 TIMOTHY 4:1, 2].

Worship is nowhere defined in Scripture. However, what is apparent from Scripture is that worship is to God. [9] If worship is to God, as presented in Scripture, of necessity worship must be composed of three critical components: an understanding of who God is; an understanding of who we are before God; and an understanding of and a willingness to accept our own responsibility to God. [10] It is well-nigh impossible to imagine how these three components may be harmonised without the ministry of the Word.

It has been my practise for many years to conclude each Gospel message by citing ROMANS 10:9, 10, 13. You will recall that the thirteenth verse, citing the Prophet Joel promises, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [ROMANS 10:13]. However, note the succeeding verses in that letter. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” [ROMANS 10:14-17]. The message that is true to the Word of the Master becomes an instrument of God to open blinded eyes, bringing lost people to life as they believe the Gospel.

As preaching, and in particular as expository preaching, has fallen into declension, music among the faithful has changed dramatically. Understand that I am not inveighing against CCM (contemporary Christian Music) nor even arguing that a syncopated beat is somehow unspiritual. I am not opposed to varied instrumentation, including drums and guitars, as accompaniment. What does concern me is the effort—consciously or unconsciously—to generate a spiritual condition through music.

One writer has perceptively stated, “Worship is not depicted as a resurrection; conversion is! When people who are terminally unspiritual, willfully ignorant of the scriptures, and religious only in some systematic or institutional way come to the building to be raised from the dead—we cannot cater to their wants. What these people need is conversion, not ‘worship’ designed to meet their felt needs. When we engineer worship to answer the emotional needs of people who are not concerned with the scriptures, we fail to serve the Lord; we give people something that can never be ultimately satisfying, and we set ourselves on the road of apostasy. Worship is the avenue God has given for converted people to show their respect for Him and honor His Son.” [11]

In worship, we are neither to allow ourselves to become culturally conditioned, nor are we to employ culture to somehow generate the desired end of permeating culture or even transforming culture. Too often our music has become a means of entertainment rather than an act of worship. As followers of Christ, we are to call people to Christ and not to an experience.

Underscore in your mind a great, forgotten truth—in the Bible narrative the faithful are gathered around Christ, not His anthems. The Holy Spirit fanned into flame redemptive activity—not music. The immanence of God was an attribute of the Godhead rather than a function of melody and verse.

A helpful technique for diagnosing the theology of a hymn is to ask, “Who is doing the verbs?” Much of our contemporary music describes what I am doing or what I should do. Study the Psalms and see if that is not the model we are provided in the Word of God. Permit me to give an example of what I am saying. David writes in the FIFTY-FIRST PSALM,

“O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth will declare your praise.”

[PSALM 51:15]

As the Lord opens David’s lips, his mouth declares God’s praise. In this Psalm, as is so often true, the Psalmist confesses that if God should not open sinful lips, there will be no praise offered. Moreover, the efforts to glorify God will be displeasing.

HOW THE BIBLICAL MODEL WAS CHANGED — When we compare what occurred in the Word with modern experience, it is evident that something has changed. I suppose multiple reasons could be given to explain our movement from Christocentric meetings to anthropocentric meetings. However, I suggest several major reasons for the transition.

One reason is that we Christians redefined success adopting cultural definitions. This pragmatic spirit permeates all of culture, and culture has invaded—nay, has been invited into the congregation of the faithful! We thought that success is defined by the size of the congregation, by the size of the offerings, by the architecture of the buildings in which we meet, by everything except what is pleasing to God. Once we accept a definition of success as size, or wealth, or popularity we will be driven to be even more successful.

When preaching ceased to be expository and became situational, music was added to make the “service” more exciting. However, we need to know that music doesn’t bring people to Jesus. Jesus does that work admirably enough through the Holy Spirit. However, there’s an even deeper flaw in our thinking. Listen to me on this—Worship is not an evangelistic tool. We don’t worship together to attract unbelievers. We worship together because God is worthy. We worship together because this gracious God has called us into his story and grafted us together as covenant people. We worship together because we desperately need to tell and retell and hear and rehear that story. We worship together to be refocused, reshaped, renewed by God’s gifts. We need the Word.

Aigner writes, “At some point, we decided that the worship service was the best venue for evangelism. After all, if we can just make things interesting enough, funny enough, dynamic enough and entertaining enough, we can really pack ‘em in. So, put together a mini-concert, followed by a speaker who knows how to get the crowd energized, mix in a few things about Jesus and you’re set…

“To make matters worse, we’ve grown to like it ourselves. It’s nice to come to church and be entertained. Throw that liturgy out the window. I don’t want to work, I want to sit here and get fat off the spiritual carbs they put in front of me. And if the production value slips, I can always go down the road and find another fast-food church that fits me just right.” [12]

Another reason for our transition must be that we lost our focus. Let’s admit a discomforting truth—what has been offered as worship in many churches is not only dull, it is deadening! The liturgy becomes more important than the One whom we worship. I’ve said it many times, and I will no doubt say it many times over before my service before the Lord is finished—when we go to church rather than being the church, we are dead. When we say prayers rather than praying, we are dead. When our pleasure takes precedence over His glory, we are dead.

Losing our focus can be extremely dangerous. Recall the biblical account of moving the Ark of God from the house of Abinadab back to Jerusalem; the story is related in 2 SAMUEL 6:1-7. The Ark of God, the most sacred object in ancient Israel, was placed on an ox cart rather than being carried on the shoulders of the Levites as God had commanded. As the cart neared the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled and “Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it.” God immediately struck Uzzah dead. No doubt Uzzah was a good man, even a godly man. There is every reason to believe that Uzzah’s motive in touching the Ark was pure—Uzzah didn’t want the Ark to fall to the ground. But pure motives and good intentions are insufficient in worshipping and serving God. God immediately struck Uzzah dead for disobeying the divine command.

The account provided in this passage should serve as a reminder to each of us that our worship must be true worship and not false worship. Just because we feel sincere in what we are doing does not make our efforts honourable. The Islamists who act so reprehensibly can claim to be sincere and their motives are very pure in their own eyes. Nevertheless, that does not mean that what they are doing is acceptable to the True and Living God! Just so, when we lose our focus and fail to see God in His majesty, giving Him the honour due His Name we will quickly turn from seeking what honours Him. Soon, we will begin to ask what pleases us, doing that.

Above all else, each Christian must assess what he or she is doing at church. Perhaps we need to confess our sin, asking God to forgive us and to restore our yearning for Him to reign supreme in our lives. We need to cease attempting to make our “worship” about attracting people and return to ensuring that our “worship” is about meeting the True and Living God. When we have met Him, we will again be serious about the Lord’s Day. When the service has ended, we will find that we have to go—

• Go out and feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

• Go out and associate with people who don’t look like us, don’t think like us, don’t act like us, don’t vote like us and don’t usually like us.

• Go out and proclaim anew the old, old story.

• Go out and reach out to those who are running from God and God’s church.

• Go out and stop deflecting tough questions with our usual, tired clichés.

And we will have to do this in the Name of the One who sent us. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Jonathan Aigner, “But Contemporary Worship Brings People to Jesus! … Right?, Church Leaders,, accessed 1 June 2015

[3] Compiled from multiple sources including, but not confined to, Justin Martyr, “The Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (eds.), vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1885) 185–186; Everett Ferguson, “How We Christians Worship,” (Christian History Magazine, Issue 37): Ferguson, “Did They Sing Hymns?”, ibid.; David Wright, “Early Glimpses,” ibid.; Pliny the Younger, Letters (Latin) (Perseus Digital Library, Medford, MA n.d.) Letter X:96:7, Thomas O’Loughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, UK; Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI 2010), 161–171; see also the Scriptural account provided in 1 CORINTHIANS 14:26-33

[4] The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN 2005)

[5] NCV, op. cit.

[6] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (United Bible Societies, New York, NY 1996) 282–283

[7] J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Cross Way Books, Wheaton, IL 1990) 281, cited in Robert L. Dickie, What the Bible Teaches about Worship (EP Books, Darlington, England 2007), 52

[8] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 41 (Passmore & Alabaster, London 1895) 17

[9] See W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN 1996) 686

[10] See Grant B. Caldwell, “The Ministry of the Word,” in True Worship, Daniel W. Petty (ed.), Florida College Annual Lectures (Florida College Bookstore, Temple Terrace, FL 2005) 85

Warren E. Berkley, “Current Trends: The Charismatic Movement,” in True Worship, Daniel [11] W. Petty (ed.), Florida College Annual Lectures (Florida College Bookstore, Temple Terrace, FL 2005) 109

[12] Aigner, op. cit.

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