Recently, a man visited the Escondido URC and told me that he loves the structure that we have in our worship service. This man is a math professor at a local college and expressed to me what was apparently a huge contradiction for him. At the local church where he attends, everything is chaos. He expressed that the worship lacks any meaningful order and because of this, there is no sense of reverence and awe of God when the people come to worship. As a mathematician, everything is orderly, structured, and calculated. “If God is a God of order in his own creation,” this man said, “why would God accept the worship of him that is full of chaos?” That’s a great question.
What this man described was the absence of a God-glorifying liturgy in corporate worship. The word “liturgy” is the last thing you will ever find in the church growth manuals, but it’s important to observe that every church has a liturgy for their worship. A liturgy is simply what a church does when it gathers for worship–an order of worship. But there is a vast difference between a liturgy that is man-centered and one that God glorifying. The former leads people into false worship and idolatry, the later is a safe-guard from these things. The most fundamental issue when it comes to worship that is pleasing to God has everything to do with what the liturgy looks like.
For instance, most churches begin worship today with around 20-30 minutes of singing with a praise band. The wrong assumption being made is that what we need is an uplifting “experience” that elevates us to God first through our act of singing. The result is a manipulating of people’s emotions to bring them into what is assumed to be a proper worshipful state. This is a manipulative strategy of church leaders with two apparent goals. The first is to control perception in a community that the best worship is happening in those places that provide the best sensory experience. The second is to control outcomes through the emotions. Make no mistake about it, the tactic of joining the entertainment practices of the world with the public worship of God is about control. When church leaders control people’s emotions, there is no stoping what easily becomes a massive campaign of church empire building.
This is precisely what I experienced when I attended the church service recorded in part one. There was no discernible separation from the world’s forms of entertainment with what the people assumed was the worship of the holy God of Israel. All of this is backwards to how the Scriptures describe what corporate worship is to be. For this reason, Protestants always believed worship is to be regulated by God’s Word. They believed that worship is to be a dialogue between God and the people. Our “responses” (i.e. music) flows from what is declared to us by God through his Word. We are called to separate these as two distinct aspects of worship. Notice the dialogical principle demonstrated below in a standard Protestant liturgy (what we do in worship):
1. God speaks in calling us to worship, we respond with prayer.
2. God speaks in greeting us with a word of blessing, we respond with song.
3. God speaks by instructing us in his will for us, we respond in confession and repentance.
4. God speaks by assuring us of forgiveness, we respond in prayer and by giving our offerings.
5. God speaks to us in Word and Sacrament, we respond with gratitude in song.
6. God speaks by sending us out, not with a mere dismissal, but with his benediction as his pilgrims.
Throughout the entire worship there is a dialogue happening, and our responses are only appropriate to what the Lord has already conveyed to us in his Word through his ordained pastor. This is why the Lord constantly instructed his prophets to speak, “only what the Lord has commanded” (Ex. 7:2), as worship began and ended with Word of God. The same is true for pastors today.
Now consider the model of Saddleback model presented in part one:
Who is absent here? The Saddleback model claims to have a real worship experience in which we actually meet God. Does the above order of worship demonstrate this claim? An honest assessment of the service shows that Word and Sacrament, the primary means of grace, are not central. The Man-side is full with practices more appropriate to the theater than for what is appropriate before a Holy God. When I attended the worship service described in part one, I had no sense that God’s Word was the central driving motivation for worship. Their own liturgy excluded God!
As I looked up on the stage, there was a great band, awesome lights, cool camping equipment, with a bulletin calling us to go “Off-Roading with God”. People came in and out from the coffee bar with no sense that this public gathering was a meeting with God and his people. But if God is truly unchanging, and remains a consuming fire, there is no way I could agree that anything I “experienced” that day was in keeping with the commandment to worship God “acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). We were doing things that had an “appearance of wisdom in self-imposed (will) worship” (Col. 2:23). The people had entered a danger zone, and no one seemed to care.
More to come on Music
Christopher J. Gordon, Escondido, CA