August 11, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 7

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Concluding today, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

Final Argument, #7--We don't need all of that extra stuff that goes on and around the stage. We just need to worship and preach the Word.

What I think is really being said: "I have a high view of Scripture. I like to hear it taught in a serious and reverent way. I don't mind music as long as it is serious and reverent and prepares me to hear what the pastor has to say. Other than that, I don't think there should be much else in a worship service. These churches that have all the added extras--lights, dramas, props, sirens, smoke, video, dogs, acrobats, etc.--all they are doing is creating a pep rally that is heavy on style and light on substance. I don't think any of those extra things glorify God. They diminish the serious nature of what is happening and are little more than entertainment. All we need to do is just preach them the Word and God will draw people to Himself."

The appropriate response: I, too, have a high view of Scripture. A very high view. I've devoted my life to its study and teachings. I put food on my family's table by teaching God's Word and helping people live it out. I have no problem saying that I have a passion for God's Word and revealing it to others.

The problem in this thinking comes in with use of the phrase, "all we need to do is preach God's Word." Now, they don't mean, "we don't need to have any music," even though that's what it sounds like. What they really mean is that they don't like a lot of other elements added to the service other than reverent music and serious preaching.

Once again, though, this is an opinion and not a Biblical mandate.

From the earliest times of temple worship in the Old Testament period, music was a part of worship. So you can't use the argument that we don't need music.

There is a vein of people who would like church to consist of reverent and theologically rich music, then hearing an extended sermon that is taught verse-by-verse complete with cultural history, quotes from well-respected theologians and language exegesis. There is nothing wrong with this.

There is another vein of people who enjoy an expressive worship experience that is enhanced with other elements such as video, drama, props and illustrations. These settings usually precede a sermon that is meant to help the main point or topic stick in your mind in an effort to move you to take actionable steps. There is nothing wrong with this either.

The problem comes in when you begin thinking, "this is the only way to do this." Jesus never preached an exegetical sermon. Of course, he was the Word become flesh, so technically his life was an exegetical sermon...

Very few apostles preached exegetical sermons as seen in Scripture. None of them preached the kind that you see today in the sense that they took the Old Testament and expounded on the meaning of the Hebrew words. None of them taught a systematic theology. All of these things came later in church history.

Disclaimer: I love all of these things. I actually prefer all of these things.

Jesus used illustrations and props in his sermons. Look at the birds in the fields... There was a lot of intentional symbolism used in Jewish worship to point back to the truths of Scripture. In Acts 17, Paul quoted two pagan poets to illustrate something about God to the Athenians who had no concept of a monotheistic religion. Sounds a bit like using an example from pagan culture to prove something about God... Ezekiel, Elijah and some of the other prophets used some crazy theater to deliver God's message to the Jewish people. I don't remember ever seeing a pastor cook food with poop to point out the sins of his people (Ezekiel 4:12-15). So saying, "all we need is God's Word preached" misses out on a lot of what happened in the Bible.

I believe that God's Word is powerful enough to pierce the hearts of men without our help. But, if we shouldn't offer anything around it, then why don't we just tell people to go sit down and read it and let the Holy Spirit do His work? Why preach at all? Why offer commentary at all?

What matters is the heart behind the people who are preaching the truth of God's Word and leading worship in spirit and truth and how effective they are in moving people to love God more, or for the first time. What matters is whether or not people are being conformed to the image and character of Christ. Not the methods they use to accomplish this purpose.

If you are unhappy with the environment of your church's worship service, yet you can clearly see lives being changed and the effect of God's presence on the people who attend, then where do you think the problem is?


Adam said...

Two things: What about he difference between what is descriptive and what is proscriptive/commanded in the Bible?

In other words, just because Ezekiel is described as doing it this way does not mean we or anybody are commanded or even alowed to do it this way.

Using the "if someone is edified by it, then leave'em be" argument seems thin because the OT is full of examples of people with good intentions that God still strongly dissaproved of. Example, Uzzah putting his hand on the ark to keep it from falling, 2 Sam 6:6, Nadab and Abihu offering in Leviticus 10. This combined with the general tenor of Scripture seems to be: If God hasn't commanded it in regards to worship, then don't do it.

humanivy said...

I agree that there is a difference between what is prescriptive (commanded) and descriptive (simply telling what happened. I'm not suggesting that our pastors cook with poop, I'm merely demonstrating that God sometimes uses elaborate ways (illustrations, you might say) to emphasize the truth of his Word. He could have just had Ezekiel stand up and proclaim, "Israel, you are sinful!" But, he demonstrated it to them symbolically.

As for your second comment, I don't believe that good intentions are all that matters. But, I also don't believe that there is one "Biblical" way of preaching and/or worshiping. We're told to "preach the Word" but we aren't commanded how. We're told that followers of Jesus will worship in "spirit and truth" and that being a "living sacrifice" is a spiritual act of worship.

Your conclusion of "if God hasn't commanded it in regards to worship, then don't do it" is treading into some dangerous waters. God doesn't mention any specific songs that we should how do we know if they're right? God didn't say it was OK to use sound equipment in worship...but we do. Is that sinful? God didn't say that the songs we use should be sung without music, so how do we know if this is OK?

We're told to speak/sing to each other with hymns of praise (prescriptive) and that Paul and Silas were singing hymns of praise to God (descriptive). Does that mean that we should only sing hymns to each other and not to God? The second one is descriptive, remember?

I think that there is great freedom in worship and that we should resist creating law where there is no law. The Old Testament law prescribes how worship should happen, but we don't live under the law (Galatians 5:1).

We should communicate the truth as effectively as possible (the Bible doesn't say anything about church buildings or Sunday school either) and worship in spirit and in truth. Beyond that there is freedom.

Adam said...

Thanks Jay, all good points. I have to respond to your comment that it is dangerous ground to say, "If God doesn't command it then don't do it." Wasn't that how Israel operated? I'm not saying we have to worship just like Israel, but I think there is at least precedent for a "tighter" criteria for worship. Even the use of each instrament was specifically commanded.
I'll just give full discloser here and say I've gone back and forth about the Puritan regulative principle like the one in the Westminster Confession of Faith. For many years of the Church's history only Psalms were sung because they thought the regulative principle required it. I think that's a bad interpretation, but I'm sympathetic to a "bare bones" approach because it seems to aid congregational singing. In my experience, the more people are "up there" the less people tend to focus on the words and actually sing, because the band volume makes it impossible to know if anyone in the congregation is actually singing. Anyway, there's my humble, yet accurate opinion.