Mac Worship: Do You Want Fries with That?
John H. Armstrong, the editor of the Reformation and Revival, recently described much contemporary Christian worship as “Mac Worship”. By this he meant that a revolution had taken place in the thinking of many Christians about the nature of worship services.
The controlling factor in such thinking is not the Bible but a customer-based marketing philosophy that seeks to revamp the church’s corporate gatherings in an all-consuming quest for “relevance”. While the sincerity of those who seek to reach people where they are is not in doubt, it looks as if consumerism is now in control of many forms of Christian worship.
Examples abound of how this new customer focus is bringing radical changes in the corporate worship of the church. I know of one congregation in Perth where the minister appeared in best Fred Astaire style, complete with top hat, tails and cane, just to keep things “a-moving along”. As the collection plate went round, he sang We ain’t got a barrel o’ money!
The Telegraph-Mirror in Sydney mentioned another example of Mac Worship where a church invited a group of Christian body-builders to “pump iron for Jesus” in the hope of attracting a crowd.
We often speak of being culturally relevant, but if this comes by way of the introduction of Mac Worship then the price being paid is far too high.
In April 1996, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals held a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the US. Among other things, they discussed the whole issue of the influence of consumerism on Christian worship.
The conference — which included such leading theologians as David F. Wells, James Montgomery Boice and Sinclair Ferguson — declared:
The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful.
We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.
This statement should strike a responsive chord in Australian Presbyterian hearts, for we are a confessional and evangelical church. We have our roots in the Reformed Church of Scotland, which claimed to have true biblical doctrine (Westminster Confession of Faith), and worship (see the Directory of Public Worship).
We need to rediscover our confessional heritage if we are to resist the inroads of secularism in our worship services and meet the advance of Mac Worship head on.
First, we need to think again about the very nature of worship services. While it is true that worship is a comprehensive term that refers to the full range of activities in the life of a Christian, it is correct to use the word to describe our Sunday services.
The New Testament uses it of the Church on earth and heaven when it comes together into the presence of the living God (1 Cor 14:23-25; Rev 5:13, 14). There are fellow evangelicals who would deny any necessary biblical link between church services and the worship of God. We are not persuaded by this view. It is simply not enough to see Sunday services as opportunity for fellowship, without recognising that they also exist for worship (Heb 13:15). We need to have a full worship experience in our church services, which includes such elements as singing, preaching, confessions of faith and prayers.
Second, we must re-examine the focus of our worship services. Presbyterians believe in what is called “objective worship”. When we begin our services by saying “Let us worship God”, we mean it!
Sadly, I’ve been to worship services, both traditional and contemporary, where the Lord Jesus Christ has not been mentioned in a meaningful way. Oh yes, there is lots of talk about the church and its people doing this or that, but not much focus on the great saving acts of Jesus Christ.
We need to ask ourselves, how can this be? While secularism may come in different forms, it always makes us the focus of worship. The Bible on the other hand always focuses worship on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Third, we must reassess the content of our worship services. Today we have many human voices in our services but we simply need more of God’s! We like to listen to the notices and hear about what other people are up to, but does this leave enough time for a meaningful Bible reading or do we just skip through a few verses?
And what about the preaching? We need preachers who will bring us the word of God, and not simply serve up some “pop psychology” with a text or two. A congregation that focuses on Christ-centred Bible teaching and practises genuine love has the potential for significant growth.
We need biblical praise in our services, where perhaps a few well-sung psalms complemented by classic and contemporary Christian songs clearly illustrate and teach the eternal truths of the Word of God.
Fourth, we need to reflect seriously on the style of our worship services. Too many think that any style, particularly of music, will do. What they forget is that God is interested in style as well as content. Style is not a matter of indifference.
The way we do things in a worship service can either prepare for the preaching of the word, or detract from it. Style, whether traditional or modern, is never neutral.
There is a curious belief in the evangelical church today that, as long as we have the truth, the form is irrelevant. But I wonder if a hip-hop musical rendition of Psalm 51 would really express the spirit of repentance that pervades it? To take another illustration, too many evangelical praise and worship sessions focus almost exclusively on a triumphalist tone, and exclude the variety of emotions that are found in the Psalter. Does this enrich our worship, or flatten it to one dimension?
Last, we must review the Lord’s Day as a significant time of Christian worship. In other words, should the Lord’s day have a higher priority in our lives? When I was younger, I knew a girl who came from a very devout Roman Catholic family. I remember thinking how enlightened the Pope was when he allowed Catholics to go to Mass on Saturday night, so they could have Sundays free for other things. My friend could go to church early on Saturday night, then party late, knowing she could sleep in on Sunday morning, completely free from any church responsibilities.
While we might smile at this, it is sad that many believers have also taken leave of their spiritual and church commitments on the Lord’s Day. In fact, for many the Lord’s Day has become the Lord’s morning or even the Lord’s hour, given the speed at which they leave after the service is over.
There are many reasons for this, but the influence of Mac Worship needs to be noted among them. Others think Wednesday night or Friday will do.
Dare I suggest that the spiritual weakness that plagues us may come from the widespread neglect of the Lord’s Day and the worship of the Lord on his day? “Mac Worship” is a poor diet to feed growing Christians for it produces serious spiritual weakness.
We need to take a more biblical approach to the nature of worship: we should worship God for who He is as well as what He has done for us through Christ, and we should seek to restore the essential elements of Protestant worship to their rightful place. Also we must be mindful that, whether the style is traditional or modern, it has a major impact on all aspects of the worship service.
Underlying all these issues, there must be a proper regard for the Lord’s Day and its contribution to true worship.