Where Has All the Worship Gone?
The late A W Tozer entitled one of his fine booklets, Worship – The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church. Written over thirty years ago, Dr. Tozer rightly diagnosed the trends of his own day as alarming and ominous for the future of the church in North America. He could scarcely have envisioned, however, just how far the church of the late twentieth century would continue to depart from the ‘jewel’ of true biblical worship as mandated in God’s Holy Word. Today, therapeutic techniques, marketing strategies and the beat of the entertainment world are often far more influential in church worship than the Word of God.
For instance, in recent years there has been a sudden and quite widespread introduction of dance, drama, mime and rock music into worship by charismatics and evangelicals. In many evangelical churches it is now quite common to find ‘sketches’ slotted into a service of worship, and in some churches stages are being erected alongside pulpits. The Gospel is being mixed with entertainment. And this is happening in ‘Reformed’ Churches to an alarming degree.
A member of one Christian rock band when interviewed by the press said, ‘Our songs do have a message, but we don’t want to ram it down people’s throats. We just hope to give a good night’s entertainment’. An evangelical church arranged a rock opera. It was presented in church after evening service on Sunday and there was said to be standing room only.
One minister invited a troop of liturgical dancers to dance at his worship service on Sunday and said afterwards that the congregation had been challenged by this more than by most sermons. Literally the stage is replacing the pulpit in many of our evangelical churches. Some churches which had a reputation for good Gospel preaching and witness are now known better for their ‘presentations’, humour and music. Many Christians seem to be thrilled by all the changes and innovations and some are even leaving the sounder biblical churches for easier and more ‘contemporary’ ministries.
Is There a Biblical Warrant for Such Activities?
Can one honestly find a real or concrete warrant in Scripture for dancing in worship or for drama in evangelism? Carefully look up all the references to dance in Scripture and you will find that many of them are associated with either sensuality, drunkenness, murder or idolatry. The exceptions, 2 Samuel 6:14 and Psalm 149:3, are connected with the outward ritual and ceremony of temple worship which passed away with the death of Christ (John 4:23-24). These cannot be used to justify the setting up of Christian theatre, drama or mime in worship. A careful reading of the Gospels and Acts will show that no dramatic arts were used by Christ or the Apostles. There we find preaching, teaching, disputation, and personal witness backed up by much prayer. God appointed THE way for spreading the Evangel. Romans 10 provides direction: ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher ... How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!’ (Rom 10:14, 15).
Are they a Suitable Framework for the Gospel?
When considering these things seriously, is there really any room for much humour or entertainment, and is there likely to be any depth of conviction of sin or unbelief in an atmosphere of light-heartedness? Archbishop Temple spoke well about the true nature and ends of biblical worship when he said, ‘To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God and to devote the will to the purpose of God’. Conscience, mind, imagination, heart, will – what could more clearly show the essential ‘heart-beat’ of true worship in the presence of the living God?
The use of the folk arts in worship and evangelism often involves a good deal of laughter and fun and there is an atmosphere of entertainment. But the Gospel deals with very serious issues; those of death and judgment, Heaven and Hell. The Bible speaks of the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor. 1:21) and of the offence of the cross (Gal. 5:11) and one wonders whether these two aspects of the gospel can ever be present when dance or drama is in use. Preaching is offensive and foolish to the natural man, and he tends to despise it, but what is his attitude toward dance, drama and rock? Why, he tends to focus on the talents and appearance of the performers and to applaud them for their performance rather than focusing on any biblical theme which is portrayed. In the Reformed church especially it is of paramount importance that we should not merely verbally affirm that God alone should receive the glory – Soli Deo Gloria – but see that this great Reformation and biblical principle is exercised in practice as well.
It is often said that Jesus had a sense of humour; we do not need to deny this, but in reading Scripture we find that he rarely used it and that He was a man of sorrows and grief (Is. 53:3), He wept over the sins and the apostasy of the people (Lk. 19:41-42). This is not for a moment to deny that there is joy and even exuberance in biblical worship, but the means by which this is instilled in the hearts of true worshippers is not by pantomimes or plays, still less by troupes of liturgical dancers and other unwarranted intrusions into biblical worship. We express, indeed, our life together in the Spirit and experience that joy which is the foretaste and earnest of the final victory of the redeemed in heaven, but it is by the biblically appointed means of worship – not man-made intrusions into worship – which produce such a heavenly frame. A W Tozer rightly said again, ‘When the Holy Ghost shows us God as He is we admire Him to the point of wonder and delight’.
Are they Supported by History?
A newspaper columnist recently described dance as a time-honoured way of worshipping God and said there was no reason why the devil should have all the dancers. But from the Reformation to the present day how many biblical churches or societies have ever used dance or drama as a means of communication? How many have ever used either in worship? The pre-Reformation miracle, morality and mystery plays followed on from liturgical drama and were presented before uneducated people. After the Reformation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was the Jesuits in the southern half of Europe who made use of drama in their colleges.
Is it not true that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is more associated with tears than with laughter? The centre of the gospel is a stark cross on which the Lord Jesus died in agony for our sins. These things sober us and fill us with awe.
Are we wiser than our forefathers in the faith? The Reformed churches have always believed in education; teaching people to read the Bible for themselves. They have always believed in preaching. These methods surely must be priceless and approved of God in His word: ‘From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim 3:15). There is no substitute for reading and preaching! There never has been. There never will be. God’s methods do not change because we live in the twenty-first century.
But what glories and rewards there are for the serious Christian who follows Scriptural priorities and not the ‘gospel of entertainment’. Solid Christian character and vital heartwarming Biblical religion will be the result of such conformity! ‘God send us ministers who, instead of merely avoiding denial of the Cross, shall be on fire with the Cross, whose whole life shall be one burning sacrifice of gratitude to the blessed Saviour who loved them and gave Himself for them’ (J Gresham Machen).
He led His people through the spacious country of the Bible, going down before them into its shadowy ravines and climbing its towering heights, shepherding the flock in the green pastures and by the waters of quietness’ (Alexander Smellie, describing the covenanting preachers in the 17th century). Let us earnestly cry to God that He will restore ‘the missing jewel’ to its rightful and long-neglected place again!
So, where has all the worship gone? We believe it has gone, as A W Tozer correctly predicted, into glib marketing techniques that tend only to water down the biblical Gospel. Such false substitutions may fill pews quickly and give the appearance of ecclesiastical success but, in reality, are sowing weakness into the foundations for generations to come. Perceptively, Dr Robert Godfrey noted at a recent conference of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE),
If we evaluate the pragmatism of the pragmatists on a pragmatic basis, we have to say that by their own standards they have failed. Why don’t American medical statistics reflect the healings claimed by the charismatics? Why don’t our crime statistics reflect the holy living of evangelicals? Why, after a generation of church-grown methodology and user-friendly worship, is church attendance down significantly?
We have every reason to fear that whole sections of the modern evangelical and Reformed church have sown ‘the wind’ and will inevitably reap ‘the whirlwind’! (Hos. 8:7).