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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Contemporary Worship Versus Traditional Worship?

A growing symptom of the decline in the church is the emphasis on contemporary worship. In translation this means that the services for Holy Communion are edited to the point of almost non-existence. There is no reading of the law or the two greatest commandments and other important aspects of the service. It also means that traditional hymns are scorned as being archaic and irrelevant.

While those who advocate contemporary worship say that traditional worship is not wrong and it is simply a matter of preference, they have a triumphalistic attitude and imply that traditional worship is cold and unmoving. My problem with contemporary worship is not the emotionalism associated with it. I see nothing wrong with being emotional in worship. The real problem is with the content of such worship. Contemporary worship is designed only to inflame the emotions and not to teach anything. Traditional worship not only ministers to the heart but also to the mind. The real purpose of traditional hymns is not only to help us to feel and experience God emotionally but also to minister to our intellect through a solid theology based in Holy Scripture and the principles of the Anglican Reformation. Let us not forget that Jesus told us to worship God with our minds as well as with our hearts:

Matthew 22:37 (NIV)37 Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." a [1]
a Deut. 6:5
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

It is a shame that much of modern Evangelicalism is committed to an anti-intellectualism that basically shoots Christianity in the foot. While it is true that postmodernism questions tradition and authority, Christianity is rooted and founded upon a foundation of absolute truth. As such, dogmatic theology cannot be downplayed or abandoned in the name of being relevant in a postmodern world. Being culturally relevant becomes self-defeating when the methods of evangelism being employed denigrate and scorn the very instruments of God's grace which communicate truth.

An emphasis on discipleship is more than teaching rules, regulations and morality. It is also teaching truth. Our Lord Jesus Christ came teaching and preaching and the Apostle Paul commanded the bishops and ministers of the early church to preach and teach sound doctrine. This would include teaching and preaching the doctrines that are essential to apostolic teaching as defined by the church from its inception, including the Holy Trinity, justification by faith alone, etc. I'm appalled at the basic ignorance of most Christians about the essentials of the Christian faith. Most churches these days completely ignore their own confessions of faith. This is especially true in Anglican provinces and parishes these days. Just as the creeds express to us the essentials of the universal Christian faith, the confessions express to us the essentials of Holy Scripture in greater detail than the creeds afford us.

Most Christians today cannot tell you the ten commandments in sequence or quote more than a handful of Scriptures. Finding Christians who have actually taken time to read the entire Bible is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Even those who have been regular attenders and members of local parishes for decades often have trouble recounting what the essentials of Reformed Christianity are. Who among us knows what the five solas of the Reformation are? How many of us can recite the ten commandments in sequence? How many Anglicans have actually studied the basic catechism found in the Prayer Book? (I personally prefer the catechism in the 1928 Prayer Book since it is more biblical).

We often act as if God is some heavenly girlfriend in the sky because we sing emotional songs of love and adoration to Him. But what about the objective facts that have been historically accomplished on our behalf? What about the cross? I find most contemporary worship songs to be simply too basic to be meaningful or didactic. And even worse, some of the songs have downright bad doctrine or even false doctrine in them. Who are we to command God what to do and when to do it? The line, "Rise up O Lord...," comes to mind here.

I suppose there is nothing wrong with less formal worship but it seems to me that something is missing. What about reverence and awe before an omnipotent and Holy God? In the Old Testament there was a place in the tabernacle and in the temple called the Holy of Holies. It was such a sacred place that only the high priest could enter there and he could enter only once a year. Yet, we're told that God is our best friend and we can just casually talk to him as if He's just another buddy. Of course, there is an element of truth to that imagery. We can come boldly to the throne of grace and confess our faults and sins to God without intermediaries. Just as Abraham was counted as a friend of God so may we. God loves us and hears our prayers with compassion and understanding. But I think we lose something when we forget that we are mere creatures and compared to God we're very small, finite, and insignificant.

This is not to say that we're not important to God. Jesus Christ so loved us that He gave His life for His own people, even though we're wicked and unfaithful at times. The cross of Jesus Christ is a stumbling block to Americans. We like to have it our own way. We want God to cater to our every whim, emotion and desire. This is reflected in the way we conceive of God, in our worship, and in our prayer. We like to feel important because we've done our Christian duty. After all, don't we live morally upright lives? Haven't we paid our tithes? Don't we read the Bible daily (albeit selectively so we won't feel convicted)? Don't we get emotional and let go in emotional and ecstatic worship? It seems that the basic premise of much worship today is to stop thinking with the mind and to enter into an hypnotic, ecstatic state of mind where we are more open to suggestion and to the authority of the leader, something that is alarmingly similar to the tactics used by cults and false teachers.

Of all people, Evangelicals ought to know the Holy Scriptures backwards and forwards. We ought to know that Scripture warns us against wolves in sheep's clothing and against false prophets out to deceive us. But there seems to be a lack of interest in the study of the Bible. Sunday school attendance is at an all time low. If we are to be disciples, how will we know what we are to learn if we don't study the Scriptures together? I hardly call reading the lessons in Holy Communion services enough to feed us spiritually. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ put it this way:

Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" a [1]
a Deut. 8:3
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Contemporary worship? Have we forgotten that the 21st century is not the only time that Christianity existed? In our hurry to be contemporary and relevant to society we have read modern prejudices back into the past. I don't think organs or electric guitars existed in Jesus' time.

The real problem with all this emphasis on being relevant is that we often create the prejudices in our congregations that we say we are trying to bridge by catering to contemporary society on its own cultural level. If people do not know much about Christianity it is our duty to teach them about the Christian faith. If that is the goal of contemporary worship and the church growth movement, then it is a miserable failure. Catering to sinful people without regard to the prophetic message of the Gospel is rather like a Christian woman who sleeps with an ungodly man in the hope that he will be converted. At least traditional Evangelical and conservative churches still teach expositional messages from the Holy Scriptures. Catering the sermon to "felt needs" ignores what people need to hear. Neglecting the preaching of biblical doctrine so that we can meet the emotional needs of families and draw them into the church misses the point. We haven't fed them on the milk of the Word of God. What we have done is given them poisoned infant formula that is not milk at all. Instead of nourishment we have given them a cheap imitation, an imitation milk that might in the end prove fatal.

Furthermore, the emphasis on ecstatic experiences is allegedly drawn from Holy Scripture. Admittedly, in the Old Testament there are ecstatic experiences recorded but those were rare and occasional occurrences and certainly not normative even in that day and time. As an internet article from John Mark Ministries puts it:

  • "The worship of Yahweh in the Old Testament centred first on the tent of meeting and once it was built and dedicated by Solomon, the centre of worship moved to the temple. What the espousers of 'contemporary charismatic worship' fail to understand when they attempt to exegete Old Testament passages regarding particularly Old Testament worship is that the few ecstatic encounters with Yahweh in the Old Testament occurred only on the rare occasion. The encounters with the all-consuming presence of God in the temple as masses of people gathered together for a particular occasion, often at the request of God were rare. However as is the practice of those with a particular theological predisposition, the rare incidents are 'normalised' ie: "this is what happened each week when the Israelites worshiped Yahweh".
  • "This may be viewed as a simple exegetical mistake, however the issue is compounded by a failure to translate this Old Testament theory into the New Testament. The focus of Old Testament worship was indeed the structure created by the Israelites. The fan of 'contemporary charismatic worship' fails to understand the development of worship practice in scripture. The law and the temple serve to highlight the separation between God and man. The Old Testament temple is constructed in a layered way and greater degrees of protection were required as one entered nearer to the very presence of God. To enter the 'Holy of Holies' without adequate precaution was a fatal exercise."
I for one am offended when advocates of contemporary worship imply that I'm not truly worshipping because I prefer to worship with reverence and awe instead of ecstasy. The other implication of charismatic contemporary worship is a false dichotomy between the spiritual and the unspiritual. It's a form of gnosticism that would have been rejected by the Reformers. All aspects of one's life are a call of God upon one's life. The contemporary style of worship undercuts the priesthood of all believers and establishes charismatic celebrities with gifts and talents that we are to laud and applaud instead of giving all the glory to God. In effect, this says that some Christians are carnal and others are spiritual, that some have made Jesus Lord and others have Jesus only as Savior. But this is a false distinction since good works merit us nothing before God. We are either saved or we are not saved. All who know Christ know Him as both Lord and Savior. The less disciplined Christian is just as saved as the more disciplined Christian since discipline isn't what makes us Christians in the first place. We all deserve hell no matter how disciplined and or how good we strive to be. Our good works flow out of gratitude, not out of showing the world how holy we are. Any outsider observing us can see all of our faults and flaws more clearly than we ourselves see them, essentially making our facade delusional only to ourselves. God and everyone else sees our sins clearly, rather like the naked emperor who thinks he's wearing new clothes because he's been deceived by charlatans.
  • The focus of Christian worship ought and should be the Law and the Gospel of grace. Where the Gospel is rightly preached, there you will find the Spirit of Christ. Sadly, many modern congregations which identify with Evangelicalism are borderline regarding the Gospel and are almost at the point of leaving the Gospel behind altogether. While it isn't wrong to have contemporary worship properly done, something is wrong when the content of the Gospel is missing from the songs, where sound doctrine is replaced with popular psychology and so-called "spiritual formation." Evangelicals need to learn to think while they worship. May God bring us all to repentance through His grace!
  • "I may make you feel,
But I can't make you think.
***
And your wise men don't know
how it feels
to be thick as a brick."
From Thick As A Brick, Jethro Tull.

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