Worshiping Worship

by Rick Shrader

We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalised spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who said, ‘‘If Socrates would enter the room we should rise and do him honor. But if Jesus Christ came into the room we should fall down on our knees and worship Him.’’  Perhaps it is for that reason that we often find ourselves entirely uncomfortable in many of our fundamental or evangelical ‘‘worship’’ services today. A. W. Tozer wrote (in God Tells the Man Who Cares), ‘‘In the majority of our meetings there is scarcely a trace of reverent thought, no recognition of the unity of the body, little sense of the divine Presence, no moment of stillness, no solemnity, no wonder, no holy fear.’’ I think if Jesus Christ entered the sanctuary of most churches today He would get a standing ovation. It would be an atrocity!

But as soon as this lack of reverence is mentioned we hear the pleadings of the defense mounting. In reality, they say, we have recovered worship. We have opened new doors for the expression of the spirit and created new ways in which to meet the needs of each participant.  Our singing is made easier by electronic power so that it takes the least effort possible to ‘‘make a joyful noise.’’ As a matter of fact, any average person can now be ‘‘special music.’’ We have lessened the difference between the view inside and outside the sanctuary so that one may enter without realizing he has come to church. The times of services are shorter and much more convenient, the attire is totally unassuming and the message is tailor-made for the lowest common denominator. And to seal the defense, we have only to observe how comfortable the average person is and how good he feels being in our services which is evidenced by the numbers on the attendance board (‘‘I object!’’ Sustained. Scratch that last remark.).

Some time ago, I heard that a music professor in a SBC seminary had studied contemporary church services and concluded that, in his opinion, most congregations were ‘‘worshiping worship rather than worshiping God.’’ When I heard that (from one who was in his class) I thought to myself, that’s it! That’s the description of what I have experienced. In a worshiping worship service, everything is in the right place, carefully orchestrated, moments of wide-eyed laughter mixed with moments of closed-eyed sobbing, each mood change perfectly timed by the chorus leader to lead one moment to the next. But when it is finished, though you have stepped off a worshiping roller coaster, you are the same as before. But at least you are out in time to catch the kick-off (‘‘I object!’’ Sustained.)

I am simply saying that to many people today it does not matter what the doctrine of the church is, what the church covenant may or may not ask, what the words of the music may actually say or even what the preacher preaches.  If the mood is right and the feeling is good then the head can take a rest.  And someone reading this right now may ask, “What’s wrong with that?”  Because, then, worship is only for the worshiper’s sake, not for God.  In that case we have no object to our worship other than ourselves.  We become our only audience and we hope that God will find a way to enjoy it.

Paul told the Athenians in Acts 17 that they were ‘‘ignorantly’’ worshiping. They were worshiping! They were as sincere as any people could be. But they weren’t worshiping God. The same is true of the woman with the spirit of divination in Acts 16 who followed Paul for three days crying, ‘‘These are the men of the Most High God who show us the way of salvation.’’ A truer act of worship could not be had but she was not worshiping God and Paul cast a demon out of her. She was a pagan involved in Zeus worship originating at the oracle at Delphi. Pagans worship worship! They make statues out of wood and stone and devise more elaborate services than Benny Hinn could dream of in a life-time. And people are moved to tears. And offerings (‘‘Objection!’’ I withdraw the remark.)

Modern pagans usually center their worship on happiness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the son of a Unitarian minister and a product of literature’s enlightened period, said, ‘‘the happiest man he is who learns from nature the lesson of worship.’’ Similarly, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ‘‘Do not forget that even as ‘to work is to worship’ so to be cheery is to worship also, and to be happy is the first step to being pious.’’ I say that these two, though literary giants, were content and happy to worship worship, but they were far from worshiping God. A speaker today, however, will impress more modern men by quoting Emerson and Stevenson than, by contrast, John Milton who, two centuries prior, wrote for a ‘‘fit audience, though few.’’    Gene Veith, writing about our post-modern age said, ‘‘When writers (or speakers!) give their readers exactly what they want, the readers are seldom enriched. They hear only what they already know; their prejudices are confirmed, their weaknesses pandered to. The audience is entertained, but not challenged nor instructed. This is the weakness of so much postmodernist fiction. It may be scintillating, but it is ultimately trivial.’’ But worshiping worship worshipers are happy in this modern triviality. Tozer wrote, ‘‘The Bible was written in tears and to tears it will yield its best treasures. God has nothing to say to the frivolous man.’’ He is not listening anyway, he is too busy worshiping.

It is unfortunate that the word ‘‘orthodox’’ has gained a negative connotation in regard to our services. Almost every time the word is used to describe a modern service it is with the prefix ‘‘un.’’  The style is ‘‘unorthodox.’’ The music is ‘‘unorthodox.’’ The message is ‘‘unorthodox.’’ But the word ‘‘orthodox’’ simply means ‘‘correct praise.’’ Jesus insisted that we must worship God in orthodoxy, in ‘‘spirit and truth.’’ It was because they had learned this lesson well that Jesus’ followers insisted that they must ‘‘please God rather than man’’ when faced with worship (‘‘objection!” Overruled!).