It’s helpful to remember that the world, the devil, and our flesh actively oppose our desire to give God the glory He alone deserves. The real worship wars aren’t about music styles, forms, and practices. They’re secretly waged in our hearts, as idols try to rob us of our passion to exalt God above everything. If we aren’t aware of those worship wars we’ll have a difficult time understanding or experiencing worship that honors God, no matter what we’re doing on the outside.
Speaking of experience, here are a couple more idols that can tempt us on Sunday mornings.
Experience – As I paged through a Christian magazine last year, I noticed one ad for a new worship CD mentioned “experience” six times. We all love “worship experiences” with God. Experiences aren’t evil. But the concept of worship as an “experience” is fairly foreign to Scripture. I say “fairly” because there are times when worshipping God was definitely an experience! (2 Chron. 5:11-14; Acts 4:31; 1 Cor. 14:23-25) However, the goal of gathering as God’s people is not to feel something but to see and remember something. That “something” is the Word, works, and worthiness of God, especially as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6) If I pursue goose bumps or heightened emotion during a meeting, God becomes simply one of numerous options I can choose to seek them from. This doesn’t minimize the importance of pursuing encounters with the living God characterized by profound emotion and awareness of the Holy Spirit’s active presence. Scripture is filled with examples of longing for, pursuing, and delighting in God’s presence (Ps. 84:1-2; 1 Chron 16:11; Ps. 16:11) But I become aware of God’s nearness by dwelling on His nature, promises, and acts, not by pursuing an emotional fix.
Liturgy – Forms and practices are significant when we meet as God’s people to worship Him. Everything must be done decently and in order. (1 Cor. 14:40) However, God has been vague (painfully so) in His Word regarding what that “order” actually looks like. How many songs do we sing and when do we sing them? What words should we use when we pray? When and how often should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Christians throughout history have argued about and divided over such issues, claiming to offer a liturgy that was truly biblical. Of course, church splits are not always wrong, as some of the biblical truths and doctrines we treasure most were purified through the fires of conflict. However, there is no “liturgical perfectionism” we can achieve that will ever make our worship more acceptable to God than it already is in Jesus Christ. The sad fruit of this idolatrous mentality is churches that have a form of godliness but lack true spiritual power. Our goal is to do in faith what magnifies God’s glory in Christ most effectively and Scripturally. We can and should use biblical elements and proportions in corporate worship. But liturgies should serve us, not rule us. Since God has seen fit to allow freedom in form, so should we.
I’ll continue these thoughts in a later post. Tomorrow is Q&A Friday, and next week I’ll be recommending some songs and CD’s that focus on the Incarnation of our Savior.
By the way, my mother-in-law (see this post) is doing much better. Thanks to those of you who prayed.
Thank you for these thoughts on worship experience and liturgy.
I’m a 38 year old worship leader in a charismatic church. My theological bent is leaning more and more reformed.
Having served in churches most of my life I’ve become convinced that church liturgy can and does distract people from the very thing it’s designed to move us towards; namely, the presence of God. Church, for many of us, is a Sunday circus full of entertaining religious propaganda we’ve been conditioned to consume. George Barna’s book, Revolution, addresses this gnawing hunger for spiritual relevance. Many Christians are leaving the four walls seeking a more organic faith expression.
Jesus said the issue isn’t “where” we meet. (John 4:21) The issue is the gospel. We must by faith receive this precious Christ. He is the vine. We are the receivers of a Kingdom which cannot be shaken. Unfortunately, organized religion often gets in the way. Church leaders are much to blame. But every Christian is resposible to live by grace, through faith. (Gal.)
I’m not leaving my church. I’ve been there 18 years. It’s a great church. My eyes are simply open to fact that our religious institutions can easily become sweat shops full of human activity while lacking the power of God, as you stated. I heard that C.J. Mahaney once said, “in every man of grace there is a legalist struggling to get out.” I think this idea applies corporately, as well.
Thank you for your blog. Happy Holidays!
The fact that these messages were posted nearly 3 years ago makes me smile. God knew I would need to read them right now. Thank you for your profound words that help to affirm much of what I have been dealing with.
I am helping to lead an after school worship program for middle school that was started by a former teacher. Last year the group was rather large when the teacher was here and the students had many “experiences” during their worship. Many of them refuse to come back this year because they just don’t think they will have the same “experiences” without her. I suspected that the time meant for worship had turned into an idol for many of them. It was no longer worship but a time to feel an emotional high. They stated that they liked to get all worked up/excited and then sit back and be chill/meditative. There was a regular routine and recognizable pattern to each time of worship. They expected and received the same feelings and reactions every time.
I didn’t understand what they were talking about fully until I began to research and search out for myself. I knew that something wasn’t quite right but I didn’t go as far as to connect this to an idol. They had in fact missed the very purpose of worship, to bring glory to our God, not experience some great high.
This is a hard thing to undo… especially for a 26 year old third grade teacher. Wow… God continues to stretch me to places I have no idea how to handle. Any advice would be much appreciated.