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Does Worship Really Need to be Exciting?

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The following is by Rev. Andrew Compton, associate pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA and is used with his permission. Rev. Compton is one of the bloggers at The Reformed Reader

I've been reading through Kevin Roose's book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. If you have an interest in learning about evangelicalism and fundamentalism, this book, written by a Brown University student who enrolled at Liberty University for a semester, is a great volume to read. Informed by George Marsden's more historical Fundamentalism and American Culture, this is a fun and witty memoir of someone who decided to "act the part" of a Christian fundamentalist for a semester.

I was especially struck by Roose's contrast between the simple, Quaker worship meetings of his youth and the contemporary worship at a local megachurch. He writes:

You can see why I didn't go to [Quaker worship] meeting[s] much. As a kid groomed on cartoons and video games and Little League, an hour of motionless silence was excruciating. At Thomas Road, on the other hand, there's almost too much stimulation. The stage lights, the one hundred-decibel praise songs, the bright purple choir robes, the tempestuous bellowing of Dr. Falwell – it's an hour-long assault on the senses. And all you have to do is sit back in your plush, reclining seat, latte and cranberry scone in hand, and take it all in. It's Church Lite – entertaining but unsubstantial, the religious equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. And once the novelty wears off, once the music becomes familiar and the motions of praise become pro forma and mechanized, you start to realize that all the technological glitz and material extravagance doesn't necessarily add up to a spiritual experience.

Today, from my perch in the Thomas Road choir loft, my mind wandered back to the little brown house with stone steps. I think I'd appreciate the minimalist Quaker worship more now than I did as a kid. It didn't have Jumbotron screens or a five thousand-watt sound system or a cafe in the lobby, and it wasn't run by a world-famous televangelist with millions of followers. But at least it felt real (The Unlikely Disciple, pg. 199; emphasis added).

Bravo, Kevin! You have nailed it to the wall.

It is only tragic that it takes someone posing to be an evangelical to point out something that the "experts" themselves either can't understand or chose to suppress—i.e., that the excitement of contemporary "worship" is more driven by consumerist impulses than genuine gratitude or spirituality.

If you're drawn toward exciting, contemporary worship settings, know this—we all are! But this is not because it is right; not because it is proper; not because God is truly putting a burden on our hearts to pursue worship of him in this way... it is because all of us prefer to worship ourselves! All of us are idolaters who fashion gods in our own image!

If we like video clips, well then God must want us to watch those while worshiping him. If we like rock music, God must like it too. If we like to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha, then there can only be one reason for this—God must want nothing more than for us to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha! Whatever we like to do, God likes to do it too, right?

After all, we're too genuine to be self-centered, right? Idolatry is only practiced by people out there, isn't it? What we want to do just feels so right—how can you argue with that?!?!

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  • Perhaps the somber, sober rituals of liturgical worship with its comfortable rhythms is every bit as appealing to the human desire for entertainment as the high production value Thomas Road service. Not all worldly entertainment is necessarily modern. Back a few hundred years ago what we think of as a properly sober "worship service" was high culture.

    Rather than asking if a "worship service" is supposed to be modern worldly or older worldly, perhaps we should ask why we don't see either form in the New Testament church. We might ask why we don't see a ritualized Supper and instead see shared meals as the centerpiece of the community of the saints, why we see 1 Cor 14:26 as the model of church interaction and mutual edification rather than a one man show monologue sermon. Just because something is more than fifty years old doesn't mean it is Biblical and just because something seems more modern doesn't mean it is worldly.

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  • [...] Does Worship Really Need to be Exciting? – White Horse Inn Blog [...]

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  • Guest - John Savage

    When Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman, that true worship was in essence to do with truth and sprit, and not with geographics or tradition, surely he was saying, amongst other things, that at the heart of worship was worship of , and from the heart. External criteria can be important in all facets of Christian spirituality, including worship, and can help as a vehicle to draw us within the sphere of God's presence and blessings. However, externals, no matter how well packaged and labelled can never substitute for a heart and soul of a man or woman who gives highest worth and value to the Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us. To walk through life, as Bunyan's Pilgrim did, with Christ adored and self ashamed, is the attitude of worship.

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  • [...] Blog- Christian Music- read more: Does Worship Really Need to be Exciting?  White Horse Inn Blog The Lamp- Movie Trailer- Destiny Image Films Destiny Image Films endeavors to tell inspirational [...]

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  • I purchased Roose's book at the behest of this article. I'm about a quarter of the way through it and am enjoying it thoroughly. Thanks for the recommendation and great blog post!

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  • I think that taken in its purest sense, Roose's comments apply fairly evenly across the bord to both contemporary and liturgical worship, both of which can be very busy and sense stimulating. He wasn't rejecting pop-trendy SBC style worship in favor of an LCMS smells and bells service; his conclusion was simplicity, silence, and stillness, as in Quaker worship. High church is many thing, many good things, but simple isn't on the list. In fact, the Quakers are actually the only tradition whose worship actually qualifies as legitimately non-liturgical. Even contemporary churches have a liturgy, but the Quakers truly did not. They just sat around in a room and waited for the Holy Spirit.

    It's not that video clips are consumeristic or self focused, but that they're busy and sensually assaulting. And I'm not entirely sure why video clips have to be de-facto centered on self. Sure the bulk of churches employing them do so with a distracted message, but they can potentially be used to communicate gospel truth and point toward Christ.

    Video screens and projectors are not the enemy. False teaching, in any medium, is.

    I believe that what Roose is really seeking is not a form of worship that truly "feels real" with consistency (good luck!), but a sacramental spirituality: The assurance that he does genuinely encounter Christ with the assembled saints whether or not he feels it, understands it, or is able to completely focus on it.

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  • Guest - Bob Sale

    From a purely subjective take on things, why is it that drummers are not held to the (relative) standards that the other members of the band are held?

    The other day in church as the band played horrible noisy crud that they no doubt intended to be "about you, Lord, not us" (the standard pre-worship-service prayer of the "music" ministers), the teenager in the pew behind me insisted on drumming on the edge of the pew I was sitting in. After overcoming the urge to murder him (hence the reason I stayed rather than leave: my condition of total depravity became all too apparent for me to leave just yet, at least not before hearing what I think might have been the Gospel, or at least parts of the Gospel) I wondered what it was this kid heard or saw or felt about the drummer that made him wish to emulate him? The guy was horrible?

    One can imagine what it must have been like in those little churches on the prairie where it was a big deal to obtain a pump organ, let alone find someone able to play it. And yet, apparently it's too much to expect our already overburdened church ministry teams to start a "How To Tell Good Rock From Bad" Wednesday night class. Surely in a congregation averaging about six million members there are a few hip souls who might deign to raise the rock aesthetic of the congregants. I mean, as subjective as rock music is, it's not utterly subjective. Tune your snare drum down so it doesn't pierce the ears of the listeners, dude! HWJTHD? (How would Jesus tune His drums!)

    Until we learn how to truly rock, maybe the humble psalter with squeaky pump organ are just the perfect thing.

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  • Guest - Bruce Sonnenberg

    Worship isn't for us! It's for Him!! And if the beautiful song, the lovely poem, the contemporary chorus, the old hymn, the fancy lights, the candlelight, help you to focus on who JESUS is, then who are YOU to say "It's not of God!" Let each man or woman worship Him in the manner that draws them closer to Him and quit being so critical about anyone with whom you don't agree. Get back to your first love and humbly come before Him so that when you come together with others who are drawn to worship Him in similar ways, you can rest in His righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

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  • Guest - Bob Sale

    One wouldn't know that worship is about Him and not us by the bulk of contemporary songs rife with, "I will, I am, We are, We will," with us as the subject rather than God. And those are the good ones. There are a couple of contemporary songs with the chant "na na na, na na na," in the bridge. There is even a song with the words, "Stand up and spin around," and it isn't the hokey pokey (though that exists too: google "the holy ghost hokey pokey").

    It's not styles and lights and scents but words about Jesus that get us to focus on Him. Beautiful and emotional and sublime (and even rock) music might help, because we're rigged to find joy in those things. But those things are not always present nor possible. So what then is left? Words about Jesus. Not words about how I feel or what I'm gonna do. But words about what He is, what He's done, does do, and will continue to do.

    Many Christians rightly worry that stage lighting and props and that sort of thing might be a distraction to the worshipers. But when they proceed to sing songs with words that are for all intents and purposes about themselves, what then is the point of worrying about distractions?

    The church service is not suffering from a surfeit of distractions. The church service is suffering from a dearth of intellectual coherence and honesty. "Na na na na na na" means nothing. "God reconciling the world to Himself through Christ" means everything.

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