I’ve been thinking lately on corporate worship. There is so much that is just bizarre out there these days with many churches concentrating on entertainment in order to get people in the door. You’d think the church sign would read “Hey! Check Us Out Because We’re Awesomely Cool and Relevant And Stuff!” Too many want to be like Hillsong, Jesus Culture and others who are technically great musicians but are many times lacking in theology.
One book I’m reading these days is The Church Awakening by Chuck Swindoll. He uses Acts 2:42 often to describe what the essentials are to be done in corporate worship:
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
Teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. This is the first we see on how to do church. And they had the best teachers, the apostles, the ones who were with Jesus 24/7. Who better to teach the first Christians? And as time went on, who better to teach Christians in the future, first by those who had direct contact with the apostles and it spread from there. Granted, there is probably little, if any, direct relationship to Christ’s apostles today—and no, the pope is not in a line from Peter, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Yes, different things have been added as the centuries came and went. But to this day, teaching, fellowship (probably what one would call fellowship today), breaking of the bread—the Lord’s Supper done each and every Sunday, and prayer—all four elements are essential in corporate worship.
One paragraph says a lot about corporate worship in so many churches today: “If we sacrifice the essentials of teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer on the altar of strategy, creativity, entertainment and “relevancy,” we have abandoned the main reasons the church exists. We should build on those essentials, not attempt to replace them.” (Swindoll 82) That pretty much sums it up.
I came across this article a week or so ago:
8 Reasons the Worship Industry Is Killing Worship
From this article:
“The singing is the “worship,” the preaching is…well, we’re not sure. It’s not really worship. No corporate prayer, no creeds, no confession.”
“It spreads bad theology” I think that speaks for itself.
“It’s made music into a substitute Eucharist. Most evangelicals, along with the mainline Protestants who are looking to commercial Christian music as an institutional life preserver, use music as if it were a sacrament. Through their music, they allow themselves to be carried away on an emotional level into a perceived sensory connection with the divine. Music is their bread and wine.”
An example of bad theology—“Build Your Kingdom Here” by Rend Collective. Why?
Worship Songs Rated website explains why this song received zero stars:
“God is in the process of establishing His Kingdom now in the reborn spirits of men who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not establish His physical Kingdom on earth till Christ returns. He will not “heal our streets and lands” until the Millennial Kingdom.”
And–“Two of their phrases in this song show it is from a Dominionist/Latter Rain perspective. “Change our atmosphere” and “Holy Spirit, come invade us now”. The “atmosphere” of the world will not be changed until the Millennial Kingdom because right now it is under the dominion of the evil one. The Holy Spirit does not “invade” people, and if they are being forcibly “invaded” it is another spirit.” (Worships Song Ratings)
Once more from the article: “its sole purpose is to make us feel something. The industry, as with the mainstream music industry, must engage us on a purely sensory level to find widespread appeal in an entertainment-addicted culture. It must make us feel something on a purely emotional level. It strikes a match for the initial excitement of the spark. It must hook us in to be profitable. And so, the quality of theology, poetry, and music suffers accordingly. And we trade the beauty of God’s story for the initial excitement of sensory stimulation. Singing love songs to Jesus is not the point of gathered worship. I find Robert Webber’s definition helpful: Worship is doing God’s story.”
Another book I’m currently reading Spiritual Anorexia: How Contemporary Worship is Starving the Church by Doug Erlandson. Much in this article is also mentioned a lot in Erlandson’s book. Erlandson is from the Reformed tradition who ended up in a “contemporary” church. He does express much concern over contemporary worship of today. He states “Corporate worship is thus a two-way street. On the one hand it serves to strengthen our faith and renew our resolve to be transformative kingdom builders. On the other hand, it is an act of reverence whereby we seek to exalt the Name of the Triune God and thereby bring glory to Him. It is thus our offering of gratitude and submission.”(Erlandson, Kindle location 407 of 2490)
Erlandson describes the elements of traditional corporate worship as “Through the centuries corporate worship has included such diverse elements as the call to worship or the gathering of the people, the reading of the Word, the recitation of the creeds, the preaching of the Word, the Eucharistic, and the exhortation and benediction whereby the congregation is sent into the world to proclaim the transformative reign of Christ.” (Erlandson, Kindle location 565)
Today, the call to worship is the worship leader calling out through a microphone something like “ARE YOU READY TO WORSHIP?” And the church band breaks out into an upbeat, catchy tune by one of the many hip, rocking Christian singers and groups, which may or not be (usually not) be deep in correct theology which gets the congregation standing and clapping all caught up in the tune, the melody, the loud guitars, the beat of the microphoned drums. So what if it’s full of bad theology as long as it’s relevant! Right!?
As shown in Erlandson’s description of what corporate worship was, the reading of the word and creeds are mentioned. What exactly constitutes the reading of the Word in so many churches? Pretty much reading a couple verses between songs and the sermon. There is nothing wrong with a formal reading is there? Or what is wrong with one of the historic creeds being proclaimed? Or the Lord’s Supper being held more than quarterly? Or a benediction that consists more of “see ya next week!”? (Those are rhetorical questions just to make the reader ponder the questions.
Thankfully, there are still churches that haven’t gone down the road of entertainment first. There are still many churches which preach the Word of God with no frills and other assorted nonsense that one would only find on a stage or in a circus. And it is just not corporate worship where this is happening. Consider a Facebook page for a retreat of sorts of Christian teens: “We can’t wait to spend the weekend with 125 of our closest friends, staying up late, climbing the rock wall, doing the challenge course, dominating BONKERS!, hearing the Bible taught, and learning a little bit more about what it looks like to follow Jesus!” Should not reading and teaching the Bible and learning more about Jesus be the number one reason to attend? One would think that would be more important staying up late. There’s another post on that page that says there will be “relevant” teaching, which usually isn’t relevant about Christ and the Gospel or doctrine.”
Why is it that fewer churches use their corporate worship to exalt God, raise Him high and proclaim His gospel? Churches that equip the saints to defend the faith as Peter described: 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15) or to spread the Gospel to all through the Great Commission:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Isn’t that what the body of Christ need and deserve their churches to do?
In conclusion then, this quote from Chuck Swindoll sums it all up:
4 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
“Methods may differ, and taste in music may fluctuate. But there’s an appropriate limit churches must recognize. Churches don’t need to try so hard to be so creative and cute that folks miss the truth. No need for meaningless and silly substitutes that dumb down God’s Word. These may entertain people—even encourage them—but rarely will they convict the lost or bring believers deeper in their maturity. Teaching the truth takes care of all that. Remember Paul’s words: “reprove, rebuke, exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2). Those are not politically correct terms. Why? Because GOD IS NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT. HE NEVER INTENDED TO BE.” (Emphasis mine) (Chuck Swindoll, “The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal,” pp 89)
It’s up to denominations and to individual churches to decide what is and is not important in how the worship and how they preach. Which way best feeds the sheep? So pray for your pastors, worship leaders, elders and all those in church leadership. They have no easy task.