Church Membership 7: Worship
Worship is one of the controversies that rocks and has the rocked the church in the last generation. Being a Reformed church we have a very deliberate view on worship. We feel that many in the worship wars have missed the central things and got caught up in the peripheral aspects of the discussion. The modern day churches failure in the area of worship is due to a failure to understand the full implications of the Gospel. A Gospel driven worship and a Gospel shaped worship has been replaced with a variety of secondary issues taking the primary place in worship. Ironically the Reformed tradition is seen to be the weakest church in the area of worship, that its tradition has been surpassed and improved on by successive generations. I want to give an apologetic for the Reformed approach to worship as the most biblical and gospel oriented approach to worship. So I have cast down the gauntlet and many modern day Christians would no doubt be mystified by my statement. So let’s begin our look at the area of worship with an overview of wrong and right paradigms to worship.
The worship wars have been fought on various fronts. The battle lines have been drawn on the issues of Contemporary VS Traditional; Instruments VS Acappella; Clergy VS Laity involvement, etc. I want to argue that as important as many of these issues are they are not the central issue. Once you have established the central issue many of these other issues are put into perspective.
Although most people see Reformed worship as ascribing to a traditional style this was not the original motivation in Reformed worship. When the Reformation broke out, it is true that the Reformers were criticising the RCC for innovation. This however does not mean that the Reformed paradigm of worship is to opt for the traditional against the innovative. The various innovations of the RCC which included things like Mass, priestly vestments, processions, morality plays, days set apart for reverencing of saints, etc., were all distortions of the Gospel. The Reformers were not a group of conservatives who wanted to reign in the style of worship in the RCC because of its rife emotionalism but rather they wanted to stop anything that would distort or replace the Gospel. The Reformation was not first and foremost a fight over worship style but the Gospel. The choice then between traditional versus innovative is a red herring because the Reformers insisted that Scripture should be the sole authority for how worship should be conducted not a default loyalty to the new or the status quo.
So when we look at those who are fighting the worship wars on the field of traditional versus innovative we disagree with both sides. The governing principle of worship is not a bias for a certain generational expression of worship but a principled worship that is driven by the Gospel and governed by the Scriptures.
Another wasted battle is the fight over clergy versus laity involvement. One modern writer talks about the need for a second Reformation where the laity takes up the work of the ministry. This is brought into worship where the fight is seen to be an issue of who is involved in the worship service are we all to have a part to play or only office bearers.
More sober discussions around worship today are on the question of giving or getting in worship, entertainment vs education based worship services, pews versus theatre seats. Or on the giving side that we are no longer offering a sacrifice of atonement in the mass but now a sacrifice of praise. These are beginning to touch on what lies at the heart of Reformed worship but miss the central things.