Robert D. Decker is professor of New Testament and Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Casualness and Worship

Casualness and Worship. Such is the title of the editorial of the November 18, 1985 issue of Clarion, the magazine of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Editor S. Geertsema comments:

A congregation comes together for worship on a Sunday morning. It is summer. The weather is warm. Those attending are dressed casually. Brothers of the church council enter, the organ is silenced, the minister walks to the pulpit. Casually he greets the people with a “Good morning, congregation.” The congregation responds with a “Good morning, sir.” There is singing and praying. The sermon follows, but is interrupted &hen a few latecomers arrive. In a nice and casual way they are welcomed.

Is there not something attractive in this casualness? Does it not bring the service “down to earth?” Does it not make people feel welcome and comfortable? Is it not true that through these little things they will feel “at home” in the church? And is that not exactly what we want? People should be comfortable and at home in the church, shouldn’t they? Then they will come back.

Our modern times bring along many changes. There is also a change in the manner in which people worship. Worship services are less solemn and rigid in form. They are becoming more open, more easygoing, more casual. In general, people are much more casual than they were a few decades ago. I think that this word “casual” defines quite well the new direction.

What is the meaning of casualness? My dictionary gives, among others, the following definitions: “happening by chance, not planned or expected;” “without plan or method: careless;” “indifferent;” “informal in manner.” When a minister enters the auditorium and greets his congregation with a “Good morning,” or when he speaks a word of welcome it gives the service a much more informal character.

Further when men do not wear a suit and a tie, but instead a loosely fitting sweater, or women do not wear a dress but instead a pair of pants, in which they feel much more comfortable, going to church is made so much more pleasant for them. However, the question must be asked: is this direction toward casualness the right direction? In my opinion, it is not. I shall deal with the two points mentioned above as illustrations of casualness.

“Good morning congregation.” As I said, it sounds so nice, so welcoming, so down to earth, when a minister greets the congregation with these friendly words. But what does the casualness mean? It means that the two acting parties are the minister and the congregation. The minister speaks and the congregation reacts. Hereby the minister asks attention for himself as a nice friendly man and leader. .

And when latecomers are welcomed during the service, or when members are invited to propose a favorite song, or speak a prayer, or ask the minister to pray for something or someone, all the emphasis is placed on the individual members. The worship service becomes a human, social event of friendly and religious people.

What do we lose in this approach? We lose sight of the main aspect of the worship service, namely, that it is a meeting between the Lord and His people . . . . Therefore, attention should not be asked for the greeting minister. He has to go to the pulpit and pronounce, not his own salutation, but the salutation of the Lord . . . . In this same line the service continues. God speaks His Word in the Ten Words of the covenant. In the Scripture reading and in the sermon. The congregation responds with listening, praying and singing in obedient faith . . . . Casualness in the manner in which we have our services often goes along with casualness in the way we dress for church. We start wearing clothes to church that are comfortable and informal . . . . Casualness in the worship service and in our appearance at the service shows a certain attitude. It can show that we think that in our relationship with the Lord we can be casual, and that we do not have to be precise and punctual. It can show that we think the manner in which we serve the Lord does not matter too much, that everybody can serve and worship Him in his or her own manner, in the way he or she thinks is acceptable and right. Everything becomes just a “thing between you and the Lord.” . . . It should be clear to everyone that when we let casualness take over in our serving of the Lord, we are on the way to losing sight of God’s holy majesty . . . .

Geertsema is right! When we enter the sanctuary on the Lord’s Day, God in Jesus Christ is there and He speaks to us by means of the preaching of the Word. We had better remember that “our feet are standing there on holy ground.” When we come to church we “come to hear what God will say” to His people. We must worship God in spirit and in truth. Our attitude must be one of humility. From the heart we must praise and thank the Almighty Who is thrice holy! This ought to be reflected in our order of worship as well as in the way we dress when we come into God’s presence.

Rock Music and Our Children

Rock Music and our Children: Christianity Today(Nov. 22, 1985 issue) reports that:

It used to be the thumping rock beat coming from their kids’ bedrooms that worried parents. But a group of mothers in Washington, D.C., claim there is more to fear these days from rock music’s increasingly explicit lyrics.

“The stuff we were dancing to 15 years ago was nothing like this,” says Susan Baker, cofounder of the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC). The organization has launched a national campaign to pressure the recording industry to inform consumers about the messages conveyed in rock music.

“A lot of songs today encourage alcohol and drug abuse,” says Baker. “There’s a lot of incest, sadomasochism, homosexuality, and Satan worship. And the lyrics are getting bolder and bolder.”

An evangelical Christian, Baker is the wife of U.S. treasury secretary James A. Baker. She started combating explicit rock lyrics after talking with a friend who purchased the album Purple Rain for her daughter. One song on the album refers to a girl masturbating.

“She (the friend) was horrified and so was I,” says Baker, who discovered that lyrics to other songs on the album were even more explicit. “The average teenager listens to this stuff four to six hours a day. They wake up to it, study to it, dance to it, sleep to it. They plug in their earphones and jog to it.”

We certainly hope that Protestant Reformed teenagers are not “the average teenager” of whom Mrs. Baker speaks. We also hope and pray that Protestant Reformed parents forbid their children to listen to rock. And fervently we pray that our youth do not avail themselves of this tool of Satan.

Teens and the Pill

Teens and the Pill: The same issue of Christianity Today reports:

Britain’s highest court has ruled that doctors can prescribe contraceptives to girls younger than 16 without parental consent.

In a 3-to-2 vote the House of Lords’ law lords overturned a lower court decision issued last year. The Law Lords said parents do not have absolute authority over their children, and that laws must keep pace with changing social attitudes.

The court’s ruling was praised by the British Medical Society, the Labor party, and various family planning associations. They said the decision would help control abortion and unwanted teenage pregnancies. But, critics, including members of the Conservative party, denounced the ruling as an affront to family values and traditional morality.

Christian parents in England will have to obey God rather than men on this issue. We think too that this is just another instance of one of the signs of our Lord’s return: abounding lawlessness. Lest anyone think things are better in the U.S., the Presbyterian Journal(Nov. 20, 1985) informs us that: “Nearly seven out of ten adults say schools should work with family-planning clinics so teenagers can have ready access to contraceptives and birth control information. They would also like to see birth control messages broadcast on television . . . . By an overwhelming 2-1 majority, 67% of Americans favor laws requiring public schools to establish links with family planning clinics so that teenagers can learn about contraceptives and obtain them . . . . ” No doubt such laws will come in time. Parents and their covenant children need much grace these days to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).