The fifth of six reports adopted by the World Council of Churches in its meeting at Uppsala in 1968 is simply called “Worship”. This is an abbreviation of the original title, “The Worship of God in a Secular Age”. There was, evidently, strong objection by the more conservative elements upon undue emphasis on a “secular theology.” The abbreviated title represents the compromise between the liberal and supposedly conservative wings of the W.C.C.
The subject of ‘”worship” is indeed a significant one for the church. The church has’ been, and ought to be, concerned with the proper worship of our God. Nor has there been a set form for worship which the churches through the ages have inflexibly followed. There are certain essential elements in all worship, but the order or arrangement of the worship service has varied throughout the centuries. Often, because we are creatures of habit and custom, we resist any possible change—equating change with the sin of modernism. We, doubtlessly, have not yet reached such an apex of perfection that every possible change in our worship service would be for the worse. And in-so-far as the document of the W.C.C. points this out, I would agree with it.
However, one immediately becomes suspicidys of the document itself when it is considered in light of the theme of the W.C.C.: “Behold, I make all things new.” Now a child of God would believe that this theme refers ultimately to the perfections of the heavenly, realized when Christ returns. He would confess that the beginning or principle of this newness already belongs to the saints on the earth by virtue of the fact that he is regenerated by the Spirit. But many in the W.C.C. do not understand the theme in this way. Many would regard it as a cry for revolutionary change. One fears that this is what some had in mind, too, when the subject of worship was treated. There was obviously the desire to do away with all the worship forms as these presently exist, and replace them by something altogether new and different. Originally, the proposed document on “worship” contained far more radical statements recommending change than those contained in the document finally adopted. Rev. David L. Edwards, Church of England, comments as follows concerning the original draft of the document on worship:
More vocal, however, was the protest of the orthodox churchmen, including the Chairman of the section, against any tendency to surrender the Christian spiritual tradition to the secularization which was acknowledged to surround all the churches of Europe and America. The response of the Orthodox Theological Society of America to the preliminary draft criticized that document’s “basic deficiency”, and may be quoted. “The root of this deficiency is the assumption (common, in fact, to all sections) that the ‘secular age’ creates a situation for the Church so radically new that an equally radical evaluation of Christianity is necessary which embraces worship, unity, spiritual renewal, theological conversation. It is this assumption that only a world-centered and world-orientated Christianity is possible and permissible for Christians today that makes Section V an unconvincing mixture of arbitrary questions and debatable definitions.” Against this trend the Orthodox churchmen reiterated their tradition: “The Liturgy has always been understood primarily as an act of withdrawal from the world, the fulfillment of the Church as being in but not of the world.”
The Orthodox were not the only members of the section at Uppsala who were suspicious of the draft’s secularizing trend . . .
At one stage it looked as if no agreement would be reached between the secularizing radicals and the heavenly conservatives. If an agreement was reached, it might be an empty compromise. . . .
In the end, however, an agreement was reached among these Christians at Uppsala, and it was an agreement which included the key passages in the preliminary draft about secularization. This agreement was possible partly because some new points were added in response to needs voiced by African, Orthodox, etc; but mainly because the preliminary draft was reduced in length by the omission of questions which seemed too arbitrary, and definition which seemed too debatable, and clichés which seemed too pious.
Some of the secular theology was cut . . .
Some of the “secular theology” may have been cut, but much of it obviously still remains in the document adopted by the W.C.C. The report speaks of a certain “crisis of worship.” In describing that “worship”, the report declares:
In its worship as surely as in its witness, in the world, the Church is called to participate fully in Jesus Christ’s reconciling work among men. In worship we enter God’s battle against the demonic forces of this world which alienate man from his creator and his fellow-men, which imprison him in narrow nationalism or arrogant sectarianism, which attack his life through racism or class division, war or oppression, famine or disease, poverty or wealth, and which drive him to cynicism, guilt and despair. When we worship, God shows us that in this battle the final victory belongs to Jesus Christ.
This may remain an empty statement unless our churches reconsider which are the demonic forces to be fought today, and what are the opportunities for the laity to bring the real struggles and questions of daily life into worship.
Notice how that though the name of Christ is used, man is urged to participate in His “reconciling work among men.” This “reconciling work” is to remove some of the evidences and fruits of sin—but not sin itself. No mention is made at all of sin. Man is simply urged to struggle against the “demonic forces” together with Christ. The worship of the church, according to the report, is to incorporate this idea. The report goes on to explain that this “worship” is being challenged by “secularization” today. This secularization is explained thus:
Without attempting a full definition we want to stress these two senses: understood positively it can mean (a) a liberation of culture, scholarly and scientific investigation, the development of technology etc. from control by religious power structures; and (b) the constant re-expression of the Church’s liturgy and language in the culture in which it lives.
The report continues by explaining its idea of the continuity as well as the change which must be evident in the worship within the church. It emphasizes the necessity of regular and disciplined prayer and intercession by groups, families, and individuals—all of which is very good. However, it continues by stating, “Since the Church should make clear its solidarity with the world, corporate worship and personal prayer alike should draw into themselves, with thanksgiving and faith, all the joys and sorrows, the achievements, doubts and frustrations of mankind today.” One might wonder if this might not also be construed as a rebuke upon Christ Himself Who declared in His prayer, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine.” (John 17:9)
But what changes would this report recommend? It is rather brief in treating this subject. It suggests, by way of asking a question, that the traditional might not be too acceptable anymore:
We are bound to ask the churches; whether there should not be changes in language, music, vestments, ceremonies, to make worship more intelligible; whether fresh categories of people (industrial workers, students, scientists, journalists, etc.) should not find a place in the churches’ prayers; whether lay people should not be encouraged to take a greater share in public worship; whether our forms of worship should not avoid unnecessary repetition, and leave room for silence; whether biblical and liturgical texts should not be so chosen that people are helped to worship with understanding; whether meetings of Christians for prayer in the Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper) should be confined to church buildings or to traditional hours. In the same way in personal prayer should we not learn to “pray our lives” in a realistic way?
Some concrete suggestions are offered. The report states, “Since the Word of God is the basis of our worship, proclamation of the Word is essential.” One would think that the report emphasizes an important truth: “the proclamation of the Word is essential.” We might agree, insisting that this is the heart of proper public worship of the church. However, the report continues in a way which makes plain that “proclamation of the Word” is not meant in the sense that we generally understand this.
The churches have traditionally known and still know the power of the preached word to convince men of the call of God to them in their situation. Yet, in our day, the sermon as prepared and preached by one man comes increasingly under question. In these circumstances the traditional sermon ought to be supplemented by new means of proclamation. As possibilities for consideration in the churches, we suggest: (a) that through team work the congregation be engaged in the preparation and follow-up of the sermon (this would also help to relate the sermon more closely to daily life); (b) that other forms of presentation be used, such as dialogue, drama, and visual arts. More careful use should be made of new church architecture, decoration, music, etc., to help modern men to understand the Christian message.
This ought to give some idea of the trend within the W.C.C. concerning the worship of God. The report shows evidences of the compromises that were made—yet shows unmistakable signs of the attempt to destroy that proper worship of God as He has required this of His Church. The report wants nothing of the pure preaching of the Word—the presentation of the atonement of the cross of Christ. It does want a “proclamation of the Word” through other means than the preaching. It wants the “church” to participate in the “reconciling work” of Christ, that is, to remove only the outward evidences of the existence of sin.
The report gives some idea of the type of worship which likely will exist in the church of the antichrist at the end of time. And it is an additional reason why no truly Reformed church ought to belong to the W.C.C