Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
The Protestant Reformed Churches have never been accused of being innovative in their worship practices. They have never had the reputation for modernizing their liturgy. They refuse to follow the latest trendy practices.
The reason for this is not that we want to be stuffy traditionalists. Simply put: the PRC desire to be obedient to Jesus Christ. They are opposed to the modern forms of worship because they believe them to be disobedient to Jesus Christ. If worship were a matter of personal preference, no critique of modern worship would be permitted. Since Christ regulates worship, Christ requires us, and will help us, to judge all forms of worship.
Contemporary worship, as opposed to traditional worship, is all the rage. Go into most bookstores and you will not miss the wall ofglitzy-covered books explaining and defending this new way of worshiping God. Some of them are intelligent, articulate, and scholarly. Others are less reasoned but impassioned defenses.
The authors are all sure of one thing. God likes what they are doing.
Convinced that God is pleased with what we are doing in worship, we give our voice to a defense of Reformed, biblical, covenantal worship. Let us not call it traditional. Let us call it Reformed, biblical, covenantal worship. And let us analyze the admittedly new forms of worship in the light of Scripture, by which everything must be tested.
It is no light matter, the form and manner of our worship of God. In His treatise: The Necessity of Reforming the Church, Calvin made this judgment of the importance of proper worship:
If it be asked, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence among us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them, all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz., a knowledge first of the right way to worship God; and secondly of the source from which salvation is to be sought. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain.
By saying this, Calvin not only asserts that one cannot be a Christian without a proper knowledge of worship, but he ranks the importance of the knowledge of proper worship higher than knowledge of salvation by grace alone through faith alone and Christ alone! (See also his Institutes: II.8.11; everyone ought to read Calvin’s treatment on worship!)
Again, according to Calvin, the Christian’s primary duty is to maintain pure worship:
There is nothing to which all men should pay more attention, nothing in which God wishes us to exhibit a more intense eagerness than in endeavoring that the glory of his name may remain undiminished, his kingdom be advanced, and the pure doctrine, which alone can guide us to true worship, flourish in full strength.
Here, Calvin shows his opinion of the proper relation between pure doctrine and proper worship. Read that last quote again. Pure doctrine … guides us to true worship. Doctrine is worship’s servant.
There was as much controversy at the time of the Reformation about pure worship as there was about true doctrine. To misuse an old line: “The times, they aren’t a changing.”
Calvin is not mistaken in his assessment of the importance of worship. The reason for our very existence, in time and eternity, is to bring worship to our great and good redeemer God in Jesus Christ. As God, God requires His people to bring Him united praise. Bodies of believers in local congregations assemble on the special day of worship to give honor to their Lord.
So both the Old Testament and the New Testament record the primary place of the worship of God by God’s redeemed people. Psalm 122reflects the believer’s attitude to this requirement of God: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” He sings: “With joy and gladness in my soul, I hear the call to prayer. Let us go up to God’s own house, and bow before Him there.” This call to worship was echoed in Psalm 95: “O come, let us worship, and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
The new covenant church carries on this calling, joyfully. And it’s a good thing we can do it with joy, because that’s what we’ll be busy with world without end in God’s eternal kingdom—worshiping God! “And I saw another angel (says John) fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev. 14:6, 7; see alsoRev. 22:9). The everlasting gospel is: “Worship God.”
What Is Contemporary Worship?
Have you seen the ads in the newspaper and on the restaurant place mats: “Worship with us this week! 8:30a.m. Traditional; 10:00a.m. Contemporary”? What would you find if you visited the 10:00a.m. service?
There are probably three main kinds of contemporary worship. Each goes off in a different direction, but all go away from biblical, Reformed, covenantal worship.
First, there is the loose, unplanned, uncontrolled, wild and woolly worship of the charismatics (Assemblies of God, a.k.a. “happy-clappies”). It has foot stomping and hand clapping, waving of arms and swaying of bodies, speaking in tongues and healing of sick and paralyzed, falling on the floors and, sometimes, uncontrolled laughter. Included in these services is almost always drama and contemporary (read: “rock with a band”) music.
Second, there is the relatively new “seeker-service,” carefully crafted to appeal to the boomer generation and the unchurched. Willow Creek Church in Illinois, Calvary Undenominational of Grand Rapids, and Mars Hill, a daughter of Calvary, are representative of this kind of service (though there are a hundred copycats that you will recognize in your part of the country or world). The service is determinedly casual, includes contemporary music (usually rock and with a band), and almost always drama—plays.
Then there is the “High-Church,” or “liturgical” service (with many variations) of some Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Liturgical is a word that simply means “service.” It is used in Scripture to describe the work of the priests in the temple. Today, it refers to the elements of our worship. Historically, it has described a kind of service that emphasizes ceremony and solemnity. This is the worship of the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans. The new “liturgical” services are also characterized by much formal ceremony. They have banners and pictures (projected or hung), clerical robes, gowns, and, by all means, candles. Symbolism is emphasized. Also these services, although not always with rock music, almost always include drama—plays.
Now, these three cannot be lumped into one category for analysis. Nor does a particular service necessarily have only the elements of one kind of service; some have an eclectic taste. But three elements appear in almost all of them: They dance (in one way or another); they have rock music (some kind of modern music); they have drama—plays. Hence, the question: “Shall we dance, rock, and play?”
We are concerned primarily with the Calvary type “seeker-services” and the high church “liturgical services”—not because the charismatic service is not an error, but because it is not as immediately a threat to the Reformed faith.
By “seeker-service” is meant a service of worship designed to appeal to those who are probably not members of any church, but are “seeking” something in a church, or perhaps are even “seeking” God. What do we know about the seeker services?
We know what they don’t want as much as we know what they want. They don’t want anything that sounds or looks “churchy.” They don’t want a typical church building style. They don’t want a pulpit from which something is declared to them. They don’t want an organ. They don’t want old songs. They assuredly don’t want formal dress.
The visitor must feel comfortable. He is not accustomed to “church.” The whole atmosphere must be “normal, natural, and pleasant.”
In order to create an atmosphere as un-church-like as possible, they want a theater-like building. They often want lights—percussive lights, colored lights, all kinds of lights sweeping the audience. They call for guitars—usually amplified, loud, electric guitars playing rock music or country, if not hip-hop and pop. The assembled multitude is “warmed up” by the praise band for 45 minutes or so. Then the worship leader (notice he is not called a “preacher”) takes his place on his stool and begins his chat. There are banners, pictures, video-projectors. Casual dress—blue-jeans and tennis shoes—are the dress-code in some places. And by all means, drama!
For all their differences, these seeker-services almost all have in common that there is little preaching. Emphasis falls on the aesthetic. What pleases and attracts the eye?
The people of God should not be naïve regarding the popularity of the “seeker-service.” The young people must be informed of them. Pastors and elders, but especially parents, must show that the present worship of God in the congregations pleases Him. And why. But most important is the need that in our worship services the young people and adults worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and find all their needs met in the simple, unadorned gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
… to be continued.