Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

Because the Protestant Reformed Churches want earnestly to be obedient to Jesus Christ in their public worship, they look both ways more than once before they cross into a new neighborhood of worship practices. They feel very safe (that is, humbly obedient to Jesus Christ) in their old neighborhood. The explanation is not a stuffy traditionalism. They desire to be obedient to Scripture.

These churches agree with Carlos Eirie in his contention that “the rebellion of man in regard to worship displeases God tremendously, not only because of the act of disobedience, but because of the form of worship it creates. It is insult added to injury.” Perhaps Eirie could have said: “Injury added to insult.” For, first, it insults God by worshiping without regard to His commands; then it injures God by creating a form of worship that disfigures and deforms both Him and His church.

We believe that, because worship is the primary calling of God’s people, both now and eternally (see Revelation 14:6, 7Rev. 22:9), it is not possible to exercise too much carefulness in determining our manner of worship.

The Heidelberg Catechism explains God’s requirement in the second commandment of God’s law as: “that we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.” (emphasis mine: BG)

A Reformed Critique

These modern worshipers have no biblical warrant for what they do. Their worship committees are not governed by the “regulative principle of worship,” that is, the principle according to which the worship form and content must be regulated strictly by the Word of God. These worship trailblazers do not go to Scripture with their questions. They go to culture, to the neighborhood, to the community. They are not governed by the Word of God.

Because of this, they ask the wrong questions. The question is not: How does the neighborhood behave? The proper, God-honoring questions are: “What does God in His Word require us to do when we gather for His praise? How must we behave in His presence?” Thus, they end with a multitude of difficulties and errors.

Let me list some of them. First, they are inevitably man-centered, not God-centered. Because they ask, “What is the neighborhood like?” they craft their services after man’s desires. They are committed to the idea that we go to the place of worship to get something from God, rather than that we bring something to God. But the question is not: “What makes us feel good?” but, “What is this great and glorious God worthy of?”

So it’s the age-old idolatry: They worship the creature more than the Creator.

Because they are man-centered, these worship services are “performance-oriented.” Whether it’s the high-powered Robert Schuller’s invitation to Tommy LaSorda to tell the people of the Crystal Cathedral how the “Great Dodger in the sky helped him to win games and lose weight…” or simply the local talent in the praise band or the adolescents in the drama, it is performance-oriented.

So the people all clap. Applause is a part of their worship.

They are walking, if not running, back to the same unbiblical practices that the Reformers condemned so vehemently in the RCC when worship was done for the people.

Therefore (second) whether high-liturgy or seeker-oriented, these new worship services take away from the congregational and covenantal aspect of worship. They are individualistic. The people don’t praise together, but watch others praise. A Reformed worship service is marked by the deliberate desire to have all the people participate in everything they possibly can (see my pamphlet: “Public Worship and the Reformed Faith”).

Third, they don’t distinguish between mission work and worship. Mission work is one thing, public worship on the Lord’s Day is quite another. In mission work, I’m willing to preach on the steps, out of a boat, or stand on a soapbox at the Hudsonville Community Fair (if I were permitted).

Mission work and trying to preach to unbelievers is one thing. Public worship is quite another. Those who advocate contemporary worship, appealing to the example of Jesus on the seaside, and Philip in a chariot, are making a simple but fundamental mistake: They confuse public worship of the gathered people of God with evangelism.

The result? The unchurched who have come to a church of this style now have formed a judgment of what worship is. And these “seekers” who have “found it” are not led to a biblical, reverent way of approaching God, but continue to dictate the worship of the assembled people of God. They’re still worshiping like the neighborhood. Instead of transforming the world by the renewing of their minds, the church is allowing itself to be “conformed to the world.”

Fourth, these services inevitably take away from a sense of the awesome majesty of God.

For them, God is cool, probably a kindly, gray-haired old man who winks at everyone and judges no one. He’s easy-going, probably a lot like us. There’s no reverence, no sense of awe, not even in the liturgical services with all the pomp and ceremony, because the attention is on the players. The watchwords are casual, breezy, easy-going.

Though God in Christ is our Friend, to whom we may come close and with boldness, He’s still God! He is and always will be the awesome figure of Revelation 1: “His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters…. Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell down at his feet as dead.” That’s the awesome glory of the God whom we worship.

The worship God delights in is the kind the four beasts and twenty-four elders ofRevelation 4 give to God: “And they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come…. And… the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth forever and ever, and cast down their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created.”

Then, because a wrong conception of God is conveyed, everything is crooked. Whatever the delivered message says, the whole service conveys the wrong message, an unbiblical one. These unchurched visitors learn. Oh, they learn. What do these unchurched learn? They learn about the “new faith.” To borrow from Cornelius Plantinga, this is how the visitor to these new worship services responds: “Now I understand what the Christian faith is all about! It’s not about repentance or sorrow for sin or humbling one’s self before God to receive God’s favor. It has nothing to do with doctrine and instruction in the being and nature of God. It’s not about an alien righteousness imputed to me by a gift from God. It’s not about discipline and self-sacrifice and mortifying an old man and dying to myself. It’s not about the impossibility of pleasing God by myself and the irresistible and sweet grace of God. No, what I had read about the church is all wrong. God is user-friendly. He’s a go-fer whose job it is to make me happy. The church is for maximizing the possibilities of my personal growth and self-realization. The Christian faith is mainly about celebration and fun and personal growth and five ways to boost my self-esteem.”

Fifth, they detract from the preached Word.

It matters not which kind of service it is, or what the motives are, the end result is that there is usually not time for the preaching. If there is time, the minister is sitting on the pulpit in a casual manner, submitting to the people some of the thoughts he’s come up with through the past week.

One pastor offers other pastors a sampling of questions he received, plus his answers. Not one is answered with an appeal to Scripture. All of them (including an important question about predestination) are answered with his own personal conviction, rather than: “Thus saith the Lord.” In that connection, what preaching there is, is not the authoritative proclamation of the gospel: “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, it’s a bar-stool, a hand-held microphone, and a man in blue-jeans and sweatshirt casually talking about issues.

The preaching in its saving, comforting, power is absent. Preaching as the voice of Jesus Christ Himself is gone.

Just as serious, the preaching in its judging, condemning power has disappeared. We may forget that in our analysis of contemporary worship. In very nature and purpose—to be user-friendly, attractive, appealing, non-confrontational, inoffensive—contemporary worship’s preaching cannot be antithetical. Sharp warnings, calls to repentance, threats of eternal judgment for impenitent sinners, shutting the gates of the kingdom for some, must necessarily be absent.