Shall We Dance, Rock, and Play? (Responses)

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

recently I received a telephone call and a letter taking issue with the contents of one of my articles under the title “Shall We Dance, Rock, and Play: Or, How Shall We Judge Contemporary Worship?”

I am thankful that the Standard Bearer is read and that the articles provoke discussion and comment. And I am thankful to both who responded for their stimulating comments.

The telephone call was from one of the pastors of Mars Hill Church, who indicated that my representation of his church was not accurate. By this public letter, I apologize for that. In the article in question I had placed Mars Hill and Calvary Undenominational Church in the same category. Since Mars Hill had her origins in Calvary, and since the pastor of Calvary has written a book describing and promoting “seeker services,” which I was criticizing, I assumed that the churches were fundamentally the same. The pastor indicated that although Mars Hill is a daughter of Calvary Undenominational, she is different in significant ways. There is no drama in his church, no pulsating lights, no stool for preaching. The pastor I spoke to is personally opposed to “certain aspects of” the theology and practice of “certain seeker services.” I gladly publicize this correction.

The letter was from a reader whose past experience included membership in what he described as a “seeker-service” kind of church. Since the letter was interesting, and the written response of one often represents the unspoken concerns of others, I take this opportunity to further the discussion of the important subject of our worship.

It should be noted that the articles in question were not attempting to describe any one particular church, but the practices that are found in many churches. Thus, both the caller and the writer correctly observed that the articles did not completely and accurately describe their own church. That may be the case, since there will be differences from one modern service to another. But all who take seriously that God is interested in proper worship must hear the warning against the practices mentioned.

My prayer and hope now is not that my article can be vindicated, but that we may be understood clearly and the proper worship of God may be promoted.

One objection to the article was stated this way:

I didn’t know that God was concerned with our clothes, what the actual building looked like, if there are lights or not…. These are all personal and denominational preferences.

A similar defense was made of projection machines and different kinds of instruments.

Certainly, God’s Word does not condemn one kind of clothing, a certain style of building, or particular lights. There is no biblical prohibition of a projection machine. An organ is not more Reformed or Christian than a piano or a trumpet. However, when the clothing, building, lights, instruments, etc., are used to promote an atmosphere and attitude that does not exude a childlike awe, a humble reverence of God, and an “other-worldly” sense, they are certainly not what the Scripture requires. That was the purpose of the articles, for many who advise churches on worship today directly aim for a worship whose atmosphere is familiar to and comfortable for the unbeliever. Our clothing, building, lighting, and music must not be judged in light of our comfort, but of God’s glory. We will not help to undermine the work of the church for the past 2000 years that reminded the believers: “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). Note the “worship” context of that New Testament phrase: “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”

As to music, the letter said:

I don’t know where you got your figure of 45 minutes of the praise band before the sermon.

My response: Please read some of the books that promote “seeker-services.”

Also, with regard to music:

Who are we to judge that those songs… are wrong… it’s in the person’s heart that God looks at….

This is a very common objection to criticism of improper worship. It really means: “Don’t judge good intentions.” To which the church has sometimes sternly responded: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” They did not mean by that, that anyone they have warned is going to hell; only that in addition to good intentions, there must also be obedience and faithfulness to God’s Word. God’s judgment of Uzzah’s good intentions is a painfully clear example that God requires obedience and proper service as well as a rightly motivated heart (see II Sam. 6).

A similar objection is this one:

God is the judge… let Him do His job… when it comes to our faith and where God takes us on Sunday that is between that person and God!

Where we go and what we do is certainly between us and our God. God’s people all make decisions, and they are accountable for them. Our purpose here in the Standard Bearer is to aid the people of God to make informed decisions. More, according to the vows my church required me to take, and the Church Order that binds me in my ministry, I must do all in my power to warn the people of God against “false doctrines and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings….” I cannot fail to do that, for I must answer to Jesus, who said what He did in Ezekiel 3:16-21 and Acts 20:26-31. No faithful minister can ever forget those words.

Now, warnings to the sheep will not always be appreciated, my friend, but they must be made. That’s why God had to encourage Ezekiel to be faithful in warning the sheep: “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks….” Warnings must come. And God will use them. I pray that we may make them in a spirit of love and concern for the whole church.

Believe it or not they (these churches) are full of very Christian people. And, Please don’t down fellow believers in Christ.

To have to answer this objection is most difficult, for the impression has been left that there are no Christians in these churches. I would urge you to re-read the articles after you have finished this response. Indeed! I would not deny that there are believers in these churches. Of course there are Christians there. Just as there were Christians in the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation. Luther never denied this. But his (and our) purpose in exposing improper forms of worship (or doctrine) is twofold: To call believers out of those churches to a pure worship of God, and to warn our own members against adopting or returning to these errors.

Finally, I note in the letter the good reminder that

Jesus didn’t only talk to the nicely dressed, in fancy clothes. He talked to the prostitutes, the taxpayers, the poor and those whom others turned away from.

How important to remember! God help us to seek out those who are lost, to call sinners to repentance, to warn those who claim to need no physician that they are perishing in their self-righteousness. But let’s remember this, too: There is a difference between whom we speak to, and how we behave in public worship. We speak to and show the love of Christ to all our neighbors, calling them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, promising that whoever believes shall be saved. To find and speak to them, we are willing to go to the most uncomfortable and filthy places. But when it comes to our public worship, we do not conform to the world’s dress and behavior, the unbeliever’s music and way of thinking, but to God’s ways—of holy awe and joyful reverence.

“Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”