Does God Care How We Worship Him? (I)
To some, the question posed in the heading is one that is not often seriously considered. For many today, little or no reflection goes into this question beyond a very superficial point. Much of modern evangelicalism is either “seeking sensitive” or entertainment oriented thereby accepting the “worship-du-jour” as the status quo.
During the period known as the Reformation two quite different, competing concepts of worship emerged; one was already in place: the worship form of the Roman Catholic Church. As Protestants moved out of and away from Roman Catholicism they formed Reformed, Lutheran, and Anabaptist congregations. Even though they are rarely debated in current Christianity, the differences that existed among them should be openly and frequently discussed.
On the one hand, there is what may reasonably be called the “Roman-Lutheran-Anglican” notion of worship (we may also add the Anabaptists to this group) and, on the other hand, there is the “Calvinistic” or “Puritan” form of worship. I realize that by mentioning the names of Calvin or the Puritans, many will cease reading at this point. Indulgence—pardon the pun—is what I ask.
The central dilemmas posed by both the mega-church and Emergent (Emerging) Church movements, however, take us back into history and require us to at least think about or re-think our liturgical positions. In essence, we asking: Why do we worship the way that we do? Does it matter how we worship? Does how we worship matter to God? Is there a discernible pattern for worship or are the contents of our weekly meetings, gatherings, or what we call worship up for grabs?
Nick Needham is correct when he couches our contemporary problem in these terms: “The question which most evangelicals tend to ask of worship-practices is, ‘Do I find this helpful? Is this meaningful to me? Doe this make me feel closer to God?’ The question, ‘Is this how God actually wants to be worshipped?’ is rarely raised.” What Needham is describing is the “worship wars” that pitted the “Roman-Lutheran-Anglican” side against the “Calvinistic” or “Puritanic” side.
Allow me to take a couple of moments and explain the differences. In very simple fashion the differences between the two camps goes something like this: The R-L-A-A” camp holds to the notion that what Scripture does not expressly forbid can be incorporated into worship, while the “C-P” contingent believes that we should only incorporate those things commanded by God in the Bible. Clearly, most of modern evangelicalism is firmly ensconced in the “R-L-A-A” camp. This at least explains why what passes for worship today is little more than man-made and man-centered.
Oddly, the Roman Catholic, Robert Francis Romulus Bellarmine (1542-1621) aptly summarizes modern evangelicalism’ modus operandi in these words: “The controversy between us and heretics consists in this—that we assert that all necessary doctrine concerning faith and morals is not expressly contained in Scripture, and consequently, besides the written Word there is needed an unwritten one; whereas they teach that in the Scriptures all such necessary doctrine is contained, and consequently there is not need of an unwritten word.” In addition, according to much of Barna research a great deal of what takes place in the modern Church is based more on what will keep the “troops” happy and staying at the church than what pleases God. Rather than being concerned about what God requires in worship modern Church leaders spend inordinate amounts of time “strategizing” about how to reach the culture.
Scripture and History
In Exodus 25:9 the Lord instructs Moses how he is to construct the tabernacle and his words are insistent that it must be made exactly as the pattern God revealed to him. During the time known as the Reformation a number of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church were corrected by the Reformers, among those abuses the lack of true biblical worship that comprised the Mass.
Noteworthy are three documents that I shall make use of in the course of these articles: The 1539 letter exchange between Jacopo Sadoleto and John Calvin, Calvin’s treatise on The Necessity of Reforming the Church, and, finally, Book 4 of Calvin’s Institutes. I can imagine that some, not having either an appreciation for important works from Church History or who have no historical conscience, will think this to be a silly exercise.
Moreover, those who are in many of the broadly based evangelical settings will feel neither need nor compunction with regard to any introspection in this matter. But for those Christians who take their faith seriously and wish to live their lives according to the Word and the Spirit, this will be a very helpful exercise. Before we go on, let me give two texts of Scripture that I’m convinced speak to the need for worship according to the revealed will of our Lord.
The first text is taken from Exodus 25:8-9, where the Lord is speaking to Moses about contributions for the sanctuary and the actual building of the place of worship for YHWH. We read: “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” (Emphasis mine.) The mandate from the Lord is that the tabernacle could not be constructed in a manner that seemed good or right to Moses or the people, but it must be constructed according to the pattern—exactly according to the pattern—that God had given.
Second, is the text found in Leviticus 10:1-3. “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which had had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron held his peace” (comp. Num. 3:4; 26:61; 1 Chr. 24:2. Emphasis mine.)
This means, among other things, that our worship must be concentrated in the very nature of God himself. This poses a rather major problem for modern evangelicals whose understanding of the nature of God does not extend beyond the singular attribute of love. Mention the nature and attributes of God in modern Christian circles and you get the deer in the headlights look. So much emphasis has been placed God being only a God of love that many are in the dark as to the true nature of the Lord.
In addition to texts such as Deuteronomy 4:15-19 and John 4:24, Ligon Duncan reminds us, “As R.C. Sproul often reminds us, the distinctive of the Reformed doctrine of God is that theology proper controls every aspect of our theology, including our worship. Correspondingly, corporate worship as the locus of God’s prime means of grace is the instrument that God has chosen to grow and edify his church in the knowledge of himself, as well as the vehicle of our special earthly communion with him (Matt. 18). So, the regulative principle is grounded in God’s character…”
If God is viewed as only love and as a benevolent Supreme Being who only smiles at the sins, transgressions, and indiscretions of his creatures, then he will be worshipped in that fashion. Moreover, if the goal of worship is to focus more on praise bands, liturgical dance, and slice-of-life drama, leaving only a small amount of time for solid preaching of the Word of God, then that leaves precious little time for the congregation to grow in its understanding of the nature and attributes of God. This holds true not merely for the mega-church movement, but has far-reaching implications and applications for the Emergent Church as well. The concepts of meeting in pubs, leaderless circles for the purpose of dialogue (read: pooling of ignorance), and expensive multi-media visual productions are equally inept and ill-suited for spiritual growth regarding the nature of God. Make no mistake: “Form impacts contents. The means of worship influences the worshipers’ apprehension of God.”
That being said, we are in dire straits in modern evangelicalism due to the fact that the mega-church movement left its members/adherents bereft of any significant understanding of the nature of God and that deplorable lack of knowledge has been passed on by the parents to their children who are now flocking to the 20-thing gatherings in the Emerging Church. In essence, we now have two generations of those who call themselves Christians who cannot explain even the most elementary and fundamental truths of the Christian faith.
One of the gurus of the ECM is Brian McLaren. He is on record for questioning what the main problem is with homosexuality, sin, the doctrine of hell, and a host of other biblical doctrines. The “trickle-down” effect from McLaren to his congregation and other adherents is easy to understand. Rob Bell follows the same path with biblical doctrines, including the doctrine of Holy Scripture. When biblical doctrines are attacked—and make no mistake, the mega-church as well as the ECM are attacking biblical truth—the results for the group launching the attack is predictable.
When Calvin responded to Sadoleto in 1539 about the various abuses and lack of true worship in the Roman Catholic Church he used the doctrine of justification by faith as a case in point. He wrote, “Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.” This is precisely where the mega-church and Emergent Church movements find themselves today.
Isn’t it ironic that Protestants would end up falling under the accusation leveled at a Roman Catholic bishop, who was defending his church? It’s not only ironic but terribly sad as well. So are the complaints of the mega-church and EC movements unjustified? The short answer is: No. When detractors ask simple questions about worship, the Christian faith, and Christian doctrine it’s not asking too much to give them biblical answers. It seems that the mega-church cannot and the ECM will not provide those answers. Therefore, the criticisms that the Reformed makes against both the mega-church and EM movement and their respective lack of knowledge on fundamental biblical truth means that their gross ignorance “which even still continues in all your churches, declares that our complaint is by no means ill-founded.”
In our next issue we’ll continue in our discussion of what constitutes worship that is pleasing to our God.
 Nick Needham, “Westminster and Worship: Psalms, Hymns, and Musical Instruments?” in J. Ligon Duncan III, (ed.), The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2004), p. 230. Italics mine.
 Quoted in Douglas Kelly, “The Puritan Regulative Principle and Contemporary Worship,” in J. Ligon Duncan III, (ed.), The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2004), p. 63.
 John C. Olin [ed.], John Calvin & Jacopo Sadoleto: A Reformation Debate, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966).
 J.K.S. Reid [ed.], Calvin: Theological Treatises, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), pp. 183-216.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (John T. McNeill [ed.] & Ford Lewis Battles [trans.]), Vol. II, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960).
 J. Ligon Duncan III, “Foundations for Biblically Directed Worship,” in J. Ligon Duncan III, Philip G. Ryken, & Derek W.H. Thomas [eds.], Give Praise to God, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2003), p. 52.
 Olin, ARD, 66.