Cheapening of the Worship Experience

I must be getting old. There are many who will tell you that it’s too late. I’m already there. This aging process has led me to go back and read some of my old writings. I don’t want to go back too far. That would prove embarrassing. But, as I read some of the things I’ve written in the last decade or so, I find that, for the most part, I agree with myself.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to serve as a mentor to two theological students. In the course of setting up this arrangement, I went through an application process. Besides credentials, I was asked to provide samples of my writing and to answer some theological questions. Below I will share (a slightly revised version) of one of my answers. The question was, “What do you think is the top theological issue facing churches today?” My response:

There are a number of issues which confront the churches today. I will focus on challenges within the Reformed churches. A friend (and pastor)  cites “easy believism” and lack of ecclesiology. Several of the reformed denominations are taking up the issue of racism in the church. I would add to the list creeping dispensationalism, loss of the Regulative Principle of Worship, and the advance of Federal Vision thinking.

An issue which has far-reaching implications is the decline of Biblical corporate worship. Having lived and travelled in many parts of the world, I have witnessed and been part of worship services of many kinds. The church has redefined “worship” to mean that period of singing and entertaining which comes before – and takes precedent over – any mention of God’s Word. I was once in a devotional session at a missionary conference, which was led by the newly commissioned leader of the organization. He said to us, “Well, we’re going to have a time of worship, then I’ll say a few things from the Bible.”

Worship as entertainment has been justified by the thought that we need to get people in the pews (or chairs) so that they will hear the Gospel. This is viewed as “seeker friendly.” The problem here is twofold. First, we use the world’s music, with little to no theological content to draw people in. The second problem is that precious little of the Gospel is presented in many of these seeker friendly congregations.

We need to understand that corporate worship is not intended to be evangelistic. Corporate worship is a family affair.  Worship is for worshippers – those who, in spirit and in truth, worship our Holy God. The writer to the Hebrews states “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” To whom is this addressed? The writer refers to his readers as “holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1). Certainly this does not mean that non-believers should not be invited to our worship services. The Gospel should be proclaimed in our corporate worship gatherings. The focus, however should be on the Savior and King, not on those assembled.

I am not against modern hymns or instruments other than piano and organ. I am against cheapening of the worship experience. I am not in accord with the modern trend of lessening the roles of prayer, scripture reading, and preaching the whole counsel of God.

The changing meaning of worship is one of the top theological issues in the churches today. From it arise all sorts of improper understandings of the Gospel and theology.

 

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Self-Hate as a Societal Norm

As I have been looking for work, I have tended to keep away from controversy online, recognizing that prospective employers may read what I write and attach their own meanings. “He’s not in favor of my ‘isms’” is a an easy way to pare down the numbers of recruits and interviews. Now, however, recognizing that I may well have been “aged-out” of meaningful employment in the fields for which I have been trained and educated and spent decades mastering, I will once again enter the fray.

I’ll start with this: I am white. So were my parents. So are my siblings. My wife is also white, as are our children. No apologies here. In the words of that great philosopher, Popeye the sailor –Man, “I yam what I yam.”

I also fit into a number of other categories which are generally despised by progressive society today. I am married to a woman. I am a Christian. I am pro-life. Deal with it – or don’t. Not my problem. I refer you back to Popeye.

My thoughts on the destruction of American society are not recently acquired. In fact, I am reposting, below, an essay I penned a couple of years ago. My thoughts on the subject matter were not new then, either, but a lot of my thinking on societal issues is revealed.

So, have at it. Enjoy it. Hate it. Comment on it. Try to employ a little civility, though.

“Duke offers men a ‘safe space’ to contemplate their ‘toxic masculinity’” reads the headline in a news story published online Sunday morning October 2, 2016. The dateline might have been “Moscow, USSR, 1960.”

This is America, 2016. Everyone (except a few now-anointed minorities) is considered toxic and offensive. By virtue of having been born male, or white, or middle class, entire segments of the population have been deemed worthy of scorn.

The news story defines the mission thusly,

The Duke Men’s Project, launched this month and hosted by the campus Women’s Center, offers a nine-week program for “male-identified” students that discusses male privilege, patriarchy, “the language of dominance,” rape culture, pornography, machismo and other topics.

While nations of the former Soviet bloc seek to distance themselves from their communist past, America rushes headlong into the numbing and dehumanizing morass of Marxism-Leninism. Consider this excerpt from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Marx regarded “the weapon of criticism” as an effective means of the proletariat’s class struggle under the conditions of capitalist society, with its inherent social antagonisms. Lenin stressed the vital importance of criticism and self-criticism for carrying out the socialist revolution and for the work of the Communist party. In the course of the workers’ and communist movement and the national liberation struggle of peoples the weapon of criticism has been extensively employed to expose the exploitative essence of capitalism and the policies of the ruling classes and to bring about the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system and the liberation of the toiling people from social and national oppression.

Under socialism, the change in the nature of social relations and the elimination of antagonistic contradictions and exploiter classes fundamentally alter the purpose and nature of criticism. The weapon for the destruction and revolutionary overthrow of the old system becomes an instrument for the creation of socialism and communism.

Notice the aim of the self-criticism: to get rid of the old system (capitalism and democracy) and replace it with the glorious socialist and communist state.

Self-criticism is neither unheard of nor totally unwelcome in Christian circles. In fact, confession, as it is properly called, is one of the duties of the Christian. James 5:16 tells us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

The purpose of such declarations of our own sinfulness is not the creation of a Godless state, however, as is the aim of the self-criticism session. Rather, the aims of confession to one another are unity and healing. We are not confessing for the party bosses to hear us. We are proclaiming our need for prayer and claiming for ourselves the prayer of the Godly. The admonition to pray for one another, for the other members of the household of faith, is found in many places throughout God’s Word.

America is in a bad place. Americans today are thin-skinned and intolerant; easily offended by the least offensive statements and acts.

Perhaps these modern self-criticism sessions are a plea for prayer. Certainly our nation needs it. Pray for our country and for the generations of Americans affected by the current wave of self-loathing called for by those who do not recognize the image of God in mankind.