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.