Are We on the Right Battlefield?
Maureen Bradley is the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress Study Guide (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company);
Keeping the Heart Study Guide (Soli Deo Gloria, 1998); and, The Fearing God Study Guide (Soli Deo Gloria, 1999).
Are there times when you come out of a “contemporary” worship service feeling a bit jarred like you have been to a rock concert? Did the praise band music give you the desire to wiggle your hips in a less than reverential manner? Did you get the impression that the congregational singing was ruining the drummer’s solo? Sometimes you may feel guilty because you have had such an adverse reaction to worship. You wonder, was God pleased with that service? Was the sense of God’s immanence and transcendence kept in balance? Is style neutral? Some have said that it is all a matter of preference. Those that like a traditional worship service should forebear a contemporary service and vice versa. Is this really a matter of preference or is it a matter of some things in the service were right and some were wrong? How do we determine when we have crossed the line in our worship service from:
1. sacred to … secular
2. scriptural principles of worship to … technique / unscriptural principles
3. worship to … entertainment
4. reaching out to the culture in our worship to … having our worship shaped by the culture.
When seeking answers to these questions, several avenues are available for investigation. Astute theologians put God’s Word as the number one authority However, their interpretation and application of Scripture often differ. The same problem can occur when we investigate historical Protestant Reformed worship. This is not to say that truth is not to be found among these diverse opinions. Certainly after much study and prayer, one agrees with some theologians more than others. Another area in which to inquire when seeking answers to worship practices is motivation. Why are certain techniques and styles being used? Is the mind being bypassed to get at the emotions? Are feelings being manipulated or forced by techniques employed in the service? The subjective expression of emotions must arise out of the solid objective truth of Scripture that has been presented. As Jonathan Edwards has written:
Holy affections are not heat without light, but invariably arise from some information conveyed to the understanding. The child of God is graciously affected, because he sees and understands something more of divine things than he did before-something more of God, of Christ, and of the glorious things exhibited in the gospel (Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise on Religious Affections (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker), p. 192).
Care must be taken not to bypass the head in order to drum up feelings, for propaganda is appealing to passion rather than intellect. It is done to provoke emotions and to get an uncritical response. While motivation is an important element to consider, and it is helpful to understand the “why” behind the “what” of a church’s actions, I would contend that the “what” is also a key issue; “what” happens and how does it fit into the context in which it is placed. This context or social structure is a point in worship that is often overlooked. There are different social structures (i.e., religion, business, entertainment, politics, etc.). Each social structure has a unique purpose, rules of conduct, tools, atmosphere, demands, definitions, and assumptions. When a church is deciding what is an appropriate course of action, it is important to identify from which social structure certain words and ideas are coming. The purposes, goals, underlying assumptions, and definitions of words will only be correctly understood as they are connected to their social structure, be it business, entertainment or religion. If we mix these social structures, what cross purposes have occurred? If the church borrows from another social structure, how does this affect the church? Where are there dissimilar goals, demands, orientation, etc.? Since certain ideas and words are defined correctly only as they arise out of a particular context, it is appropriate to identify the context in order to act and communicate correctly. Sometimes it is fairly easy to recognize ideas that are coming from an incorrect context … and sometimes it is not as easy The following is a very obvious example. However, observe carefully the relationship of the thoughts, words, and actions in this context. In the social structure of religion if we agree to partake of the Lord’s Supper once a month at church this makes sense. Yet, if we try to do this in the social structure of business, say at McDonald’s, it not only does not make sense but causes confusion and frustration. imagine how this scene might transpire by the following example:
A well dressed gentleman steps up to the counter at McDonald’s stating, “I’d like to partake of the Lord’s Supper.” “You warma. what?” “I’d like to be served communion, please.” “I don’t see a picture of communion on my cash register. What does it look like?” “Bread and wine.” “I’m sorry sir, we are not licensed to sell alcohol.” “OK, bread and grape juice.” “We don’t have them on the menu either. How about a nice bun and a coke?” “Well, I guess that will have to do but be sure to fence the table, give me a few minutes to silently confess sin, bless the bread and the cup, and offer a closing prayer. And, oh yes, I think we should all sing the Doxology.” “I’m sorry sir, but this is a fast food restaurant. We don’t have time for all that. You’ll need to speak with our manager.”
The words that the well-dressed gentleman said were not crazy It was the situation in which the words were spoken that made them sound that way. In this brief conversation we are able to identify how cross purposes, different rules of conduct, diverse goals and underlying assumptions, which resulted from trying to mix the social structures of religion and business, defeated the gentleman’s intentions. It is the same in the entertainment world as it is in the business world. One can run into trouble when mixing religion with entertainment. When people are viewed as fans, then pleasing the audience becomes the primary purpose, even if what pleases an audience isn’t necessarily good for their moral well being. The atmosphere and rules of conduct are distinctly different between religion and entertainment. The Bible states in Isaiah 6, “. . . I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”’ Here is the reverential, austere atmosphere in worship which is befitting the infinite, holy, Creator of the universe by his finite created beings. This conduct is distinctly different from the relaxed, informal conduct at a rock concert. The rules of conduct in the entertainment context affect the atmosphere of the situation and vice versa. The orientation of religion around the Scripture and substance differs from the orientation of entertainment around image and style. Word orientation affects the style by which it is presented. In a word oriented structure, abstract, analytical thinking is involved requiring a slow, contemplative style. In a visual oriented structure, such as entertainment, minimal thinking skills are required thus demanding a fast-paced, upbeat style. Content is shaped by the attention span of the audience and is largely aimed at emotional gratification. Again, it becomes apparent how confusion and frustration of purpose occur if the social structures of religion and entertainment are mixed. if each social structure defines its terms according to its underlying assumptions, it is important to consider carefully how each context interprets and views people, leadership, purpose, atmosphere, style, results, demands, authority, orientation, realm, rules of conduct, tools and goals. The chart I have included will hopefully clarify this. When reading the chart ask questions such as: When the pastor’s role is defined as a CEO, how does the business social structure define people? Is that how Scripture defines people and their needs? How does a business mentality define its purpose? Can a church really see its purpose as selling a product without altering its goal? When seeking to establish a spiritual kingdom, what tools has Scripture said should be used? When feelings and likes become the authority in religion, into which social structure have we transferred the church? Has man become the standard setter or God and his Word? A thoughtful survey of this chart should cause a reassessment of our ideas and actions when discussing the church and her practices in worship.
repository of truth
data / results
Church militant / Church victorious
|Rules of Conduct|
sacraments / prayer
investment of money & time = yield
complete in Christ
Perhaps some of the confusion in the worship wars would be lessened if careful consideration were given to the subversion of purpose that can take place when the underlying assumptions of various social structures are mixed. When churches begin to look at the congregation as consumers and the programs of the church as products, when worship services begin to resemble a well-staged Broadway show, then maybe, just maybe the church has taken a few steps into the wrong social structure. Is the church defeating herself by fraternizing with the enemy—by being on the wrong battlefield?