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Monday, September 17, 2012

Revolution Replacing Reformation (in the church)

One of my neighbors was ordained years ago to the office of Elder in the Reformed denomination of which I'm a member. Thankfully, he has since time aligned himself with a non-denominational Bible church. While still in his former denomination I remember this man saying to me in my dining room how he was looking to spend the church’s money in the hiring of an extremely talented non-Christian electric guitarist who would be paid to critique the church’s corporate worship style. This “consultant” would help the church become more “cutting edge” in their worship so that they might attract the lost.
A few years before that I attended a Reformed church (same denomination) in San Diego while away on business. Before the first song the minister apologized to the congregation by saying that although they would be standing to sing "because we are Presbyterian," he assured them there was no need to stand. This amendment was not intended to accommodate the aged but rather it was intended to communicate a laid back approach to worship. The elementary school aged boy in front of me took the minister up on the offer (and then some). He sat comfortably sprawled out in his chair as he read a racing car magazine. As the pastor paced the stage with his Big Gulp in hand, he drew the analogy in his sermon that the Savior on the cross was like the pastor’s daughter who had been held down by force on a hospital bed by her father as the doctor administered a painful needle. After several other misleading word-pictures including defining justification as "a fancy word for having a new heart,” the minister ended the sermon by singing the benediction in a rock style genre while strumming a guitar. His parting words boasted “be a Christian but live like a golfer.”

Today I attended a church (same denomination) by invitation because of a baptism that was to take place. Amazingly in God’s plan I was used to persuade the parents of the biblical case for covenant baptism – all the more reason I felt a happy obligation to worship away from my home church. Out of twenty five minutes of singing, no song except for the offertory was familiar to anyone in my family. The only familiar tune was America the Beautiful. Contemporary is one thing. Sectarian and esoteric is something else. To be so far detached from not only the historic Christian church but the church of this present age so as to sing all unfamiliar tunes to the well churched ear is, I think, problematic.
In today’s worship we were told that biblical repentance always brings forth fruit, but a Christian can be one who has not yet repented. After the service was over and the Senior Minister was walking down the aisle, the atmosphere was so casual that a prominent member felt at liberty to yell to the Senior Minister that the congregation agrees to pray and look out for the baptized children even though the minister had forgotten to take a show of hands, apparently a tradition of theirs that was overlooked that Sunday. The Senior Minister was seemingly embarrassed.

Much can be said about the casual approach to worship that is pervasive in the church today and more often than not accompanied by a corrupted gospel message, which is no gospel at all. It is good to be reminded from time to time that Moses takes off his shoes when he encounters God; Isaiah is undone; Job puts his hand over his mouth and repents in dust and ashes; Peter asks the Lord to depart from him because he is a sinful man; and John falls down as a dead man. Does our adoption as sons in Christ somehow diminish the sacred and the holy? Or is it true that a God who is not perceived as transcendent, but only worshipped as our friend, is not the true and living God? If joy without reverence is not God-inspired joy, then it must be the work of the flesh.
I believe the unsaved have a better intuitive grasp of appropriate worship than professing Christians do sometimes, which is why it breaks my heart to see un-churched relatives attend such “worship” services. Casual “worship” becomes a stumbling block to the lost (and the saved) because it is not consistent with who God is and what he has done in his marvelous works of creation, providence and grace. It seems to me that evangelicals were more outraged by the inappropriateness of Michelle Obama touching the Queen in 2009 than they are with casual worship before a righteous and holy God.

Even in the Reformed church I’m afraid, Reformation is being replaced by Revolution. There seems to be a concerted effort to overthrow corporate confession of sin; assurance of pardon; historic Trinitarian creeds; OT and NT Scripture reading; Psalm singing; hymns written by theologians, sung by the one holy, catholic and apostolic church; and expository preaching. How can this be deemed an improvement?
I know there is no perfect church, and I don’t think I’m looking for one – far from it I think. I’m just looking for decency and order for my household. Thankfully, we have much more than that at my home church. By God's grace we enjoy the elements of Reformed, Trinitarian worship.

Lord willing, we’ll worship at our home church this coming Sunday.
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Jon said...

This seems to have taken the place of the Jesus People movement which gave way to the charismatic craze of the eighties and nineties. It is very similar to that but just Reformed in name. Without some architectural hint one would not know he was supposed to be in a Reformed service. The New Life movement is very much like what you describe.

Sadly, as I survey the fruit of such movements it doesn't seem to me that it's very lasting. I found that in the charismatic movement and now here that many children who grew up in such an environment became disenchanted over time and sometimes fell away from the faith. The spirituality hype was pseudo in the end. Yesterday's miracle wasn't enough for today's faith in the charismatic movement. Like in John 6, when Jesus gave them doctrine and not miracles, many no longer walked with Jesus. With the staunchly contemporary scene, the diet is poor and the undernourishment ends up giving way to at best a shallow Christianity.

From Michael Horton:

The entertaining us-centered "worship experiences" or "celebrations," as they're called these days, may stimulate us for a while, the way watching MTV or "I Love Lucy" re-runs can kill an hour. But they can't really change us. They can't reorient our focus from ourselves to God. They can't raise our eyes toward heaven. They can't reconcile us to God, because they aren't that interested in God in the first place. Now, hear me out on this. To talk about God is not the same as taking the time to really proclaim God's attributes and work as that is unfolded through the pages of Scripture. We're interested in relationships, in families, in solving practical problems of everyday life, but we aren't interested in God.
If God and his activity in Christ, through the means of Word and sacrament, are to shape our worship, then how are we to understand the church and our relation to it?

Reformed Apologist said...


Thanks for weighing in. I resonate with what you said. And although I greatly appreciate Mike's spiritual reflexes, I regret that he often paints with too broad brush. For instance, being concerned with relationships is not at odds with being interested in God. God is concerned with relationships. The Trinity is relational. And we are brought into that relationship with God and his people through union with Christ.

It's that sort of rhetoric that takes away from Mike's otherwise insightful observations. One can be changed for the good in such worship. It's not as though the gospel is utterly absent. We must be fair and balanced, especially if we hope to do some good.

My lament is over many things, not the least of which is how Christians short change themselves. Lewis possibly put it best when he said we can be too much "like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Puritan Lad said...

Great post. Even worse is the fact that many churches are sending out questionnaires to the "unchurched" in an effort to find out what kind of worship they would like to see. If they don't like biblical worship, we'll give them a rock concert. If they don't like expository preaching, we'll give them a pragmatic message on successful living.

The last non-reformed church I attended, the final "sermon" consisted of the pastor's weight loss charts for the previous year and the 12 steps telling us how he lost the weight. O that we would learn who God really is and who we really are. Then we won't be able to do anything but show God reverence.

Reformed Apologist said...


That's worse than the "what would Andy do?" Sunday school curriculum. :)