Important Worship Issues

What about “seeker-sensitive” worship? 

Scripture flatly tells us that no one naturally seeks God (Romans 3:11) unless God himself first does the drawing (John 6:44).  Biblically speaking, it is God who seeks worshipers, not the other way around (John 4:23, 24).   The very premise of “seeker-sensitive” worship is for this reason misdirected.  Even further, the focus of the seeker-sensitive movement is to create worship that makes the unbeliever feel welcome and unthreatened.  The problem with this is that it makes people—and unbelievers at that—the focus of worship instead of God.  Secondly, it assumes that the worship experience for the unbeliever is supposed to be comfortable—something that 1 Corinthians 14:25 says to the contrary.  It is precisely the inescapable presence of God that leads the unbeliever to the knowledge of his own sin before God—and into repentance and faith.

Because this is true, the Gospel ought always to be clear in every worship service.  When the believing community engages in biblically-directed, Christ-centered and Gospel-driven worship, the Holy Spirit himself proclaims the dual realities of God’s wrath against sin and his rich mercy in Christ so that those in whom God’s Spirit is working may hear and believe.

Can’t worship include evangelism?

Of course—in light of the above discussion we can confidently say that worship is by definition evangelistic because it is focused on proclaiming Christ and driven by the grace of the Gospel.  But is a completely different thing to suggest that evangelism should be the focus of worship.  Worship is for believers, and so the primary focus of worship is not to bring people to faith in Christ—it is to bring those who already have faith in Christ together to praise God and give him their purposeful devotion.  For this reason the goal of worship is not evangelism.  Such an approach makes people the focus of worship, in direct opposition to the primary principle that worship is about God.  

 This does not at all conflict with the fact the church has been called by the Great Commission to take the Gospel into all the world; in fact, as John Piper has capably argued, evangelism and missions exists because worship doesn’t:

Worship…is the fuel and goal of missions.  It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory….But worship is also the fuel of missions.  Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching.  You can’t commend what you don’t cherish (Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, p. 11).

The Apostle Peter speaks similarly when he writes:  “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  God has chosen for himself so that we may worship him, both now and forever!  Worship is the goal of evangelism—but evangelism is not the goal of worship.  God’s glory is—and because of this Christian worship is for believers.

 We gladly welcome—and eagerly invite!—unbelievers to come to McIlwain on the Lord’s Day. Though Christian worship will in reality be somewhat mysterious to the unbeliever, that does not at all mean that we plan worship to be intentionally inaccessible to them.  To the contrary, we ought to delight in bringing unbelievers to observe the reality of redeemed sinners worshiping their redeeming God; we in fact should pray that through the passion, beauty and truth of faithful worship God will fill them with awe for who he truly is and an understanding of their own sin so they will see the beauty of God’s grace in Christ as their one and only Savior (Acts 4:12)!

What about contemporary music and instruments?

Although many traditionalists do indeed object to modern music styles and instrumentation, there is nothing inherently wrong with either. If Scripture regulates worship, then Psalm 150 seems to establish that just about every instrumental category is acceptable—from stringed instruments to wind instruments.  In addition, the Psalms and the prophets also charge us seven times to sing “a new song” to the Lord in celebration of his ever-new mercy and blessing. 

In light of these truths, it is hard to see how one can argue prima facie against the use of modern styles music and instruments. But, as always, there are other considerations beneath the surface of the issue.   On of the most significant issues has to do with the stance and tone of worship leading.  Given the fact that the focus of corporate worship is God, it is appropriate to raise the question of performance in connection with contemporary music styles.  In other words, there is a tendency for contemporary praise and worship bands to take a performer’s stance and the congregation to adopt the stance of an audience.  However much both musicians and congregation intend otherwise, the focus in such settings inevitably becomes the people instead of God.  

It is, of course, true that a cellist, organist or even an entire choir may view themselves as performers just as much as a guitarist or drummer; however, the very “set up” of most contemporary worship is concert-like and almost always lacks the traditional Protestant symbols of corporate worship, such as the pulpit, communion table or an open Bible symbolizing the centrality of God’s Word.

Additionally, though admittedly subjective, it is also appropriate to consider whether modern rock and pop styles of music are fully able to provide the kind of “task tonality” that is necessary for the various things we are called to do in worship.  Sometimes the sheer volume in contemporary worship makes attempting to move from exuberant praise to quiet contemplation virtually impossible.  How does one meditate on the tender mercy of God with ringing ears?

Most importantly, the modern contemporary approach often wrongly assumes that music is the most important element of corporate worship.  Though singing is without question significant to our expression of praise, the Scriptures make clear that the Word of God read and preached is the center of corporate worship (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:1); it is the Scripture that promotes proper worship expression, and the Holy Spirit, working by and with the Word of God, leads us to see our God in his majesty and holiness, to see our sin and confess our need for forgiveness, to see Christ as Savior and to cling to him in repentance and faith and to respond in joyful praise.

Finally, with regard to new music, the modern evangelical church has recently been enriched by a move toward writing new hymns.  Composers like Keith and Krystyn Getty, Stuart Townend and others have recognized the importance of singing “a new song” as a means of communicating the character and works of God.  This is a very encouraging movement—and we pray that God will multiply their tribe!