Summary: The Assembly of God’s New Covenant People is to know Jesus Christ through the act of consecrated remembering. Worship should be conscious of the covenant relationship between God and man, fulfilled in Christ.
INTRODUCTION: THOUGHTS ON THE STATE OF WORSHIP IN EVANGELICALISM
“Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed,” said the ancient Greek thinker Heraclitus. The subject of worship commands the attention of many today just because of the endless changes. If there were ever days when the Church worshiped with one voice in a unison cadence, those days are gone, for now. After the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the tapestry of Christian worship disintegrated. The seventeenth century became the fountain head for Protestant thought with great creedal leading to the jewels of the seventeenth century, the Westminster Confession and the systematic works of Turretin and a Brakel, though no clear unity of worship practice had been reached. Then, riding the waves of revival and revivalism, eighteenth and nineteenth century evangelicals followed many threads of the tapestry of Christian worship. The culmination of this has apexes in a quite sermon-centered, evangelism-centered worship service. Songs and a few necessary items, like offerings are to give way to the pastor’s “message.” Such revivalistic worship is at its apex, a “harvest of souls.” In the twentieth century, the high churches have seen a renewed emphasis on liturgical worship, while the low churches have been empowered by the new phenomenon of praise and worship music.
There are deeper influences which contribute to an often unhealthy diversity in worship: the emphasis on individualism and the increased role of the psychology of self. We live in a frightfully unique time in the history of the church where the concept of sin is publicly repudiated (even from some pulpits) and big glass churches. It is a sin to talk of sin. Salvation is dangerously connected to self-esteem. It seems that all the factors that make up the American mind significantly contribute to the modern kaleidoscope of American worship. With the diversity of church traditions, modern technological influences, and fundamental theological and psychological perspectives intersecting on Sunday morning, there is no end to the array of contemporary approaches to worship.
In spite of so many manifestations of worship (or perhaps because of it), it is still true that many believers are unaware of what the Scripture teaches concerning worship. Many have little motivation to go “ad fontes” (to the sources) and see what the Word declares. In addressing questions such as music, the role of Scripture, fixed forms (prayers and pronouncements), the centrality of communion, the recipients of the sacraments, many are simply “out to lunch” regarding the biblically relevant material. Either they are droned to sleep in traditionalism or they are doing aerobics with anti-traditionalists; they are defending liturgicalism or defining worship with TV variety-show techniques. Each extreme is appealed to by felt needs. “Worshipful feeling is the master and guide, rather than the sure Word of the living God. Even the mention of the Word as the ideal guide strikes many as “prideful” - because, after all, “that’s just Your interpretation.”
We must be vigilant for the precepts and relevant applications of Scripture to worship. But might we also engage in this discussion as observers of a historical church? Shall we be tabula rasa on how we got here? We cannot be blank slates with respect to tradition. If we do this we will probably imitate the least theologically rich tradition — which appears to me to be, I hate to say as a son of it, the conservative evangelical church over the last few decades. I know the fifth commandment - to “Honor my Father and Mother” and I honor the gospel truths I learned in the conservative evangelical church, and I honor the teaching of the Bible I learned - but I say as a son, let us go to our Father in Heaven and learn together, more still. We must be careful not to hastily “move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set” (Pro 22:28). Must we forever embrace, as C.S. Lewis called it, a chronological snobbery? After all is “new” really better?
A purely biblical view with a clear appraisal of historical practices, is an aim one should not be too confident in claiming to attain. No present thinker has stepped out of a time-capsule, having escaped the myriad of influences in the present. And as one untimely, ungeographically, and unculturally born, I claim no such stature. I am not a cultural zombie. Neither am I a cultural slave, since one who is free in Jesus, is free indeed. Let us all stand on the sure Word of the living God. While we are prisoners of our culture to some extent, no doubt, we have that which we need to “renew our minds” (Rom 12:2).
The Current Sermon Series on the Covenant God’s Relationship to His People
The Covenant Lord: Praise Him - Psalm 33
The Covenant People: Becoming Like-Minded - Romans 15:5