We have seen in this series of articles that the Evangelical Church of today has fixated on sentimental, experiential, overly-romanticized worship songs, to the detriment of doctrinal and objective worship music. We have examined the historical and theological developments that has led to this imbalance in modern worship, tracing the rise of experiential emotionalism as the evidence of conversion, all tied to an escapist anti-Incarnational view which sees the spiritual and physical aspects of the world as being opposed to one another.
We then spent some time considering the Implications of the central Biblical truths of the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ for our view and exercise of worship, Implications which emphasized the facts that our worship should be both physical as well as spiritual, embodying continuity as well as change, and recognizing that both past and future should equally dictate the parameters of the shape of how and why God wishes to be worshipped.
Recently, we began to examine the implications of the Bible’s glimpses into the Heavenly Worship (Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1 and 10; Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 4-5) and it’s interior logic for redressing the imbalance in today’s Evangelical worship, seeing that the Church actually worships in Heaven spiritually, beyond (yet within) time and space through the Ascended Humanity of Christ, Who is seated at the Father’s Right Hand.
The passages in Revelation all describe, as we’ve seen, the same Place also written of in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hebrews: the Courts of Heaven in the Throne-room of God, where the Heavenly Worship eternally takes place in His Presence. These Heavenly glimpses in the book of Revelation, which is one long vision of that worship, contain songs used to praise God by the angels, the elders, and the other redeemed saints, and, like everything else in Scripture, these songs have much to teach us, especially as to the focus and content of our worship.
In the last article, we saw that the Holy Trinity provides a Triadic Model summed up in Jesus Himself (John 14:6), a Model intended by God to be fully represented in the Church’s worship.
Virtually everything we’ve seen in this series has pointed up the fact that worship is primarily for the Pleasure of God, and secondarily (and derivatively) for the building up of the Church to do His Will in this world and beyond. While evangelism is to be the result of such edification (even within our worship services, as the Early Church recognized, and practiced by allowing the unconverted into the first part of their services, only dismissing them after the readings, sermon, and Creed), our formal worship is not intended to be dominated by evangelistic outreach, but, as we’ve seen, oriented primarily to the adoration of God and resultant edification of the saints, with any evangelization to be a side-effect of the God-oriented worship and edificational instruction to the believers (this is why the Book of Acts shows evangelism as being largely conducted outside the precincts of formal worship).
As we’ve seen, since the Second Great Awakening, the techniques of eliciting an emotional conversion experience developed at that time have displaced not only the Patterns of a Heavenly Worship the Church takes part in through the Ascended Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:22-24; 10:19-22), but also reoriented the assumptions of Evangelicals concerning formal worship, so that worship services were conceived of forthwith as mainly evangelistic thrusts, and reorganized from traditional Biblical Patterns accordingly. This has had unintended consequences which actually have worked against the evangelistic efforts of the Church in our time, as well as having contributed to the theological ignorance of the Church and the trivialization of Christianity in our culture.
Because worship services have become evangelistic thrusts, rather than being command performances before the Face of God which are also intended in that context to educate the Body of Christ as to how they are to view God and the world and inform them as to how they are to live (and impact the world), difficult or complex doctrines (such as the reality of Hell, Biblical teachings on gender issues, maledictory prayer, etc.) are simply not taught from the pulpit, since complicated or controversial teachings militate against, and interrupt in ways, the quest for evangelistic experience.
This simplified evangelistic thrust, with it’s experientialistic underpinnings, has become the norm for worship services in the Evangelical mind-set and practice. As a result, doctrinal teaching of any real depth is largely absent from current Evangelical worship. Now, some have thought that more in-depth teaching takes place in Sunday School’s or Bible studies, and, perhaps, for a while, that was true. (It still is in some places…).
Yet the normativity of worship as emotionalistic evangelism has meant that, increasingly, worship, the central expression of the Faith, has become characterized in the mind of Evangelicals as an affair of the emotions rather than balanced between mind, body, and spirit, with resultant de-emphasis on doctrinal content. As Evangelicals have continued to see the Faith as centrally a quest for experience, there has developed a concomitant dumbing-down (doctrinal content-wise) of what is taught in Sunday Schools and Bible studies, as the Scriptures are seen primarily as a sort of contact-point for the experience of God, rather than as fully-orbed content addressing the entire spectrum of human experience. This attitude has even affected the approach of many seminaries, as the trickle-down effect of experientially-oriented evangelistic worship seeps into the thought and practice of the Evangelical Church. This is disastrous not only for the shape of the Faith, but also for the witness of the Church today, as we’ll see in the next article, God willing.