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’ve seen as well that the evangelistic techniques of the Second Great Awakening have largely displaced the Biblical Patterns of worship which aimed first at pleasing God, and secondarily at instructing and edifying believers, resulting in worship largely oriented around emotionally-manipulative experiential techniques, resulting in an impoverishment of content-oriented and objectively-grounded aspects of Evangelical worship experience.
This further had a deleterious effect on teaching in Sunday Schools, from the pulpits, even in seminaries, as the normativity of emotionalistic experience came to dominate Evangelical expectation and thought, resulting in theological expressions and sermons which deemphasized complex or unpopular doctrinal content (such as teaching about Hell, gender issues, maledictory prayer, etc.), all in the service of supposedly making the Gospel more attractive in evangelistic appeals and experiential worship.
In point of fact, this perspective and practice has promoted a version of Christianity which has not only deformed the worship of the Evangelical Church, but has also divested Evangelicals of a fully-orbed theology which allows them to be Biblically-informed in the full spectrum of human life, and has resulted in a presentation of the Faith which seems to non-believers to be only concerned with individualistic interior experience and eschatological escapism, with no solid answers for personal and societal problems, especially for the pressing social issues of the day.
Rather than presenting a Biblical Faith of comprehensive content and wisdom for anything humans may ever face on any front, Evangelicals, as a direct consequence of departure from Biblical worship norms, have presented a version of Christianity which is (in many ways justly) deemed irrelevant by contemporary non-believers, an ironic consequence of an effort to adjust belief and worship to make Christianity seem relevant.
There is no real improvement possible on the basic norms and balanced content of Holy Scripture, and even though those are indeed capable of being expressed in terms which are understandable and relevant to any society or culture, we must never depart from the basic teachings and content of the Bible, nor should we lose the balance of Scriptural emphases within our faith and practice, including (and in many ways, especially) in our worship, which is so central to the formation of our Faith and in our faithful obedience to God’s Will and Purposes. We must not imagine, in our belief or practice, that we are smarter (or, as the case may be, hipper) than our Creator and Lord.
The fix for this is to eschew our utilitarian approach to worship, and conform ourselves to the Biblically-revealed Patterns of worship, filling them with the full spectrum of Scriptural content and the natural cultural expressions (musical and otherwise) of our experience as settings for those Biblical worship patterns (what authentic other options do we have, if we are to be authentic in our worship? More on this in future…).
We must regain the Biblical balance in our teaching and worship emphases, embodying and addressing the full spectrum of human life and experience if we are to (1) truly equip believers to interact with life as the Lord wishes, and (2) consequently demonstrate to unbelievers a living context to testify to the truth of the Gospel, showing that God’s Word provides real answers to all of life’s problems and every situation humans may face. While emotion and experience are legitimate aspects of our lives and faith, they are aspects which must be seen and embraced as only a part of life and faith, intended to be experienced and expressed in balance with all of the other aspects of our humanity and of what the Bible presents as norms for us to live out. Otherwise, regardless of how relevant we think we are in our presentation, what we present is a caricature of the Faith, and it will not ring true to a discerning pagan.
Why, again, does this process need to be addressed in the Church’s worship first? Because worship is the primary arena where we are corporately in the Presence of God (Matt. 18:20; Hebrews 12:22-24), and it is there that we form our foundational concepts of God, ourselves, and the world. If our worship is deformed by being imbalanced in terms an accurate expression of what Scripture teaches, so too will our views of God, ourselves, and the world be, resulting in imbalances in our teaching and actions outside of worship, exhibiting those imbalances in our lives and actions before the world at large, derailing our evangelistic appeals to those who do not believe. A balanced Biblical worship will result in a balanced and prepared people of God, a bright light in a darkened world.
In the next article, Lord willing, we’ll address the issue of relevancy in worship.