UNCOMFORTABLE ABOUT COMFORT IN WORSHIP
Last fall I was asked to become a member of the worship committee in our church, and as a result of this position have begun receiving Reformed Worship. There are many ideas in your magazine that I have found to be valuable when planning our worship. For example, we found the services of confession in the December, 1994, issue to be a wonderful way to focus our attention on our need to confess our sins and receive assurance of forgiveness and used these in our Lenten services. When reading the March, 1995, issue I could relate very well to Shelley Cochran's description of a service where she couldn't "keep up." I appreciated the thoughts of John Haines in "Music Is the Rub," especially because he sought to put his ideas in a context of fostering worship that is God-centered.
But I must confess that other articles send a cold chill down my spine. For example, "One Sunday Morning, Two Worship Styles" in the afore-mentioned March issue left me with a very uneasy feeling.
The underlying theme of the article was one of making sure the worship service is a place that is "comfortable" for all people, including non-Christians. One wonders where the gospel message fits into this. Scripture repeatedly warns us that the world will not be comfortable when it hears the truth of the gospel. We are told that the world will "hate" us if we proclaim and follow the words of Jesus. If our main emphasis is on comfort, will we be willing to include sermon topics whose truth makes people uncomfortable? Or will our emphasis on comfort lead us to water down the truth of the Scriptures in order to avoid offending anyone or making them uncomfortable? To me it seems that ensuring a comfortable service and presenting the gospel in all its truth are incompatible and cannot coexist in a church for very long.
Another underlying theme in this article is that if we make church a comfortable place to be, this will help to bring people to the Lord. While I appreciate the idea that we must not do anything personally to offend non-Christians, we seem to be forgetting the whole concept of election and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the truth of the gospel applied to hearts prepared by the Spirit that results in conversion. No change of style, comfortable feeling, or appeal to contemporary desires is going to change a person's heart. If the truth of the Scriptures is proclaimed from the pulpit each week, hearts will be changed, no matter what the liturgy.
I am also very uncomfortable with "market surveys" that determine what a worship service should be like in a given community. Although the Bible gives us no definite answers on the precise liturgy churches should use, it has very definite guidelines for what God expects of us in worship. How in the world can we let non-Christians decide what worship should be when they have absolutely no idea of who God is or what God expects of us in worship?
I am afraid that we have reached this point in our churches because we have forgotten who the church was established for. The church service is intended to strengthen and encourage believers first of all. They in turn should be going into their neighborhoods and workplaces with the gospel and bringing a personal witness of God's love and Christ's atoning work. Unfortunately, we seem to have gotten the idea that the work of proclaiming the gospel is the domain of the pastor only; thus we neglect to proclaim it personally and instead invite people to church to "hear the minister," hoping that will change their hearts. That in turn leads us to this desire to make a "user-friendly" church for non-Christians. I firmly believe we need to get back to the purpose for which the worship service was intended and, along with that, strengthen each member's ability to personally witness in the world.
Lastly, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of a church being considered successful if its numbers are going up and its ideas "work." First of all, God calls us to be faithful, not successful. Second, just because a church has large numbers or is gaining members does not mean that it is doing right or being faithful. Witness the many cults who attract huge numbers and yet preach anything but the truth. Third, the fact that an idea "works" does not necessarily mean it is right or good. To borrow an idea from John MacArthur, jr., I could have a church service filled to the brim because I have included trapeze artists who quote Scripture while swinging from place to place, but does that mean it is the right thing to do? "If it works, do it" is the worldly philosophy of pragmatism, and it is a dangerous thing to incorporate into the life of the church.
I urge you to examine the underlying philosophy of worship that RW bases its ideas on and make sure that all that you advocate seeks to advance biblical,
Reformed worship that honors God and provides for God-centered worship that boldly proclaims the truth of the Scriptures.
I close with a quote from John MacArthur's book, Ashamed of the Gospel (p. 72):
Nothing in Scripture indicates the church should lure people to Christ by presenting Christianity as an attractive option. Nothing about the gospel is optional ... Nor is the gospel meant to be attractive in the sense of modern marketing. . . It is disturbing, revolting, upsetting, confrontive, convicting, and offensive to human pride. There's no way to 'market' that. Those who try to erase the offense by making it entertaining inevitably corrupt and obscure the crucial aspects of the message. The church must realize that its mission has never been public relations or sales; we are called to live holy lives and declare God's raw truth—lovingly but uncompromisingly—to an unbelieving world.