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The Modern Worship Movement Isn’t the Problem

The anti-idolatry response [to worship’s “de-Christianizing of God’s people] is to make sure that our worship leaders and planners from pastors to musicians, artists, tech, liturgists and elders, and yes also those gathered, understand that it is God who calls us to worship, it is the Holy Spirit who enables our worship, and it is Christ who perfects it. 

If you have been a part of any number of worship related Facebook groups or conversations you have probably run into this article that quotes Keith Getty as saying that the modern worship movement is “utterly dangerous” resulting in the “de-Christianizing of God’s people.” Many a response has been written both analyzing the article and either applauding or arguing against the initial assertion. But here is the thing that I find very interesting, the critique, for the most part, is about the songs being sung and not about the sermons preached or the liturgy used. It also uses rose-colored glasses when looking at congregations that still utilize hymn-based repertoire in their worship.

Need for a Biblical Theology of Worship

As I’ve talked with worship leaders and witnessed the worship of churches across North America what strikes me as the biggest issue is that so many churches and those responsible for its worship do not have a robust, biblically-based theology of worship. If we get that wrong then it doesn’t matter what style of music we use or how our liturgy is organized. As long as we think that worship is primarily about those gathered rather than the God who gathers us we will be tempted to entertain rather than do the pastoral task of creating the space for a covenantal encounter between God and God’s people. This temptation is just as real for the modern worship movement as the high-church hymn-singing congregation and everyone in between.

If we start our worship planning with the question of “what does God want to communicate to those gathered and what is our appropriate response” rather than “what do those gathered need/want and how do we create the space for the Holy Spirit to deliver it” we will find a much deeper conversation emerging. In the end we will find that neither the “20-minutes of singing followed by an unconnected 20-minute teaching with another 10 minutes thrown in somewhere for announcements” nor the “agenda-esq walking through a disconnected list of liturgical elements” satisfies.

An Anti-Idolatry Response

My plea is for us to stop pointing fingers at this style or that style of music. Truth is that there are good and bad examples of congregational song of every style. As long as the church is not willing to do the necessary theological work the consumerist idol of the day is more than willing to fill the void. The anti-idolatry response is to make sure that our worship leaders and planners from pastors to musicians, artists, tech, liturgists and elders, and yes also those gathered, understand that it is God who calls us to worship, it is the Holy Spirit who enables our worship, and it is Christ who perfects it. When we gather for worship we do so to hear God speak to us and respond as prompted by the Holy Spirit. It isn’t about the popularity of the preacher, the excellence of the choir and organist, nor the wow factor of the band with lights and haze.

Instead of teaching about what we think our people want to hear, steering clear of any message that may be upsetting, our preaching needs to be prophetic and disciplined enough to cover the full gospel message from creation to new-creation, pastorally sensitive, and spiritually formative. And when we gather may God’s call for each disciple of Christ to join in the transformational work of the Holy Spirit wherever they find themselves ring loud. Surrounding that message should be spoken and sung words and artistic expressions that support and aid in the dialogue between God and those gathered; each of those elements chosen because they are biblically and theologically correct, poetically and artistically strong, and fitting to their place in the service.

The Wisdom of the Four-fold Pattern of Worship

The church has been worshiping for more than 2,000 years and there is great wisdom in the traditional pattern of the liturgy that has its roots in the Old Testament worship as practiced by the Jewish people. The amazing thing about the basic four-fold pattern of gathering, Word, table/response, and sending, is that it has stood the test of time, works across the globe, and is adaptable to any variety of musical styles.

Yes, there is much to lament about worship in the western-Church but it isn’t as much about musical style as it is about a lack of rootedness in a biblical theology of worship. For over 30 years Reformed Worship has been helping those involved with planning and leading worship find that rootedness through the resources and articles it shares. If you aren’t yet a subscriber consider subscribing today as you won’t want to miss our next theme issue which focuses on basic biblical worship theology (June 2020). And whether you are a subscriber or simply utilize this website consider donating to support this ministry.