The worship service: then and now — in one lifetime! (2)

In my last column I traced the changes that have taken place in the Church’s worship services.  For the most part these were neutral’ changes. They were more superficial cultural changes that did not affect the deeper levels of our Christian being.  We observed movements from formal liturgies to freer orders of service … from organs to bands … from hymn-books to lyrics projected onto a screen.

This month we examine more substantial changes that impact on our Christian Faith. These are dangerous trends. As we are aware of these, we should and can correct them, so that our worship services become more pleasing to God.

From wide-ranging prayers to brief sermon-related prayers?

Have you noticed this shift?  Is it happening in your church?

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Study the prayers of the Bible, for example  1 Chronicles 29:10-20; Ezra 9; Nehemiah 9; Psalms 3-10; John 17; Acts 4:23-30; Ephesians 1:15-21; Philippians 1:3-6,9-11; Colossians 1:9-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12 and many more).

Notice how these all arise from the immediate context of the people who are praying, as they make specific intercessions for felt and real needs. 1 Timothy 2:1-5 specifically provides a prayer agenda for congregational use. But contemporary services often ignore intercessory prayers and reduce congregational praying to something like this: “Bless the preacher and the sermon ….”.   Does this please God?  Not at all!  Let’s pray real prayers patterned on the prayers in Scripture. Those leading in public Prayer should prepare prayers as thoroughly as the Preacher prepares the Sermon.  Write the prayers out on paper and pray them.

From Prominent public Scripture-reading to utilitarian Scripture-reading

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The “public reading of Scripture” is mandated by 1 Timothy 4:13 to be a feature as prominent as “teaching and preaching” in each congregational service. But contemporary custom often relegates this to a sub-item within the sermon. Does this please God?  Not at all!  Read Scripture as a prominent feature of the worship service. Consider choosing relevant Scriptures from both Old and New Testaments.

From Psalms, Hymns and Choruses to only Contemporary Worship Songs.  In both Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16, Scripture commands us to use all three genres of song in our Worship Services: “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Is God pleased when we sideline ‘psalms and hymns’ and focus almost exclusively on ‘spiritual songs’?  Not at all!  Consciously include all three genres of Song in your Sunday Song List.

From Substantial and Serious lyrics to superficial or sentimental lyrics

Compare the lyrics of an earlier generation with those of the Contemporary Worship Songs era: for example ….

                        “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,

                        bow down before Him, His glory proclaim.

                        With gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,

                        kneel and adore Him – the Lord is His name.”

                                    Songs of Fellowship 457: John Monsell (1811-1875)           

Now consider and feel how superficial and sentimental is a current popular song:

                        “O Lord, You’re beautiful,

                        Your face is all I seek.

                        For when Your eyes are on this child,

                        Your grace abounds to me.”

                                                Songs of Fellowship 432 Keith Green © 1980

Include only worthy lyrics in the Songs you Sing on Sunday.  Evaluate the lyrics, and dispense with any that are shallow and sentimental.  Retain those that are rich in Scripture, and worthy in Meaning – songs that teach and admonish, songs that express real Gratitude to God.  It matters not whether they are ancient or recent – sing worthy songs to our worthy God!

From united family services to generationally separate services

Do all your can to encourage the congregational expression of the Unity of the Body. Do not sacrifice this for a specialised Separateness in the Body.  God is not pleased with a divided Church, however well-meaning and ‘practical’ this may seem.  Let other week-day Church events cater for separate age groups, or Women’s and Men’s interests. 

From family church to megachurch. 

Family-size churches are more intimate, better able to disciple through relationships. Churches of over 200 or 300 members need more of a “business/‘team” management style. Pastoral care and discipling are delegated to other church members (both an advantage and a disadvantage!)

From denominationalism to independency .

Such independent congregations tend to form around a strong leader who demands blind loyalty. They lack the inbuilt corrections of the denominational ‘family’ of churches, where loyalty is found in a common doctrinal identity and purpose.  Every church leader should be formally accountable to a Board or Group structure.

Unfortunately such an independent spirit and structure is common among the newer more church congregations today.  But denominationalism can be a good antidote to this. Christians coming together in a denomination, a family of local churches with a common doctrinal identity and purpose, can be a good thing. It militates against the conceit of a local church which claims to be self-sufficient, and implies it is perfect. Such a group-connection can also provide a healthy accountability structure.

From democratic to autocratic,

Church loyalty to one popular personality breeds an autocratic structure, in which the church leader behaves like God over the people. He/she may even claim that her/his church is “theocratic”, and that the leader is God’s assigned deputy, sometimes adopting the title of “Apostle”. It is dangerous for a leader to demand obedience without question by the people in the congregation. It is possible for that church to become a cult.  Such autocratic leaders lack accountability structures, and are prone to become cults.  Those churches which produce scandals in the public press, usually have autocratic leadership.

Views expressed in Gateway News opinion articles are those of the authors and not necessarily of Gateway News.

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