Worship in the modern evangelical Church is, by and large, pathetic. The Church has left her biblical standard for worship, which is to glorify God, and has embraced a man-centered goal, which is the enjoyment and pleasure of the viewer. A successful service is now thought to be one in which the participants (or spectators) are pleased. In a biblical service, the desire of the worshippers’ hearts is fulfilled when God is pleased. But once the goal shifts from the pleasure of God to the pleasure of man, the Church has taken the first step towards liturgical idiocy. When that happens, all conservative challenges to this deterioration will be resisted by the ever sliding status quo until God is pleased to grant a reformation to the Church.
Whenever a culture’s goal becomes entertainment, a law of degeneration immediately sets in. In the field of economics, Gresham’s Law states that bad money drives out good. In the same way, bad entertainment displaces that which is not quite as bad. In a sinful world, poor comedians will go for the easy laughs with dirty jokes, lousy screenwriters go for the high ratings by using half-dressed sex cookies, and mindless rock bands yell into the mike, using a lot of dry ice and lasers in the background.
In the Church the principle is no different. When God is the audience, standards will be high. “And if ye offer the blind for a sacrifice, is it not evil? If ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Offer it now to thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 1:8). Biblical Christianity is a series, intelligent, and demanding faith because the God we serve is the Most High.
The evangelical Church at large has opted for the superficial in worship. Devotees whoop and holler their way through trite upbeat songs; sometimes the songs are even blasphemous. At a conference, I once saw grown Christians jumping up and down, lustily singing away, with hand motions, splish-splashing in the blood of Christ. When the moment turned serious, they cooed their way through worship songs that sounded like they were written for somebody’s girlfriend. One minister lamented once that songwriters could substitute Sheila for Jesus into many of these songs and it would not make much of a difference. At other times good biblical words like Alleluia are sung over and over and over, as though it were a mantra for the born-again lobotomized.
The church building itself often resembles the set of a television variety show. Some members, disgusted with these ecclesiastical monkey shines, have tried to leave, but they have not really succeeded. Tiring of the circus, they decide to go to the opera. Wanting more serious entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless, they worship with mummeries that resemble an initiation down at the local Masonic Lodge. They have simply changed the channel from MTV over to a liturgical PBS.
But the focus of our worship is to be the glory of God. When evaluating a song, or any part of our worship, we should not ask whether we like it, but whether God’s name will be lifted up through it. In contrast to this God-honoring evaluation, we often see people visiting various churches the same way a bored television viewer channel surfs, looking for something “he likes.”
Because God must be our focus, the standard should be high, not to impress people with a virtuoso performance, but rather to honor His name. This means our lives should be in order, the lyrics scriptural in content, balance, and tone, and the music worthy of Him. The last point is very important because relativism has invaded the church more successfully in the area of aesthetics than anywhere else. Whenever high musical standards are set, all of a sudden Christians start talking like nihilists. “And who’s to say what constitutes good music? You?”
The answer is found in Scripture. God is the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. When it comes to music He has said that there is such a thing as skill. “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise” (Ps. 33:3). This is how those who love Him must strive to honor and serve Him.
The New Testament calls us to have the Word of Christ dwell in us richly as we worship. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). The majesty of our God and the richness of our faith will not manifest themselves in poverty-stricken lyrics and three-chord wonder songs.
The richness of our worship is a good litmus test for the richness of our faith. Tragically, by this standard, the modern evangelical Church has sold her birthright. Our name is now Ichabod—the glory has departed. Until the glory returns, the believer can begin consistently to pray for reformation and revival. Or he can shrug it all off, return to Howdy Doody time at church, and juke for Jesus.