TRUHT FOR TODAY - BIBLICAL ESSAYS BY PASTOR PAUL MIZZI

Can traditional worship be improved upon?

Can Traditional Worship be improved upon, so as to remove those elements defined as "boring," yet still retain biblical integrity?

Taking Traditional Worship to mean biblically-based worship, we need first of all the mention the elements of worship that are known by the due application of the regulative principle. In other words, what does God want us to do as a congregation when we gather together in Christís name?

To quote the Westminster Confession of Faith: ďReligious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone...Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men...The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgiving upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious mannerĒ (Ch.XXI:2-5).

It appears that the regular elements in the worship of the church are the following and no more:

1. Public Prayer.

2. Public reading of Scripture.

3. Preaching of the Word.

4. Singing.

5. Administration of sacraments.

The question now boils down to this: can Godís wisdom and Godís will for us be improved upon? Are we better than He? It is the height of impiety to even suggest that we can innovate and introduce elements of worship that God does not command and not even mention. Scripture actually condemns innovations as ďwill-worship,Ē as carnal inventions that give the impression of holiness in those who practice them but actually they do nothing more than pamper the flesh.

But a firm refusal to change anything from what we have received from our spiritual forefathers does not imply that we are free from criticism. This actually calls for a self-examination and the continuing reformation of the church.

All change is not necessarily forbidden or bad. Some brethren are, perhaps, struggling to emerge from church backgrounds that have been hide-bound by human tradition. For them the refreshing liberty that the Scriptures give is a new lease of life. Such change is welcome and necessary; it is scriptural reformation. However, when change involves dismantling prerequisites that are clearly biblical and historic, then that is another matter altogether.

While we should be adamant in hold fast to what we know to be biblical, it does not necessarily mean that we are doing our duty the biblical way. Letís take public prayer, for instance. If we are not careful, public prayer, led by carnal and proud people, can be nothing more than a show-off. That would not only be boring but also calling for censure.

Again, to read Scripture in the assembly of the saints is no easy task. Many take it for granted, thinking something like, ďWell, Iím not illiterate; I can certainly read.Ē But the actual reading will not be reverent, loud enough to be heard by everybody, with worthwhile pauses and emphases, and of the right length, not to short, not excessively long.

Expository preaching (which should be the regular - not exclusive - type of preaching) is the climax of evangelical worship. The preached Word is Godís Word to us, personally, and in our generation. But how is it done? Are pastors free from guilt in this matter? Are they well-prepared for the task, do they approach the pulpit with fear and trembling, dependent on the Holy Spiritís efficacious work, or do they find it an occasion to exhibit their raw and undigested knowledge? Is their speech clear, is the theme well-applied to the hearts of the audience?

The singing: is it well-led? Is the theology of the hymns sound and edifying, giving glory to God? Or are we using the singing to fill in between one item and the next? Is it well-varied?

The administration of the Lordís Supper can indeed become boring if the saints are not prepared in heart to remember their Lord. It can easily become mechanical and formal, especially in churches where it is held on a weekly basis.

If we take care to approach our Lord in a reverent and humble and repentant way then the worship prescribed for us will not be boring. It will rather be challenging, refreshing and the highlight of the whole week.

What should we think of the modernizing movement that denigrates the biblical mode of worship and craves to introduce new styles in the church? Weighing these thing in the balances of Scripture and church history will give us a safe perspective. The following points are relevant:

1. This movement is not new. Moody was a catalyst here. His friend F.B.Meyer soon introduced the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, with anthems by a choir, a short address, and even applause. But the preacherís business is to correct the spirit of the age. God calls His church to change, not by changed by, the spirit of the age. Strange fire is unacceptable (Leviticus 10:1ff.).

2. This modernising movement removes reverence from Godís worship (Psalm 89:7; 1 Corinthians 14:24,25).

3. This clamour for change may well be a symptom of something else. Instead we should rather mourn before God, in humiliation, fasting and enquiring prayer. Seeking to be happy, happy, happy all the time is discouraged (James 4:8-10).

4. This movement fails to reckon with manís true need. The worldling needs to be addressed according to his creation, not his culture. If we really believe in the biblical doctrines of manís total depravity and Godís sovereign grace, we will avoid this frivolity.

5. Scripture is against the approach this movement takes. Evangelism seems to be the all-controlling factor. As if effectiveness here must determine everything else. This is unscriptural. The order for Godís church is first worship, then witness (Isaiah 60:6; 1 Peter 2:5,9). We have been told how to behave in Godís church (1 Timothy 3:15). To yield to the demands of this movement is to let the world into the church. But in the early days unbelievers would not dare join themselves hypocritically to true believers (Acts 5:13).

6. To keep to the old paths does not invite decline or extinction. Growth comes only from above (John 3:27; 1 Corinthians 3:6).

But it remains to be said that carnal people, and also baby Christians, still untaught in the Word, do find such simple and yet profound worship to be boring. How can you rejoice in God whom you do not know?

So my question is, ďBoring to whom?Ē If itís boring to the world, to unbelievers, then we are not prepared to change the agenda. Itís a God-given mode of worship; letís seek to fulfill our task in a spiritual way (such as Isaiah chapter 1 and chapter 58 prescribes for us). We are not to become like the world; we ought to win the world with the gospel and invite the nations to worship God with the worship implicit in that same gospel, that is ďwith reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fireĒ (Hebrews 12:28,29).

Our watchword is unchanged: ďTake heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise....What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from itĒ (Deuteronomy 12:30,32).

ďThus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your soulsĒ (Jeremiah 6:16).