"New School" Is Rarely Better Than "Old School"

In the case of worship it most definitely is not:

When Christians gather to worship God on the Lord’s Day, they take part in the most meaningful, significant, and wonderful activity possible. Worship is not only the preeminent activity of the Church, however; it is also the chief occupation of the cherubim and seraphim, those fiery servants of God who hover around the heavenly throne with ceaseless expressions of praise and devotion. We are given a brief glimpse into that heavenly worship in Isaiah 6 when the prophet witnessed Yahweh …sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said; “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:1-3) In addition, the Apostle John informs us that in his vision he looked into the throne room of heaven and heard myriads and myriads of the angelic host crying out with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,” and, “‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:11-14) Later the Apostle looked and beheld “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages [the full number of God’s elect], standing before the throne and before the lamb … crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9, 10)

This quick peek into the portals of heaven reveals celestial worship to be fervently reverent, gloriously dignified, exceedingly joyful, thoroughly God-centered, and ardently focused upon the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It is this magnificent, heavenly approach to worship which, in part, informed and inspired the worship of Protestants for almost 500 years. Sadly, however, in recent times, this has changed.

In general, evangelical worship has become radically informal, presumptuously innovative, and biblically impoverished. Much of this is due largely to the abandonment of God-centered, biblically-regulated liturgy. What has been shelved is a Protestant liturgical heritage which, for centuries, has faithfully led Christians to worship God biblically and nourish their faith upon Christ through the ordinary means of Word and sacrament. It was the eclipse of biblical worship and liturgy that led John Calvin in 1544 to write a tract entitled, The Necessity of Reforming the Church. He sent it to Emperor Charles V, who was, at the time, presiding over an Imperial Diet in Spires, Germany. Calvin hoped to persuade the Emperor of the need to bring reform to the superstitious worship that plagued the Roman Catholic Church. It was necessary that the Word of God, not man-made substitutes, be the foundation, guide, and substance of public worship. The French Reformer wrote: 

“[T]here is a two-fold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us.” (John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, 17) Although Calvin penned these words over 450 years ago, they speak powerfully to our own context, where the design and focus of public worship has turned into a quest to satisfy our own felt needs rather than to glorify God. “Perverse modes of worship” characterize not only the sixteenth century Mass, but also much of twenty-first century evangelical worship. Drama and therapeutic messages have undermined the authoritative reading and preaching of the Word of God. Deep, affectionate, and substantial prayer has been pushed aside to make room for catchy announcements and personal testimonies. The best of theologically rich, soul-stirring Psalmody and hymnody has been replaced by shallow praise choruses. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have, in many quarters, been reduced to uninformed, sentimental rituals. To summarize, the means that God ordained and established for the salvation of His people (Word, sacraments, and prayer) have been, at best, minimized, and at worst, abandoned for something else entirely. A biblical liturgy, which sets forth and protects those means, must be recovered. 

When Christians think of liturgy they often think in terms of high Anglican worship or a Roman Mass. The truth is, however, that all Christian worship services have a liturgy. In some of the more spontaneous expressions of Christian worship the liturgy may be more difficult to decipher; nevertheless, it is there. Whether a church is traditional or contemporary, heavily structured or less so, every worship service follows some type of set form. D. G. Hart states: “Every church has a liturgy whether its members think of themselves as liturgical or not. Liturgy is merely the form and order of worship. Both the highest Anglo-Catholic mass and the lowest evangelical praise and worship service are liturgical in the narrowest sense of the word. Obviously, they differ dramatically in liturgy, but both embody a form and an order of worship.” (D. G. Hart, Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Liturgy in the Reformed Tradition, 70)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines liturgy as “a prescribed form of public worship.” Notice that liturgy is defined as a prescribed form, that is, a form which has been authoritatively imposed. In the case of Christian liturgy, that which must prescribe or impose the form is the Word of God. Further, the Bible must prescribe not only the form of worship but also the content of worship. Suffice it to say, if the form and content of a worship service are not prescribed by God’s Word, it can hardly be called Christian worship.

A biblically-regulated liturgy preserves and promotes God-exalting, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled worship. Of course, even with a well-ordered liturgy it is possible for a person to merely go through the motions. But isn’t this true of any style or form of worship? Whether a congregation is confessing a creed or singing an energetic praise song, there will inevitably be congregants who are insincere. Hence, the church’s prescribed order of worship must not be ruled by whatever we think will enliven hearts—something we ultimately cannot control. Rather, the inspired and authoritative Word of God must be the source and substance of our liturgy, thereby setting forth the means that God has promised to bless in the lives of His redeemed children.*

 *Payne, Jon D. (2008-05-01). In The Splendor Of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century (Kindle Locations 79-140). Tolle Lege Press. Kindle Edition.

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