Many Evangelicals do not Believe that God is Very Specific About How to Worship Corporately
J. Ligon Duncan III:
Evangelicals have for a century or more been the most minimal of all the Protestants in what they think the Bible teaches us about the church in general and in their estimation of the relative importance of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).
- They do not generally believe that church government is established positively in the Word;
- they often do not see the local church as essential to the fulfillment of the Great Commission or to the task of Christian discipleship;
- they are suspicious of order as restrictive of freedom…
Consequently, since the doctrine of worship is a part of what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of the church, they are not predisposed in general to expect much in the way of important, definitive teaching about the conduct of corporate worship…
…The greatest obstacle to the reform of worship in the evangelical church today is evangelicalism’s general belief that New Testament Christians have few or no particular directions about how we are to worship God corporately:
- what elements belong in worship,
- what elements must always be present in well-ordered worship,
- what things do not belong in worship.
To be even more specific…we may say that
- evangelicals emphasize the dynamic of Christian worship (the grace of the Holy Spirit)
- and its motivation (gratitude for grace, a passion for God),
- but de-emphasize the standard (the Bible)
- and goal (the prime telos [the purposed end] of glorifying and enjoying God).
Evangelicals do think that worship matters, but they also often view worship as a means to some other end than that of the glorification and enjoyment of God:
- some view worship as evangelism (thus misunderstanding its goal);
- some think that a person’s heart, intentions, motives and sincerity are the only things important in how we worship (thus downplaying the Bible’s standards, principles, and rules for worship);
- and some view the emotional product of the worship experience as the prime factor in [evaluating] “good” worship (thus over-stressing the subjective and often unwittingly imposing particular cultural opinions about emotional expression on all worshipers).
Evangelicals believe these things about worship, but they do not think that there are many biblical principles about how to worship or what we are to do and not to do in worship.
In part, this may be the result of an understandable misunderstanding of the precise nature of the discontinuity between the worship of the people of God in the old covenant and the new covenant.
…Consequently, though evangelicals know that the Old Testament has instructions on what Israel was to do in worship,
- they tend to think that there are few if any abiding principles [let alone commands] to be gained for Christian worship from the Old Testament,
- or they think that the New Testament emphases on the heart, the activity of the Holy Spirit, and worship-in-all-of-life displace these Old Testament principles,
- or they think that the New Testament has correspondingly little or nothing to say about the how of corporate worship,
- and some even think the category of corporate worship disappears altogether in the new-covenant expression of the economy of God…
And not surprisingly, these assumptions help an evangelicalism enveloped in a culture of individualism, relativism, and situationalism remain, in its approach to the gathered worship of God’s people,
- strong on the individual, weak on the corporate;
- strong on the subjective, weak on the objective;
- strong on the heart, weak on the principles.
Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, P & R Publishing, 2003, pp. 24 – 26
[Nota bene: These are Duncan’s words, but I did the bulleting to make the lists and long (
dare I say run-on?) sentences more easy to navigate.] Presented with all the usual waivers as to how his beliefs and practices differ from mine, etc… I.e. simply because I am quoting him doesn’t mean you should become a Presbyterian or whatever…I’ll trust your discernment…