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Apr 27

Excerpts from Dr.Alexander Kurian’s booklet:

THE DENIGRATION OF WORSHIP

Worship is a battle ground today in evangelical churches the world over.

Many “worship wars” are going on. It is the most controversial topic, a sore

subject, and a divisive issue. Worship has split churches. It is unbelievable

that something as precious to Christians as worship could ever be the culprit

in church conflicts!

Conflict over worship is nothing new. The first murder recorded in Biblical

history (Cain murdering Abel in Genesis 4), resulted from a conflict over

acceptable worship. Disputes regarding worship in general and music in

particular, have erupted in every denomination. Church leaders are

struggling to accommodate the various trends, styles and forms of worship.

There is an ongoing tension between “traditional worship” and

“contemporary worship”; “emotional worship” and “intellectual

worship”; “liturgical traditionalists” and “informal traditionalists.” We hear

of “creative worship,” “demonstrative worship,” “renewal worship,”

“expressive worship” and “awareness worship.” However, the most popular

category is “contemporary worship” which describes styles and forms of

worship particularly attractive to the younger generation and people outside

the church.

Recent evangelical experiments in worship represent the most widespread

changes in Protestant Church worship since the Reformation. The changing

character of worship is the spiritual barometer of Biblical fidelity in

contemporary evangelicalism. The fundamental reason for this most

distressing confusion in the matter of worship is the diversion from the

cardinal truths of the Word of God. The Bible simply does not function in a

decisive way in the doctrine and practice of many churches.

The Contemporary Worship Scene

Disagreement over worship when it is just over methods or diversity of

worship styles is not that serious of an issue. But when the disagreement

results from theology, it is a grave matter. Theology is the core or substance

of truth. Changing theology is always a risky business. Let us remember that

worship patterns and styles will eventually shape our theology as much as

they are shaped by theology. If worship is uprooted from its theological

roots in the Word, then it will not be worship at all!

The most fundamental problem is the postmodern worldview. The Biblical

worldview is centered on God and His revelation of Himself in the

Scriptures. Modernism is centered on reality external to the individual. But

postmodernism centers on the ever changing human perspectives. Things

pertaining to life and spirituality, worship and the service of God are

reinterpreted and readjusted to appeal to the postmodern mind. This is

always on a collision course with the Christian worldview in which truth is

absolute, objective, propositional, and eternal – not merely subjective,

experiential and relative.

In the compromised church, there are insurmountable barriers to Biblical

worship. Several factors contribute to the denigration of worship:

1. An Emphasis on “Form” and “Style” Rather Than on Substance.

When it comes to worship, the primary focus today is on the “form” and

“style” rather than on the substance and content of worship. This is very

evident from the contemporary discussion on worship and many of the

books written on the topic. The move is specifically to the concept of

worship styles. Today Christians are not choosy about church names. They

choose a church primarily by the style of worship. Theology is not the

dividing line and doctrine is not the glue that holds them together; it is the

worship style.

Christians are encouraged to appreciate and welcome rather than despise the

many worship styles (however unbiblical they may be!) operative in today’s

churches. The diversity in worship styles is considered to be one of the most

important things in Christian worship. Even some conservative pastors are

pressured into starting a worship service quite different from the traditional

Sunday worship of the church. Many churches have come up with “Saturday

Worship” that is very stylish and contemporary. After all, few things are

more sacred in contemporary theology of worship than our acceptance and

appreciation of diverse worship styles!

Let us remind ourselves that whether in the Old or New Testament, God

never approved of creativity and innovation in worship. The new activities

that are introduced into worship to make it “relevant,” “creative,” and

“contemporary” are like a “strange fire” offered to Him. Men cannot

worship God in any way they choose.

2. Worship is Defined in Terms of the Individual’s Experiences and

Feelings.

Subjectivism and existentialism are redefining Biblical worship. People

come to church to feel God. It is all about “my needs,” “my feelings,” “my

experience,” “my happiness,” and “my desires”. “I” am at the center. The

ego reigns supreme. The worshiper has become the object of worship!

Worship becomes a pathetic charade in which people often try to get God to

do something for them, and if it is supernatural, it is all the more better!

Worship is solely defined by the individual’s experience; it is an emotional

exercise that generates spiritual feelings. The agenda of worship

becomes our need to “feel spiritual” rather than actually honoring God. In

the pursuit of ecstatic feelings, a genuine encounter with the Lord is lost. We

can be tricked into thinking we are worshipping God when all we are really

experiencing is strong emotions.

This experience-oriented approach to worship is largely because of the

influence of Charismatic theology. Most of the changes in worship have

been borrowed from Pentecostal/charismatic circles. Charismatic theologies

of spirituality, worship, and ministry are clearly reflected in contemporary

worship styles. For example, personal experience is the foundation of their

belief system. The Scriptures often rank second to experience. Whenever

experience is sought in preference to the Word of God, the whole approach

to Christian life becomes very subjective.

Worship is to secure and celebrate the healing - supernatural and natural,

spiritual and psychological, emotional and bodily – that God effects in the

worshipper through an unleashing of miraculous gifts, especially speaking in

tongues. In the call to worship, the “worship leader” leads the congregation

in an extended time of singing and participatory “Praise and Worship.”

Worship is more demonstrative. Worshippers may express themselves with

raised hands, movements, applause, laughter, dancing, cheering, and other

open displays of emotions (even emotional frenzy). If these elements are not

present, it is not considered worship.

Although the worship service often becomes disruptive to congregational

order, it is understood and interpreted as the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:33 - “For God is not the author

of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” In an orderly

worship, where God is the supreme focus and object of worship, He is

honored, and His character is truly reflected. Where confusion and disorder

reign, God is dishonored and His character misrepresented. Our worship of

God should reflect the character and nature of God. Note the words of Ray

C. Stedman, in a message entitled True Worship:

Some of the excesses which have marred the worship of many

congregations, both in past awakenings and contemporary practice,

find no support from Scripture. Quaking, shaking, barking, armflailing,

leaping,

running

wildly,

have

all

been

reported

occasionally

to

accompany

true revival. But the leaders of these revivals have often

expressed uneasiness as to the source and character of such behavior.

One such practice is that of suddenly falling to the ground or floor

under the supposed impact of the Spirit and remaining prone for a time.

Though a phrase sometimes used to describe this is “being slain of the

Lord,” this phrase in Scripture always refers to physical death. There

may be occasions when a worshipper is completely overwhelmed by the

presence of the Lord, as Daniel was in Daniel 10:8 and 15. This

phenomenon is today called, “being slain in the Spirit.” It is also

termed an “ecstatic swoon.” Such response, however, is not treated in

Scripture as normative experience and should not be taught as a

deliberate act of worship.

Many of the leaders and pastors who promote this totally subjective

approach to worship also highlight their own extraordinary experiences

(visions, dreams, prophecies, “words of knowledge,” etc) and challenge the

worshippers to seek such ecstatic experiences. Thus worship becomes a

journey of seeking the most spectacular experience. Experiences with God is

the sum and substance of their, worship, testimony and theology.

We should not build our theology on experience. Emotion and experience

are the outgrowths of genuine faith. Authentic Christian experience happens

in response to truth. As God’s people worship, they are called on to focus

their attention on their heavenly Father and His glorious Son, the Lord Jesus

Christ. Biblical worship is God-centered and not man-centered. Worship is

honoring and glorifying God by acknowledging His greatness and

graciousness. This we do in the power of the Spirit and under His leadership.

In worship we declare God’s supremacy by affirming who He is and what

He has done.

3. The Concept of the EKKLESIA (Church) is Lost.

The Lord is enthroned on the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). In

corporate worship, the people of God gather as the Church, which is the

called-out, separated and redeemed company. It is not a gathering of

individuals but the body of Christ. Therefore, in corporate worship, the idea

of worshiping as you please, by yourself, is contradictory to the Word of

God. As the church, we are called on to worship together. It nourishes our

fellowship and faith.

God is a Trinity, a community of Persons. As we worship together we reflect

His relational nature. As a community of faith, under the Lordship of Christ,

we draw nigh unto the presence of our heavenly Father in joyful and

reverent worship. The author of Hebrews warns against self-absorbed

spirituality and reminds his readers about the importance of gathering

together for worship and fellowship:

Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith”

Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith”

(10:22).

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”

(10:23).

“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good

“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good

deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of

some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the

day drawing near” (10:24-25).

Much of evangelical worship today ignores the Scriptural truth of the

gathered church. The familiar word “EKKLESIA” is used more than 100

times by the New Testament writers to speak of the people of God who are

gathered out of the world. Worship has degenerated into just a get-together

of believers and unbelievers, for a common meeting or program, for music,

drama, and entertainment. It is a gathering of individuals. The worship is not

to glorify God and ascribe Him worth, but to reach out to others. Public

relations have become the ultimate priority of the church. Recreation and

social activities for the sake of unbelievers have usurped the place

of Biblical worship. The worship service is designed for “seekers” and most

of the changes are made in the name of evangelism. The overall cry is to

accommodate our worship to the styles and preferences of an unbelieving

world. In many churches the Saturday evening service has emerged as a new

time of worship and Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is treated as a day of rest,

work, or recreation!

It is interesting to note that among the four principal practices of the early

church mentioned in Acts 2:42, evangelism is missing - “And they were

continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship,

to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” It was not a gathering for outreach,

evangelism and the needs of the unsaved. Whatever happened to evangelism

and witnessing here? Isn’t sharing the gospel one of the most important

duties of the church?

Acts 2:46-47 reminds us that the dynamic corporate life of the church – the

congregation or assembling of Christians – had a great impact in the world.

Effective evangelism was the ultimate impact of their life and service.

Evangelism took place in the context of everyday life. The believers

gathered for worship and scattered for evangelism (Acts 5:42; 6:7).The

people were continually being saved as they observed the life and testimony

of believers – “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those

who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). The Lord brings us into His Church to

worship and glorify Him and sends us out into the world to be His witnesses

and to reach out to others with the Gospel. Christians serve in two different

spheres – “in the church” and “into the world.” Jesus Himself said “I also

sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

The seeker-sensitive and seeker–driven worship services target the

worship services target the

unbelievers. Many of the mega churches in America follow the seekersensitive

worship styles. It is not even a service of worship; but rather a

toned-down, upbeat “evangelistic” service for “seekers.” They are

entertained with music and a motivational, positive speech that has nothing

to do with the offense of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:8). Anything

traditional is considered to be an obstacle or barrier that may hinder the

unbelievers from coming to church. Church buildings, songs, Bible

translations, musical instruments, worship style, sermon, theological

vocabulary, attire, bulletins, and the like have to attract and appeal to

unbelievers. Every element of the worship service is sifted through that grid.

The church exists for the pleasure, entertainment and applause of an

unbelieving world!! Some churches adopt “seeker-sensitive” services to lead

Christians to worship God without the “cultural baggage” of traditional

language and forms. Are they not indirectly telling us that “if you just

follow the Bible, you will not have success in your ministry!!”

It is usually pointed out that cultural accommodation without Gospel

compromise is the goal of the seeker services. But most of the time, the

Gospel is compromised. The true message of Christianity is concealed. The

proponents of the seeker services consider Paul’s preaching about an

“unknown god” in Athens as recorded in Acts 17:16-34 to be a model of the

seeker style. But this is far from the truth. Paul’s bold assertion that God is

not only the Creator, Sustainer, Revealer, but is Judge was probably an

upsetting truth for many in his audience. The Greeks did not believe in

resurrection. But Paul preached about the resurrection of Christ. This was

something they did not want to hear. But Paul did not compromise. God “has

appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the

Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising

Him from the dead” (17:31). Mankind is moving towards divine judgment.

Men are to repent. They must repent because judgment is coming. God

commands repentance (17:30). Was this about their “felt needs?” Does this

sound very “seeker sensitive”?

Paul did not tell them to “discover the champion in them” (the Gospel of

self-esteem and positive self-image) or just to “connect with God” or to “feel

God”; but to turn to the true and the living God in repentance and faith in

Jesus Christ. We cannot preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without the

doctrine of God, repentance, the cross and the judgment to come. The

comprehensiveness of Paul’s message in the Areopagus address cannot be

ignored. Later he called the attention of the Ephesian elders to the whole

purpose of God – “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole

counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Let us be careful not to read into God’s Word a blend of the seeker service

and the praise and worship style! How unbiblical it is when cultural appeal

takes precedence over Biblical fidelity! How can Christians remove

everything “Christian” from their services because these are “barriers to

seekers’ faith?”

“The Holy Spirit may be working in the new styles of worship, but we must

not close our eyes to the possibility that evil spirits may also be at work

turning people from a passion for the gospel to a passion to be accepted by

the surrounding society” (Donald G. Bloesch)

not close our eyes to the possibility that evil spirits may also be at work

turning people from a passion for the gospel to a passion to be accepted by

the surrounding society” (Donald G. Bloesch)

The Church in the New Testament is not a social club designed for the

entertainment and happiness of unbelievers. The church was composed only

of saved individuals. Church is for believers. The regular meetings of the

early church were primarily for worship and fellowship among believers.

Church services were not planned for the preferences of the unbelievers.

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not

forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but

encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). On the contrary, many

churches today are made up largely of unsaved individuals. In the

contemporary denigration of worship, the concept of Church as the people of

God is lost, minimized or ignored.

Remember, if we wish to see God glorified in the world, He must first

be glorified in the Church.

4. The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper is Neglected.

Most of the evangelical churches in our time are not devoted to a regular

observance of the Lord’s Supper as an integral part of their worship.

Reverence and the exaltation of Christ are being neglected more than ever.

The early church gathered on the first day of the week to remember and

worship the Lord around His Table (Acts 2:42; 20:7). The Lord’s Table was

considered central in their worship. The Lord said “Do this in remembrance

of me” (I Corinthians 11:23-26). This was our Savior’s dying request. But

contemporary worship styles have totally neglected this sacred observance

and evangelicalism in general has no fascination with a “Remembrance

Meeting.” “American evangelicalism is a pietist, experiential religion that is

too busy with cell-group meetings to be troubled with the Lord’s Supper”

(R. Scott Clark, in The Compromised Church, General Editor, John H.

Armstrong).

too busy with cell-group meetings to be troubled with the Lord’s Supper”

(R. Scott Clark, in The Compromised Church, General Editor, John H.

Armstrong).

The denigration of worship has led to a lack of appreciation for the Lord’s

Supper. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper will not easily fit into the

mould of “seeker sensitive” services, because such services have relevance

and emotional gratification as their main agenda. In a “user-friendly”

environment “relevance” is more important than “reverence.” The

ordinances of the church are not very “relevant” in the seeker services.

Baptism is virtually deemed optional. Even if the Lord’s Supper is observed,

it is relegated to a smaller midweek service or appended to a preaching

service and given very little emphasis. We cannot offend the people with the

“traditions” of the church! One wonders how can a church be genuinely

Biblical and worship with integrity by neglecting the sacred ordinances the

Lord has committed to His Church. The regular observance of the Lord’s

Supper would require a transformation of most evangelical worship services.

The regular observance of the Lord’s Supper was one of the four

foundational practices of the early church. “And they continued steadfastly

in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in

prayers (Acts 2:42). There was continuity and commitment in what they did.

They came together to “break bread” in remembrance and worship of the

Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:42; 20:7). The early church did this in obedience

to Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19; 1Cori.

11:24-25). Celebration of the Lord’s Supper was the corporate expression of

their worship. It was integral to the life of the church. Christ and His atoning

sacrifice on the cross were constantly before them.

Let us listen to what the inspired apostle wrote: “For as often as you eat this

bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes”

(1Cori.11:26). “As often as” (“not as seldom as” or “as often as you may

choose”) definitely indicates frequency. Though Paul gives no directions as

to how frequently the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated, he implies that it is

to be done frequently in order to keep the remembrance of the Lord fresh in

our minds. We can learn from the example of the early church that it was

their custom to meet each Lord’s day (“the first day of the week”) to break

bread (Acts 20:7). Here at a specified time, at a specified place, the disciples

came together for a specified purpose - to break bread. This was their regular

weekly custom. It was not on the first Lord’s Day of the month, or of the

quarter of the year, but on the first day of the week that the early believers

gathered to observe the Lord’s Supper. The remembrance of the Lord in His

death was at the center of their worship.

The Corinthian church gathered together on the first day of the week (1 Cori.

16:2). Paul reminded them about a weekly giving. When the church met

together on the first day of the week for corporate worship, it included the

celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7) and regular giving of money

(1Cori.16:1-2). “Those who object to the weekly observance of the Lord’s

Supper certainly have no objection to taking a collection each first day of

the week! If it is true of the one, it is also true of the other” (A.P.Gibbs).

Supper certainly have no objection to taking a collection each first day of

the week! If it is true of the one, it is also true of the other” (A.P.Gibbs).

Many believe that the frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper will make it

seem trivial or commonplace or that it might become routine. If we apply the

same logic to prayer, “quiet time,” Bible study, worship, church services,

sermons, singing, the result will be disastrous! The possibility of abuse or

misuse is no excuse for not obeying the command of the Lord to remember

Him.

The declining understanding of the doctrine of worship has led to a

corresponding lack of appreciation for the Lord’s Supper. If we are not

committed to attending, participating and appreciating the Lord’s Supper, it

probably speaks more of our own spiritual deficit. What a delightful

experience it is to observe the Lord’s Supper regularly in the company of the

redeemed! We do it in fond remembrance of our blessed Savior, the one who

remembered us, loved us, and gave Himself for us. It is the most important

expression of our worship. It is our delight and duty; a solemnly joyful

occasion to feast on Him in the Supper with His people. To despise or lightly

esteem divinely ordained ordinances is not a mark of Christian humility or

biblical piety. It is sad and deplorable that even many evangelical

theologians tend to push the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper to the

margins of Christian duty.

The Lord’s Supper is:

 An Act of Remembrance - “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1

Cor.11:24).

An Act of Remembrance - “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1

Cor.11:24).

 An Act of Obedience - As we remember Him in the celebration of the

Lord’s Supper, we obey His command to “do this in remembrance of

Me.”

An Act of Obedience - As we remember Him in the celebration of the

Lord’s Supper, we obey His command to “do this in remembrance of

Me.”

 An Act of Fellowship - “Is it not the communion of the blood and body

of Christ” (1 Cor.10:16).

An Act of Fellowship - “Is it not the communion of the blood and body

of Christ” (1 Cor.10:16).

 An Act of Thanksgiving - “And when He had given thanks” (1Cor.11;

An Act of Thanksgiving - “And when He had given thanks” (1Cor.11;

24).

 An Act of Proclamation - “…..you proclaim the Lord’s death”

(1Cor.11:26).

An Act of Proclamation - “…..you proclaim the Lord’s death”

(1Cor.11:26).

 An Act of Covenantal Relationship - “This cup is the new covenant in

my blood” (1 Cor.11:25).

An Act of Covenantal Relationship - “This cup is the new covenant in

my blood” (1 Cor.11:25).

 An Act of Anticipation - “till He comes” (1 Cor.11:26).

An Act of Anticipation - “till He comes” (1 Cor.11:26).

How can Christians be blinded to the central importance of this act of

May 10

Text: 1 Chronicles 16:4


What should Christians do when they come for worship? What activities are appropriate to be included in the worship service of the church? Different denominations include different activities in the worship meetings. Some do focus on sharing testimonies; some would include a session of prayer; some include a number of exhortations and some give emphasis on singing. But there are three essential elements in worship to make our worship appropriate and complete. They are commemoration, thanksgiving and praising. David appointed priests to do all these three in their worship of the LORD God of Israel (1Chron. 16:4). Though the reasons are different from Israel, Our worship service should consist of these three activities. In each worship meeting, time should be allotted appropriately for all these three.


 

1. Commemoration: This is the act of bringing back to memory what the Lord had done for us so that we may express our joy in it. No worship is complete without an act of remembrance. A Christian has a lot of things to bring to memory at the time of worship. The very reason of observing the Lord’s Table is for this. Remembering the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ is central to the worship of Christians. We commemorate God’s love mercy and grace towards us by means of the table. Therefore Christians gathering for worship without observing the Table of the Lord is never an acceptable practice. The table helps our commemoration. Sometimes believers tend to think about the ‘here and the future’ only during worship. i.e, who we are now and what we will become? To think about this and to state it is important. But how did we become what we are now cannot be ignored.  That is where commemoration is necessary. The Lord commanded, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” During the worship service we need to commemorate all what the Lord had done to make us true worshippers.


 

2. Thanksgiving: Commemoration leads to thanksgiving. Unless we make effort to commemorate we will not be motivated to give thanks. A survey of the worship performed by people (in the Scripture) testifies that they all did it as expressions of thanksgiving. In thanksgiving we express by our words and voice our gratitude to God. it is the attitude of an informed  heart. Having realized the deep misery which we were in and the great rescue made possible for us we willingly give thanks to God (cf. Rev.5:8-10). Thankfulness generates Love. Genuine thanksgiving therefore results in genuine love. This is imperative from the worshippers. Time for thanksgiving must be part of the worship service.


 

3. Praising: Memories and thankfulness together leads us to praise God. This is the way we exalt God the father and His son and our savior the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise means to exalt, to eulogize, to bless, to laud or to commend. In praising we talk about the greatness of God and the greatness of his acts. When God and His glory is praised, we do something which God himself desires from us.  God deserves praise and desires it too. We make the heart of God rejoice and feel fulfilled when we give undiluted praise to Him. A Christian is called to praise God now and in the future (Ephesians 1:6; Romans 15:9). Separating time in worship services to praise God is therefore necessary.


 

In the worship meetings of our churches, the order we follow has determining influence- determining the effectiveness and meaningfulness of our worship. Though the New Testament is not giving us any binding pattern for collective worship, commemoration, thanksgiving and praises are the mainstay of any worship session. Though we might include different other activities in worship these three cannot be sidelined. Every believer who joins the church for worship must be prepared to commemorate, give thanks and praise God. Every worship meeting should have time for all these three.


 

As we prepare to worship God this week, let us commemorate what God had done for us and be prepared to give thanks for the same and praise


God in the midst of the congregation of the saints!


 

Sunday Thought is an attempt to encourage you to worship God in Truth and in Spirit - posted by Prof. Joji George Abraham. Thank you for reading this. You may share this with others as the Lord leads you. He invites response as well. Prof Joji George Abraham serves the Lord as a faculty & Dean of Students at Asian Christian Academy, India. He lives in the Seminary Campus with his wife and three children.


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