I've been a part of the church universal for decades now, and I've seen many shifts in worship over the years. So naturally I've encountered many strong opinions over these shifts as well. Unfortunately, many of these opinions are often based upon emotion, sentiment, and preferences instead of truth. Let's face it, when our objective is to gratify our feelings via our preferences, God is taking a backseat to self; which obviously isn't proper worship at all. So the subject warrants an objective look as things are starting to shift yet again.
One of the biggest shifts in recent decades was the contemporary worship movement that saw its peak in the 90's. For many critics of it, it was unfamiliar, which ultimately made it uncomfortable. Leading to many vague, but emotionally charged criticisms of contemporary worship. Which were sentimental reactions, not theological arguments. People who were all for it, found it emotionally up-lifting. While they may say it was actually spiritual and not emotional. However, many proponents of the contemporary worship movement are starting to admit that it in no way produced good disciples. Which is strong evidence that contemporary enthusiasts were confusing emotion for spirit.
The primary difference between contemporary and traditional worship is the music. Many argue that hymns are more doctrinally sound and convicting, where contemporary praise music is but fluff that doesn't go any deeper than what God does for us. These are but broad and blanket statements that may sometimes ring true, but not always. For example, the famous hymn, Come Thou Fount, is very much a song about God's provision, so it's very praise song like in its subject matter. Plus, it's not that there are not convicting praise songs that are challenging to us as disciples. It's just they are not the ones that become famous and popular. Which I dare say reflects more upon the people listening, than the style of music.
One good argument I have heard against contemporary worship, is that it functions mostly as an attractant. Which is a product of evangelism and not worship. While we need both, we shouldn’t forsake one to emphasize the other. (Luke 11:42) No matter how much we may need new converts right now. Because of the contemporary worship movement's failures, it has led many to bring back liturgical worship in recent days. Which is a very old style that predates what we often refer to as traditional worship. While people are offering many reasons for this change, the most common being, this is what millennials supposedly want. I dare say the real reason is that it dates to a time before the church started to lose its hold in our world. As if that is the only factor in this loss.
But just like any other shift, it’s unfamiliar and it violates peoples comfort zones. So we are already encountering resistance to it. One of the big arguments against it, is that it can become rote. However, you can make the same argument about hymns and praise songs. We often sing along without any conscious thought once they become familiar to us. It’s just that the emotive aspect of music often camouflages how rote it can really be. Anything can become rote if the individual allows it. That burden lies on the sincerity of the worshiper, not the worship style. Not that I don’t understand where they are coming from when they call it rote. It was not until I had to fill in for the absent pastor and the responsibility of leading people in liturgy fell on me, did the real gravity of our responsive readings really strike me. It was through practicing it in private where I was really able to meditate on the power of the liturgy, not in corporate worship. So I challenge you, before you dismiss liturgy, to bring it into your private worship, assuming you even set aside a time for that. This experience got me thinking about some of the few times that scripture reveals what worship looks like in heaven.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they 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
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” -Revelation 4:1-11
These scenes definitely have the earmarks of liturgy to them. That in itself is probably the best argument for liturgical worship you will ever find. Since it’s based upon examples from scripture, and not emotion, sentiment, or personal preference.
While liturgical worship may seem like a burdensome cross to bear for many. But let me remind you that Jesus told us to deny self, take up our cross, and follow him. (Matthew 16:24) So maybe it's about time we set aside the emotion, and preferences that causes us to follow self. Then start to offer true devotion and reverence for God by revealing his glory, as proper worship should. Maybe liturgy really is an effective way to get back to the true heart of sincere worship. A method that actually educates it’s followers, not just entertain them.
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