(A review of the book, “With Reverence and Awe, Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship” by D. G. Hart and John R. Muether. In conjunction with our Wednesday night study, I am using this book and the principles taught in it to aid us in a study of worship.)
Chapter 8: Worship with Godly Fear
Throughout this book on worship we have looked at the what (the elements of worship), the when (the order of worship), and the who (participants in worship). Chapter 8 moves on to the how of worship. The idea of dialogue (God speaking and man responding) and the regulative principle have something to say about the tone and mood of worship.
“We do not merely meet God in prayer, Word, song, and sacraments, but we do so in a reverent fashion…Reverence and fear are at the heart of Christian worship. But our irreverent age, borrowing frequently from the idioms of Wall Street and Hollywood, has cultivated such informality and false intimacy that it renders any notion of reverence, must less willing reverence, increasingly remote. For this reason, much of today’s worship is oriented, consciously, or not, around the idea of entertainment.” (Hart and Meuther)
Edward Farley, writing in Christian Century commented that contemporary worship creates a tone that is, “casual, comfortable, chatty, busy, humorous, pleasant and at times even cute. If the seraphim assumed this Sunday morning mood, they would be addressing God not as ‘holy, holy, holy,’ but as ‘nice, nice, nice.’”
Is worship simply a matter of taste or style? If this is true, are we to look to the style or taste of man, or to the style and taste of God? In worship we get a glimpse of heaven. Worship is that which brings young and old, rich or poor, male and female, those from every tribe, tongue, and nation together to worship around the throne of God Almighty. That same throne where the seraphim are crying out, “holy, holy, holy.”
“Irreverent worship is a violation of God’s holy style. God desires reverent worship, worship that reflects the seriousness that is inherent in a religion that required the death of his only begotten Son in order to redeem a chosen people from the bonds of sin and misery and to deliver them into the glorious blessedness of God’s children.” (Hart and Meuther)
Reverence is not a matter of elaborate ceremonies and complex liturgies. Some people trade large video monitors, skits and drums for candles, incense and banners. Both extremes speak more to style than to reverence. The authors state that it would be just as irreverent to put a symphony orchestra at the front of a church as a rock ’n’ roll band. Both would not convey an attitude of reverent worship but instead a desire to entertain. In worship we do not applaud performers, we concentrate on God and his Word.
“…reverence does not exclude joy, contrary to the charge of some critics of Reformed worship. Joy — along with a full range of emotions such as grief, anger, desire, hope, fear and love— should find natural outlets in worship. But the need for reverence and gravity dictates that any expression of emotion in worship should be tempered by moderation, self-control, and above all, respect for who God is and an awareness of our place before him.” (Hart and Meuther)
Hebrews 12:28-29, “Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
“Of course, reverence is not obviously attractive or appealing. It is hard and uncomfortable. It doesn’t create a relaxed or welcoming atmosphere. Above all it is not celebrative as that word has come to be used. Reverent worship is not an effective way of persuading the world that Christians are capable of having a good time. That is because modern culture cannot see God as frightening. So seeker-sensitive worship has replaced a consuming fire with an affirming and empowering God, one who accepts whatever we do. It has substituted the meeting of felt needs for the demands of his law.” (Hart and Meuther)
Invite your friends who need to see Christ to worship a holy God. As we worship with reverence and awe, we may not draw in the masses who desire entertainment or affirmation. But, as we gather with joy and grief and anger and desire and hope and fear and love and reverence and awe, those who see their need for a Savior may be convicted of sin and understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Reverent worship is a blessing for the people of God.