(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.)
Conclusion: Discernment in Worship
“As attractive as contemporary forms of worship might appear, the logic by which they have entered Reformed circles is destructive of the Reformed tradition because it makes theology powerless. It separates belief from practice… Faith and practice cannot be separated; worship, therefore, flows from doctrine…
The reason for the worship wars today, then, is because the church has failed to exercise discernment over her worship. Conservative Presbyterians and Reformed have carefully preserved orthodoxy in their theology, but they have not been as diligent about worship. As we draw our study of Reformed worship to a close, some suggestions for the right way to evaluate worship would appear to be appropriate.” (Hart & Meuther)
The authors start this conclusion by giving some wrong ways to evaluate worship. One of those wrong methods of evaluation is to play the numbers game. The numbers game is the idea that the larger the church, is the better the worship is. The problem with this, is that popularity should never be the measuring rod for truth. W. Robert Godfrey points out that Jesus was the greatest church-planting failure in history, by the standards that the church-growth movement generally employs. The crowds that followed Jesus early on dwindled as his proclamation of truth was too much for many to accept. While we long to see Churches filled, reducing worship to what is “popular” or abandoning truth in order to fit in may draw a crowd, but it will not be effective in keeping disciples of Christ.
Another wrong way to evaluate worship is by sincerity or good motives. People can be sincerely committed to error. A quick look back at history easily shows that sincerity is not the best way to evaluate truth. Followers of Mormonism and Islam and even Catholicism are sincere. Followers of slavery, Hitler and today abortion were and are fanatically sincere. Experience is not a true guide to worship. J. Gresham Machen speaking about liberalism’s stress on religious experience stated, “it denies not this truth or that but truth itself. It denies that there is any possibility of attaining to a truth that will always be true. There is truth, it holds, for this generation and truth for that generation, but no truth for all generations; there is truth for this race and truth for that race, but no truth for all races.”
One final wrong way to evaluate worship is to let a profession of Christian faith become a basis for legitimacy. Even professing Christians get worship wrong. And not all who claim to follow Christ really are of Christ. We must not forget in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that liberals who abandoned the truth of Scripture in the early 20th century claimed to be good Christians while they were turning away from the standard of God’s Word.
“Together these flawed ways of evaluating worship call us back to the task of discernment. We must look beyond appearances and ask hard questions. Does theology come from our worship experience, or is the worship of our churches based on Reformed theology? Are we striving to be acceptable to God or to be relevant to visitors? Is our standard the Word of God or the wisdom of market research? Do people mean what they say when they claim their worship is reverent? Discernment in worship, in other words, requires that we look to the theology that undergirds our worship.” (Hart & Meuther)
The authors end by giving several liturgical basics as a guide for Reformed worship:
1. Reformed worship is founded on the Word of God. It is read, it is sung, it is preached. It is seen, felt and tasted in the Lord’s Supper and baptism.
2. Reformed worship is theocentric. Worship is to be God-centered, not man-centered.
3. Reformed worship nurtures God’s people through the means of grace. Worship is not an extra part of the Christian life. It is the minimum spiritual diet for a life of faith and repentance.
4. Reformed worship is dialogical. Worship is a meeting between God and his people. The service is a holy conversation between heaven and earth. It cannot be repackaged as a form of entertainment or congregational meeting.
5. Reformed worship is simple. Simplicity is evident in a stable routine and in Sabbath observance.
6. Reformed worship is eschatological. Worship is a foretaste of glory.
“In Scripture there are ultimately only two styles of worship: true and false…We can distinguish true worship from false worship by what God has revealed through his Holy Spirit.” (Hart & Meuther)