I was once a minister in a mainline denomination. While there, I served nearly three years and had led worship services in the assumed evangelical manner. You know, two or three songs, sermon, offering, closing song and a benediction. The service usually lasted 45 minutes to an hour. This was easy worship, and it was certainly the case that it was designed to be easy to accommodate the desires of men. This is not to say that all mainline denominations have easy worship, but I would argue the majority do.
I am now serving in the CREC, which by and large is a denomination full of churches with full liturgy. Not just high liturgy, but liturgy with purpose, thus my moniker, full liturgy. My particular church had a robust liturgy upon my arrival and I have to say that worship in this form, covenant renewal, is taxing. Worship is hard.
So, two questions have come to my mind. Why is it that some churches want easy worship? And, why is worship hard?
To the first question, I believe that American Evangelical churches have made worship easy because they (myself included at one point) have a wrong view of worship. The Lord’s Day service is seen as a time for entertainment (what songs do I like) and a time for evangelism (rather than tell your neighbor the gospel, you invite him to church instead). If worship is about your tastes and making it palatable for unbelievers, then of course worship will be easy, and when worship is easy, God is forgotten because the Lord’s Day inevitable becomes man-centered. Let me draw this out a bit. Is singing the Psalms (which God commands us to do) easy or appealing to unbelievers? Is kneeling for confession of sin attractive? How about weekly communion with wine, will that draw the crowds? Well, of course not. Those things are hard, lets be rid of them.
To the second question, I believe worship is hard because man’s inclination is to rebel against God. This is true even for Christians because of our abiding sin, see Romans 7. Worship is hard because worship is a means of sanctification, we are being served by God and we are serving God. Here we learn to confess our sins, believe the gospel, hear the Word, communion with Christ, and sing the songs God has given the church. This is exercise for the body and soul.
Following these two points then, I would argue that churches ought to have hard worship and by this I mean full liturgy because the service is for Christians to grow into maturity, babes and adults alike. Now, if an unbeliever walks into the service and sees all these things happening, he will be saying to himself, “I don’t belong here. This is so strange.” And to this we should say, “Repent and be baptized and we will teach you.” If our worship is easy and meant to be invitational to someone who has no relationship to God aside from wrath, we are not helping anyone and cannot expect the blessing of God.
This reality has not come to me overnight and I have fallen down the liturgical stairwell hitting each step as I went. This should not be seen as an indictment (well, maybe a little one) to anyone who participates in what I have called “easy worship,” but I do hope that this little bit encourages more Christians to think about the purpose and meaning of worship.
More to come.