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Worship to God involves the lesser -- man -- seeking to praise and reverence the greater -- God. Our worship, therefore, is not about what we like, but about what God has revealed that pleases Him. Thus, worship presented according to man's dictates is "vain" (Mk. 7:7; 1 Cor. 4:6).
In spite of the above, "contemporary worship," which involves changing the worship of the church to suit man's more modern, or contemporary, tastes, abounds. The champion of this approach is the Community Church, which polls a community to see what they want in a church and its worship and then implements it so as to draw the masses. This, of course, creates issues. First, when it comes to catering to modern man's tastes, the Bible will always lose out! Second, such an approach calls into question the ability of an all-powerful, all-knowing God to reveal a meaningful form of worship that transcends time and culture. That, we cannot accept (Jude 3)! These facts, however, have not stopped many institutional "churches of Christ" from implementing wholesale changes to their worship in order to achieve a more "contemporary worship experience." It is my responsibility to address some of these "changes" in light of the Scripture.
Holy Entertainment: -- One such "contemporary worship" approach among institutional churches of Christ is termed "holy entertainment." This approach says that since entertainment means to "divert the mind and to cause to be pleasurable," and churches should want to divert people's minds from the world and cause them to enjoy it, entertaining people in worship is acceptable to God. The problem with this reasoning is that although the worship God has revealed should "divert the mind" from the world and even be enjoyable, that in no way justifies "entertaining the worshiper" through various acts not authorized by God's Word (Rev. 22: 18,19; 1 Cor. 4:6). Scripture prescribes what God desires in worship (i.e. singing, praying, giving, preaching, and partaking of the Lord's Supper), and nothing more is authorized no matter what the purpose may be.
Worship Teams: -- According to the Manhattan Church of Christ's website, a "worship team," or group that includes both men and women, has the purpose of "...providing both spiritual and technical leadership" in the assembly (www.manhattanchurch. org). In addition to this, a "team" is said to "complete the circle of worship," which refers to "leading worship in different personal styles" that in turn "gives permission to all to worship as they are most comfortable" (ibid.).
Although some may argue that God has said little about "how" or "how many" are to lead our worship assemblies, "worship teams" have serious biblical problems. First, God has made it clear that women are restricted from leading the assemblies (1 Cor. 14:34). Second, the idea that leading the worship in different "styles" actually "gives permission to all to worship as they are most comfortable" makes worship a matter of pleasing man and not God! As we have already pointed out, this approach completely violates the purpose of worship. A denominationalist characterized this form of "worship" well be stating, "It is inherently narcissistic, because it is worship the way I want it, in ways that please me ...In this sort of worship, the congregation has usurped the role of audience...In effect, the congregation is worshiping itself!" (www.kencollins.com).
Raising Hands And Clapping: -- Although these actions are simply carry-overs from Pentecostalism, many institutional churches now practice clapping and raising their hands during preaching, prayer and song. In defense of clapping, many cite Psa. 47:1, which declares, "Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!" The problem with this, and all other passages that mention clapping, is that they involve worship during Old Testament times. Therefore, they provide no authority for our worship under the New Testament of Christ, which is our law today (Gal. 3:19,23-25; Eph. 2:14,15). Also, clapping today is understood to be one's approval for a "performance," which has no place in our worship.
For "raising of hands" in worship, most cite 1 Tim. 2:8. Here men are exhorted to "pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands." In response to this let me say that "literally" there is no such thing as "holy hands." This passage is using the phrase figuratively to refer to the "holy life" one must live when praying to God. Also, the passage speaks only of "men" lifting up hands and only in "prayer." There is no authority for raising hands during singing or preaching.
Conclusion: -- Many other innovations, which we have no space to address, are making their way into the worship of institutional churches. Yet, it is my hope that these will suffice to warn us that when a "thus says the Lord" approach is abandoned in our service to God, many and varying innovations will follow. Let us, therefore, hold fast to the pattern of worship God has revealed!
By Rodney Pitts, in Biblical Insights, Vol. 6, No. 7, July 2006.
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