FEBRUARY 9, 2020 BY JONATHAN AIGNER
I think it’s a legitimate question.
I should probably included a disclaimer here.
If you’re not already concerned with bad worship in the church, or if you’re blissfully unaware that such a thing exists, you may not like this post. You should read it anyway, because you need to know. It may very well make you angry. I’m cool with that, of course, but I just thought you should know.
I get comments, here and on Facebook, bemoaning how church, specifically their church, has changed. Liturgy is gone. Reverence is gone. Prayers prayed by the faithful over the centuries are replaced by jesusy ad libs. Drywall has cut off the organ pipes, and the house cover band rules the day.
Yet they remain. Dissatisfied, silenced, marginalized. Assaulted by “worship” that looks more like a rock concert with than anything to do with the sacred. Deprived of ritual and rite, sacrament and Scripture.
And still, they remain.
I have to say first, I am no fan of the church shopping and hopping mindset that many practice. Liturgical community can only be developed if you are committed to it.
But few, if any, Christians I know would compel someone to stay in a church body that required them to compromise their personal belief on the core tenets of Christianity.
Why is it any different with worship?
Some of you stay because you’ve been told the changes to worship are necessary steps to bring people to Jesus. That’s a lie.
It may be a lie that is earnestly believed, but earnestness does not right the untruth. Corporate Christian worship is not a hook for a holy bait-and-switch. Trying to sell people on the gospel by giving them a good show is like trying to lose weight on a fast-food diet. It may sell a product, but it won’t give them what they need to sustain full and abundant life in service of Christ crucified.
Some of you stay because you think it’s only about preference. That’s another lie.
When it comes to worship in the church, nothing is merely about preference, but meaning. Everything we do in liturgy carries meaning. Language choices carry meaning. Music itself carries meaning. Attire carries meaning. Architecture even carries meaning.
Some of you stay because you think it will keep the young people in church. Nope, another lie.
Some of them might stay, sure, but you’ll have sold them short. What good will that do?
Some of you stay because you’ve been shamed into submission with these lies.
You may have been insulted, People of God, be free. Pop worship is a toxic, insidious force, and it may have deluded your clergy, your Vestry, your Session, your diaconate, your committees, and your richest contributors. But you don’t have to let it take you with it. Be free.
Or some of you might stay because it’s the only kind of “worship” you’ve ever known.
Maybe your church’s hook is sentimentality, not for the historic Christian liturgy, but for those good ol’ songs your momma used to sing. Maybe it’s holding on to some sanitized 1950s liturgical parody. Maybe it exists in some delusional, derivative mainline Protestant purgatory, presenting airs of liturgy while praying to plants or replacing Christ’s gospel with some impotent generic positivity. Maybe what’s supposed to be worship is actually some kind of quasi-holy “all-request hour,” where you get to eat a hymn sandwich and have a good ol’ time. Friends, sentimentality is one of the most deadly of all idols. You’re starting to see this, though your friends don’t. You’re probably not wrong. Follow that instinct.
The most difficult reason some of you stay is because you’ve spent your entire life in that church.
It’s where your loved ones have been married, buried, baptized, confirmed. All your friends and family still go there, and they’ve been liturgically desensitized themselves. I don’t say this lightly. You’re not wrong for thinking about leaving. You need what Christ offers in the liturgy more than anything.
It might not be time to go right now. I get that. There might still be hope. Ultimately, you have to follow your own conscience.
But corporate worship is not a minor thing. It’s not peripheral. It’s not adiaphoristic. It is of the utmost importance in the life of the believer. And if you’re someplace that doesn’t care about worshiping truly, reverently, rigorously, it is of grave consequence in your life, and it is disastrous to the world you’re called to serve. Bad worship begets bad belief, and bad belief begets an unhealthy church. There’s no way around that. The church has long proclaimed this truth when it says “lex orandi, lex credendi.”
If this is your church, it might be time to go.
And if you go, please go find a place that does worship well. Find a place that rejects sentimentality and nostalgia; one where rigorous liturgy is practiced because life depends on it. Find a place that doesn’t attempt to manipulate people with a fun experience. Where the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. Find a place that doesn’t dumb down as a strategy for reaching out. Find a place that doesn’t celebrate liturgical novelty just to keep people on their toes. Find one that understands the necessity of ritual and symbol in the life of the Christian faith.
Don’t look for a perfect church. No such thing exists this side of the renewed earth. But find a faithful church.
Seriously, friends. If you’re like one of those people who reaches out to me, deeply grieved by the state of worship in the church, you can go. There are churches out there where reverent liturgy is faithfully practiced. You might need to drive a little further. You might have to wade into unfamiliar denominational waters. You may need to worship with people who don’t look like you.
But, come on, if you feel it so strongly, don’t hesitate.
And if you go without anyone else’s blessing, please know that you have mine.
Don’t pad those “church growth” statistics. But more than that, don’t deprive yourself of a deep liturgical, sacramental life. You might not change the way your church is heading, but it will change your life. And if enough of you do it, it might just change the Church.
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