I’ve shared these thoughts elsewhere in the past but I thought I’d post them here since I’ve all but forsaken my former blogs to contribute to the Outhouse. Who knows, someone other than Zrim might read it this time. I thought this would be a good follow-up to Zrim’s last post too.
Some have heard others in our congregation say that they would never dream of taking an unbelieving or un-Reformed neighbor to our worship services at Trinity URC because they would never understand what is going on in them. I guess some feel that we are not seeker-sensitive enough. In my opinion, our worship services could use some tweaking in the other direction to better follow Michael Horton’s prescription in A Better Way. At any rate, responding to the concern that our worship services aren’t outsider-friendly, our pastor has offered the following “football analogy.” I’m not sure if this is original, and I’ve added a few things of my own to it:
If you’ve never been to an American football game and don’t know the rules or how it’s played, should you expect to understand everything right away? Should everything going on down on the field, on the sidelines, and in the stadium be explained for your benefit? Should the PA announcer describe all the action in detail, tell you what role the linebacker plays, what those numbers they keep flipping over on the poles mean, why they stopped throwing the ball to kick it, or what the player did wrong with his hands to get the “holding” penalty? Should the coaches hold up signs detailing what will happen on the next play and why they’re going to do it that way? Not at all. If you’re new to football you won’t understand it right away, but if you keep going to games, keep studying the rules, and make an effort to understand why things happen when they happen, over time you’ll get it. Furthermore, if they were to start dumbing-down football for all first-timers, how many loyal fans would they alienate?”
It’s a crude analogy but I think it works. Should an unbeliever, or one who is not a Reformed believer, expect to understand everything that goes on in the Reformed worship service the first time he or she sits in the pew? Should the church change things so that the visitor will understand, not feel remotely out-of-place, and not think we’re all a bit strange? Not at all. Worship is for the Church. When we water things down and start speaking the language of the world in our worship, we risk losing our worshippers to the world. To borrow some of Horton’s thoughts from A Better Way, if an outsider complains about feeling out-of-place, we should tell them that our worship is not about making them feel comfortable; they “have to make an effort to understand it, to live in its world, and to breathe its air.” We should not be willing to risk losing the rest of our congregation for their comfort.
To quote more experts:
Of course, visitors to our churches should receive help in finding Joel in the Bible or knowing when to sit or stand. No one objects to this kind of sensitivity. But the world is predisposed to misunderstand the church. Christians cannot expect unbelievers to be comfortable in services of worship that are alien to the ways of the world. “User-friendly” or “seeker-sensitive” worship is not an option for the people of God. In fact, worship that demonstrates the separateness of the church is what Machen called “merciful unkindness” because it testifies to the world of the hope that is within us. If the world mocks us, so be it. True worship is for the church, not for the world.
Hart and Muether. With Reverence and Awe (Phillipsburg, N.J. P&R, 2002) p. 35
Later on in the same book:
The church that properly worships will be peculiar to the world. Its ways will seem odd and irrelevant, and its language will sound strange. In a word, God’s holy pilgrims will appear to be sectarians. This is because the church, saved by God in order to worship him, sees itself in light of God’s purposes, not the world’s expectations. God has elected us by his good pleasure, delivered us from the bondage of sin, and set us apart from the world, where, like the Israelites in exile, we are to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.
We not only risk losing our own people when we let the world and evangelicalism shape our worship, we also, as Dr. Clark has pointed out, disappoint people seeking true Reformed worship. People are coming to our Reformed churches expecting to hear us speaking the language of the Reformation in our worship because they listen to the White Horse Inn, read Modern Reformation, and have read Horton, Clark, Hart, Hyde and others on worship, and have left dismayed because we seem to be trying to speak the language of American evangelicalism, the very language they’ve grown tired of.
May the outsider find our worship peculiar, our ways odd, and our language strange when attending our services, but may he also confess that the Lord is truly among us. And may those seeking true Reformed worship feel right at home at our services, also confessing that the Lord is among us.