Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Vision (4/7/11): Worship Is Not Entertainment

In John Owen’s book Spiritual Mindedness, the Puritan Pastor discusses the differences between the ways the regenerate (saved) and the unregenerate (unsaved) approach the worship of God. Owen observes that “the regenerate heart delights to meet with God though Christ in every duty of religious worship” while the unregenerate “is only concerned with the outward observance of the ceremony of religious worship, appreciating nothing of its spiritual significance.”

Owen then cites five ways by which the unsaved might even seem to “delight” in worship:

1. They might be attracted to the outward things of religious worship and find it entertaining.

2. They might think that by attending worship they can atone for their sins and pacify their consciences.

3. They might believe that God will accept them for the good works they have done.

4. They might think that attending worship will give them a good name and reputation in the eyes of the world.

5. They might attend worship merely because they are superstitious.

In this discussion, Owen notes that the desire of the unregenerate to be entertained (see #1 above) in worship was one reason that worship became compromised. He observes:

This was the reason why the Christian church fell into apostasy. Seeking to keep up the appearances of godliness and love of spiritual things, men introduced worldly, fleshly attractions into evangelical worship. Instead of worship being spiritual and according to truth, it became outwardly attractive to the unregenerate person and inevitably grew more and more pompous and ceremonial.

If all the outward trappings were stripped away, leaving only that which was spiritual and true, the unregenerate would have nothing to attract them to religious worship and instead of delighting in it, they would find it boring and something only to be endured rather than to be enjoyed. But this would be of great advantage to the spiritual mind, which finds all outward trappings of worship invented by men a distraction rather than a help (p. 167).

Years before Willow Creek and the “seeker sensitive” movement ever appeared on the stage (pun intended), Owen was offering a cogent critique of the error of suiting worship to the tastes and preferences of the unsaved. Worship is an activity for the saints. When we cater worship to the needs of the unsaved, the inevitable result is compromise and the distractions of “outward trappings.”

Could it be that all the so-called “worship wars” (including battles over “traditional” and “contemporary” music) that plague the contemporary evangelical church are the result of surrender to the preferences of the unsaved? The saints will be satisfied with worship in simplicity and purity. Let us be more concerned in our worship with offering to the Lord what he demands rather than what men prefer.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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