See Part One-The Worship Service Description HERE
It's important to state that my critique should not be viewed as an attack on NCCTK per se, but as a critique of what has become an accepted model (Saddleback) of worship that thousands of churches are trying to implement on some level in their own community.
My critique comes out of a genuine concern for the souls of those who I believe are being exposed to worship practices that are disobedient to the Word of God. I trust the reader will understand that such statements are birthed out of a genuine conviction of love for the church of Christ and the advancement of his truth.
Worship & Music :
Years ago, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones warned about using music to manipulate people's emotions. He called this emotional rape, when music is used to bring people into a state of control to manipulate the outcome. The problem with this, simply stated, is that it is not honest; it creates an artificial atmosphere because it has not been grounded in the truth. It appeals to a certain, what RL Dabney called, animal instinct in the person, having the kind of effect that drug use imposes upon the body as it brings people into an elevated state. When you come down, nothing lasting has really occurred; in fact, the more one hits a low, the higher one seeks to go with the next dose. The same can be true with music as it very much panders to our emotions, and emotions are often extremely misleading.
One of the striking features of the song book that God gave us in the Bible is that it presents different kinds of Psalms for worship--lamentation, imprecatory, messianic, praise, etc. I tried to imagine what might have happened the other night if we opened with Psalm 22:1-2,
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?Why are You so far from helping Me,And from the words of My groaning?O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;And in the night season, and am not silent.
God's people used to sing these laments in worship. The Psalms are honest about life, giving perspective about hardship, trials, afflictions, sufferings, etc. These are real experiences of people expressed in the psalms to raise our afflictions to the forefront, then to be transformed by praise. As I sat in the service, I heard about a variety of ministries NCCTK offers--divorce ministries, Haiti opportunities, etc. These ministries deal with the hard realities of life. But I wondered if anyone thought through the inconsistency of what was actually happening in worship. Nothing about the service depicted that these hard realities belong to "us" when we gather for worship. In other words, the service was the greatest mask or cover-up to everything that people face as soon as they leave the service.
Worship in this scenario often becomes a sort of tonic to avoid the realities of sin and suffering that people face in life. The lights, the music, the drums, the worship center, the stage, expresso bar, and the message all provided a temporary escape not just from the consequences of living in a fallen world, but also from the realities of the wounds within.
Everything advertised about these services is that they are inspiring, uplifting, and life-giving. In what way? Making the claim of being "life-giving" as NCCTK does, is something only attributed to Christ himself (1 Cor. 15:45), and such a claim demands that we ask by what method NCCTK thinks this life comes. The entertainment style service makes an assumption that all we need for our life struggle is just a good amount of encouragement. The applications of worship assume that our greatest problem is that we have been derailed from being all God really wants us to be. In other words, worship (especially the music) is being used to manipulate what God actually says is our real problem and real need. Instead we end up pandering to what we think people want, and when we do this, we never give them what they actually need. But what is the balm that truly heals? Does all the pomp and glitter really give us life? I will unpack this more in a later post.
We see this cover-up even stronger in the way praise songs are implemented. Take the song I referenced above that we opened with. "I stand in awe, I stand in awe, I stand in awe of you..." Why do I stand in awe? The endless repetition of these praise songs not only ignores Jesus warning of trying to manipulate God to hear us by our many words, but they leave us without a basis for offering praise. Think about it. The Bible presents praise as a response to the reception of some mighty act of deliverance the Lord has accomplished for us. Take for instance Psalm 103:1-5,
The basis for my praise comes, in this case, from God's wonderful forgiveness, healing, redemption, and provision. I don't work these realities up within me. It's never, "I just want to praise you, I just want to praise you", etc. The call to praise is always connected to an act of God's sovereign workings on behalf of his people at some point in redemptive history.Bless the LORD, O my soul;And all that is within me, bless His holy name!Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:Who forgives all your iniquities,Who heals all your diseases,Who redeems your life from destruction,Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,Who satisfies your mouth with good things,So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Thus, when a church begins worship with the first twenty minutes of praise music, all you have done is falsely elevate the people's emotions; there has been no place given to have the truth "as it is in Jesus" be our guiding light. Why do I say this? Because our singing is not a means of grace. Music is a response from us to the grace already given to us. This is so important, we are beginning with the wrong assumption that real uplifting worship elevates us to God first through music, instead of God graciously condescending to us in Word and Sacrament. This is wrong; this is backwards. Our praise is always in response to his nearness to us in the Word spoken.
For this reason, Protestants always believed worship is to be a dialogue between us and God. Our response flows from what he has declared through his servant in the written Word. We are called to separate these as two distinct aspects of worship. Notice the dialogical principle demonstrated below in a standard Protestant liturgy (what we do in worship):
Call to Worship (Scripture text)
God's Greeting (Scripture text)
Song of Praise
God's Will For Us in His Law (Scripture text)
Confession of Sin
(prayer / song)
Assurance of Pardon
Response of Gratitude:
Prayer (first part)
Tithes / Offerings
Song of Gratitude
The Word of God spoken (Preaching)
The Word of God displayed (Sacraments)
Song of Response
Doxology of Praise
Benediction (Scripture text)
God speaks in calling us to worship, we respond with prayer; he speaks in greeting us with a word of blessing, we respond with song; he speaks by instructing us in his will for us, we respond in confession and repentance; he speaks by assuring us of forgiveness, we respond in prayer and by giving our offerings; he speaks to us in Word and Sacrament, we respond with gratitude in song and he sends us out, not with a mere dismissal, but with his benediction as his pilgrims. Through and through, there is dialogue, and our responses are only appropriate to what the LORD has already conveyed to us in his Word through his appointed messenger. This is why the Lord constantly instructed his prophets to speak, "only what the Lord has commanded" (Ex. 7:2), as worship begins and ends with Word of God. The same is true for the pastor today.
Now consider the model of Saddleback, NCCTK et al:
Ready to Worship?
Praise Music -20-30 Minutes
Welcome by Praise Leader
Video #1--Men's Retreat
Video #2--Love Comedy on Valentines Day
Lots of Man-Made stories
Pastor has Imaginary Conversation with God
Word of God briefly read--topically driven message --->
Now who is absent here? Even the one element on the God-side was manipulated by the pastor as he imposed his topic on the text (will address this in the next critique). The Saddleback model claims to have a real worship experience in which we actually meet God. Does the above order of worship show this? An honest assessment of the service shows that Word and Sacrament, the primary means of grace, are not central. The Man-side is full with practices more appropriate to the theater than for what is appropriate before a Holy God. I had no sense that God's Word was the central driving motivation for worship. Their own liturgy excluded him!
As Calvin said, our hearts are idol factories, and because of this, as we create new idols to worship in place of the true God, we incessantly forget the basic principle that must accompany all true worship:"By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified (Lev. 10:3)." Nadab and Abihu were incinerated for profaning God's holiness. Does God change?
As I looked up on the stage, there was a Suzuki Samurai 4X4, awesome lights, cool camping equipment, with a bulletin calling us to go "Off-Roading with God". People came in and out from the coffee bar forming a care-free environment, people even refusing to remove their hats. If God is truly unchanging, and remains a consuming fire, there is no way I could agree that Suzuki Samurais, Going Off-Roading with God, Valentines Day Videos, Love Videos, Imaginary conversations with God, were honoring the command to worship God "acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28). Much of these things profaned his holiness. If anything, we were doing things that had an "appearance of wisdom in self-imposed (will) worship" (Col. 2:23).
More to come on Worship and Preaching