On worship and critique

I am a PCA pastor: ordained in a conservative denomination, happily so, and actually toward the right end of things even in the PCA. I subscribe to and love the regulative principle of worship: that we’re to worship God only as the Bible tells us, not any way we please. At the church I serve, where I usually plan worship, we sing a lot of hymns, read a lot of confessions, take the Lord’s Supper every week, and have 35-45 minute sermons.

I am not a fan of God-is-my-girlfriend songs, or repeating some phrase like a mantra for 15 minutes as though it will ensure something spiritual happens, or smoke machines, or skits, or clown communion, or even movie clips. (Some of those are worse than others.)

Without budging on any of that…

We have to be grateful that God accepts all our worship– flawed as it is by human sinfulness and theological error and misplaced priorities and wrong motives– he accepts all of it only because of Jesus. He is our true worship leader, the one who leads us into the presence of God, and the only reason we’re accepted there.

When we disagree on the particulars of worship, which we will, and when we offer critique of others, which we should at times, we need to remember the above. It could help keep us from talking past each other.

Two anecdotes:

1. My campus ministry was influenced by another ministry that places a big emphasis on constant prayer and frequent fasting. Since my time there I’ve come to disagree with some of their central theological beliefs, and I think there are some dangers and excesses in their approach. At the same time, you have to be thankful for a ministry teaching thousands of young people to be passionate about Jesus and serious about prayer and fasting.

2. One of my colleagues was meeting with a missionary from another group. When my colleague mentioned being Presbyterian, the other missionary said “That’s interesting. You don’t pray like a Presbyterian; you pray like us, like you have the Holy Spirit!” OK, so Presbyterians aren’t known for our jump-up-and-shout-Amen-ness. But we don’t have the Holy Spirit? Come on.

All of us who think about such things will have our own convictions and preferences about how we should worship God. There are some forms of worship that are less biblical than others, and some practices that are just wrong. We won’t agree on all these, and shouldn’t be afraid to debate them. But we need to acknowledge, to appreciate, the hearts and motives of others. We need to remember that even if we’re right on the merits, it doesn’t make our worship pleasing to God. Only Jesus does that.

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