As debate over worship styles continue, and what has been dubbed the modern worship wars remain a heated issue, I would like to offer two pieces of advice from those who have gone before us. The first comes from the great reformer John Calvin and the second from C. S. Lewis.
In his commentary on the book of Malachi, Calvin condemns the priests as they mislead the nation of Israel in worship. He wrote,
The priests ought to have rejected all these, and to have closed up God’s temple, rather than to have received indiscriminately what God had prohibited. As then this indifference of the people was nothing but a profanation of divine worship, the priests ought to have firmly opposed it. But as they themselves were hungry, they thought it better to lay hold on everything around them– “What,” they said, “will become of us? for if we reject these sacrifices, however vicious they may be, they will offer nothing; and thus we shall starve, and there will be no advantage; and we shall be forced in this case to open and to close the temple, and to offer sacrifices at our own expense, and we are not equal to this burden.” Since then the priests spared the people for private gain, our Prophet justly reproves them, and says, ye offer polluted bread…. “If we irritate these men, they will deny that they have anything to offer; and thus the temple will be empty, and our own houses will be empty, it is then better to take coarse bread from them than nothing; we shall at least feed our families and servants with this bread, after having offered it to the Lord.” We hence see how the fault belonged to the priests, when the people offered polluted bread, and unapproved victims. (Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 487-88).
Calvin’s admonishment should be a warning to current worship leaders and pastors. Rather than securing the divine standard of worship, many responsible for worship have succumbed to the pressures of the congregation. This is not the careful discernment of the congregation’s needs. Rather, this is abiding to human desires and neglecting what God has identified as acceptable worship. In other words, what society wishes of worship is not necessarily what God has called worship, and we are to heed the latter if we seek to worship in spirit and truth.
The second piece of advice comes centuries later and from an Anglican voice. In his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, C. S. Lewis comments on the changing nature of Anglican liturgy in his day. He wrote,
It looks as if they [clergymen] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgments, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain–many give up churchgoing altogether–merely endure. (Letters to Malcolm, 4)
Lewis cautions the worship leader who confuses authentic worship for innovation, as if any amount of creativity or ingenuity could replace true worship and the gospel.
Though we will need more than Calvin and Lewis to develop an authentic form of worship for today’s postmodern age, we will do well to take heed of their advice in our discussions of worship in spirit and truth.