If you read this blog with any regularity at all, or even know me personally, you are probably aware that I am a bit of a critic of what I call the Church Industrial Complex (more on that here and here and here and here) and I advocate returning to more catholic forms of the faith. A lot of times, when I discuss these ideas with those who would call themselves "mainline Evangelicals" (what that means these days is beyond me), they usually ask me what is wrong about different aspects I identify with the Church Industrial Complex (concert-like rock music, fancy light shows, casual atmosphere, mood lighting, celebrity pastors, etc.). Generally, they want some biblical evidence--as if a verse exists in the Bible that says "Thou shalt not worship with smoke machines." It is true, I will admit that I have no explicit Scriptural argument (although implicitly, I could use the liturgical nature of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Early Church and their participation and adaptaion of Jewish liturgies). So the question is what do I base my critique on?
I should go ahead and make a few framework remarks. First of all, by asking the question where in the Bible a particular kind of worship is condemned, the asker is implying if it's not forbidden in the Bible, it is necessarily permissable or even good (modern Christians do enjoy revelling in their freedom...sometimes a bit too much--a symptom of a larger problem I think). Check out Emery's album cover which says "We do what we want" written on the cover of what I would assume is a Bible as a way of saying this.
Second, I have adopted a 3-tiered theological paradigm which comes from the Anglican church: Scripture, tradition, and logic. I believe I have previously laid a foundation for tradition in my critiques of the Church Industrial Complex so today I want to mainly focus on logical arguments (which are based on some Scripture).
In Phil. 4.8 (NASB), St. Paul states, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."
Elsewhere, the Apostle tells us, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10.23).
In the context of this discussion, what we can learn from these verses is some things are of more vlue to us as Christians than others. It isn't that playing board games with my friends is bad but is it wise or edible for us to only play them at the expense of doing something more valuable like a Bible study? No, it's definitely not! It's okay to say no to one thing in favor of something better (good is the enemy of the best is an appropriate cliche here).
So how does all this apply to worship forms--afer all, people look at outward appearances but God looks at the heart? To preface, there is no form of worship that makes you better or more holy. Worship is only effective when you pour yourself into it and commit self-sacrifice so that you can die to yourself and live in Christ (Rom. 6.5). However, it is true that certain kinds of worship can be more helpful, more beneficial, more edible, wiser than others.
Shane Hipps, former pastor at Mars Hill Community Church, wrote a fantastic book called Flickering Pixels. In it, he points out: "..'the medium is the message'...whenever our methods change, the message automatically changes along with them. You can't change methods without changing your message--they're inseparable" (25).
This made me think of a passage I recently read in Pastoral Ministry (edited by John MacArthur) in a chapter by Richard L. Mayhue:
"Having arrived at the proverbial 'fork in the road,' evangelicals must decide between two alternatives. The first is an approach to ministry that is characteristically, but not necessarily exclusive, need-based, man-centered, consumer-driven, and culturally defined...The second option feautres a redemptively centered, God-focused biblically defined, and scripturally prioritized ministry...If we carry the consumer paradigm to its logical conclusion, it will be brilliantly consistent with prevailing contemporary theories but sadly unscriptural" (4, 10).
Do I say all this to look down on churches and people who make up the Church Industrial Complex? Absolutely not.
I say these things hopefully to make people think by asking them: Is this the wisest way to worship?