'Then again, "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers .., for the work of the ministry" (Ephesians chapter 4, verses 11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.'
"Not what I'm looking for in a church"
During my admittedly limited pastoral experience, something I have often heard from people as they contemplate moving on to a new church is that their current/old congregation just isn't what they are looking for in a church.
After pressing this innocuous enough sounding statement just a little bit further, one quickly discovers that this is often articulated as the more palatable way of saying "my current church doesn't entertain me enough."
This is usually related in some way to the worship of the church: the songs are too old, or too contemporary; the instruments are too loud, or not loud enough; the preacher doesn't use enough cultural analogies, or isn't as beguiling as the pastor whose podcast I download. All common enough excuses, yet all notably bereft of any biblical understanding of what the Church, and specifically what worship, is truly for.
The roles of the Church
If not to merely entertain us, or keep people busy for a couple of hours each Sunday morning, what is the purpose of the Church? Overall, I think God created the Church to perform His ministry and perpetuate His work.
We read that Christ instituted the Church in accordance with His mission to glorify the Father (John chapter 17, verse 4). So, the Church ultimately exists to glorify God. As reflected in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever—soli Deo Gloria.
It is within this overarching purpose of God being glorified above all, that theologian and author Millard Erickson suggests four main roles of the Church in his book Christian Theology (1985) (spoiler alert: entertaining the congregants is not one of them).
The four roles are, in no particular order: worship, edification, evangelism and social concern. While are all equally worth pressing into and exploring, the purpose of this present article is to take a closer look at worship.
Worship is an obvious way that the Church glorifies God. Psalm 105, verse 3 poetically describes worshipping and singing to God as being necessarily linked to glorifying His name.
The exhortation to worship God is replete throughout the Holy Scripture, but particularly (and unsurprisingly) in the Psalms. This book, which has historically being used specifically for the purposes of worship, instructs believers to glorify (Psalm 29, verse 2), exalt (Psalm 99, verse 5) and praise God (Psalm 150).
Outside of the Psalms, other inspiring (and, of course, inspired) examples of worship include doxologies, such as Romans chapter 11, verses 33-36. Climactically, in Revelation chapter 5, verses 13-14 we read:
"And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!' And the four living creatures said, 'Amen!' and the elders fell down and worshiped."
Now if that passage doesn't make you want to stop reading this and start praising the Almighty God, then I don't know what will.
It also appears that the early church participated in this practice of praising God often, perhaps even daily (Acts chapter 2, verses 46-47).
Prayer and preaching
Now despite what images the word 'worship' may conjure in your head, worship can involve much more than simply music and singing.
In Erickson's explanation at least, another aspect of worship is preaching God's Word. This continues the Jewish practice of reading and expounding Scripture seen in Luke chapter 4, verses 16-27.
In early Christian worship, Scripture was likewise read (Colossians chapter 4, verse 16) and expounded (Acts chapter 2, verse 42). Luminary theologian John Calvin, would even add that a mark of the true church is the faithful preaching of God's Word.
Finally, prayer is essential. Jesus quoted Isaiah to insist that His house be one of prayer (Matthew chapter 21, verse 13). Earlier, in His famous example and explanation of how we should pray, Jesus commands believers to start pray by glorifying or hallowing God's name (Matthew chapter 6, verse 9).
Theological or anthropological?
So we see that worship is clearly a key function of the Church. What we do not see however, is any real human-oriented elements to worship. Not only is worship an integral part of the Church, but it is something that appears to nearly exclusively focus on God and His glory.
I think a main reason people are becoming church vagabonds, wandering from congregation to congregation in search of the ever-elusive 'perfect worship', is because we are losing the God-centredness of worship and replacing it with a distinctly human-centredness.
To put it another way, we have taken worship from being theological to being anthropological. Rather than asking and focussing on what would glorify and please the sovereign and almighty God, we are perhaps a little too concerned with studying and incorporating what will entertain, please, attract and keep people.
Again, this extends beyond just the music that people like to listen to. It certainly includes preaching. Rather than what is entertaining and resonates well with people, Scripture shows that preaching is primarily to involve reading and faithfully expounding what God has revealed to us through His Word.
A modest suggestion
To conclude, I am all too aware that this is a very meagre attempt to deal with the role of worship. There are certainly much more in depth and well thought out resources out there on this subject.
Secondly, I know there is still major debate raging about the appropriate style of worship: whether we should be exclusive psalmody, exclusive contemporary, or where in between the extremes we should place ourselves.
Yet overall, the point of this article is not to deal too heavily with such things. Instead, I am merely attempting to make the modest suggestion that our first thoughts when it comes to worship should be thoroughly God-oriented.
Rather than looking to what entertains us the most, we should be consistently seeking to please and glorify He who is deserving of all praise, glory and honour. He who will one day be worshipped by every living creature should take priority in our theology of worship. So whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 31).
Haydn Lea is an associate Pastor in Queensland, and is currently studying his Master of Arts (Theology). He has been a member of the Royal Australian Air Force since 2007, and is now training to be an Air Force Chaplain. He is married to Shamsa Lea, and loves distance running and studying Theology.
Haydn Lea's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/haydn-lea.html