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Sunday, January 10, 2016


In a Christianity Today article they tell us the "worship wars" are waning. You know, all that disagreement about choirs or praise bands, bulletins or projection equipment, drums or organs. All that silly traditional stuff is on its way out. They mentioned that, while many churches held two services -- one for the "traditional" and the other for the "contemporary" -- that is on its way out, too. You get the new version or nothing. The trend, it seems, is toward more informality and more alignment with the popular culture's music and methods. Also noted, "Increasingly informal worship is part of a movement away from belief and doctrine." (And isn't it strange that the larger the church, the less each member gives?)

Well, I'm not wading into the "worship wars" here. It was something else that struck me, one thing I noticed from the article. "Applause is up 10%." The dictionary defines "applause" as "hand clapping as a demonstration of approval, appreciation, acclamation, or the like." Synonyms include "acclaim" and "praise". So that's "applause". You beat your hands together repeatedly to show approval or praise. And I'm wondering about that ... in church.

Applause in normal use is the expression of approval or praise for someone's performance. They did a good job; you applaud. They said something you liked; you applaud. They had a magnificent performance; you stand and beat your hands together for some time. All well and good. But how does that fit in church? To answer that, the question would need to be "What are you approving?" I've been in a service where someone is baptized, for instance, and when they come out of the water there might be applause. That would say, "I approve of your choice to obey, your opting to identify yourself with Christ's death and resurrection." I can see that. We are commanded to "encourage one another and build one another up" (1 Thess 5:11). But, of course, that is not likely the applause the CT article is referring to. No, that would more likely be applause for the musicians and singers. A special piece performed, a solo sung, that kind of thing. Does that fall under the "encourage one another" command? Maybe. Alas, I'm thinking that it does not.

In any performance there are three basic components. There is the director, the performer, and the audience. The director indicates what happens when -- coordinates things -- while the performers do the performance for the audience. Simple stuff. But in church who occupies those positions? In a Lady Gaga concert, the audience is clear and the performer is clear. And when the audience applauds, it applauds the performer, Lady Gaga. I believe that we've applied the same standard in church today so that the praise band or other performers are the ones on the stage and the audience is the congregation. Except, that misses entirely the purpose of a gathering of believers for worship. In church, then, the actual arrangement of roles should go something more like this. Begin with the audience. Who is the audience in worship? Well, it's not the congregation. It's God. Oh, now, suddenly everything shifts, doesn't it? So if God is the audience, who is the performer and who is the director? If God is the audience, the performer becomes the congregation and the director becomes those who are leading the performance. You can see that this is a shift in perspective from the world's view. And in the case of a concert, for instance, there's nothing wrong with expressing approval for a good performance. But if God is the audience in a church service, then it would just seem really strange for the performers to applaud the directors, wouldn't it?

Now, mind you, I'm not getting my knickers in a twist over applause in church. They do it. I don't. No big deal. What concerns me is not that people applaud for a good performance on the stage at church. What concerns me is that instead of a perspective of focusing our worship on God, we've shifted our attention to performers we like on stage. That is, there is a fundamental shift of focus in churches today of which applause for performers is only a symptom. And when you get down to it, so is all the rest. Choirs are out and bands are in because we like the bands better -- we, the audience. Bulletins are out and modern displays are in because we like the modern stuff better -- we, the audience. Organs are out and drums and electric guitars are in because we like those better -- we, the audience. Pleasing the audience is what's important, and that audience is not God. Applause, organs, and video displays aside, that is my real concern. Have we so merged our worship approach with the world's "entertain me" perspective that God and the truth are no longer our primary concern? The polls suggest that is a real possibility.


Josh said...

A couple things. Couldn't applause be another form of worship. We can worship with dance, and singing, why not applauding what God is doing in our presence? My other point is organs, bulletins, and choirs are all parts of worship that were new to the Church when they became popular. Keeping this in mind, it seems that worship has always been catered to the time. Why is that bad? Can't we take the music and presentations trends of the time and turn them towards Christ? Just some thoughts.

Stan said...

First, let me point out just for clarity that I am not getting my knickers in a twist over applause itself. My concern is the attitude, the motivation, the thinking involved.

Having said that, I have been in church services where the leader says something like, "Let's give God a round of applause." That would be a form of worship, a showing of approval and laud to the One who most deserves it.

Nor am I upset about the passing of bulletins or organs. I do not consider them sacred and am not confused as some are by the concept of "traditional" as if "tradition" began at the printing press or the invention of the organ. Again, the concern is not the particulars, but the perceptions that are driving the changes. "To be more like the world" is, in my view, a bad option. "To compete with the world" isn't any better. "Because people like it" seems like a superficial motivation. "Because we can more clearly express God's truth" would be fine ... except I've never heard that suggested as a reason for the syncretism going on these days.

Bob said...

form of worship... interesting words. when we use this opening line, what ideas are we assuming? that true worship happens in front of the congregation, with music, and everyone sings and claps. if the point of the exercise is to worship God and Glorify Him. then what does music have to do with it? yes i understand that music is a form of expression, but that is such an insignificant thing when compared to what true worship actually is. How did Jesus worship God? did he not give his whole life as a sacrifice? true worship is about giving over to Christ our whole life, thus counting Him more worthy than any other thing. i love music and i love to play my guitar, but i know that at the end of the day the only real expression of worship occurs when i trust and obey.

Stan said...

While I absolutely agree that too many mistake "that singing time at the first part of the church service" as "the worship service" followed by ... you know ... everything else (the sermon, the day, the week, life), I do think "form of worship" could be a reference to "one form that worship takes". For me, worship takes the form of sacrificing self and singing songs and listening to sermons and obeying Christ and praying and loving God and ... well, you get the idea. One worship; many forms.

Alec said...


You are on to something here. And the something is the attitude. This is a profound cultural shift, perhaps even more unyielding and absolutist than the "generation gap" forced upon American society in the 1960's.

The liturgical shifts - changes in worship - are based on a destruction of what used to be called "reverence". Reverence is not a feeling generated by music or getting into the mood. It's an attitude of submission to God with mind and emotions intact.

The (disruptive) applause in the churches I've seen is not "giving God a round".

No doubt some will choose to hear what I'm saying through their own filters. Very well. But there is a war going on in the protestant churches. And the winners in these "worship wars" are not showing a very Christian spirit. CT got it right. Take or leave it, Bub. And we'd like you to leave.


Stan said...

I asked the question some time ago about how we dress to go to church. Same concept as this one. It's not about applause or music or how we dress. It's about the mindset, the attitude. We routinely dress appropriate to the occasion in our lives, but apparently spending time intentionally in God's presence with God's people focusing on God is not an occasion deserving of anything other than comfortable shorts and t-shirt or whatever. I don't care about what is worn to church. What concerns me is this whole "we're going along with whatever we feel and whatever makes us happy" without any apparent attention being paid to the reason, God Himself.

Admittedly, I've always harbored (without fleshing out or establishing as principle) the question of the Regulative Principle of Worship. But at the very least I think God deserves more of our attention and worship than it seems we're willing to give Him ... in those times we set aside for worship.

Richard Ferguson said...

There are two significant flaws here.

The first one is that the analogy itself is incorrect. The purpose of gathering together to worship is not to perform for God in any way; the gathering together is explicitly for the believers' benefit, not the Lord's. Yes, we should be praising Him and focusing on Him, but while He is the top priority, He is not the ONLY priority.

But let's assume that the analogy is appropriate and that it is a performance. You are still incorrect in assuming that applause is inappropriate. I have seen many performances where the performers applaud for the director, and almost as many performances where the participants applaud each other - it would be bad for if they didn't. At many conferences, they even have directors applaud for the performers.

Either way, applause for someone performing special music is appropriate.

Stan said...

"Either way, applause for someone performing special music is appropriate."

As I've said, I'm not getting my knickers in a twist over this, but I cannot imagine how "applause for the musician" equates to focus on God. Nor can I figure out how a focus away from God equates to worship. (And, by the way, I've been to conferences where they specifically requested that no applause be given for special music. One said, "Applause is applying laud, and we wish to apply laud only to Christ.")

The purpose of church, by the way, is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ", but I was talking about worship, not church.

Alec said...


It's interesting to me that your blog is called "Ninja Killfest". How do you reconcile this to your Christian faith? The question is a serious one and related to this subject, which is the issue of our pleasing God.

For worship to God is something that we are commanded to do. And, without branching off too far into how people throughout church history have understood this - though I would highly recommend that study - the basic of all is reverence. We can understand reverence by studying how the first Christians - including Abel, Abraham, and the Jews - worshipped.

I'm not advocating the regulative principle - though I'm not speaking against it either. But we know from the Scriptures that God hates certain forms of worship. Those are spelled out in the Bible. We can get further details from historical accounts.

The fact that Hillsong Church (just for one contemporary example) resembles very closely ancient pagan worship festivals should be a fearsome warning to all of us.

But maybe I'm all wrong. I'd rather err on the side of caution than turn out to be one of those 5 virgins without the oil, or those knocking on the closed door in Matthew 7.

And I'm not a legalist, either. We're saved only by faith.


Bob said...

the current state of worship had to come from some idea. maybe it was, hey lets get more contemporary. or maybe it was to be more relevant to today's age group. some may say that it was because the old method was just boring. what ever the reason, we now find ourselves in a state where the very concept of worship is being debated. my view is that at some point, we became dissatisfied, so we recreated the concept to satiate our desires.
is worship what ever we make it? or is there a form that God has decreed to be HOLY?
what does the father want? and what about those cool fog machines...

Stan said...

Bob, it has been done. One pastor known for theatrics had himself rigged with a mechanism so that when he finished his sermon on the resurrection he ascended into the "clouds". But, look, if getting numbers in is really the point, why not some Sunday morning female mud wrestlers or something? Only to make your point. I would guess that everyone would concur that there is unacceptable practices in worship and we don't seem to bother looking at what is or is not acceptable.

Bob said...

so what became of the concept of strange fire? i am sure that is lost to most.
except Arron's sons of course. i love the image that Isaiah presents when the LORD's train filled the temple, wow. funny how that image causes us to shut our mouths and marvels at His Glory..

Stan said...

Yes, strange fire. You see, they didn't seem to ask themselves, "Is this something that God wants as an act of worship?" We appear to be in the same mindset. That didn't work out too well for them.

Richard Ferguson said...


I have two blogs. One of them is named "Richard's Ninja Killfest", and if you did anything but look at the name, you would see that there is nothing there. That name was referring to a joke I made a long time ago, and people who know me know the joke. You don't know me, so you don't know the joke. I don't know you, so I don't wish to explain it to you.

As for the Regulative Principal, I find that the beginning paragraphs of this post from <a href=">The Cripplegate</a> sums it up good my feelings.

Alec said...

Fair enough, Richard. Perhaps it's none of my business. You are right, you do not know me, nor owe me any explanation.

Apologies for being so direct. Wish we all were having these discussions face to face in person.