“Contrived Worship”

By John McCort

Recently I had an opportunity to worship with a group of Christians who employed some rather unorthodox methods of worship. During one of the Bible classes we all held hands during a prayer and all of the males engaged in what was called a chain prayer. The Bible class was not called a Bible class but a “sharing period,” where we all gathered in close together to make the conversations more intimate. This group often dims the lights during prayer, special songs, and the Lord’s Supper. To say the least the experience was rather unique.

After the worship period, I had some ambivalent feelings about the whole session. I could not figure out whether I was bothered by the worship period because the methods of worship were unfamiliar to me or whether they were worshiping unscripturally. Both my wife and I felt very hollow after the worship period. Something was missing that we could not quite put our finger on. We both finally concluded that nothing unscriptural had been practiced but that there was something strangely contrived about the whole session.

I keep wondering why those brethren have felt the need to radically depart from normal channels of worship. What spirituality can dimming the lights add to the worship of the Christian? What can holding hands during a prayer add to the fellowship and communion we all have in Christ Jesus? What can an informal Bible study period and worship assembly add to the worship of the Christian? Dimming the lights and other external stimuli are nothing more than a shallow, external attempt to infuse emotion, excitement, and intimacy into worship. Spirituality in worship should not depend on the externals. If we must have these externals to worship properly, then something is radically wrong with my spirituality to begin with. Some of these brethren feel like they are tuned in on a special spiritual wave-length because they have these special effects in worship: They look upon traditional channels of worship as being stale, structured, and basically dull. When we begin to have that attitude we need to do some basic realigning in our thinking.

I am not condemning these people nor am I trying to judge their motives. I am not saying that their worship was unscriptural. I am just saying that there was smoke and where there is smoke there is fire. Along with their unorthodox methods of worship, I heard some familiar Ketchersidian catch phrases such as, “We need to emphasize Jesus the man rather than the plan.” Most of them were contemptuous of the battles that have been fought over the grace-fellowship issue the last few years. Most of them dressed very casually. There seemed to be such a casual attitude toward the worship that it, almost bordered on irreverence. I believe in a relaxed atmosphere in our worship but I also believe in reverence and dignity.

We need to be tolerant of unorthodox methods of worship as long as they are scriptural. We cannot condemn a things just because we have not ever done it that way before. But neither should we introduce unorthodox modes of worship just for the sake of being different or to give the illusion of being an independent thinker.

Truth Magazine XXI: 45, pp. 716-717
November 17, 1977