There are many things about modern evangelicalism for which I’m thankful. Churches in Big Evangelicalism taught me to read the Bible, to love God and love neighbor, to invest in the local church, and so much more. The Lord drew me to Himself inside modern evangelicalism and modern evangelicalism is the air in which I learned to breathe the Christian Faith.
Modern evangelicalism is strong on a number of things. It’s strong on advocacy for social issues (most of the time). It’s strong in its defense of the Bible. It’s strong in relating to the culture. Where it lacks that strength, though, is worship. That feels weird coming off my fingers; in a world of worship inhabited by Hillsong, Elevation, and varied and sundry other church-affiliated bands releasing different albums almost weekly, how could modern evangelicalism be weak on worship?
As corny as it sounds, this is probably one of those “quality-over-quantity” things. Especially as it manifests itself on Sunday mornings, the worship of modern evangelicalism seems to me to be generally lacking in substance. The congregation comes in, sits down with coffee in hand, and gets ready for the show. Sometimes this attitude toward worship cultivates an attitude which leads to this assessment of more “traditional” worship services: “It’s like a cardio workout. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up and then sit down, over and over and over again.”
It’s with this objection that I’m particularly concerned, mostly because it completely misses the point. I go to a church with a traditional worship service, and there certainly is a lot of standing and sitting. But the physical routine isn’t aimless. The body matters, and traditional liturgy affirms that. In fact, it thrusts the body right into the midst of the worship service. When my knees hit the cloth kneelers during the confession of sin, I’m acutely aware of my position before a Righteous Judge. When I stand with feet firmly planted to receive the benediction, I know that because I am joined to Christ, I can boldly approach the Throne of Grace.
Somewhere along the way, we gave up hymnals for projector screens and we traded confessions and catechisms for who knows what. Instead of proclaiming what we believe with the Church of all ages in the Great Creeds, we go home, Bible in hand, and try to diagnose “what God is saying to us.” Why is the Christian population so biblically illiterate in 2017? My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that our hearts are no longer shaped by rich hymns, our eyes don’t gloss the scriptural catechisms of our confessional forebears each week, and thus we fail to grasp the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
We find ourselves in a position in which folks in pews think Jesus is merely a wonderful moral teacher of sorts, or that they are for the most part decent people with no real sin problem, or that God exists only to give us things. Why is this? Because our liturgy doesn’t point us back to the Bible anymore. When our liturgy is no longer founded in Scripture, we tend toward gnosticism. When we let go of the Scriptural witness to the sacramental importance of material, to all the “sackcloth and ashes” examples of posture mattering, we let go, in a sense, of the richness of worship itself, and more importantly, we fail to recognize who we are in the sight of God—both as a sinner in ourselves, and as justified in Christ.