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Worship Wars and THE Worship War

9 June, 2008

This post is based on a helpful little chart we went through the other night at church.

The ‘worship wars’ have been raging for a while now, and unfortunately the gist of the argument often comes down to whether we should or sing anything written by anyone still alive, or only by people long dead. There are more serious and more important questions in these battles, to be sure, but it too often comes down to just such cultural preferences as this. The real danger in such preoccupations, however, is that in our worship wars we can lose sight of THE worship war, the battle of the ages which, though it was lost and has already been won, still rages until the end of the age. This is the battle over who worships whom, the battle between God and Satan, the battle lost by Adam and won by Christ.

Worship is one of the plot lines that unite Genesis with Revelation. Bigger than the biggest event, better than the slickest ‘spontaneity’, biblical worship is life-embracing, globally all-inclusive and the eternal role of the entire cosmos. It’s vital to the Bible’s story because it’s personally vital to God.

If we pick out the theme as it weaves through the major moments of the Bible, we can see how this works:

Creation in Genesis

  • Adam and Eve worship God by acknowledging him alone and doing only his will.
  • Worship pre-dates humanity’s creation — it was the response of the angelic ‘sons’ (Job 38:7).
  • All creation — ‘sun, moon and stars’ — was made to glorify God (Ps 148).

The Fall in Genesis

  • Adam and Eve choose whose will they are going to follow: the real worship war.
  • ‘First Adam’ loses out to Satan.
  • Humanity worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25).

Israel and God, Act 1

  • ‘Let my people go that they might worship me’, God says to Pharaoh.
  • Their purpose is for worship/service in the wilderness at the mountain (Sinai).
  • Their destination is the land where they will be united in worship at another mountain (Zion).

Israel and God, Act 2

  • The worship of God is totally corrupted by the worship of idols, even within the Temple.
  • The people suffer exile and God’s presence leaves the Temple.
  • Promises and prophecies describe ‘the day’ when Israel and the nations will worship on ‘God’s holy hill’ (cf. Is 2:1-5).

Jesus and his Church

  • Jesus brings his Father glory by doing his will and only his will.
  • The central temptation of Jesus (on another mountain, Matt 4:8-11) is over who worships whom. Satan loses out to ‘Last Adam’. The lost worship war is finally won.
  • Jesus becomes the King on the mountain, and the worship-leader who alone leads us into the presence of our Father.

In the End: Revelation

  • All God’s people, from all nations, worship him (cf. Rev 7, 9)
  • All creation worships him, and agrees that Jesus is Lord, to the Father’s glory.
  • The songs of heaven are worship songs to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, sung by all the inhabitants forever.
  1. 10 June, 2008 8:46 am

    Hi Brannan!

    The following is a quote from Professor Barry Gritters in his article “PUBLIC WORSHIP AND THE REFORMED FAITH” in his section THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE OF WORSHIP.

    “Reformed believers teach that our worship is to be just what God commands it to be – nothing more, nothing less. This is of utmost importance for us to understand in connection with Biblical, Reformed worship. God does not leave it up to us to determine the manner of our worship of God. God’s Word regulates us in how we must worship Him.

    This is the difference between the Lutheran and the Calvinistic branches of the Reformation. Followers of Luther, when reforming the extravagance of the Roman Catholic Church, held to the position that whatever was not explicitly forbidden in the Bible was permissible in church. For that reason, the Lutherans kept a good deal of Roman Catholic practices in their worship. Whether consciously taken or not, this is the position of most churches today. This is not Reformed!

    The Calvinists, on the other hand, held to what is called “The Regulative Principle of Worship.” That regulative principle says, “We worship God only as He has commanded us in His Word.” For that reason, the worship services of Reformed churches historically have been limited to prayer, singing, sacraments, preaching, and offerings.”

    Here is a link to that very helpful article –

    Although I certainly understand that there are great differences of opinion concerning this matter, I thought that this Regulative Principle should have a place at this discussion table.

    But, you may be pursuing something altogether different. Does the big picture of “THE Worship War” minimize the importance of this Regulative Principle? What point are you trying to make?

    – Bill

  2. creedorchaos permalink*
    11 June, 2008 1:38 am

    Hi Bill~

    This post isn’t really about the RPW, although I certainly affirm and endorse it, which I tried to imply in passing by saying, ‘There are more serious and more important questions in these battles, to be sure….’

    That being said, I think a lot of the ‘circumstances’ of corporate Christian worship too often get treated as ‘elements’ of worship. As an example: a church feels like they MUST meet in a certain kind of building or at a certain time in order to be doing things rightly. Closely related to this is the common confusion between the elements themselves and the carrying out of the elements; for many churches, a certain culturally comfortable WAY of singing, saying or singing the benediction, doing the scripture readings, etc., is treated functionally as the ONLY WAY of doing it faithfully.

    This confusion of circumstances with elements, and confusion of elements with their cultural settings is very problematic, esp. for the RPW. We’re so busy fighting over circumstances and culture that we often don’t notice many Reformed churches don’t even have all the elements in worship, or don’t understand them well.

    Finally, on another note, I still think you should be wary of the PRCA. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of good people there and a lot of good going on, but that doctrinally, biblically, and confessionally speaking, you’ll find the good teaching going on elsewhere, but without all the bad aspects that are peculiar to the PRs.

    Hope this clarifies things,

  3. 11 June, 2008 10:57 am

    Dear Brannan:

    Thank you for your explanation. I anticipated that you may be thinking along these lines, but I wanted to draw you out for a fuller explanation. As you state in your reply: “… I think a lot of the ‘circumstances’ of corporate Christian worship too often get treated as ‘elements’ of worship.” So, to put it in my words, I now better understand you to make the points that the dangers are that we either deny the liberty to vary the circumstances, or worse, we ignore the missing elements.

    Regarding the PRCA a/k/a Protestant Reformed Churches of America a/k/a simply “PRC”, I grew up in the CRC a/k/a Christian Reformed Churches in Muskegon, Michigan, having attended a CRC church and school. I have deep roots in the CRC. My grandfather was a medical missionary for the CRC, and my great-grandfather, William Heyns, was a Professor and President of Calvin Seminary (who wrote the book The Manual of Reformed Doctrine) at the time of the ouster of the three CRC ministers who formed the CRC. So, I have every motivation to be wary of the PRC.

    As I studied the issue of common grace with the initial motivation of defending my great-grandfather and the CRC which taught and promoted common grace, I concluded that Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions did not support the teaching of common grace. At the very least, common grace should not have been elevated in the 1920s to the high status of Reformed Confessions in the CRC and should not have been used to oust those three ministers who later formed the PRC. Today, as I compare The Banner, the publication of the CRC, with The Standard Bearer, the publication of the PRC, I conclude that the PRC are passionate about teaching and promoting Reformed doctrine, whereas the CRC seem more focused on expanding ecumenical ties and building a kingdom here on earth. I do not want to be too critical of the CRC, which has many great things going on, especially Calvin College, but I can’t help but compare the two denominations. As I stated, I grew up in the CRC with very deep roots to the CRC, so it hurts me to say anything critical of the CRC, but I can’t ignore what I have observed. I have studied the PRC and found nothing or little with which to be wary. Please explain what you mean by “the bad aspects that are peculiar to the PRs” either by another comment or by private e-mail. Thank you.

    I really appreciate the excellent job you all are doing at Creedorchaos, and I check out your web site daily and have included it as a link in my Reformed doctrine blog. Thank you so much again.

    Yours truly,

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