The continual emphasis on what is cool, weird, fun, uncomfortable, etc. feels like nothing more than another worn-out set of rags the Church has tried desperately to dress itself in. The goal appears to be social/cultural relevance … the resultant effect is a vacuous excuse for worship. A return to reverent worship is long overdue. Yet even reverence itself can be contrived and/or inauthentic. When the impetus for reverence is little more than the appearance of being reverent, then the resultant effect may be less exciting or stimulating to the senses only due to a pervasive dearth of spiritual life among the worshipers.
Ultimately, the basis for worship – its very essence – is missing. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, ESV) Jesus made this pronouncement in conversation with someone who was concerned and confused about where and how worship was to be rightly done. As was always His way, He stripped away the symptoms and got to the root of issue. The unregenerate soul has not been given the Spirit of God (John 3:5-8, Rom 5:1-5) and can do little more than make a pretense of worship.
In one of Jesus harshest criticisms of the Jewish religious leaders, he quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt 15:8–9). When heart of the worshiper is far from God, going through the motions of worship is nothing more than vanity! When the teaching, instruction, and admonition being delivered in word and in song is full of human wisdom or when Truth is tainted or perverted, going through the motions of worship is nothing more than vanity! Just because the Truth is not welcome culturally or socially or if it is supposedly not seeker-friendly … none of these serve as excuses for not teaching and preaching the whole Truth. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim 4:3-4). The Church ignores these precepts at its own peril.
The format of worship – whether traditional, contemporary, or blended (however one wishes to define those concepts) – is not terribly germane to its authenticity or efficacy. The arguments and opinions abound – indeed, every human of every generation can find things they prefer or dislike about music, speaking styles, etc. Yet substituting form and function for genuine worship will never honor God. For example, for the worship leader to be continually coercing congregants to stand, sit, clap, cheer, or do something weird for a change tends to indicate the need for human intervention into what should be a spiritually-driven experience. If congregants seem unable or unwilling to worship freely, it’s highly probably that the Spirit of the Lord is absent or grieved or quenched. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17)
So what are we to do to realize the healthy growth of the Church, the Body of Christ? The model given to us in Scripture is really quite clear and consistent. Dr. Luke describes for us exactly what happened in the first century. “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31) Living continually and prayerfully in the fear and reverence of the Lord and in the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit is the prescription. We dare not waste our time on anything less. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15–16)