Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Let's call it what it is - "Sectarian worship" - Part 3

So far in this series, we’ve detailed the sectarian origin of the phenomenon also known as “contemporary worship” (Part 1). We’ve also described the sectarian theology in which sectarian worship is rooted (Part 2). In the final installment of this series, we will explore the sectarian effects of sectarian worship.

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it has, both as its goal and as its outcome, to further divide God’s people into “sects.”

In our recent post entitled “Sectarian worship – in their own words,” numerous examples were given of the heretical Church Growth theology taught by sectarian Pastor Rick Warren. Church Growth theology teaches that “certain styles of music/worship” (Lutherans might try to Lutheranize that by saying “certain forms of Gospel presentation”) are necessary to reach certain kinds of people.

The practice that flows from this theology, therefore, is to provide various flavors of worship, depending on who the people are whom the worship leaders feel God is leading them to reach in their community (note the Pentecostalism inherent even in that assumption). Sectarian worship targets certain groups of people based on preference (or perceived preference).

In an interview with Mike Harland, Church Growth guru Ed Stetzer insists that a church go about deciding on its flavor(s) of worship by asking the question, “How can we create a setting (in our place and in our community) where people can worship God in spirit and in truth?” His understanding of “in spirit and in truth” revolves around the type of atmosphere that touches a person’s spirit (read “emotions”) so that the person’s worship may be “in truth” (read “sincere”). Harland answers Stetzer’s question with a typical prayer-as-a-means-of-grace response, “You have to inquire of the Lord, like David did in 1 Chronicles 14...You have to talk to God about where your church is going.”

It seems that, in sectarian thinking, God "tells" them what kind of worship to offer based largely on what kind of music the target people in the community have in their personal CD collections. For those who prefer classical music or organ music, a liturgical service is seen as a fine option – "nothing wrong with it, since it’s all a matter of personal preference." For those who prefer Pop music, there may be a Pop music option. The same is true for virtually any genre. Evangelical radio stations offer song choices to fit a broad range of personal preference – "nothing wrong with it, since music/style is all a matter of personal preference."

Likewise, if a “target audience” is perceived to prefer a more formal service, a more formal service may be offered. If a “target audience” is perceived to prefer a more casual atmosphere, a more casual atmosphere may be offered. Worship becomes like a buffet line, with a server on the other side of the table who asks, “How would you like to worship God today?”

I hope the “man-centered” nature of sectarian worship is becoming increasingly clear.

Of course, the effect of all this is that God’s people are divided into age groups, ethnic groups, and cultural groups, under the assumption that each group will have different preferences, and therefore ought to have a worship service that they can “relate to.” So instead of gathering together as the people of God, people are encouraged to split apart to find the style of worship that is “right for them.” In a single congregation, this may mean choosing which service they like better. In an area with various congregations, this may mean choosing which church offers the worship style they like better.

If we return to the Scriptures, none of these groupings based on personal preferences are honored, but rather rebuked. What are the divisions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1 but factions formed on the basis of personal preference – in that case, a preference for one minister over another, even though the doctrine and content of their message was the same? Instead, God’s people are instructed to see themselves as a single body – the body of Christ, gathered out of the nations of this world to form a new nation, with our minds set on things above, not on earthly things. Human culture is not ignored, but it is intentionally minimized in favor of the common spiritual culture of faith. Personal preferences are not removed from an individual’s life, but are made irrelevant in the corporate gatherings of the Church. The same malady is proclaimed to all. The same promise is proclaimed to all. The same Means of Grace is administered to all. The same Biblical story is told to all, and relevant to all, and efficacious to all.

The one dividing factor among peoples found in Scripture and recognized by the Church of all ages is not musical or even cultural. It is the language factor. People are still divided, to some extent, by language. The Holy Spirit himself overcame that barrier miraculously on the Day of Pentecost. He has overcome it at various points in human history by governing the nations in such a way that there has always been a more or less commonly understood language (Aramaic, Greek, Latin, French, English). And he has overcome it by gifting his people with the ability to learn foreign languages and proclaim the gospel in other tongues.

The goal of Lutheran worship is certainly not to be unlikeable, but neither is the goal of Lutheran worship to be likeable. Historic, liturgical, Lutheran worship has always emphasized the sameness among human beings rather than their differences, and the sameness of how God deals with sinners, no matter what their culture, no matter what their background or preferences. Even when Christians have been divided by a language barrier, they have found the liturgy to be just as relevant in any language and on every continent, because the liturgy does not seek to satisfy the preference of anyone, but merely to convey the Means of Grace that transcends both culture and preference, using art forms that are intended to serve the message rather than art forms that are intended to please the people.

Sectarian worship starts with a false premise – that the presentation of the Gospel can or must be molded to personal taste in order for the Holy Spirit to attract a person or get through to a person. In effect, this divides the people of God into sects. In essence, this is nothing but the idolatry of self.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another excellent article, Pastor Rydecki!

Your observations are true not only in regard to musical styles but also in regard to age. This is most obvious when it comes to children. Children's sermons and children's church, which come directly from sectarianism, divide the body of Christ into parts. This gives the impression that the Holy Spirit works differently in children than in adults and that faith is primarily a matter of intellectual ability. (Of course, those are the specific false doctrines that such practices were designed to convey. We shouldn't be surprised when they, in and of themselves, teach exactly what they were designed to teach.)

The contemporary worship gurus who advocate a different church for every demographic group are simply taking the children's church concept to its logical conclusion. If we have children's church, shoudn't we also have 20-somethings church and baby boomer church and so on?

This directly contradicts the wondrous picture John gives us in his Revelation of a diverse group of people from every nation singing one song with one voice.

The spirit of sectarianism, once put into practice, seeps into every aspect of what the church does and destroys the beautiful unity which Christ means for his body to enjoy.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak said...

Here's another blog post with a similar thought posted today by Pr. Johnold Strey on his blog:

"Short Order Cooks and the Liturgy"

WELS church lady said...

Thank you Pastor Rydecki! I enjoy the comments of Mr. Peeler. The issue of Children's Church and Chidren's Sermon should be discussed by the Synod leadership. Children's Church has a small presence in the WELS. Chidren's Sermon, as we have all witnessed, is not an uncommon occurrence. If any pastors(who are part of Intrepid)are currently holding a Chidren's Sermon, could you graciously provide some comments?

In response to Pastor Tomczak, I read Pastor Strey's blog and found "Short Order Cooks" to be perfect companion to Pator Rydeki's article. You may also want to look at an organization called Leadership Network.(leadnet.org) this religious consulting group says, "Ideas Change The World." Where have we heard "Change" before? The website has no crosses depicted nor is the name Jesus listed. The contributers of the organization are in mainline Protestant churches. One of the things promoted is Externally focused churches. The group claims that you need Marketplace Success!(Are we talking about businesses or churches?) European Church Planting is another focus and one one of the few sections where spreading the Message of Jesus Christ was mentioned. Other all too familiar CG trends were Multi-site Churches, Rapid Growth, and Recovery Ministry Churches.(Something for everyone...yep!) Multi-site churches is really one church that meets at multiple locations. Examples would be video-cafe, satelite ministries, and multiple campuses. If we WELSians are seeing some parallels, click on Events, and they have a Women Leading Webnar. This women's leadership group will host a HerJourney in the fall.(Some sort of women's leadership conference, don't get me started!) Oh, and Leadership Network did not forget about our friend Ed Stetzer. They advertise a book called Viral Churches.(written by Stetzer and Warren Bird) Basically, this books helps church planters become movement makers. Another of Stetzer's books mentioned was Exponential and Numbers.(Karl Marx would have been proud!) This book discusses something called Generous Churches. More or less, influential congregations(aka rich people), in the name of stewardship, are the providers of the less fortunate congregations. It is really Marxism done through churches as opposed to government. Transfered Marxism is the correct term.

Books written by sectarian ministers was a topic on this forum. My pastor has quoted the literature of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen to expose their apostasy. Yes, these books may be in a church library, but only for the reason stated.(I hope!)

Remember, don't break the Eighth Commandment. Put the best construction on everything. Set with your brother in private, hold his hand, and then discuss his alleged sin.

In Christ,
Rebecca Quam

Joe Krohn said...

What about churches that offer an 8 am service and a 10:30 am service? I ask this honestly because this has been used as an argument in defense of offering a traditional service and a more contemporary one. Going to early church or late church does become a preference. And there are members who have no idea who attends the other service because they prefer one or the other. Isn't this in a way divisive?

Joe Krohn

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

The devil will happily divide people over anything and everything, if we let him, and we're good at letting him.

But the intent (normally) of offering various times for worship isn't to cater to preference. It's usually done out of necessity, because the worship space isn't large enough to accomodate all the worshipers. Or in some cases, services are added to help those who have work schedules that don't permit attending at one time, but do permit attending at the other.

The members at my own congregation are not thrilled about the looming prospect of having to add a second service, for the expressed reason that it will "divide" them into two groups, although they would prefer to worship as one group. But our space and budget will probably necessitate such a move in the near future.

I think the "time preference" argument, as used by those who want to promote a "content preference," is nothing more than a red herring and a very weak analogy.

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