Should worship be a reflection of contemporary secular culture?

Penn Free Methodist Church (PFMC) starts from the premise that every word of the Bible is breathed out by God for our instruction. The Scriptures are God’s complete and final revelation to man. Here, and here alone, is the path to salvation and everlasting life, for in both Old and New Testaments we learn of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the world’s only Saviour. Accordingly, the exposition of Scripture is central to all our worship, for the Bible is the word of God.

The format of our Sunday services is simple and easily accessible to the total newcomer. The New Testament pattern for worship is serious, formal (in the best sense of the word) and structured. Such an approach in no way quenches the power of the Holy Spirit, for God is a God of order. We contend that casualness and jokey informality do not provide the right context for the worship of Him who is all holy. Previous generations were well able to understand that seriousness and joy can happily co-exist. In recent decades, however, there has been a revolution in worship styles. The result can generally be described as a ‘dumbing-down’. Everything now has to be ‘fun’; the lighter it all is the better. We here at PFMC have consciously resisted these regrettable trends.

So, in pursuit of an appropriate reverence, we have felt no need to ‘update’ our worship, choosing rather the restrained, thoughtful and dignified approach exemplified by the Biblical principles of the Protestant Reformation. We argue that it is wrong to introduce the world’s musical idioms into the church in order to appear ‘contemporary’ and ‘relevant’. Being a Christian means leaving behind the world and its culture. The Gospel is powerful enough to change the hearts of the young without the aid of secular cultural trappings. In any case, it is a wrong premise to design worship to make it attractive to the non-Christian. It is a futile task, for only truly saved believers have the necessary spiritual faculties to engage in spiritual worship (1 Corinthians 2:14). The unbeliever must first believe the Gospel, before he can ever begin properly to worship God.

Our position here at PFMC is that worship must never be allowed to degenerate into ‘theatre’, with individuals standing on a platform at the front displaying their artistic talents, doing so, as it is argued, “to the glory of God”. We do not impugn anyone’s sincerity, but the dangers of such an approach are enormous. Proceedings can so easily drift into ‘performance’ and entertainment. The congregation is given artistic excellence, and they enjoy it; but would the ‘enjoyment’ of worship be as great without the musical aids? Would the desire to worship be as strong, if the musicians were not there? There is the real danger of trying to satisfy people’s feelings on an emotional, aesthetic and ‘fleshly’ level, but not on the vital spiritual level.

We courteously ask, Is there any New Testament precedent for worship being conducted by talented musicians? Are not the electric guitars and the drum kits a marketing ploy, an attempt to prove ‘cultural relevance’, a statement that you can be ‘cool’ and be a Christian? However, people must be drawn to church by the power of God’s word alone, by its objective truth, and by God’s Spirit working in their hearts. If they are drawn by churches majoring on their familiarity with contemporary secular culture, they will be drawn for the wrong reasons.

So, to summarise, PFMC’s position is that it is the church’s pastor who must lead Christian worship, not musicians. This is the pastor’s calling before God. Yes, music is an integral part of worship, but it must never be allowed to take over, reducing the minister, and the ministry of God’s word, to a secondary role. Furthermore, great care must be taken to ensure that music is not used to manipulate emotions and produce feelings of exhilaration, which are then misinterpreted as genuine spiritual experiences. We feel that an over-reliance on music is far too common on the church scene today. The joy which God desires us to have in our worship can only occur if there is first a true work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, as a man uses his mind to think through the implications of the Gospel.

In accordance with the above principles we here at PFMC use the hymns from the reverent and evangelical tradition of English hymnody as represented by men such as Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, John Newton and William Cowper.