by Rev. Arthur Allen
From The Australian Free Presbyterian: August, 1945
So many accessories have been introduced into Church services over recent years that it seems abundantly clear that the object is no longer to worship God, but to entertain the congregation. Quite often we hear criticisms of the simple form of worship practised by our Church.We are constantly assured, by self appointed prophets who commend the pure proclamation of the Gospel, that our influence would be extended and our services better attended if we would brighten up our form of worship. We are urged to forsake the limitations set down in the Holy Scripture, which are the purest and most effective means for the cultivation of spiritual sensitiveness, an essential qualifaction in the worship of God, for he who would worship God, said Christ, "Must worship Him in Spirit and in truth." We are therefore requested to disregard the authority of Christ in order that we may appeal to the aesthetic sense of sinful humanity.
"If the Lord Jesus Christ be the only source of authority within His own Church," said Dr. James Bannerman, "then it is abundantly obvious that it is an unlawful interference with that authority for any party, civil or ecclesiastical, to intermeddle with His arrangements, to claim right to regulate His institutions, or taking away from, or altering His appiontments. The positive provisions of Divine worship, including all its parts, are as under His authority, as the articles of faith which the Church holds. In neither case has He delegated His authority to any ecclesiasticall substitute to exercise in His absence."
Our critics often appeal to the rites and ceremonies of the Old Testament Church, but to do this is to ignore the better covenant introduced by the sacrificial death and the exercising of the priestly office of the Lord Jesus Christ. The rites and ceremonies of the ancient Church were the instruments used to communicate spiritual truth in part. The truth that was fully revealed in Jesus Christ. "No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father He hath declared Him."
The Apostle writing to the Hebrews (chapters 8,9,10) makes it clear that the old order had served its purpose and reveals the spiritual grandeur and glory of the New Covenant. "In that he saith. A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away. Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service and a wordly sanctuary...But Christ being a high priest of good things to come, by greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say not of this building; neither by his own blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."
The perpetual efficacy and sufficiency of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be enhanced by human inventiveness or a created atmosphere. The perpetuity of Christ's sacrifice is secure because it is in the immediate presence of God. To quote Dr. Hugh Martin. "No, verily, it is not down here below; not in this lower world; not in the Church on earth, nor in any of its ordinances, however good and holy; that the basis and ground of the never ceasing efficacy of the great sacrifice is seen to rest. But away, far away from earth's fallible estate; away from earths shaking, ever reeling, transient conditions; beyond the realm which the star light glorifies, and the far piercing glass or science of the wise so little sounds or fathoms; away beyond all heavens, in the realm of cloudless light, where time passes not by day and by night, but where the things unseen and eternal are, and the throne of the Father of lights;- There, passed through the heavens and now made higher than the heavens; far above, not merely earths transient and treacherous estate, but far above all principalities and powers, all thrones and dominions; there is the sacrifice, who is the priest also, on His throne;- a Lamb as it had been slain;- bearing out, in His own hands, in office of eternal priesthood, the never-ceasing virtue of His one peerless, priestly death,- the one offering whereby He has for everperfected them that are sanctified."
Therefore the place of our worship is where the sacrifice is; even in the midst of the throne of the Eternal. "As a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," where the Lord Jesus Christ exercises His priestly office making continual intercession for us. "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." The apostle calls upon us to focus our attention on the scene and location of spiritual worship, that by faith through grace we may "come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
How presumptuous and beggerly is it to suggest that human innovations can enrich the grandeur and magnificence of spiritual worship? History and experience proves that such innovations not only distract but degrade man's conception of worship; they serve only to destroy spiritual sensitiveness. A recent article by Leonard Greenway, which appeared in "Calvin Forum" and from which we quote at length, reveals the distorted conception of worship that has found its way into the Churches and encouraged by Church leaders. Leonard Greenway says: " The aesthetic trend in our modern Churches is, in plain language, a menace to geniunely forms of worship. It seems to localise the whole experience of worship within the orbit of man's psychological states. It put the worshipper in bondage to the fascination of massive pillars, lofty arches, long aisles, costly carvings, imposing ritual and impressive music. It makes the service consist of aesthetic joy in the rich timbre of organ diapason, in the structural perfection of the choir anthem, in the radiant colour of storied glass, in the sonorous reading of the liturgy. The appeal is directed to nothing above the aesthetic sensibilities of the congregation. It's not unusual to find in the Church column of the newspapers an announcement similliar in appeal to the following. "Palm Sunday will be observed next Sunday at the First Church. Special decorations will suggest the significence of the day. Two anthems by the senior choir will lend beauty and inspiration to the service. For the first time both junior and senior choirs will march in on a processional hymn, and at the close of the service will sing a recessional hymn. Both choirs are vested and the Palm Sunday service will be greatly heightened in value by this added feature."
"A Church which puts the public worship of God on this basis is working a horrible treachery against the Bibical pattern of man's approach to His Maker." "A free-lance type of worship is making inroads into some of our Churches. The radio has much to do with it, I am sure. It is developing a taste for informal worship. Converted crooners are being featured in 'sacred broadcasts'. With sickly affection these singers ooze through sacred stanzas, assisted by accompanists who are ever searching for more keys to tamper with. People are coming to like that, and they are asking to have it in Church."
"The 'inspirational song service' needs to be watched very carefully. Some of us have first hand experience with these song services and we have become afraid of them. The popular song leader in many of our circles is a fellow who calls upon the congregation to 'lift the roof off...Let's put some pep into it tonight...All the bald-headed men on the third stanza.'
"Then there is the matter of the pipe organ. Little did our fathers fear the theatre organ would ever make its appearance in our Churches. But, that is exactly what has happened. With the introduction of sound film the theatres found themselves in possession of an instrument that could no longer be used during the regular performances. The result has been the dumping of these instruments at bargin prices, upon unwary Churches whose 'organ committees' brought in a report. 'We can get a good used organ at an extremely low figure. A fiften thousand dollar pipe organ for six thousand dollars! Equipped with cymbals, snare drums and locomotive whistle."
"The true Calvinist must shudder at all this. His conception of God is such that he highly resents everything which deflects the mind of the worshipper from the vertical to the horizontal level. Indeed, it is the Calvinist who best understands what stateliness in religion is."
The Psalmist said, "Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool for He is Holy."(Psa. 99:5 )