“Worship is increasingly becoming a spectator event of visual and sensory power, rather than a verbal event in which we engage in a deep soul dialogue with the Triune God.
Contemporary evangelicalism tends to focus on what ‘happens’ in a spectacle rather than on what is heard in worship. Aesthetics, be they artistic or musical, are given priority over bowing underneath the authority of what God says. More and more is seen; less and less is heard. There is a sensory feast but a hearing famine. This is purely medieval, not evangelical.
Preaching did not cut any ice in the Middle Ages. So the people were given circuses– the medieval mystery plays. It is likewise today. Professionalism in presentation replaces power in the pulpit. Worship leadership is in danger of becoming a cheap substitute for genuine access to heaven, however faltering.
Drama, not preaching, technological visuals, not an understanding of the Word, have become the didache of choice. The tragedy is that, whatever good intentions are present in this medievalism, its proponents do not seem to realize that the medieval plays were a confession of the impoverishment of the pulpit.
This is a spectrum, of course, not a single point. But most worship is to be found somewhere on that spectrum. There was a time when four simple words were enough to bring out goose bumps on the neck of our ancestors: ‘Let us worship God.’ Not so for twentieth- and twenty-first-century evangelicals. Now there must be color, movement, and audiovisual effects. God cannot be known, loved, praised, and trusted for his own sake.
We have lost sight of great things–the fact that Christ himself is the true sanctuary of the new-covenant people, that true beauty is holiness, that when the Lord is in his temple all are transfixed with a heart of silence before him. These are the glories of worship.
We have lost more subtly lost sight of the transportability of new-covenant worship. By comparison with old-covenant worship, which depended on the temple, the new was simple and therefore universalizable. That was part of the vision that drove our evangelical forefathers. Much of our worship has become dependent on place, size, and, alas, even technology.
No church can afford smugly to point the finger of scorn and derision at evangelicals who have sold their heritage for a mess of modern pottage. In how many of our services is there such a sense of God’s overwhelming presence that outsiders fall on their faces and cry out, ‘God is really among you!’ (1 Cor. 14:25)?
We must offer our very best to God in corporate worship. But we do that only when we realize that true worship is not a spectator event, where we luxuriate in what others do. It is a congregational event, in which Christ mediates our prayers, conducts and leads our praise, and preaches his word to us.
He alone is the God-ordained worship leader, the true minister in the sanctuary (Heb. 8:2). We dare not obscure this Christ-centered and congregational character, nor make worship dependent on anything other than approaching God in the Spirit through Christ with clean hands and a pure heart. The Father seeks such to worship him!”
–Sinclair Ferguson, The Grace of Repentance (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000), 34-6.