95 More for the Modern Church’s Door: Sparking a Reformation in the Entertainment Church

95 theses

Out of love for the church and from desire to see the church worship as if its life depended on it, some fella named Jonathan, Master of Arts in Theology, almost a Master of Sacred Music, and just a regular church musician from Texas, intends to defend the following statements in this online forum. Please, for the love of God and all the reformers, please don’t try to send emails. Jonathan hates email. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

  1. The didactic purpose of congregational singing has been a part of Christian worship since the beginning.
  2. Therefore, it is part of the work of the people, not to be some kind of jesusy entertainment.
  3. Corporate worship is about telling the Christian story again, anew, and afresh.
  4. Worship is not just another program or ministry of the church.
  5. Christian worship in its simplest form is radically relevant and inclusive, as its invitation is extended to divine image-bearers from every walk of life.
  6. Therefore, worship is more important than any ministry of the church, even then the sacred cows of children’s and youth ministry.
  7. The purpose of this worship is to be shaped into a Christian community, called out by our creative and redemptive God.
  8. Christian culture is confused by the difference between corporate worship (liturgy) and what it likes to call a “lifestyle” of worship.
  9. Corporate worship will vary between denominations and cultures, but it’s never dictated by an appetite for entertainment, or it ceases to be Christian.
  10. The reason church attendance is declining is because cultural Christianity is declining, not because there is something wrong with the church’s historic liturgical pattern.
  11. The jesusy versions of commercial entertainment have only exacerbated the decline. TV and sports will always be more entertaining than the commercial church’s cheap knock-offs of an already derivative industry.
  12. Therefore, we should stop bastardizing the church’s worship by reinventing it in each generation’s image and using it as a hook.
  13. In modeling worship after commercial entertainment, the church has compromised its identity, and the decline still hasn’t stopped.
  14. Dear Pastors,
    The sermon was never intended to be the focal point of Christian worship.
    Your Friend,
  15. A sermon is to be received by the people as part of God’s work on their behalf, not aim to solve their problems and help them live happier lives.
  16. The modern preacher’s obsession with practicality must end. No more marriage and parenting advice. No more anger management pointers. No more casual three-points-and-a-take-home monologues on how to stave of depression and anxiety. Save the therapy for trained therapists. Instead, grapple with how the assigned texts call us to be the church.
  17. Worship that ends at the pulpit instead of the Table is inherently frustrated. I like to call Table-less worship “adoramus interruptus.”
  18. Being slaves to the new, the current, and the marketable is always a dangerous position for a congregation to be in.
  19. If emotions are moved, fine. Emotions are not bad, after all. But if emotions are not moved, singing, praying, reading Holy Scripture, listening, and partaking in the Sacrament are still acts of worship.
  20. Technology is addictive, even when used for objectively good purposes. Let worship be a place of technological detox.
  21. Churches are designing ad hoc worship “experiences” to stave off the boredom brought on by cultural media saturation.
  22. True worship is meaningless to those enslaved to the spark of limbic stimulation.
  23. Overstimulating children in church through unreasonably loud amplified sounds, high-energy chaos, and pervasive media is an act of violence and injustice willingly perpetrated against them.
  24. A lot of churches have decided kids don’t have any business worshiping with adults. These churches have simply ceased being the church.
  25. Silos in worship, particularly according to age, are the commercial antidote to Christian worship.
  26. We make worship kid-friendly by not being like the disciples that held them back. Jesus promises to engage them, but the church would like to believe it is better at reaching kids than Jesus is.
  27. How to do worship is not fundamentally a question of preference, but meaning.
  28. Theology, not taste, should determine how we worship.
  29. Christian worship is liturgical. Liturgy is not a preference, it is how the church worships.
  30. The contemporary worship movement has polarized the church’s worship and created a false dichotomy between “contemporary” and “traditional,” or “new” vs. “old.”
  31. Corporate worship that is either contemporary or traditional is toxic to the church.
  32. All worship should be historic because it recalls the creative and redemptive acts of God.
  33. All worship is contemporary, because we’re doing it now.
  34. All worship should be future, because it foretells the coming victory when the curse will be broken and all will be set aright.
  35. Worship is not about building an emotional connection with God.
  36. Worship is not the music part of a “service.”
  37. Hillsong et al. is a monster, and we have created it in our own sanctuary-laboratories.
  38. Music in worship isn’t supposed to be a vehicle for emotional manipulation or sensory gratification.
  39. Music itself carries expressive potential, and it can support theological meaning well or poorly.
  40. Worship is about doing God’s story.
  41. Music in worship should always serve the liturgy, instead of being either the main attraction or the “warm-up” act.
  42. Singing in worship is a sacred discipline.
  43. Therefore, singing should be taught and shown by example, and the architecture and aesthetics of a worship space should lend themselves to good music-making.
  44. Through word and sacrament, worship should mold and shape the community of faith into the likeness of its Savior.
  45. In that way, there is an unmistakable connection between the way the church worships and its witness in the world.
  46. The way we worship has undeniable consequences. That fact alone should convince us of the folly of commercial Christian worship.
  47. Bad worship begets bad theology. Bad theology begets a bloated, unhealthy church.
  48. The church must stop supporting the “worship industry” immediately. Through its chokehold on the church, it has created a pervasive materialistic, money-driven worship culture. If Jesus were here in human body, it’s safe to assume he would topple over its stacks of CDs, tear up its concert tickets, and jam its radio signals.
  49. Extemporaneous prayers, songs, and orders of worship are no more led by the Holy Spirit than planned liturgy.
  50. Casual and flippant language in worship is destructive, because liturgy is fundamentally about speaking truth.
  51. Liturgy that has been carefully constructed and honed over the lifespan of the church gives the worshiper an advantage over an ad hoc and extemporized pseudo liturgy.
  52. Speaking the truth of the gospel will sometimes be a lie. Liturgy calls us to speak, sing, read, and pray words that we don’t believe. The discipline of choosing to speak the Truth over what is true in our lives at any given point will unquestionably make the truth we live closer to the Truth we speak.
  53. New elements of worship should be carefully chosen to ensure they speak the truth of God’s story.
  54. We deceive people and compromise our worship when we preach that everyone is entitled to find worship that “fits them just right” in terms of personal preference.
  55. Dividing congregations by aesthetic preference always creates multiple bodies guided by different theologies.
  56. When worship is reduced to a tool, a means to a higher attendance count, it’s functionally nothing more than another ministry area. Another chance to draw warm bodies in, along with the men’s prayer breakfasts, the family life center, and those damned “life groups” everyone has these days. And it ceases to be true worship.
  57. Art in worship, as in any other scenario, should represent and draw us to the sublime.
  58. Art ceases to be art and becomes ugly when it is used as a means of creating attraction. James Joyce rightly saw this as the distinction between art and pornography.
  59. Just as pornography creates attraction through empty promises of fulfillment, so does commercial worship, especially through the music of the worship industry. True, lasting fulfillment is never found in the art itself, but in the truth the art represents.
  60. Such pornographic worship is fundamentally idolatry.
  61. Worship that seeks personal fulfillment, release, or refreshment is a masturbatory act.
  62. The pursuit of the feeling itself inevitably leads to the worship of something other than Christ. It rejects the Christian story in favor of our own.
  63. Therefore, we don’t go to church to be recharged or satiated, but to become more hungry for the justice of God.
  64. Worship that seeks God through word and sacrament is an act of intimacy.
  65. Worship isn’t about declaring our attraction and affection for God, but declaring the character of God, and God’s creative and redemptive acts in human history.
  66. Worship is a matter of personal and corporate ethics.
  67. When we worship truly, we worship ethically.
  68. Music is the bread and wine of the contemporary church, even though Jesus couldn’t have been more clear than when he said, “Here are my body and blood.”
  69. Worship should be exceedingly boring in that it doesn’t offer that over-stimulation that the masses crave.
  70. To those who give themselves in participation, it is more entertaining than the anything media (mainstream or Christian) can offer, because it offers something so radically alternative to fallen mundanity.
  71. Commercialized worship can’t help but to lead to an artistic poverty.
  72. True worship isn’t about creating a spark of excitement, but lighting candles
  73. The liturgical calendar reminds us that we are a people set apart, and as such our lives aren’t oriented around nominal civic holidays and observances.
  74. It shapes our lives by the story (past and future) of the kingdom of Heaven, instead of the things the kingdom of the world holds valuable.
  75. Advent and Lent are the liturgical alternatives to gluttonous, sedentary, entertainment worship.
  76. Sentimentality is a legitimate threat to the church’s worship.
  77. A hymn or song doesn’t make for good worship just because it was your grandma’s favorite, or because it evokes sweet remembrances of childhood. Jesus’ abrupt question in Matthew 12 should lead us to reject worship that is about nostalgia instead of God’s will.
  78. The Eucharist is the natural culmination of worship.
  79. To outsiders, the Eucharist is foolishness. That is why no megachurch model takes it seriously.
  80. The Eucharist sears the grace, mercy, and justice of Christ onto our witness.
  81. Being a Christian should scare the hell out of us. If it doesn’t, we aren’t doing it right. Worship brings us together in our vulnerability.
  82. The world around us is ugly, and mimicking the ugliness to make church relevant ends up making the church sad and irrelevant.
  83. The church’s relevance is found in its divine Alternative to the ugliness of a fallen cosmos.
  84. Performance language has no place in worship. We don’t have audiences, stages, green rooms, opening sets, or productions. We have symbols, liturgy, and sacraments.
  85. Christian worship is the ultimate act of defiance against commercialism.
  86. Worship is not for God’s sake. It’s for ours.
  87. God is not a narcissist who needs some ego stroking from us to maintain self-confidence.
  88. In worship, God is the subject, the great Mover and Shaper, and we are the ones being moved and shaped by God’s story.
  89. Nothing we can do or say in worship can add to God’s glory.
  90. Modern worship is obsessed with the false idea of the “daddy-god.” Abba isn’t “daddy.” It isn’t “dada.” It isn’t desperate, childlike babble. It indicates our relational status as God’s adopted children, while preserving an air of deep respect, distance, and reverence.
  91. Because of this relational status, our posture toward God in worship is one of humility and sobriety, not boldness and intoxication.
  92. Worship will be more impressive than expressive. Me-worship is about expressing my story. True worship is about being impacted by God’s story.
  93. Worship is not about our felt needs, but our personal and corporate sanctification.
  94. True worship proclaims, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “Jesus is Lord, and everything else is bullshit.” When we choose entertainment over liturgy, we choose the bullshit over Jesus.
  95. To be the church, worship must focus on retelling and reenacting God’s story until it becomes our own. It’s then that we can carry the reality that “Jesus is Lord” into every corner of creation.

Flickr, creative commons 2.0

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