Years ago I spent over 8 hours one day studying with a youth minister from an evangelical church. While there was much to agree on, there were many issues over which we disagreed. We discussed salvation, the church, worship, among other topics, and we did it with a spirit of friendliness. At the end of the day, he said, “I see what you are saying, and I can see what the Bible says. But what you are talking about is just too simple. There has to be more to it than that.” With this, he dismissed the conclusions of the study. Years bring deeper perspective, and over the years I have been more impressed with this point of simplicity.
[epq-quote align=”align-left”]It is not some elaborate, complex system, and this may tempt us to fill in blanks and add more to it. Like Naaman, dissatisfied with Elisha’s charge to dip in the Jordan (2 Kings 5), we may want something greater.[/epq-quote]Perhaps it seems too simple for some, but is that a reason to reject it? Some have argued that there is no pattern for corporate worship in Scripture, that nothing has been revealed about what God really wants in worship. Therefore, we are pretty much free to do as we wish as long as we don’t violate something strictly prohibited. This assumes, not just that a little has been said, but that virtually nothing has been said about it, and therefore it is entirely up to us to decide how we like it.
What is revealed about worship in the New Testament is simple. It is not non-existent; it’s just not complicated. It is not some elaborate, complex system, and this may tempt us to fill in blanks and add more to it. Like Naaman, dissatisfied with Elisha’s charge to dip in the Jordan (2 Kings 5), we may want something greater. Surely that’s what God wants, right? This is a problem for those who like more elaborate styles of worship (e.g., big production music shows). The fact of simplicity is difficult for some to swallow it seems, so they reject the uncomplicated in favor of more complex avenues. We may use that simplicity as an excuse to make worship conform to the way we really want it. Does it not seem that we find ourselves tending more to the complex things in our religious actions and services? Has it not always been this way?
That answer still rings in my ears after all these years: what the Bible actually says about it is just too simple; there has to be more to it. So we supply that “more,” and we feel justified in doing so. We desire more pomp, more ceremony, more show, so we devise worship in ways that would make us happy. At some point we must ask, “Is this really about God or is it more about what I like?”
What has God revealed about His will on corporate worship? Nothing elaborate or complex, but there is revelation on the matter. Has He revealed that He likes singing from the heart (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16)? That He likes His people to pray together (Acts 4:23ff)? For Christians to meet together regularly (Heb 10:23-25)? To partake of the Lord’s Supper together? (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 11:18ff)? To teach, admonish, and encourage one another through His word? (Acts 20:32; Eph 4:11ff)? Of course, He wants all of this to be done from hearts that desire to please and glorify Him. Let’s not confuse something is that relatively simple with it not being profound or deep. Sometimes the more profound ideas are the least complicated. We need to learn to think them through and appreciate how the Lord has asked us to serve Him.
Perhaps some may say that I’m just oversimplifying this whole matter. Perhaps. But how so? Where do we read of anything more elaborate or complicated in the New Testament? Where is the pomp and show? Again, it seems to me that the lack of such complexity is what gives rise to the idea that the New Testament says so little about worship. It doesn’t need to say much, but it says enough to let us know what pleases God (Heb 11:6). I realize we have some liberties. I know the Bible does not specify every action in particular. But let’s make sure that any action we take, especially in worship, is truly geared toward pleasing God His way and according to His word instead of using that simplicity as an excuse to do what we want. If God left it uncomplicated, isn’t that reason enough for us to leave it at that?
Even more, let’s make sure we approach God with the proper spirit, and not just in our corporate worship. Micah captured this thought centuries ago (6:6-8):
With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?