The following was written by Dr. James Montgomery Boice. He was a hero of mine who died some years back. Today, in heaven, he knows more about worship than he ever did. He is glorifying and enjoying God like never before. I think he would still agree with much that he wrote. Much of what people do on Sunday morning — whether formally traditional or informally contemporary — whatever it is, whatever they call it, it is not worship.
In recent years, I have noticed the decreasing presence, and in some cases the total absence, of service elements that have always been associated with God’s worship.
It is almost inconceivable to me that something called worship can be held without any significant prayer, but that is precisely what is happening. There is usually a short prayer at the beginning of the service, though even that is fading away. It is being replaced with a chummy greeting to make people feel welcome and at ease. Sometimes people are encouraged to turn around and shake hands with those who are next to them in the pews. A prayer that is generally retained is the prayer for the offering. We can understand that, since we know that it takes the intervention of Almighty God to get self-centered people to give enough money to keep the church running, but longer prayers – pastoral prayers – are vanishing. Whatever happened to ACTS … which stands for adoration … confession … thanksgiving … and supplication? There is no rehearsal of God’s attributes or confession of sin against the shining, glorious background of God’s holiness. And what happens when Mary Jones is going to have an operation and the people know it and think she should be prayed for? Quite often prayers for people like that are tacked onto the offering prayer, because there is no other spot for them in the service. How can we say we are worshiping when we do not even pray?
The Reading of the Word
The reading of any substantial portion of the Bible is also vanishing. In the Puritan age ministers regularly read one chapter of the Old Testament and one of the New. Bible students profit from Matthew Henry’s six-volume commentary on the Bible. But we should not forget that the commentary was the product of Henry’s Scripture readings, not his sermons. His congregation received those extensive comments on the Bible readings in addition to the sermon. But our Scripture readings are getting shorter and shorter, sometimes only two or three verses, if the Bible is even read at all. In many churches there is not even a text for the sermon. When I was growing up in an evangelical church I was taught that in the Bible God speaks to us and in prayer we speak to God. So what is going on in our churches if we neither pray nor read the Bible? Whatever it is, it is not worship.
The Exposition of the Word
We have very little serious teaching of the Bib[e today, not to mention careful expositions. Instead, preachers try to be personable, to relate funny stories, to smile, above all to stay away from topics that might cause people to become unhappy with the preacher’s church and leave it. One extremely popular television preacher will not mention sin, on the grounds that doing so makes people feel bad. He says that people feel badly enough about themselves already. Preachers speak to felt needs, not real needs, and this generally means telling people only what they most want to hear. Preachers want to be liked, popular, or entertaining. And, of course, successful! Is success a proper, biblical goal for Christ’s ministers? For servants of the one who instructed us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23)?
Confession of Sin
Who confesses sin today – anywhere – not to mention in church? … That used to be a necessary element in any genuinely Christian service. But it is not happening today because there is so little awareness of God. Instead of coming to church to admit our transgressions and seek forgiveness, we come to church to be told that we are really pretty nice people who do not need forgiveness. We are such busy people, in fact, that God should actually be pleased that we have taken time out of our busy schedules to come to church at all.
Worship is work!
Long passages of Scripture require discipline of thought and focus. Hymns are not always as easy to sing as choruses. Much prayer takes much concentration. It is always easier to be victoriously joyful than it is to be introspect and mournful over sin, but both are needed. It is always simpler to watch than participate, but that is not worship. I invite you to the work of worship and trust you are ready for such a wonderful task. True worship encourages the believer. True worship is evangelistic before others. True worship pleases God.