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Feeling Traditional?

Good Evening. A Puritan’s Mind brings you the old time radio program The Wild Boar News Podcast from Sunny South Florida. Welcome, I’m Dr. Matthew McMahon.

How do you feel about worship? How do you feel about a traditional worship service over a contemporary worship service? How do you feel about using musical instruments in worship? How do you feel about singing contemporary praise songs instead of hymns? How do you feel about choirs?

Well, it really doesn’t matter how you feel; but it does matter what the Word of God says.

On Sept. 14, 2007, 4:40PM, a new article was published by Charles Ward in Houston Chronicle that headlined, “A sacred tie that binds: Traditional music and liturgy link worshippers with church history.”

Ward says, and I quote, “For many people, traditional church services mean an awe-inspiring building, time-honored liturgy, great hymns, stirring choral works and grand organ music.” He then says, quote, “Joining in Hark the Herald Angels Sing at a Christmas Eve candlelight service, hearing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus at Easter or being sent triumphantly away from church by Widor's Toccata for organ adds a dimension to worship that words alone can't provide.”

Unfortunately, those attending services outlined in this way have a deep seated sense of exactly what Ward is trying to relay. There is something about externals that demonstrate how people internally feel, or even become enamored, with the setting of a traditional service.

Ward quotes Russell E. Schulz, associate professor of church music at Austin's Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, where he says, “It connects us with each other, our past, our forebears — and we believe it connects us with God. We don't know how it works, but we've all experienced it.”

Unfortunately, this is also a truism surrounding people who have not spent much time in the Word of God, and instead determine the validity of their experience by their feelings in church. Listener, think of this – you walk into a white washed room, four walls and nothing else, and are expected to worship God singing only the psalms. Or, picture going into King’s College Chapel in England, and standing in one of the most elaborate churches on the planet, surrounded by exquisite architecture, and partaking of the traditional service that Ward outlines. Would you not be moved more in the latter than the former?

However, this presses us to consider what our authority is – the Word of God, which alone should dictate the manner in which sinners approach God, or our own feelings because of our heightened senses.

Certainly, our senses and emotions should be fully engaged in worship. God created emotional and sense oriented rational beings. But our senses should be instructed by our rationality as it is instructed by the Word of God.

Ward says, “Music reinforces worship. Ideally, the choir director chooses hymns and anthems because their words elaborate the theme of the Sunday.” But what do we do with our feelings and senses if God alone determines the manner in which we are to approach Him, and that both the Bible and church history clearly delineate the removal of instruments and hymns and music associated with that in a service?

Ward says, “"Significant events (are) underscored by music, Scripture, colors, banners, candles — all of which help people remember how (the Christian faith) came to be." In other words, such traditional elements to things that churches have done for a relatively short time (only about 200 years) help enhance the experience to those who are less motivated by biblical study and more interested in appeasing their consciences for a weekly church service based on feelings.

Ward is right, however, in his final statements and commentary on where worship has evolved during the 200 years that Western Culture has formed worship in the church. He says, “Now, Christianity seems at the far end of the arc where free-spirited populist worship and music dominate.”

Interestingly enough, even the true biblical data that Ward himself should confront would swing his ideas further to a man-centered religion, rather than being instructed by the Word of God. Instead, for him, and many Christians, worship is based on feelings. The louder the music, the better the service. The more contemporary, the freer one feels.

But is worship supposed to be based on the way one feels? Or it is to be managed and submitted to the Word of God? What did the church do prior to the revivalism of the last 200 years when worship has gone astray? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then you ought to take a moment and study the history of the church. I believe you, the listener, would feel very different about the worship of the church today. I believe you would feel like you have been duped, and I believe you would feel like your feelings have been deceiving you.

This is Dr. Matthew McMahon signing off.

Keep checking back at A Puritan’s Mind – the series on Election and Reprobation has just been completed. Go to www.apuritansmind.com and click on “What’s New?” There you will find information on this 9 part lecture series. Also in the works is an MP3 series on the Covenant of Grace, and a new book that will be first in a series called “The Writings of A Puritan’s Mind” which will be a compilation of Puritan sermons not yet published. Puritan Publications has already released its latest book, “A Heart for Reformation” which covers how every Christian should desire true biblical reformation. For more on Reformed and Puritan Theology, visit www.apuritansmind.com.