Thursday, May 6, 2010

Meaningful Worship by John MacArthur

If you ever visit London, you'll have no trouble spotting St. Paul's cathedral. It's considered to be among the ten most-beautiful buildings in the world, and it dominates the city's skyline. The venerable structure stands as a monument to its creator--astronomer and architect Sir Christopher Wren. While St. Paul's is his best-known achievement, an interesting story is connected with a lesser-known building of his design.

Wren was given charge of designing the interior of the town hall in Windsor, just west of central London. His plans called for large columns to support the high ceiling. When construction was complete, the city fathers toured the building and expressed concern over one problem: the pillars. It wasn't that they minded the use of pillars--they just wanted them in greater numbers.

Wren's solution was as devilish as it was inspired. He did exactly as he was told and installed four new pillars, thus meeting the demands of his critics. Those extra pillars remain in Windsor town hall to this day, and they aren't difficult to identify. They are the ones that support no weight and, in fact, never even reach the ceiling. They're fakes. Wren installed the pillars to serve only one purpose--to look good. They are an ornamental embellishment built to satisfy the eye. In terms of supporting the building and fortifying the structure, they are as useful as the paintings that hang on the walls.

While it saddens me to say this, I believe many churches have constructed a few decorative pillars of their own. Specifically during the worship service. Have you noticed when it comes to corporate worship--what the church does when the congregation comes together--it's hard to find a believer who isn't left a little flat by it all? Something's missing. Something important.

Could it be we're reaping the consequences of abandoning the biblical model for worship and erecting a purely decorative model? Is it possible we've built a facade that offers no support, bears little weight, and falls far short of reaching the heights God designed and desires it to be?

Real, meaningful worship with God's people is not optional. It's not a suggestion. It's not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Worship on the Lord's Day should be the crowning joy of our week. It's our opportunity to engage our minds toward God. To enjoy His people. To bask in His presence. To corporately drink from His Word. To give of our talents and resources. To encourage and to be encouraged. To offer praise.

But the emphasis on biblical worship and the elements that make for a rich and transforming worship service have been replaced in recent years by a thinly veiled window dressing. Substance has been replaced by shadow. Content is out--style is in. Meaning is out-- method is in. The worship service may look right, but it bears little spiritual weight.

That trend is perhaps most evident in an area especially close to my heart. The teaching of God's Word. The most obvious examples are churches that blatantly downplay the Bible and the teaching of its actual meaning, and instead, emphasize ritual and tradition.

But that example is an easy one to point a finger at. What about the conservative, evangelical churches that have taken a slightly different but equally perilous road?

Worship services that once revolved around truth and the systematic teaching of the Bible have been replaced by flashy entertainment and mini-sermons. The light of Scripture has lost out to light shows and special effects. The preacher's stage presence is scrutinized more than his sermon. Time once reserved by the pastor for teaching has been whittled to a few paltry minutes of home-spun humor and chat. Strikes me as a decorative pillar that doesn't support much weight and never quite reaches the ceiling.

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