Worship Should Strive for Reverence, Not Entertainment

Last week an item on Fox News.com caught my attention. It was a “this day in history” article, commemorating the first rock music concert held, on March 21, 1952. It took place in Cleveland, and it ended in chaos. Glenn Gass, a professor emeritus from Indiana University, said, “Right from the start, it was seen as dangerous music. Kids loved it. Parents hated it. Great. What a way for rock ‘n’ roll to get its start.”

He adds that the event was “abandoned after approximately 30 minutes due to overcrowding and rioting after more than 20,000 revelers stormed the 9,950-seat venue.” Rioting? Over music?

I like to jog or go on bike rides early in the morning. I’ve noticed that when you pass a 7-Eleven, early in the morning, some of them have opera music blaring on the outside. I once heard that they do that by design outside because it tends to discourage the criminal element from going inside or from them congregating outside.

But today there are many churches that utilize rock ‘n’ roll. For those who truly, sincerely worship the Lord by that means, well, I guess that’s a matter of taste.

Yet during Holy Week, we can wonder if it’s always reverent.

Now, the old saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.” That would seem to generally apply to worship styles. I’m sure many have come back to church through the more modern music. Great.

Ultimately, only God knows the heart. But worship should not be for the sake of entertainment.

Whatever style of music chosen, reverence should be a key factor in worship.

George Washington learned much from a Christian-based book of 110 maxims filled with biblical wisdom. It is called The Rules of Civility. Rule #108 says, “When you Speak of God or his Attributes, let it be Seriously & with Reverence.” To Washington, God was to be revered.

For my series of Providence Forum documentaries on America’s Christian roots, in the episode on George Washington, author Dr. Cal Beisner, the president of the Cornwall Alliance, made this remark: “Washington built a lot of his life around the Rules of Civility. He wrote on each of these different rules and tried to measure up to them himself. And it was very, very clear, I think, that he wasn’t doing this just simply to look good in front of other people. He was doing this because he believed that this pleased God. And Washington was a man who feared the Lord, and lived in accordance with that.”

I admit I’m biased toward the classical. The highlight of the year in terms of church experiences for me is our annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. That piece is without parallel.

Meanwhile, the Christian church has in its repository one of the most beautiful treasure chests of worship. I refer to the old-fashioned hymnals. Many churches today have ditched the old hymnals and opt instead to have words projected on screens. What’s really bad is when they completely ditch the old hymns themselves. Like classical music, the work of hymn-writers such as Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley have stood the test of time.

Among some, there is perhaps a loss of reverence for God today. Yet if you read the Bible, you can’t help but feel the sense of God’s holiness.

Some evangelicals today are so mild on the reverence-to-God-front that it is as if they keep Jesus, their buddy, in their back pocket. They can pull Him out once in a while when they so desire.

But God is holy, holy, holy—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Worship styles may differ. But church shouldn’t be some sort of means of entertainment.

A couple of years ago, a Christian man escorted his Jewish friend (with Judeo-Christian values) who was running for Congress to our church and several other churches in South Florida.

The Christian man told me that he and the candidate had visited about 200 churches in the area, and that the traditional and often classical music we had in the worship service in our church was unique and a breath of fresh air. Wow—we even still have an organ.

During Holy Week, Christians celebrate with awe that God sent His only Son to suffer in a most brutal way and die as a sacrifice on behalf of sinners. Jesus went to hell for us, so we don’t have to. He rose again to seal the deal.

No wonder down through the ages, including our own with songs like “In Christ Alone” (a modern-day hymn, destined to be a classic), hundreds of millions sing His praises in a variety of ways.

All I’m saying is let it all be done in true reverence—not cavalierly. Not to entertain, but to sincerely worship.



Dr. Jerry Newcombe is the executive director of Providence Forum, a division of Coral Ridge  Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior producer and an on-air contributor. He has written/co-written 33 books, including (with D. James Kennedy), What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? and (with Dr. Peter Lillback), George Washington’s Sacred Fire.

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