I have been reviewing books for almost a decade now, and one thing I have learned is to only write something that you would be willing to say to someone’s face. In this light I will be endeavouring to Tweet this and every review to the authors, so as not to just be another voice loudly decrying “wrong” or “right” in the void.
Creating a case for Biblical worship is a vital duty many churches should be attending to. Turning that Biblical case for worship into a denominationally-specific list of do’s and don’t’s reverts the issue back to why we needed teaching on Biblical worship in the first place.
Sadly, this is exactly the result of Gather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Leah Worship in Your Local Church by Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and co-author Jason Adkins. Despite a strong start, in which the pair faithfully lay the foundation for God’s view on congregational and corporate worship, their denominational bias is almost immediately clear, and though they do an admirable job of presenting Biblical instruction in an unbiased manner, they too often fail.
The first half of the book had me silently applauding their efforts. A strong Biblical study is provided into the Old and New Testament’s teaching on worship, They clearly and powerfully remind us that God has provided us with specific words on worship, and the underlying need for such worship, ie, glorifying God. “The prevalance of calls to worship in the Old Testament makes sense in light of God’s passion for his fame,” the authors write, in their exegesis of the Old Testament’s teaching on worship, reminding us that God’s glory exists to make His fame known throughout the world, so that all can hear His name.
They conclude their opening exegesis thus:
“A summary of the Old Testament’s teaching on worship is that God cares deeply how he is worshipped, and a summary of the New Testament’s teaching on worship is that God has specifically instructed believers to worship him.”
They also specify what this means for our efforts to follow God’s instruction:
“If God cares deeply how he is worshipped and if God has given us specific instructions on worshipping him, then Christians ought to prioritise these commands in their worship. When churches gather, the preaching and reading of God’s word, corporate prayer, congregational singing, and practice of the ordinances are essential.”
Sadly, while I similarly believe that these five practises are essential components of worshipping our God, and at times, forgotten components, I do not believe that they represent the whole of how we are able to worship God corporately. Croft and Adkins fall into the trap of assuming that the Bible’s teaching has covered the whole range of possible issues.
Let me be very clear: I believe that God, through His Word, provides us with all we need to seek His will in all things — as long as we are willing to actually do the seeking.
One blatant example of this narrow view of God’s teaching from within Gather God’s People is the prohibition against the visual arts. Quoting directly:
“Another prudent protection is to limit the role of the visual arts in worship. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the visual depictions of the Christian faith that God has explicitly ordained. Certainly, expressions of dramatic and visual arts are often beautiful and soul nourishing, but their presence in congregational worship gatherings can be duplicative and distracting.”
While “dramatic and visual arts” probably can be “duplicative and distracting”, painting the inclusion of all such arts in worship as “duplicative and distracting” is naive. One need only look to God’s instructions to the Jews in Exodus 12 to see the import He placed in the dramatic:
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” — Exodus 12:7-8
Both the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are also dramatic arts, both depicting important parts of our Christian faith. Their named inclusion as ordinances in Christian worship should not inherently mean other dramatic arts should be excluded. Psalms is filled with exhortation to dance (Psalm 30:11, Psalm 149:3), another dramatic art, but it’s lack of appearance in the New Testament does not dismiss it from inclusion in worship. Rather, the dramatic arts should be given the same attention the lyrical content of songs (should) receive, and be duly included or excluded according to the needs of a particular service.
The authors’ condemn themselves when they conclude that, “whatever else creative Christians propose for worship lacks warrant in God’s word. Though these proposals may have benefit in certain contexts, they are out of place in worship gatherings of the church.” While in many regards the New Testament “in particular, regulates worship”, it is difficult to credit Croft and Adkins belief that the New Testament restricts worship.
Gather God’s People does one thing very well — it presents the Bible’s teaching on worship very clearly. The authors’ reliance upon the Psalms is critical for this, as is their exegesis of Ephesians 5:
“…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
The need for worship to be both “vertical and horizontal” is an often overlooked aspect of the Bible’s teaching on worship, when all too often, “an often repeated and well-meaning cliché is that worship has one audience, God” is the primary factor in song-choice — not to mention in the whole of worship. Here, however, Croft and Adkins are careful to remind leaders that worship is to be expressed both vertically and horizontally.
Importantly, though the authors’ protestations that they are not attempting to shove their own theology down the readers throat at times rings false, the Bible is presented as the most important guide for determining God’s will for worship. Those unwilling to separate the authors’ obvious denominational bias may struggle, and even become angry with Gather God’s People, but those who are willing to persevere are likely to find themselves challenging their own views — which can lead to a change, or to solidification, both of which are vital to following through on the intent of this book, ie, God-centered, Biblical worship.