“You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.”
( Leviticus 19:30)
Neither Jesus nor the apostles used seeker friendly methods when preaching the gospel. They spoke of judgment to prepare people for the message of deliverance. After all, without judgment, there would be no need for deliverance. The message was always, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Worship is not for Unbelievers
The fallacy of ‘seeker-friendly‘ is that worship is for unbelievers. It is not. It is for believers. It is the time when the family of God draws apart to give honor and glory to their Father. Only those who know God can truly worship him. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Unbelievers cannot worship God because they don’t have the Spirit and they don’t know the truth. To design a worship service around the needs of the unbeliever would be like the Israelites tailoring the temple worship to the Canaanites. God made it very clear to Israel that she was not to engage in the worship practices of the Canaanites, “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way” (Deut 12:29-31). Israel’s worship set them apart from their pagan neighbors. God commanded them not to adopt the worship practices of the surrounding nations so that they would glorify Him, not blend in.
God is the Object of Worship
God is the object of worship. So, if anything, worship services should be “Father Friendly.” They should be sacred. They should transcend the commonplace. In Isaiah 48:11 God says, “My glory I will not give to another.” Worship is meant to glorify God. God is a jealous God and and warned the Israelites against directing their worship elsewhere. He said, “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex 34:14). God is not pleased with worship that does not exalt him. This is evident by his response to the Israelites when they built a golden calf to worship. He said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Ex 32:7-10). It is not possible to make the unbeliever the focus of worship and exalt God at the same time. For example, it does not honor God to encourage people not to give lest they feel uncomfortable. Rather, worshipers should be encouraged to give generously as an expression of gratitude for the abundance of God’s grace.
God Sets the Standard for Worship
In Leviticus 19:30 the Lord says, “You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.” The design of the Old Testament temple and the worship practices conveyed a sense of the holiness of God. Only the High Priest could enter the innermost part of the sanctuary where God manifest his presence, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. He had to perform a ritual cleansing and offer sacrifices for his sins and the sins of the people before he did. The temple was a place that was off-limits to those who did not fear God and keep his commandments.
The great cathedrals of the Reformation era also conveyed a sense of the majesty of God. Their lofty sanctuaries and towering steeples were designed to draw the eye upward in worship. Their stained glass windows and murals portrayed the mighty deeds of God and their hymns proclaimed the great doctrines of the faith.
The modern church, on the other hand, was designed with man in mind. The sanctuary with its rows of tiered seats, sweeping stage, video screens and sophisticated sound systems looks more like a lecture hall, concert hall, or theater. These are all venues designed for performances. Their purpose is entertainment, not worship. Indeed modern ‘worship‘ could easily pass for entertainment. The choir has been replaced by a band, the preacher has been replaced by a motivational speaker, and the gospel has been replaced by inspirational speeches. Worship has been tailored to the culture.
Corrupting God’s House
The thought behind seeker friendly worship is to make church more accessible to outsiders. The actual result has been to make it a less honorable place for God. When Jesus saw how the Jews had perverted the worship of God by turning the temple into a marketplace, he exclaimed, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mk 11:17). They had made what was holy commonplace by conducting commerce there. In so doing they had profaned the name of the Lord. Instead of vendors selling animals for sacrifice, modern megachurches contain coffee shops and book stores and play grounds for children. They too have made the house of the Lord commonplace.
Look what has happened to worship since the advent of seeker friendly services. Since we don’t want to offend the seekers among us, we leave out the parts of the gospel that speak of sin and judgment. The weekly prayer meeting has virtually disappeared because prayer can be hard work. The practice of Christian disciplines like Bible memorization and meditation are not encouraged because they require effort and persistence. Almost no one tithes anymore. Church discipline has been abandoned. According to some statistics, average giving is around 4% of income. Members of megachurches give an average of 18% less than members of small churches. There is little reverence for God expressed in the music or message or presentation. Prayers are familiar and almost condescending at times. There is little sense of the awe and majesty and glory of God.
Certainly we cannot call God’s house a house of prayer because very little prayer takes place there anymore. So go to a small group for prayer, you say. How much prayer takes place at your small group? How much serious study of the Bible do you do? Or do you mostly study other books by Christian authors? If your experience is anything like mine, you don’t learn much about God’s word in a small group and you sure don’t do a lot of prayer there. Again, it is a casual environment that was designed for the comfort of the participants and not to lift up Christ in worship.
Lowering the Bar
Somewhere along the line we decided that the faithful preaching of the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit were not enough to bring sinners to faith in Christ. We thought it necessary to make the place of worship more user friendly, the message more comforting, and the demands of the faith less burdensome. As a result, the church today is full of tares and chaff, people who have made a profession of faith but have no desire to follow Christ. The church has been so compromised that society can no longer distinguish believers from unbelievers anymore. So instead of winning lost souls, the church has lost its own soul.
In Romans 1 Paul says, “ I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rm 1:14-17). Paul preached the same gospel to Jews and Gentiles, believers and unbelievers. He didn’t change the message to make it more appealing or more attractive to unbelievers. The church flourished for thousands of years before seeker friendly services softened the gospel. And it will flourish again if we get back to worship that honors God and his word.