I love the Church! I love the branch of the church called the holiness movement where God has placed me! However, neither my love for the church nor that part which I serve has made me blind to the spots and wrinkles of either. The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement is an attempt to restate the strengths of that tradition, to recognize weaknesses that have developed over time and to dialogue on how to restore what is vital to its future. Article seven is a call to the CHM to honestly evaluate its present practices of corporate worship. The importance of such an evaluation is underscored by the importance of the act of worship itself. The Westminster confession reminds us that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. Scripture teaches us that worship is vital to our “creaturehood” and central to our faith. If things are not healthy in our worship experience then things are not healthy in our church no matter how well we do other things.
Warren Weirsbe defined worship as the believers’ response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, and body – to what God is and says and does. In the best Methodist holiness tradition worship engages the whole person in a well-balanced blend of joyful celebration and reverential awe that is often reciprocated by the manifest presence of God. When worship succeeds in this fashion, I know of no other worship tradition that enables men to worship God any better.
CHM Worship Strengths
Conservative holiness people are singing people. Praise is central to worship. Music, in the present day church, is the primary form of praise. So music and worship are inextricably connected. Music marks the worship found in both the Old and New Testaments. It has marked the Church across the centuries and around the world. Step inside the average CHM church and you will hear warm-hearted, enthusiastic, highly-engaged singing that is often reinforced with expressions of praise like, “Glory to God”, “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord.” Holiness people know how to worship in song!
Conservative holiness people deeply desire God’s presence. All Christians claim the promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Holiness people, however, truly expect the presence of God to be evident. Their zeal and longing for His presence is often rewarded with a gracious visitation of His manifest presence.
Conservative holiness people have a keen sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit. In the best Wesleyan holiness tradition order and structure are always present. But there is also present a willingness to let the Spirit of God set aside the planned program if need be to accomplish His own sovereign purposes.
Conservative holiness people have a strong love for good preaching. The preaching event still takes a very high place in holiness movement worship. Holiness people read their Bibles and carry them to church. They want good preaching, respond to good preaching and show sincere respect for the preacher who gives them the unadulterated Word of God.
CHM Worship Weaknesses*
Too many services lack thoughtful planning. Growing up in the CHM I was taught to be suspicious of liturgy, only to discover that every church follows a liturgy, either a good one or a bad one, written or unwritten. This fear or neglect of careful planning produces a worship experience that lacks continuity (is very disjointed and broken apart by things that could be avoided with minimal planning) and is random in its forward movement. It will fail to lead the congregant in a meaningful worship experience. Churches who have consistently good worship experiences or those where the worship service is thoughtfully planned, intentionally structured, steeped in prayer and executed under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Careful planning does not hinder the freedom of God’s Spirit to work. Actually, it gives Him a reliable framework through which He can inspire worship and minister grace to His people.
Too many holiness churches have stressed feeling and experiencing God to the neglect of worshiping and glorifying God. Jesus taught us to worship in spirit and in truth. Worship must have both heart and head. Worship must engage emotions and thought. Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy. On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. Many in a sincere attempt to feel God near have lost this balance and have opened the door to fleshly emotionalism and called it worship.
We have allowed worship to become something we do for our benefit rather than something we offer to God. Worship has an end – and it is not us! This twist in focus has turned church into a performance event where we are the recipients. We want the songs to bless us, the prayers to comfort us, and the sermon to help us feel better about our condition. True worship is not self-centered, but God-centered. In true worship God is the audience and we are the performers! Robert Coleman said it well, “Worship is the adoring response of the creature to the infinite majesty of God. While it presupposes submission to Him, to worship, in the highest sense, is not supplication for needs, or even thanksgiving for blessings, but the occupation of the soul with God Himself.”
Prayer is generally fervent but often lacks substance. The offering of prayers has always been a vital part of Christian worship and certainly an important part of worship within the CHM tradition. Prayer is so intimate and personal that we have been hesitant to critique it. But as a central part of worship, public prayer should be evaluated. Public prayer or the pastoral prayer is different from our private time with God. It should evidence thought and preparation. I know a pastor who spends a considerable amount of time writing out his Sunday morning prayer. He takes the responsibility of leading his congregation to God seriously. His prayers contain a wonderful balance of adoration, petition and confession. They are steeped in Biblical language. They have forward movement that is orderly and thoughtful. But more importantly, they are deep and powerful. On the other hand, unless one has trained himself in the art of public prayer, the average extemporaneous prayer tends to be shallow, directionless and often repetitious. Careful thought and preparation will not rob us of authentic sincere prayer. On the contrary it will help us truly attain it!
There is a noticeable lack of scripture. We have left scripture out of our present day worship services. Rarely do you find a CHM church that gives attention to scripture readings, calls to worship, and responsive readings. Quite often, you do not even need your Bible for the sermon! Often scripture reading is ignored in the name of “saving time”. However, I believe we fail here for two reasons: First, we think what we have to say in more important and effective than the public reading of Scripture. Second, we are poor readers. One only has to hear a good reader lift up the scripture to know the power of the read word!
Too Important to Ignore
There may be something optional about how one worships, but worship itself is not optional. Corporate worship is the exalted purpose and central pulse of every Christian congregation. If you are not worshiping you are not having church – you are just holding a shabby religious sideshow and calling it worship. What will it take to motivate you and your church to rebuild the altar of true worship? Think about it. There is too much at stake not to!
*I asked a group of Pastors and Church Leaders within the CHM to give me a list of what they believed were the worship weakness of the CHM. Their lists were remarkably similar and were used to develop the list in this article.