In this episode of Mere Fidelity, we decide it’s time to revive the worship wars.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Sorry I have to disagree with Derek here, but he knocked it out of the park with that intro. :)


    1. Never apologize for disagreeing with Derek.


  2. Hi Fellas,

    That was a great episode. I took notes as I listened so I could comment with follow-up questions, but you guys managed to eventually hit a lot of what I was going to ask about.

    So, full disclosure: I’ve pretty much run the gamut of Protestantism. Childhood in the UCC, adolescence in the ELCA. Then a brief stint in the UMC. A little time with Fundamentalist Baptists in college. A lot of time with Charismatics and the AoG in early adulthood. Then seven years with the PCA. My heart and theology are pretty much ‘Mostly’ Reformed, but I’ve been at a contemporary Evangelical church for the better part of the past year. My sensibilities and convictions about liturgy tend to align with traditional Anglicanism, Lutheranism, or wherever you can find like it in Reformed churches. So my present situation for public worship isn’t exactly my cup of tea.

    My biggest struggle with my currently corporate worship environment and style is that I don’t really have the sense that work is being demanded of me as a truly active participant nor that I’m really being worked upon by Word and Spirit in the Lord’s Service. I sense myself as being too much of an observer. And I think that the priestly character and “food ministry” of worship has been lost. Not just the Lord feeding us at his Table at the climax of the service but the whole sense of the congregation being prepared as an ascension offering (Rom. 12:1) by knife and fire—Word (Lev. 4:12) and Spirit (Heb. 12:29)—rising by faith in glory into God’s presence. I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic about this stuff in the liturgy.

    Something to add about the regulative principle of worship: at its heart, it’s a pastoral practice to watch over differences or ignorance in individual liberties. It’s simply to practice the Lord’s command: “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deut. 12:32). It’s seeking to do nothing less and nothing more than God has required, because that set of limitations itself is what God has required. And it seems to indicate that we shouldn’t be overly confident that God takes pleasure in or approves of practices he hasn’t revealed to us. When individual believers have different ideas about what range of worship activities God delights in or wants (i.e. different ideas about what we are at liberty to do before God), how is that to be resolved in our corporate worship? It would seem, at least in principle, that attempting to do nothing less and nothing more than what God commands is the only way to at least try to properly alleviate everyone’s consciences.

    Alastair mentioned Leithart and “paring away that which is distracting.” That made me think of Leithart’s “Priesthood of the Plebs” and the notion of paring away that which is misleading. For instance, the practice of chrismation on top of baptism. Does that practice mislead worshipers into thinking that baptism doesn’t already signify what the anointing with oil is being added to signify? Doesn’t it mess up baptismal theology by gutting the practice of baptismal theology? I was recently at a service where an annual affirmation of baptism ritual was done for anyone who wanted come up and receive it. It was chrismation, anointing with oil, as an expressivist activity to show our sincerity toward our baptisms. I just stood back and thought: Isn’t the Lord’s Supper the God-ordained rite that already accomplishes this purpose?

    When talking about worship appropriating the manners of the cultural context, is there something to be said about public worship being somewhat purposefully counter-contextual? That it should be at least partly a little weird to be distinct from all the habits and ‘liturgies’ of the surrounding culture? That it’s practical holiness by not being just a straightforward appropriation of the lifestyle of the selective demographic who attends? Is worship supposed to play a role in Christ teaching us how to be a distinctive people in our public assembly?

    I was also considering Andrew’s comment on the plasticity of the worship style juxtaposed to the constancy of the message between worship styles. Is the “message” (sermon? or something broader?) the only message being communicated at a worship serve? Doesn’t all of worship communicate and train us in a unified practice? And does the worship style contribute contextually to the message so that the same message in two different worship styles isn’t really quite the same message? I think about an application of “lex orandi lex credenda” in this, that it’s a two-way street. That our law of prayer (worship) starts molding our law of confession (theology). The biggest example I can think of is our generally impoverished Trinitarian theology and the corresponding lack of Trinitarian character in the warp and woof of our worship.

    Thinking about Matt’s comment on delayed gratification, I consider the shift where contemporary worship seems more geared toward entertainment and instant gratification according to the rhythms of consumerism. The idea that worship would actually be work or service or sacrifice seems lost on consumers. I’m drawn to James K. A. Smith’s work on this issue.

    One last line of thought that I don’t think was addressed: What about the change in purpose in public worship away from the separating out and the gathering together of God’s people for God’s service to a more “evangelistic” event? Evangelism is taken out of the world and brought into worship, effectively displacing worship. What about the shift in thought about actively consciously bringing in unbelievers to be a part of worship without making any distinction, to consciously create such a mixture for public worship? What effect has this had on the style of worship?



  3. Kyle Williams March 6, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Good discussion. I just have to say that the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal is solid. And not all Anglican worship requires professionals. After all, the Wesleys were Anglicans.


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