When worship is an abomination.
Spurgeon on the most vital ingredient in the church’s worship.
There is worship that pleases the Lord, and then there’s worship that God detests. And no, I’m not talking about the over-produced smoke-and-light experiences that some churches label worship. I have no doubt that there are honest worshippers even in those crowds. Actually, the Lord makes it quite clear the type of worship that disgusts him: the sort that’s formulaic and rote, a mechanical mishmash of performance and praise that resembles worship but lacks its substance. In a collection of his sermons entitled, Storm Signals, the “prince of preachers” Charles Spurgeon vocalizes this very dilemma with his particular pastoral verve:
Without Christ your church-goings are a form of slavery, your chapel-meetings a bondage. Without Christ your prayers are but empty wind, your repentances are wasted tears, your alms-givings and your good deeds are but a coating of thin veneer to hide your base iniquities. Your professions are white-washed sepulchres, fair to look upon, but inwardly full of rottenness. Without Christ your religion is dead, corrupt, a stench, a nuisance before God — a thing of abhorrence, for where there is no Christ there is no life in any devotion, nothing in it for God to see that can possibly please him . . . You may be orthodox in your creed, but unless you have Christ in your heart, you have no hope of glory. (237–38)
That is a stinging and stunning implication, to be sure. Our orthodoxy might be well-formulated and articulated, and we still might be bereft of genuine worship. Our doctrinal i’s and t’s can all be dotted and crossed with painstaking precision, but without Christ it’s all for naught. “I’ve had enough of our vain offerings and hollow assemblies,” the Lord declares to his own through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 1:11–17; cf. Mal. 1:10). Their services and sacrifices were a mangled mess of sin and sanctimony, such that they’ve become an odorous stench in God’s nostrils (Amos 5:21–23). The outward forms and functions in our worship do matter, but they’re not really what God’s after (Matt. 23:1–36).
God’s after our hearts. “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice,” the Lord declares, “and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6; cf. Matt. 23:23). More than methodological precision, God desires to melt our souls with his grace, suffusing our hearts and minds with the worship that comes from shear gratefulness. May our churches, then, be unencumbered by mechanical procedures of praise and, instead, be filled with anthems that exalt the “wondrous works” of our Great Father.
I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts: and I will declare thy greatness. They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness. (Ps. 145:1–7)
Grace and peace, friends.
Charles Spurgeon, Storm Signals (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1885).