Adventist ministers in several parts of the world are frustrated about the format of their weekly worship hour. They have used the same order of service, made the same announcements, sung the same songs, prayed the same prayers, and preached almost the same sermons decade after decade, generation after generation, until recently.
Young people say their church is out of touch with the times. Significant numbers of members seem bored with worship. They’re voting for change, and they’re voting with their feet. Thousands of Adventist congregations have twice as many names on the books as they have worshipers in the pews. Perhaps yours is one of them.
Pastors are experimenting with new ways to worship. But these innovations have their problems, too. We must not replace traditional worship—even though time may have drained its meaning—with something that has no biblical basis. Adventist ministers should not be afraid to experiment with new ways to worship, but they need some guidelines. And there’s no better place to find them in Scripture than in that uniquely Adventist chapter, Revelation 14. Verse 7 insists we must be a worshiping people; it is worship of our Creator that makes us unique.
Too many Adventist ministers have had the emotion educated out of them. Too many of us are so afraid of emotionalism (excess emotion) that we avoid any emotion at all.
Ingredients of Adventist worship
1. Adventist worship should be awe-inspiring. In Revelation 14:7, the first angel declares, “Fear God, and give glory to him.” As Adventist ministers know, this word “fear” suggests reverence and awe. Worship involves having a good relationship with your fellow-worshipers; the gospel of love cannot be realized in isolation. And it involves having warm feelings toward God. But these are only parts of worship. In corporate worship, God’s people enter His throne room together. Worship is not primarily for feeling good but for seeing God.
2. Adventist worship should be joyful. Revelation 14:2, 3 describes God’s redeemed in worship: “The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang as it were a new song.” This heavenly harp-playing and singing reveal the joy and feeling that belongs in worship. When we who are preparing for heaven worship as we will in heaven, our worship will be joyful. It will include both our thoughts and our feelings, demanding clear heads and warm hearts.
Too many Adventist ministers have had the emotion educated out of them. Too many of us are so afraid of emotionalism (excess emotion) that we avoid any emotion at all. But we are wrong in presuming we defend our pioneers when we defend only the formal and the rational. Early Adventist worship included lots of relating and participating and sometimes it was highly emotional.
3. Adventist worship should be experiential. Referring to the song God’s people sing, Revelation declares, “No one could learn the song.” Why? Because it is a song of personal experience. Nobody else can do it for us. Worship is experiential. Worship is not a routine or a tradition. It is an event, a happening. It is not a passive, spectator sport but a personal interaction between the Creator and the created.
Controversy about Adventist worship Adventist worship has become controversial. Myriads of pastors worldwide have been communicating with the General Conference Ministerial Association, asking for guidance as they attempt to navigate the minefield surrounding change in worship practice. Some don’t know where to turn. What should change? What should never change?
The subject demands far more than the cursory treatment this brief article allows. Below are some questions that need to be addressed:
• How did early Adventists worship?
• What are our current worship customs or traditions? Where did we get them?
• What do our pastors and congregations think about worship?
• What do our young people think of our worship services?
• What are the Bible principles that will keep us balanced between divine adoration and human fellowship and between reason and emotion?
• What about “celebration” worship? How does your worship service measure up? Sometime you ought to sit alone in the sanctuary, when the people are gone and the pews are empty, and ask the one question that counts: “Did they or did they not meet God today?” Keep preaching the old message. But keep experimenting with more meaningful ways to worship until you feel certain each week that every sincere worshiper is encouraged to encounter God. Worship is encounter. –By Floyd Bresee is a former Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference