Formed in 1118 and assigned to protect the Holy Land and the religious relics, the Knights Templar fell to Saladin’s army by 1180. Such a fall seemed improbable. The Knight’s strength was found though a commitment to purpose and a series of supply networks protected by a series of strategic castles. Their success was built upon supply lines and reinforcements from Europe. The plan was sound. Yet in less than two generations the land they were commissioned to protect was in the hands of the enemy. Their ultimate defeat was attributed to compromise, corruption, decadence and a breakdown of the network of communication and supply lines that connected the castles.
The group became self-absorbed with power. The compromise caused them to slide towards cultural darkness. They displayed their allegiance through outward symbols but were corrupt on the inside. This casual attitude led to total disaster. One by one the castles fell at the hands of the Turks until the defeated knights returned to Europe where the remaining knights were tried for heresy and executed. Some of the castles remain even today and serve as mere reminders that not all strongholds are defeated by superior armies. These castles fell from the inside out. How did this happen? They took their eyes off the vessels they were commissioned to protect.
As one who teaches and points churches to employ strong biblical worship, I am concerned about the health of our churches related to worship life and practice. Although there are many churches (if not most) who practice strong biblical worship, more than a few are struggling and at times find themselves in conflict. We cannot take our “eyes off the vessels.” The vessel I speak of is God’s Word. The Word must be more than an influencing factor in our worship—The Word must be the driver of worship.
Is it time for a change?
Scripture is filled with changes in worship format and style. From Abraham to the early church we find dramatic changes in worship expression. Some expressions were patriarchal, some were participatory, and some where solemn. The early church expression included aspects of the synagogue. Even John presents a glimpse of worship in the book of Revelation. One aspect of worship that doesn’t change is the theme of worship. From Genesis to Revelation the theme of worship is redemption. In biblical models of worship, the “style” served the content—not the other way around! May our changes only point us to the biblical practice of presenting the message of redemption with clarity and passion.
Many questions may surface related to change. Here are a few questions to consider:
- Will the change bring the congregation in greater alignment with God’s word?
- Will the change affect the gifts God has already placed in the life of the church? In other words, do you have the gifts (talent, resources) in which to be effective with the changes you introduce?
- Will the change enhance discipleship?
- How will the change affect the fellowship?
- Is the pain of remaining the same greater than the pain of the change?
Another key element to remember when dealing with change is a simple organic principle: the greater distance between present reality and the desired vision, the greater the tension. This is true in church life as well. We must anticipate this tension and move at a pace that minimizes the pain to the congregation. The greater the change, the slower one needs to move.
This is not a condemnation of contemporary forms. The intention is not to challenge the validity of any “style.” As the Templar castles fell from the inside out, so will our worship if we abandon or even minimize the priority of God’s Word in our worship practice. Each church should find their own way in worship expressions. It is vital, however, to be intentional in our teaching of worship. I would encourage ALL pastors to teach and model biblical foundations of worship.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, the Apostle challenges the young pastor to guard that which is within. Paul writes: “in a great house there are vessels of gold, silver, wood, clay; some to honor and some to dishonor.” He goes on to say that we are to “be a vessel of honor, sanctified and fit for the Master’s use, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim 2.20-21). We are protectors of the “holy.” Our purpose is not to guard relics but rather to guard the Truth of our Message. This means that we should prioritize obedience before fashion—truth before packaging—content before style and sacrifice before preference.
Today, we face an army much greater than Saladin’s. The foe we struggle against is not flesh and blood but principalities and the powers of darkness. Our American culture is pressing against the church to prioritize the consumer ahead of the Exalted Christ. We are faced with the pressures of today’s “Have it Your Way” theology fused with a “whatever works” ethos. This invasion is subtle yet real. Such compromise will move God’s Word from the “driver” of worship to the realm of mere influence. The result can lead to compromise, corruption, and a breakdown of biblical values. The walls will fall from the inside out.
Worship is a holy privilege. Take care of the castle.