Someone asked whether I still had on file a copy of the “Letters to Keith”, a series of ten letters which were published by the late Rev. Bill Deenick back in the early 90s. They were written at a time when the CRCA – like so many other churches – was going through the “worship wars”. I didn’t have my copy anymore. I suspect that I loaned it out to someone and that they were never returned. So I contacted my brother, who is a son-in-law of the Rev Deenick. He sent me an electronic copy of these letters so I was able to pass them on to the person who was enquiring about them.
I took the opportunity to re-read them. It struck me that today, twenty years later, much of what Bill Deenick wrote about worship and liturgy is as relevant as ever. Okay, some of his remarks, such as those about overhead projectors in the church, sound just a little quaint today – except that like him I regret that we only have words and no music on the overheads. But he mentions some principles that ought to still guide our thinking about worship today.
He begins his “Letters to Keith” by spelling out that we must never evaluate worship services by the impact that they have on us. That is still ever so relevant. People often lament that they don’t get anything out of a worship services and use that as an excuse to “move on”. Allow me to share with you a somewhat lengthy quote from Deenick’s first letter.
“Your spiritual benefit or mine cannot possibly be the focus of a bona fide church service for the worship of God, our Saviour. A church service is not meant to be inspiring, with the Holy Spirit present to make it a wonderful experience for you and me; it is meant to be God-honouring and truthful, with the Holy Spirit present to sanctify our minds and hearts so that we may honour God; and that is not always a pleasant experience. It may cast us down, as it did Job when he said: ‘Now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’ (42:4.5).
Yet, what do we see happening around us? Church services are assessed by the measure of what they do to us, by the degree of joy or pain they cause foolish people like you and me. If we follow that road there will be no end to the confusion. We will want to experience something new and exhilarating every time and the church service will be judged by the number, the enthusiasm, the happiness and the wonderful fellowship of those attending. The spiritual consumer society will take over and growth will become the hallmark of the truly successful assembly for religious inspiration.
The writer of these “Letters to Keith” was my pastor during the years in which I was a student at the RTC in Geelong. He was a man who loved joy-filled worship and who was not afraid to be innovative. I recall a worship service in which for several songs we were accompanied by a group of children playing their recorders. And that was at a time when the organ still reigned supreme as the instrument to accompany the praises of God’s people.
We might also want to debate the point that Deenick is making here. I can imagine you asking, “Isn’t it possible for worship to be God-honouring and truthful and yet totally irrelevant to the people gathered in that worship service? I recall a man who took his family out of our church to join another down the road and his reason for doing so was that he and his family considered our worship services boring.
While I admit that I and all who participate in worship need to do everything to the best of our ability and not allow worship to degenerate into a dull routine, I am nevertheless forced to asked, “How can anything to do with the worship of our great and glorious God ever be boring?” Deenick is right; Church services must not be measured by what they do to us. Worship is not primarily about us, it’s about our awesome God and the gospel of His Son.