Vol.XIX No.II Pg.2
April 1982

Unstructured Worship

Robert F. Turner

UNSTRUCTURED worship is "in" again. Someone awakens to the need for something more "spiritual" and "truly worshipful" than the traditional three songs and a prayer; and sets out to unstructure the "service." If strongly into the "Spirit thing" (as one reformer put it) we may be told genuine worship must spring spontaneously from each individual's heart — so if any "hath a psalm," "hath a doctrine," let him speak forth. Paul missed a golden opportunity to encourage such (1 Cor. 14:26-40) when he actually commanded some order in the public worship — even among those who truly had miraculous spiritual gifts.

We frequently write on public worship (See V.10, N.3, p.4-5; 15-2-7; 16-11-4) and acknowledge the error of ritualistic, sacramental, liturgical "services" — which we may unwittingly approach by rigidly traditional patterns of song, prayer, preach, etc. Changing the order of our services may help avoid these errors: have the Lord's Supper before preaching, or after, if this is a change. We may have more songs, less songs, change the time of contribution, change even the emphasis of some services (make a genuine prayer service, for example); BUT — change for change's sake is gendered by the same wrong concept that makes ritual an error. AND — no amount of changing order can produce true spirituality or make the gathering more "worshipful." Frequently — and I do mean frequently — changes made without full preparation of the worshipers, and without their being well informed of the why and wherefore, will confuse, disorientate, and will destroy the worship once there.

We have no right to say members do not sincerely worship in their familiar three songs and a prayer; and it is rank folly to think that jolting them with a prayer and two songs will prostrate their hearts before God. A reformer may have adequate knowledge of God's word but abysmal ignorance of human nature, and the patient nurture and instructions necessary to lead people to new and better ways.

No doubt there are new and better ways of implementing public worship and work — expedients wholly within scriptural authority. We do tend to follow traditional patterns — which may be the best way, long tested. But such changes as we make must be with the consent of the worshipers, must be thoroughly understood so all can follow without confusion, must "be done decently and in order." Attempts to "organize an unorganized service-structure an unstructured worship" become mechanical devices, manipulating the people outside, but doing no good for the heart where it really counts.