Saturday, August 28, 2010

Empty Evangelical Worship

Evangelical worship services* are empty, and most aren't aware of it.

Evangelicals are well aware that their worship services are quite different from the Catholic Mass, of course. Things that I have often heard evangelicals cite as making their worship services better than the Catholic Mass are: better/more relevant preaching, music they connect with/enjoy more, more spontaneity (which is interpreted as realness), and, finally, an overall sense that there's more life at evangelical worship services.

But there are many other differences between evangelical worship services and the Catholic Mass. Here is a sample list of things that the Catholic Mass has that most evangelical worship services lack:

- the whole worship time is a prayer that begins and ends with the sign of the cross
- confessing our sins to God and asking for forgiveness at the beginning before engaging in other worship
- kneeling as a congregation
- large portions of Scripture read out loud in a sequential manner week to week
- acknowledgement by the congregation of their gratefulness to God whenever Scripture is read
- standing out of respect when Scripture is read from one of the four Gospels
- praying for the needs of the world
- a sense of reverence throughout the service
- recitation of the Nicene Creed
- praying the Lord's Prayer
- Scripture used regularly throughout service in what is said by the presider and the congregation
- climax of service is worship to God, not teaching by pastor
- celebration of the Lord's Supper every week
- continuity in manner of worship with most Christians in history

Why don't evangelicals kneel when they are worshiping God? Why don't they show more reverence and gratitude when Scripture is read? Why don't they confess their sins?

All the things listed above, and many other great things, are done  at all Catholics Churches around the world every single week (actually every day at most Catholic churches). Whether or not the priest is a good orator or the church has good musicians, the Mass is the same and the fullness of worship still occurs. Even if an evangelical church happens to have a better band and a more dynamic preacher, they still lack everything listed above and the spiritual depth that they bring.

Things get worse for evangelical worship. Not only do evangelical worship services lack all of the things listed above, the few things they do have - music worship and a long time of preaching - are dependent on the talent of a few individuals. If the band isn't that great or the senior pastor is on vacation, the whole worship service can suddenly seem not as 'full of life' or worshipful. If an evangelical church is like that too often, many evangelicals will leave to find a church that has more life aka better music and preaching. Such dependency on the musical or oratorial abilities of their worship leaders shows the emptiness of evangelical worship. (Side note: It starts to make sense why evangelicals have embraced satellite campuses. When worship services are so dependent on its leaders, rather than try to find a new Rick Warren to get people to go to a new church across town, just bring the people the already popular Rick Warren via video feed.)

But, alas, even if evangelicals were to overhaul their worship services to be exactly like the Catholic Mass (and some are pretty close), they would still remain empty, for they would lack the source and summit of the whole Christian life, the Eucharist. The Eucharist, the transubstantiated real presence of Jesus Christ himself, can be truly consecrated only by a person ordained with apostlic authority, something all evangelicals lack entirely.

Evangelical worship services are empty and, sadly, will always be empty.

*There are people who call themselves evangelicals who worship in all sorts of ways. The evangelical worship service that I am referring to here, and that I believe a majority of self-proclaimed evangelicals would be familiar with, is 30 min of music worship, announcments and offering, and 30 - 45 min of preaching.


  1. I can totally relate with all this, coming from Evangelicalism myself, and rode the "contemporary worship" wave for a while - there is a natural emotional "high" to be found in a setting with lots of excited folks singing loud to loud upbeat music (the same feeling can be found at a non-religious concert) - same goes for charismatic speakers - a polished style attracts some people, not matter the content or lack of depth
    that's what I ended up needing, more depth and substance - less contemporary and more contemplative - and this was one reason I ended up finding my spiritual home in the Catholic Church - thanks for a great article and welcome home!

  2. It really does all come down to the Eucharist, doesn't it? If it actually is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, then everything centers around that in complete worship. If not, then the service can be whatever the local congregation wants it to be. It all hinges on the Eucharist. Then again, Jesus is the both the chief cornerstone and a stumbling block.

  3. As a CradleCat I come away from these services thinking, "my family coulda done that at home," or "that was pretty thin." It makes me wonder how one imagines God, Creation, Heaven, all of it, if this is what you do in church on Sunday.

    I'm sounding uncharitable.

  4. Adding a flip-side to my previous comment, I think most Evangelicals would say that they are not at their church because of the oratorical or musical skills of those leading worship. They would say that God is every bit as present as He is in the Eucharist, citing Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (NIV)

    As for my friend KK's comment about doing this at home, most Evangelicals would reply, "Yes, of course we could!" Citing the churches that met in homes mentioned in Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, and Colossians 4:15, for example, and based again on Matthew 18:20, they would say that wherever the faithful in Christ assemble, He is present with them, and that it is His very real presence that they are there to worship.

  5. Great comments guys.

    KK, i particularly felt what you're describing when I attended a Willow Creek satellite campus a few weeks ago. We listed to/sung along with a great band and then watched a video feed of a sermon. What was gained by 'being there'? Not really a whole lot.

    Magister Christianus, I think you missed kk's point about "coulda done that at home". KK, correct me if I'm wrong, but I interpreted him as questioning more the point of community worship rather than the location. It would be very easy for a family to put in a CMM worship CD and then watch a sermon online or read a book together to accomplish what's accomplished at many evangelical worship services.

  6. Excellent comparisons!

    By the way, I linked your conversion story to my "Bloggers' Faith Stories" page. :)

  7. "questioning more the point of community worship rather than the location."

    Yes..although even as I wrote it I was thinking I should clarify re: home churches, but didn't.

    This is how Mass looks to me:

    Superb singing & preaching don't approach it.

  8. I agree with many of the shortcomings of evangelical services. Truly the Liturgy of the Word (what you call the sermon) is the focal point rather than the Lord's Supper.

    But I think you have slightly romanticized the experience of the average Catholic. I'm a cradle Catholic and know many very devout Catholics whom I respect greatly. But I find the exaltation of the Eucharist can also be the Catholic's downfall. If I ask them about the readings or the content of a song or a collect, very few even notice them. But they sure took communion!

    I get the impression that most Catholics are just killing time during the rest of the mass waiting to get their piece of Jesus.

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  10. "I get the impression that most Catholics are just killing time during the rest of the mass waiting to get their piece of Jesus."

    Me too. But for Catholics who are prepared to pay more attention and put in more effort, the Mass offers much more than just eatin' Jeezy.


  11. Agreed. Now the question presents: can/does Christ make Himself present and known solely through the sacerdotal actions unique to the Roman Catholic priest?

  12. The evangelical (non-denominational) services that I've gone to were very music heavy and more often than not focused on our 'brokeness'. It felt very much like therapy in the sense that you would sing out all your emotions. I noticed that every once in a while there was 'communion' set out on a side table where you were invited to partake 'if you felt comfortable'. It was very much a 'don't do anything you don't feel comfortable with' occasion.

  13. I do think it would benefit the Catholic Mass to make singing the Mass music more accessible. So often you can even understand operatic-like singers! I think it is beautiful to express love of God through song, but I would never trade that in for the Eucharist. In fact when the music is awful I offer it up in sacrifice and try my best to follow along! Go where Truth is taught not where everything is done in an exciting and professional manner!

  14. Not to belabor a point I've made before, but what about places with liturgy that do take the Eucharist on a consistent basis? Is that not "empty"? For example, most confessional Lutherans, of which I am one...
    Your argument seems to presuppose that all evangelicals fall under the non-denominational strata, which I think is untrue. You do mention that some are "close", though I'm not sure what more you want from a liturgical church that takes the Lord's supper regularly. To preempt an objection, I will say that I don't think there is any clear biblical teaching-- in any way of interpretation-- that necessitates the eucharist be taken weekly, daily, only that it is taken "in rememberance of Christ" (See 1 Corinthians 11) While I don't think there is anything wrong with taking the eucharist every time the church meets, I also don't think there's reason it should be taken every Sunday-- especially given the ease with which we humans get into habits that quickly mean nothing. I think this is why most Lutherans take the Lord's supper once a month-- often enough to celebrate the awesome gift of Christ's body and blood, but not every week, so as to make it a more meaningful communion. The Lord's supper is to be done in remembrance of him, and to cement the community of believers as one body here on earth, united under the banner of the cross, under the leadership of the "cornerstone that the builders have rejected". (though if you have a good counter-argument, I'd be happy to hear it)
    It seems that the only reason you see the worship is empty is because it is evangelical worship, which I, as an evangelical, might have a bit of an issue with. Oh, and there's that little bit of transubstantiation, which I'm obviously not in total agreement with you about (being Lutheran and all...) To whit, I quote Luther:
    "we do not make Christ's body out of the bread ... Nor do we say that his body comes into existence out of the bread [i.e. impanation]. We say that his body, which long ago was made and came into existence, is present when we say, "This is my body." For Christ commands us to say not, "Let this become my body," or, "Make my body there," but, "This is my body."
    I love the last part "This IS my body", and accordingly, not a priest making it such. (Sorry, maybe that's a low blow?)

    Love the blog as always!

  15. I encourage you, Andrew, to learn and understand Catholic teachings on the Eucharist before you attempt anymore low blows.
    Maybe start with the Catechism

  16. Hey Andrew,

    Hadn't heard from you for a while! I was starting to wonder if you had ::gasp:: stopped following the blog. =)

    Your point that not all "evangelical" worship is 30min of worship songs and a 45min sermon is acknolwedged in my post. Because just about anyone can simply claim the title "evangelical", you can find just about any kind of worship services out there. I chose to focus on the style that I did because, as I say in the post, I think it is most common and what most evangelicals would be familiar with.

    That said, can we be in agreement that most evangelical worship services are thin?

    You wrote:
    "It seems that the only reason you see the worship is empty is because it is evangelical worship, which I, as an evangelical, might have a bit of an issue with. Oh, and there's that little bit of transubstantiation"

    No, I am not calling evangelical worship simply because it's carried out by evangelicals. What you think is that "little bit of transubstantiation" is actually, ultimately, the crux of the whole issue. Now, first off, the vast majority of people who would identify as evangelical do not worship in anything that is like the liturgy of the Mass. But, for that small percentage that do, it's much more than that Christians should celebrate the Lord's supper, it's that it will never be the transubstantiated Eucharist. It will never be a Sacrament. Even your liturgical Lutheran congregation will never have it because your presider isn't ordained with true apostolic authority in succession from Jesus himself.

    Thanks for the comment.

  17. Praise and worship can be a helpful and important element of the spiritual life and can take many forms, as I think many of you have been saying. As a Catholic convert, I still enjoy "praise and worship" services with lots of "cool" feel good sort of music -- but this type of music is not appropriate for the Mass. Who ever said the Mass is the ONLY place or way to praise and worship God? There is music for Mass and there is a different sort of music (many different sorts) that can assist our emotional nature to feel closer to God -- sometimes the music appropriate to Mass does this too, sometimes not. I think we get stuck as Catholics, feeling drawn to jammin' tunes, which we sense are just not right for the Mass, yet longing to enter into them as a way of worshiping Our Lord. I say, "go for it"... hold a praise and worship service, no one is restricting you to ONLY attending the Mass. At Franciscan University there is Mass three times a day -- and THEN in addition, yes Catholics, in ADDITION, there are praise and worship services with music to rival the best of evangelical bands. Just a thought...

  18. "in ADDITION, there are praise and worship services"

    Yes. At my parish we also have Adoration & Benediction every week, as well as Vespers during Lent and Advent and other occasions, and Stations of the Cross also during Lent.

  19. rayjncaun,

    Thanks for your comment. You bring up a great point. Things like worship bands and good long sermons, etc, none of these things are bad. They can actually be very good. Just like you said, they don't replace the Mass.


  20. Another thing missing - a crucifix. As just one example, Joel Osteen's church doesn't even have a cross. Instead, they have a spining sculpture of the world. How worldly. No funerals allowed there either.

  21. Willow Creek Community Church, the influential Chicago area church, is also famous for intentionally having no cross

  22. Reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's "Church of Truth without Jesus Christ Crucified," and the competing "Holy Church of Christ Without Christ."

  23. When I was an Evangelical and I first attended the Holy Mass what I was most struck by was that fact that the worship was centered on Jesus, specifically, His Eucharistic presence, we were there for Him, not the music, not the preaching, but for Jesus.

  24. "Why don't evangelicals kneel when they are worshiping God? Why don't they show more reverence and gratitude when Scripture is read? Why don't they confess their sins?"

    I think it's fair to say that not everybody defines reverence in the same way. For instance, in some cultures it's polite to burp after a meal to show you liked it, but it's rude (irreverent) in Western culture. Evangelical worship is equivalent to a different culture with different ways of showing reverence to God. They probably wonder why Catholics don't praise God with upraised hands, which is a common way of showing reverence among Evangelical groups.

    Evangelicals confess to all their sins, past and future, once, when they pray the sinners prayer and accept Jesus as their savior. So they do confess at least once. It doesn't mean they don't confess privately or even to a pastor on a regular basis though - I don't have to tell you there's a wide variety of Christian denominations and their practices can vary among congregations and from person to person within a congregation.

  25. Andrew, I thought you raised a good question in asking why the Mass is celebrated daily if it is so sacred and celebrating it more frequently can often affect the disposition of the one who recieves it often. I asked a priest the same question and here is what he told me.

    The prayer that Christ used during the Last Supper was a prayer that was said daily. This signified that in using this prayer Christ desired the Mass to be a daily event as well and so it is.

    Also, I found from personal experience that frequenting the Mass does not detract from its sacredness or one's appreciation of it but rather imparts more grace to that person, given he or she is taken it with the right disposition, and transformation of that person is much more readily seen.

  26. I felt the strongest Evangelical claim here presented was when Magter Christianus reminded us of Matthew 18:20, "For when two or three are gathered in My Name, I am with them" All Christians are therefore entitled to use this promis by Christ to guide them. But it is not we who do the "gathering" that summons Him - but He comes when His Name is invoked. I for one am then left wondering - When Chist dwells among the communicant at a Mass and He also is presnt at an Evangelical gathering what does He see? He sees Catholics crossilng themselves with their hands and arms and in the Evangelical service He sees arms uplifted toward Heaven. And all the rest? Is He, as God, looking with equal favor on the reverant congregation in the Cathredral - the happy and singing crowd in the atuotorium - the "two - three or more" standing on a corner beating on a drum and blowing into a horn? One here said the diversity is due to culture. And culture does play a big part in differant countries - regions - and among races. But here in the U.S. where most of us live are not Catholics and Evangelicals emersed generally in the same culture?

    I wonder if instead of asking which of us is pleasing God with our divergent forms of Worshiping Him we should not instad consider if God is pleased with us - and if He approves of the way we address Him? He surely did not leave us to our human whims - but lyed down a map for us. Are we following it?