It is true that many people go to church looking for religious feelings or a mere experience. Like the days of the Old Testament, people today can be guilty of idolatry and harlotry when theology of worship is gravely misunderstood and misapplied. According to Eugene Peterson, he says, “Harlotry is worship that says, ‘I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most attractive to you'” [Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 181].
In such environment the worshipers then become judges in terms of how and what worship should be. Never mind what the Bible says. Never mind the sound doctrine. Never mind what the Church has been doing in all her years. Never mind the guiding light of the Regulative Principle of Worship. In an environment where the worshipers are the judge and jury, the measuring gauge is usually how cool, hip, interesting, relevant, and exciting the worship is to them.
Whatever happened to worship that involves both cognitive and emotive aspects that are driven by sound theology? Peterson writes:
Neither Bible nor church uses the word “worship” as a description of experience. Pastors hear this adjectival usage in sentences like, “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.” That means, “I have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.” Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experiences make us what the church calls “worship.” The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people. Worship is neither subjective only nor private only. It is not what I feel when I am by myself; it is how I act toward God in responsible relation with God’s people. Worship, in the biblical sources and in liturgical history, is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. Experience develops out of worship. Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his call while at worship in the Temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience” (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, 183-84).
In my observation as a pastor, people who fall under that description generally make poor decisions due to poor discernment, due to poor doctrinal understanding. Generally, these people are not interested in sound theology or biblical preaching. In fact, some see it as hindrance to “real worship.” To borrow words from Peterson once again:
Israel and the Christian church insisted that worship was the proclamation of the will of God and the call for human response to it. The word was authoritative and clear. Nothing was dependent on feelings or weather. All was determined by scripture. No person was left to do what he or she felt like doing. The “shape of liturgy” gave shape to their lives. God revealed his nature and demanded obedience to it. Worship was the act of attending to that revelation and being obedience to it (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, 184).
May the Spirit of God through the Scripture bring about such reformation!