The Seventh-day Adventist Church has developed a formal doctrinal position for almost everything -- except for the one thing that affects us most often, our regular worship.
How should we worship?
Most Seventh-day Adventist church services are quiet meetings which allow only the pastor and elders to speak. This article seeks to show that this is unbiblical.
The worship model found in the Bible is for energetic services with congregational participation.
The apostle Paul, for example, said about the congregation in Corinth:
What is it like, brothers and sisters, when you come together? Each one wants to present a song, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.
You would expect Paul to reply:
Well you can't. Just be quiet and listen to the elders and the preacher.
However, what he actually said was:
Let all be done -- to build up the congregation.
This one verse alone suggests that what happens in our worship services is vastly different to what inspired sources say should happen.
This article explores the inspired doctrine of worship from a Seventh-day Adventist viewpoint. It is divided into five sections: The Biblical position, Ellen White's position, The position of other SDA pioneers, Cultural differences, and a Conclusion.
1. The Biblical position
In New Testament times, people listening to sermons didn't sit there in silence. Preachers asked their audience questions (Matthew 13:51). At times the listeners asked the preacher for clarification (John 14:5, 8). And listeners asked preachers what they should do with the information they had given (Acts 2:37).
Rather than there being one preacher, the early Christian worship had a succession of speakers. "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said" (1 Corinthians 14:29).
In the NT church, it seems that any church member could make a presentation in the worship program. "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all be done" (1 Corinthians 14:26).
The fact that different people took different parts of the sermon didn't mean the NT service was disorganized. "Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (1 Corinthians 14:40). The worship leader directed the flow of the meeting, but all who wanted to contribute could do so.
Discussion was part of NT church meetings. Acts 20:7 says, "Paul was holding a discussion with" church members, including children, at Troas (NRSV).
"They that feared the Lord spake often to one another" (Malachi 3:16). This suggests frequent opportunities for testimonies in meetings.
NT church meetings included reading letters. "When this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans" (Col 4:16). Indeed, scholars now believe that every New Testament book was originally written to be read aloud to a congregation.
"They read from the book, from the Law of God, with interpretation" (Nehemiah 8:8). Thus both Scripture readings and explaining the Scriptures are a legitimate part of worship. In fact, the five books of Moses were to be read to all the people each seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). (The fact that this happened only once every seven years suggests that reading long passages should not be a regular worship mode.)
Study of Scripture was part of Biblical gatherings. They "came together to the scribe Ezra in order to study the words of the Law" (Nehemiah 8:13).
Confession was another part of early Christian worship. Instead of pretending they were perfect, NT church members took the opposite approach. John the Baptist's converts were "all baptised by him, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:6). And James told the church members, "Confess your faults to one to another" (James 5:16). That verse clearly shows that confession was done as a group activity, i.e. in their meetings.
Shouting was part of ancient worship. "I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy" (Psalm 27:6). "I pour out my soul... with glad shouts" (Psalm 42:4). "My lips will shout for joy" (Psalm 70:23). "Shout for joy to the God of Jacob" (Psalm 81:1). "Happy are the people who know the festal shout" (Psalm 89:15).
Singing is an important part of Biblical worship. Scripture says, "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19 NIV). The passage even says doing this is a way of being "filled with the Spirit" (verse 18). However, modern church architecture is designed for preaching, not for singing. The acoustics of a church building often prevent church members hearing each other sing. So members are discouraged from singing.
Praise was a major theme of ancient worship songs. Consider these instructions: "Sing unto the Lord, sing praises to his name" (Psalm 68:4). "How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting" (Psalm 147:1). "Let the peoples praise you, O God" (Psalm 67:5).
"O sing unto the Lord a new song," says Psalm 98:1. In fact, there are nine references to singing "a new song" in Scripture. But there is no command to "sing an old song"! We are not to be restricted to singing the songs of the book of Psalms, or other songs of generations now dead. Those songs (even though they may be inspired) may be out of touch with the current generation.
Books One and Two of the Psalms (Psalms 1-73) list the authors of 37 of their songs and all 37 had then-contemporary authors. Thus the first two "official" songbooks do not appear to contain songs of then-ancient authors like Moses (although one is included in later collection of Psalms). Clearly, this shows that the thrust of a collection of songs should be mainly "new songs," songs which speak to the present generation, songs in which the present generation of songwriters have expressed themselves.
There are five collections of songs which make up the Bible's book of Psalms. The authors' names in the first four suggest they were all compiled during King David's lifetime, and that the fifth was compiled in Solomon's lifetime (which, of course, may still have been in David's lifetime). This suggests frequent updating of songbooks.
Often in Biblical times, a "new song" was from extremely recent experience. For example, Moses and Miriam lead the people singing about the drowning of the Egyptians who that day had tried to follow them through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21). Deborah and Barak sang a new song in Judges 5 to celebrate the overthrow of Sisera, which had just occurred. Psalm 3 was written by David "when he fled from Absalom" (Psalm 3 intro). Psalm 34 was a product of David's experience "when he feigned madness before Abimelech" (Psalm 34 intro). And David wrote Psalm 51 "when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone into Bathsheba" (Psalm 51 intro).
David wrote half the Psalms and they were obviously used in worship right from the start. A modern "David" would not have his songs sung in SDA church services until long after he was dead until his songs were no longer relevant to the current music modes. This stifles modern song writing in the SDA church. And writing worship songs is just as much an act of worship as singing worship songs.
The number of songs in the book of Psalms provides guidance for the number of songs we should have in a hymnal or overhead projection set. There are, of course, 150 psalms (or 151). Even with a hymnal of 600 songs, a congregation would sing about only 150 in a year. (Using three hymns in the church service each week is 160 a year. Three hymns in Sabbath school gives another 160. If each hymn is used about twice a year, a congregation would use about 150 songs a year.)
In fact, the largest of The Psalms' five song books is Book 5 which has 44 songs (Psalms 107-150). The smallest is Book 3 with 16 songs (Psalms 73-89). A congregation with a collection of 44 songs would use each song about once in two months. Thus, each song would be very familiar to the congregation, and the singing would have better congregational involvement.
Hymnals with, say, 600 songs are a clutter of songs which are never sung. With a hymnal that size, singing becomes uncertain because it is usually several years since the last time each song was sung. Thus, having a large hymnal works against better congregational singing.
A large hymnal also works against people with limited musical ability. It limits their participation. They do not have the ability to sing unfamiliar tunes.
Some of the Bible's psalms were sung to secular tunes. This sets the precedent for us to use secular tunes for our music. Note the introductions to the 10 Psalms said to be sung to secular tunes. Psalm 9: "To the tune of The Death of a Son.'" Psalm 22: "To the tune of The Doe of the Morning.'" Psalms 45 and 69: "To the tune of Lilies.'" Psalm 56: "To the tune of A Dove on Distant Oaks.'" Psalms 57, 58 and 75: "To the tune of Do not Destroy.'" Psalm 60 and 80: "To the tune of The Lily of the Covenants.'"
This list of tunes shows that they sang several different sets of words to the one tune. Of the six secular tunes listed, two are used twice and one three times. If this ratio was followed throughout the Psalms, the congregation would have used 90 tunes to sing the words of 150 songs.
Singing different words to the same tune reduces a congregation's uncertainty in its singing. It allows variety in the words of songs, but doesn't force unfamiliar tunes on the congregation. And it allows those who write words to "a new song" to use an existing tune to express themselves musically without the ability to write their own tunes.
In the NT Church, any church member could present a musical item. "When you come together, each one has a hymn.... Let all be done" (1 Corinthians 14:26). It seems the worship leader would simply ask, "Who has a song?" Members could then suggest congregational singing of their favorite, or could present a solo, possibly of a new song they had written that week. However, in SDA Churches, if the leaders don't know you have musical ability, you have no opportunity to sing an item.
There is nothing in Scripture that suggests that any type of musical instrument, or any style of singing, is unacceptable to God. However, many SDAs feel God disapproves of any musical style except current church music and the musical style of their teenage years. (The music of our mid-teenage years tends to be our preferred music style throughout our lives.)
The Bible recommends musical instruments as part of worship. Psalm 150:3-5 lists seven or eight musical instruments, suggesting an orchestra. Other verses list one musical instrument only, suggesting solo playing.
Psalm 150:3-5 reads: "Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals." Notice that several of the musical instruments are percussion instruments. This shows that "beat" is acceptable in worship music.
Drums were part of acceptable worship in Scripture. Psalm 81:2 says, "Start the music, strike the drum, play the melodious harp and lyre." The word here translated "drum" is the Hebrew word "toph." The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary says, "The toph was a hand drum, made of a wooden hoop and very probably two skins. It was beaten by the hands, and must have made a kind of tom-tom sound."
There is no percussion in the music in most SDA Church services. This disenfranchises most right-brain church members (about 49% of Australians are right-brained). While the left brain listens to melody, the right brain listens to beat. So 49% of Australians cannot find music that appeals to them in SDA Church services. (I estimate that only 20%-25% of adult Australian Adventists are right-brained. Which indicates that our left-brained singing and worship keep most right-brainers out of the church.)
By itself, the theatre organ is not particularly suitable for worship. Its notes are softened to eliminate percussion. This means that right-brained people (49% of us Aussies) are turned off by the main musical instrument in SDA Churches.
The theatre organ is now almost unused outside of a religious context. So there is nothing in our culture to make a secular person predisposed to enjoying the theatre organ. (My wife recently said to me, "I don't like organ music." I immediately realized I didn't like it either. I had merely tolerated it for my 35 years in the SDA Church.) Yet in their divine services, most SDA Churches allow only theatre organ music.
The Bible recommends worship using the lute, a musical instrument which may be similar to the guitar (see RSV of Psalm 92:3). The KJV of Psalms 33:2, 92:3 and 144:9 refer to "an instrument of ten strings." "The 'instrument of ten strings' resembled a modern guitar" (John Eadie, Bible Cyclopaedia).
"Clap your hands, all you peoples," commands Psalm 47:1, indicating a role for clapping in congregational worship.
Position in worship
"Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the Great God, and all the people answered, Amen, Amen,' lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground" (Nehemiah 8:6). Here we have two or three different positions people adopted in worship.
Thus, worship can (or should) include physical movement, as is also shown by the term "Praise him with... dance" (Psalm 150:4). Of course, this joyful Biblical frolic was an act of worship, quite different to modern dancing where God has nothing to do with it. But the popularity of counterfeit dance should not stop us following the instruction to "worship him with [Biblical] dance."
In Bible times, worshippers often sat in a circle or semi-circle. This was the case in a Galilee synagogue where Jesus told a man, "Get up and stand in the middle (of the room)" (Mark 3:3). And at a meeting apparently in a private home those listening to Jesus were "sitting in a circle" (Mark 3:34). When people in a meeting sit in a circle, there can be more interaction between them. (There is no record in Scripture of congregations sitting in rows of parallel seats.)
In normal NT worship, the preacher usually delivered his address sitting down. Jesus said, "I sat daily with you teaching in the Temple" (Matthew 26:55). But you can't sit to preach if there is a pulpit. (The altar came into Christianity in the Constantine era, and became a raised pulpit in Luther's day.)
Having the preacher seated probably made two differences to the meeting. Firstly, it was far easier to have a succession of speakers. One person might speak for a few minutes on one theme, then someone else would speak on another theme (1 Corinthians 14:26-29).
Secondly, an audience is unlikely to interrupt a person standing to speak. But when a person is seated, other seated people are likely to cut in. So having the speaker seated would lead to interaction during the sermon. If someone didn't understand, they could say, "What do you mean by that?" Or they could say, "I like that idea." (However, no SDA Churches are designed for preachers to sit while delivering messages.)
It is said of Mary Magdalene that she "sat at Jesus' feet" (Luke 10:39). This suggests congregation members sat on the floor while Jesus was teaching in cottage meetings. Paul was taught "at the feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3). Of course, unlike most other matters raised in this article, sitting on the floor is cultural. (There is no instruction to do it, just an example.)
Similarly, uncomfortable hardwood pews are not cultural. Our cultural chairs are ego-dynamic. It is foolish for churches to use the uncomfortable chair designs of a century ago. (Albury SDA Church purchased old pews from the Catholics. When they later needed more pews, they manufactured new ones to be identical. What were the Catholic pews? They had been the Catholic Church's penance pews! Albury Adventists were suffering penance every Sabbath when they sat on those pews.)
If we want our church seating to be cultural, it should be like that used in movie theatres. That seating is deliberately designed to be comfortable enough for people to pay attention for 1« hours or more.
Organization in worship
Biblical worship does not seem to be as rigid and formal as ours. However, there were limits on each type of presentation to the congregation with only two or three of each type of presentation (1 Corinthians 14:27-29). This organization by the worship leader prevented the whole meeting being taken over by one aspect of worship (e.g. all testimonies, all theological presentations, all prayer, or all singing, etc.) And this variety prevented boredom.
In the NT worship model, if someone interrupted the person speaking, the person speaking should then be silent (1 Corinthians 14:30). Also, there should be no chatting to each other in worship meetings, as the women in Corinth were rebuked for doing (verses 34-35). (Our culture does not train people to be silent for 30 minutes. Rather, family members talk while watching television and this trains them to chat during a public presentation. This chatting in the congregation would be reduced by allowing testimonies, etc as part of the church service.)
Thus, while there was order in NT worship ("for God is not a God of disorder" -- 1 Corinthians 14:33), that order did not mean rigid, pre-planned formats which prevented congregation members from speaking.
James 5:16 says, "Pray for one another," and the context suggests this is part of group activity. So any church member could pray in a meeting. And prayer for each other was the recommended prayer.
Summary of biblical position: The Biblical model is for a high degree of congregational involvement in all aspects of the worship service. The Bible recommended a wide range of musical instruments and recommended new songs for worship.
2. Ellen White's position
We now turn to look at areas of Ellen White's theology of worship which are neglected in the modern SDA Church. There is a striking similarity between her theology of worship and that of the Bible.
Noisy worship services
Ellen White agrees with the Bible that shouting is part of worship. "I saw," she said, that "singing to the glory of God often drove [out] the enemy, and shouting would beat him back and give us the victory" (Letter 8, 1850).
One meeting Ellen attended was so noisy that the local sheriff arrived to arrest the meeting leader for disturbing the peace (Spiritual Gifts vol. 2 pages 40-41). The Adventists then barred the door so the sheriff couldn't get in and continued their meeting. When the meeting leader was on trial, one witness testified, "I have been young and am now old, and of all the places I ever was in, I never saw such a confusion, not even in a drunken frolic" (Piscaaquis Farmer, Mar 7, 1845, quoted in Spectrum, August 1987, p 31). Yet Ellen Harmon, who was present, speaks favorably of what happened at that meeting and says God's Spirit was there (Spiritual Gifts vol. 2 pages 40-41).
In the book Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions, Ellen White writes favorably about using guitars in church (page 195). When most Westerners were teenagers, guitars were the predominant instrument in forming what became their adult music tastes. So the lack of guitars in church today is disastrous for evangelism in Western countries.
Note on organ and piano lessons: Ellen White appears critical of both piano and organ lessons. But she is not disapproving of these "for they are essential" (Counsels on Diet and Food page 263). She is merely saying they have lower priority than other learning.
Note on drums: Ellen White speaks unfavorably about a bass drum being played as the same time as a preacher spoke and others sang. However, she does not speak unfavorably about drums as such. So an apparent conflict between her writings and the Bible's approval of drums is just that apparent.
Formal worship "evil"
Ellen White opposed formal worship. She wrote: "The evil of formal worship cannot be too strongly depicted" (Testimonies vol. 9 page 143). "Evil" is probably the strongest word in her vocabulary. And to make sure people understood how evil formal worship was, she wrote that it "cannot be too strongly depicted." Try to find stronger words in her writings!
Ellen White wanted everyone to speak during a church service. She wrote, "None of you should keep silent in your meetings" (Letter 30, 1850).
Ellen White wrote against lengthy sermons. "Ministers too often stand before the people and deliver lengthy discourses, which in order to do good, need to be divided into three parts" (Letter 95, 1896). In this age of television, people are taught to concentrate for ten minutes then have a commercial break. Our sermons would do much more good if they were "divided into three parts". Often 10 minutes would make more impact on a modern congregation than 30 minutes.
Ellen White wrote, "Do not hold the people in your discourses more than thirty minutes" (Manuscript Releases vol. 10 page 130). Most Adventist ministers regard 30 minutes as the minimum length, but this comment makes it the maximum.
Note: Ellen White also writes about a limit of one-hour for discourses by ministers (Testimonies to Ministers page 256). However, while this may be referring to church services, the context seems more likely to be referring to public evangelistic campaigns. (See page 258, which refers to presenting "new and startling themes").
Attractive to outsiders
Ellen White wanted church services to be attractive to unbelievers. "It is the duty of those connected with the church to feel an individual responsibility to... make the meetings so interesting that outsiders or unbelievers will be attracted to your meetings" (EGW Manuscript 13, 1885 -- Manuscript Releases vol. 3 page 1).
Most SDA church services are designed for regulars only to the extent that they do not even announce what is about to happen. Instead of hymns being announced, the organ starts playing and the regulars stand leaving the embarrassed visitor the only one sitting.
White said there should be "more energy" shown in SDA worship services. "I saw there was great necessity of more energy being manifested by the commandment keepers in their meetings" (EGW Manuscript 3, 1853 -- Manuscript Releases vol. 5 page 424).
Notice that this direction to have "more energy" was given at a time when services were the energetic services described earlier. If giving this direction to the SDA Church today, you would need to say "far more energy!"
Talking about God
Personal testimonies, short prayers, and members talking about God were the core of Ellen white's ideal church service. They "came together to honour and glorify [God], to speak of His glory and talk of His power.... All the time would be occupied by short, sweet, testimonies and prayers, that were to the point" (Ibid).
Ellen White is supportive of the view that Malachi 3:16 is talking about meeting for testimonies. She quotes the verse then says, "[God] is represented as hearkening to those testimonies, while the angels write them in a book. God will remember those who have met together and thought upon His name" (Testimonies vol. 4 page 107).
In Testimonies vol. 2 page 579 Ellen White wrote of the impact of Adventists meeting together to "talk out their experience." "All who are pursuing the onward Christian course should have, and will have, an experience that is living, that is new and interesting. A living experience is made up of daily trials, conflicts, and temptations, strong efforts and victories, and great peace and joy gained through Jesus. A simple relation of such experiences gives light, strength, and knowledge that will aid others in their advancement in the divine life. The worship of God should be both interesting and instructive to those who have any love for divine and heavenly things" (italics mine).
Many of Ellen White's references to giving testimonies in meetings seem to refer to non-Sabbath "social meetings." However, several references make it quite clear testimonies are to be part of the Sabbath worship service.
When writing a chapter on "How shall we keep the Sabbath?" she says, "It is necessary that the people of God assemble to talk of Him, [and] to interchange thoughts and ideas in regard to the truths contained in His word" (Testimonies vol. 2 page 583).
She also writes: "The preaching at our Sabbath meetings should generally be short. Opportunity should be given for those who love God to express their gratitude and adoration.
"When the church is without a minister... a short, interesting Bible reading will often be of greater benefit than a sermon. And this can be followed by a meeting for prayer and testimony" (Testimonies vol. 6 page 361).
Notice that Ellen White suggests personal testimonies be part of the service, whether the pastor was present or not. However, testimonies were to become a larger part of the meeting when no minister was present. This advice, given in the 1890's, was at a time, I understand, when one minister had multiple churches to care for. Most Sabbaths the church would have been without a minister, so most Sabbaths would have had testimonies as the greater part of the worship service.
Today many churches have a minister every Sabbath. But should that changed circumstance rob laity of the opportunity to give their testimony? Surely, where a minister is at the same church every Sabbath, he or she should have most worship services predominantly testimonies (duplicating the frequency of the 1890s).
White warned that vigilance was required to make sure we did not slip into false worship styles. "The worship of God will become corrupted unless there are wide-awake men at every post of duty" (Testimonies vol. 4 517). However, there has been almost no vigilance and no attempt to maintain the Biblical worship style in the SDA Church since her death. We have allowed our worship style to drift and to eventually become formal. And we now have virtually no congregational involvement.
Summary of Ellen White's position: Ellen White agrees with the Bible that worship should be energetic, that shouting is desirable, that musical instruments like guitars are acceptable, and that all members of the congregation should be able to speak.
3. Position of other early SDA pioneers
This section looks at modes of worship advocated and followed in the early SDA Church.
James White's sons played the old version of a portable keyboard called a melodeon (Life of HN White, page 22).
As for percussion instruments, James White didn't use drums in church. He used his Bible! He would walk into his meeting singing and accompanying himself by playing the beat of the song on his Bible (William A Spicer Pioneer Days of the Adventist Movement page 147).
And the organ, so much approved of today in church, was viewed poorly by some SDAs. "JN Loughborough and other church leaders had to introduce biblical arguments to ease the acceptance of the first organ used by Adventists in California" (Ministry Oct 1991, page 12).
Would the SDA Church today sing hymns in church that were written to the tunes of Rock and Roll stars like Guns N Roses? Most probably not. But almost the exact equivalent occurred in the early Adventist Church. Adventists often took the most popular secular songs of their time and wrote sacred words to them to sing in church.
For example, "Way down upon the Swanee River" was one of the most popular songs of its day. The Adventists changed it to "You will see your Lord a-coming."
Uriah Smith changed the well-known song "Dixie," to:
We are travelling toward a country bright
The 1858 love song "Bonny Eloise" started with the words "How sweet is the vale where the mohawk gently glides." But to that popular tune the Adventists sang (and still sing) "How sweet are the tidings that greet a pilgrim's ear."
Their use of then-modern tunes is obviously a far-cry from today's Adventist church services. Most songs in modern SDA church services are tunes of a generation now dead. The current generation often cannot relate to them.
In the conservative SDA Church of today, few people clap to the beat of songs they sing. But early Adventists did.
James White wrote about when he and his sisters sang 'You will see your Lord a-coming' (Swanee River) to introduce a communion service. As they reached the chorus of each verse "good brother Clark" would rise, "strike his hands together over his head, shout `Glory!' and immediately sit down." "The influence of the melody accompanied by Brother Clark's solemn appearance and sweet shouts, seemed electrifying" (Life Incidents page 107).
Joseph Bates indicates that the services were exciting. In A Word to the Little Flock he writes of wanting to meet Ellen Harmon "when her mind was free from excitement, (out of meetings)" (page 21). Notice that "out of meetings" was the time the early Adventists were "free from excitement." Conversely, in their meetings there was excitement.
Joseph Bates was considerably older than James and Ellen White. However, his advanced years didn't stop him expressing an excitement in his worship. In meetings he would often start clapping his hands and call out, "Isn't it good to have the Sabbath!"
Early SDAs tolerated different theological opinions. Prominent Adventists James White, Uriah Smith and Joseph Bates all believed that Christ was a created being. That belief today would see them expelled from the SDA church or at least dropped from the ministry. But the church then accepted divergent views more readily. To follow their example, a modern worship service should allow divergent views to be presented.
(At a three-month worship experiment to test the views outlined in this article, we had two rules: 1. That anyone could speak on any subject for up to five minutes, and 2. That people could not criticise what anyone else has said, although they could present an opposite view next Sabbath morning. About half the people attending were non-SDAs. They could present their views without receiving criticism, so they felt more welcome.)
Early SDA preachers didn't have an uninterrupted time in which to speak. People would rise to speak during their sermon (Spiritual Gifts vol. 2 page 67). And during sermons, congregation members would call out fervent shouts of "Glory!" "Hallelujah!" "Praise God!" and "Blessed Jesus!" (Ministry Oct 1991, p12).
(Note: Psychologically, the learning process of some people requires that they immediately react verbally after learning something. (They need to say, "That's a good idea!" Or "What should we do, brethren?") So there must be opportunity for such people to make comments during the worship service, otherwise these people are deprived of their God-given learning process.)
Summary of other SDA pioneer's positon: Early SDAs had high levels of energy in their worship services. They had a variety of musical instruments. Clapping was part of their worship. And they wrote and sang religious words to tunes popular in their day.
4. Cultural and age differences:
Some scholars have concluded that the differences between early SDA worship and later SDA worship are cultural differences. However, I find nothing in inspired writings to confirm this. I suggest the early SDAs were theologically correct in their worship. We are not.
The early SDAs sang "new songs." Inspiration said to "sing a new song."
The early SDAs had energetic worship.
Inspiration said to "worship... with dance" and that worship should be "more energetic."
The early SDAs had congregational involvement.
Inspiration said to "let all be done" and "none of you should be silent in your meetings."
The early SDA Church opposed formal worship.
Inspiration said, "The evil of formal worship cannot be too strongly depicted."
It is true that there are cultural differences, but the above inspired instructions are non-negotiable. They are the Biblical theology of worship, the model for us to follow.
Of course, there is a role for cultural differences. In fact, if you follow the inspired model, you may get more cultural differences than in the present worship system. Here are six examples:
1. Cultural differences may give a pastor slightly more or slightly less authority. However, that variation in authority cannot make him the sole speaker, or override the command that "none of you should keep silent in your meetings."
2. Cultural differences may lead to different ways of expressing energy in meetings. However, those differences will not override the command that "energy be... manifested by the commandment keepers in their meetings."
3. Cultural differences may lead to different musical instruments being used. However, those differences will not permit only musical instruments that appeal to one side of the brain.
4. Cultural differences may lead to different rhythms in music. However, they will not override the instruction to "clap your hands."
5. Cultural differences may lead to different lengths of prayers. However, they will not override the command to "pray for one another."
6. Cultural differences may mean the tones of singing are different. However, that variation will not override the command to "sing a new song." (In fact, allowing the congregation to "sing a new song" automatically means the songs are in keeping with their culture.)
Just as different cultures will express the inspired worship commands in different ways, so will different age groups. When we ran our three-month worship experiment, there was a week when there were only two adults present. The difference in the meeting was remarkable as the young people then followed the Biblical model but expressed the worship in their own way. Indeed, this Biblical model can cater fairly well for all age groups in the one meeting. (When a young person is taking part of the program, younger listeners will get more from that part of the meeting. When older people are speaking, older listeners will get more from that part.)
Just as the Biblical model adjusts itself for different age groups, it adjusts itself for different learning styles. In each church we have some members who are audio learners, some who are audio-visual learners, and others who are experiential learners. With a Biblical worship service, each person participating will present their thoughts in their own learning style. Thus, the meeting will be a mixture of styles, catering for everyone (unlike the present meetings which cater only for those with the learning style of the preacher).
The failure of the SDA Church to create a formal theology of worship has, to use Ellen White's words, allowed "the worship of God to become corrupted."
The role of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to "restore all truth," a task which must be done before the Lord returns (Acts ). Part of this work must surely be the restoration of the biblical mode of worship.
It is something which must happen on a congregation by congregation basis. It is probably not something which can be done overnight. Rather, individual church leaders in local locations need to gradually introduce greater participation, opportunities for testimonies, etc into existing meetings.
Occasionally, there will be an opportunity to start afresh, when a new church is established. In an environment free of local church tradition, officers of new churches can look at establishing this biblical worship mode right from the start.
In the few places this worship style has been tested, it has been quite addictive. Church members who become used to the high level of involvement find attending a normal Adventist service a rather dull experience.
But then again, if this is the way God wants us to hold our worship services, it's natural that it would work better.
And the organ, so much approved of today in church, was viewed poorly by some SDAs. "JN Loughborough and other church leaders had to introduce biblical arguments to ease the acceptance of the first organ used by Adventists in California" (Ministry Oct 1991, page 12).