Contemporary worship, however, is fully aesthetic in purpose and practice. God is the audience and the worshippers are performers. Skilful instrumentalism is part of the offering of worship. We repeat, that many evangelical churches have, in this way, gone back to Rome, but they have actually surpassed Rome both in intricacy and decibel count. At the dawn of world history Abel’s offering was accepted by the Lord because it was the very act God had commanded – a humble offering representing the need for atonement. Cain’s offering, however, was rejected, because it presented his own skill, labour and artistry. It was a ‘works’ offering. To parade before God our skills as an act of worship is surely nearer to the offering of Cain than that of Abel.
Christians who have begun to savour new worship sometimes ask – ‘But what shall we do with our gifts if we cannot express them in worship?’ Here is the heart of the matter. Worship is not the exercise of our gifts, but the exercise of our hearts and minds. For many people this is the lost genius of worship, the principle which has disappeared from sight – that worship is not the presentation to God of skill or beauty, or of personal gifts, but the communication of the soul with God, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Worship is not an aesthetic activity. Incidentally, the desire to ‘express our gifts’ in worship opens the door to elitism, because not many people have musical gifts to display. Where will it end? If someone’s ‘gift’ is to play the bagpipes, and another’s is to play cricket, are we to fit these into the service of worship also?*