Debates over the proper form and content of worship are not new. The apostle Paul was already contending with such disputes in the first century (e.g., 1 Cor. 11–14). One could even argue that the “worship wars” began much earlier, when Cain and Abel brought their different sacrifices to God (Gen. 4:3–7; cf. Heb. 11:4). Closer to our own time, the eighteenth-century rise of revivalism caused great controversy throughout North American churches. The worship styles introduced in the camp meetings were a far cry from traditional forms of worship. As time passed, revivalistic forms of worship became institutionalized in some denominations and strongly influenced others. The rise of Pentecostalism in the early twentieth century and the charismatic movement half a century later has also impacted worship in the contemporary church. Recent decades have witnessed the rise of so-called “seeker-sensitive” worship services, which replace the pulpit with a stage, the pastor with an entertainer, worshipers with an audience, and which seem to be guided more by the spirit of Madison Avenue than by the Spirit of God.
In our own day, Christian worship styles vary from the most formal to the most bizarre imaginable. At one end of the spectrum are those calling for a return to traditional forms of worship. At the other end are those advocating all manner of experimental ideas without any restraint. What else are we to make of spectacles like the “clown eucharist” at Trinity Church in New York? There are those calling for contemporary music and those calling for traditional hymns. There are those calling for high liturgy and those calling for loose informality. When it comes to worship, Christians are faced by a cacophony of conflicting voices, and they are confused. They are looking for a voice of sanity in the midst of the chaos.
Dr. R.C. Sproul’s A Taste of Heaven is such a voice. Dr. Sproul acknowledges the crisis that exists and points us back to the proper source for our answers to these questions. He reminds us that we are not to structure our worship based on what is pleasing to men. Instead, we are to structure our worship based on what is pleasing to God. He reminds us that we are not to look to modern culture or to surveys in order to determine what is pleasing to God. He reminds us that our source of knowledge on this subject is the Holy Scripture, both the Old and the New Testaments. In A Taste of Heaven, Dr. Sproul searches the Holy Scripture for the basic principles of worship that are valid in every time and place.
Dr. Sproul begins by observing that worship in the Old Testament was basically understood in terms of praise, prayer, and sacrifice, with the offering of sacrifices being central. Because Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice on the cross fulfilled all that the Old Testament sacrifices symbolized, many Christians have lost sight of the sacrificial aspect of worship. But under the new covenant, believers are to present themselves as living sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1). We are to give our whole selves to God, body and soul, heart and mind. Dr. Sproul continues by examining the biblical principles of worship, devoting chapters to topics such as the nature of symbolism in worship, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the role of beauty, and the place of music in Christian worship. Each of these chapters provides a careful discussion of the controversies and the issues involved.
Worship of God is a blessed privilege and joyful duty. God is seeking for true worshipers who will worship him in spirit and truth. Because of what Jesus Christ has done, by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sin, by cleansing us from unrighteousness, we are now able to draw near to the throne of grace. The contemporary “worship wars” show no sign of ending any time soon, and they are being used effectively by the enemy to distract and confuse believers and unbelievers alike. For those seeking a guide through the fog, Dr. Sproul’s book is a welcome resource. It reminds us that even during our earthly life, when we gather together with the saints to offer our prayer and our sacrifices of praise, we are granted a taste of heaven.