Entertainment and the Church!

A.W. Tozer
1897-1963

 

In our day we must be dramatic about everything. We don't want God to work unless He can make a theatrical production of it. We want Him to come dressed in costumes with a beard and with a staff. We want Him to play a part according to our ideas. Some of us even demand that He provide a colorful setting and fireworks as well!


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Many churches these days have to depend upon truckloads of gadgets to get their religion going, and I am tempted to ask: What will they do when they don't have the help of the trappings and gadgets? The truck can't come along where they are going!


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Schleiermacher held that the feeling of dependence lies at the root of all religious worship, and that however high the spiritual life might rise it must always begin with a deep sense of a great need which only God could satisfy. If this sense of need and a feeling of dependence are at the root of natural religion it is not hard to see why the great God Entertainment is so ardently worshiped by so many. For there are millions who cannot live without amusement; life without some form of entertainment for them is simply intolerable; they look forward to the blessed relief afforded by professional entertainers and other forms of psychological narcotics as a dope addict looks to his daily shot of heroin. Without them they could not summon courage to face existence.


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This is the cause of a very serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism. The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us: shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit. These and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.


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We have already seen the reaction [the denial of spiritual longing and desire] among the masses of evangelical Christians. There has been a revolt in two directions, a rather unconscious revolt, like the gasping of fish in a bowl where there is no oxygen. A great company of evangelicals have already gone over into the area of religious entertainment, so that many gospel churches are tramping on the doorstep of the theater. Over against that, some serious segments of fundamental and evangelical thought have revolted into the position of evangelical rationalism which finds it a practical thing to make peace with liberalism.


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Pastors and churches in our hectic times are harassed by the temptation to seek size at any cost and to secure by inflation, what they cannot gain by legitimate growth. The mixed multitude cries for quantity, and will not forgive a minister who insists upon solid values and permanence. Many a man of God is being subjected to cruel pressure by the ill-taught members of his flock who scorn his slow methods and demand quick results and a popular following regardless of quality. These children play in the marketplaces and cannot overlook the affront we do them by our refusal to dance when they whistle or to weep when they out of caprice pipe a sad tune. They are greedy for thrills, and since they dare no longer seek them in the theater they demand to have them brought into the church!


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A church fed on worldly excitement is no New Testament church at all. The desire for surface stimulation is a sure mark of the fallen nature the very thing Christ died to deliver us from. A curious crowd of baptized worldlings waiting each Sunday for the quasi-religious needle to give them a lift bears no relation whatever to a true assembly of Christian believers. And that its members protest their undying faith in the Bible does not change things any. "Not everyone that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven but he who does the will of my Father which is in Heaven."


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Let's pray that God will bring conviction on the world. Let's pray that He will send conviction back. Religion has become so popular now that it is shown in theaters, sung over radio and in barn dances. Just one more form of entertainment. We fundamentals and evangelicals just will not believe the truth about ourselves and the kind of people we are. So we have a popular religion, but very little power because we have very little conviction, very little repentance and very little sorrow.


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The old writers talked about the dark night of the soul. A time of emptying. A time when it became dark all around us. But we're too carnal to allow our hearts to get dark longing for God now. We're so determined we want to be happy that if we can't be happy by the Holy Spirit, we'll drum up our happiness. Religious "Rock and Rollers"! We're going to get happy somehow if we've got to beat it up with a tom-tom. You can have that kind of happiness if you want it, but if you don't want it and are dissatisfied with it and you want the joy that comes out of Joseph's new tomb open now forever, if you want the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, a well of water springing up within you forever, then you will likely have a loneliness and an inner darkness and a despair with self and you'll wonder what happened to you and you'll say, "Am I backsliding?" No, you're not backsliding. You are going on with God.


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There is a cross for you and me and there is a cross for every one of us. And that cross is subjective and internal and experiential.... That cross is that which we voluntarily take up that's hard and bitter and distasteful that we do for Christ's sake and suffer the consequences and despise the shame....

But the evangelicals of which we are a part say, "Let the cross kill Jesus but we will live on and be happy and have fun." But the cross on the hill has got to become the cross in the heart. When the cross on the hill has been transformed by the miraculous grace of the Holy Spirit into the cross in the heart then we begin to know something of what it means and it will become to us the cross of power.


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We have the breezy, self-confident Christians with little affinity for Christ and His cross. We have the joy-bell boys that can bounce out there and look as much like a game show host as possible. Yet, they are doing it for Jesus' sake?! The hypocrites! They're not doing it for Jesus' sake at all they are doing it in their own carnal flesh and are using the church as a theater because they haven't yet reached the place where the legitimate theater would take them.


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Religious shows leave a bad flavor. When they enter the holy place, they come perilously near to offering strange fire to the Lord. At their worst they are sacrilege; always they are unnecessary, and at their best they are are a poor substitute for prayer and the Holy Spirit. Church plays are invariably cheap and amateurish, and in addition to grieving the Holy Spirit, those who attend them are cheated by getting wretchedly poor entertainment for their money.


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The reason evangelical Christianity has so many cowbells and handsaws and shows and films and funny gadgets and celebrated men and women to stir them up is because they don't have the joy of the Lord. A happy man doesn't need very much else.


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We don't have joy so we try to create it, and I think that God in His Heaven is probably more kind and patient about all this than I am. But I think that even God must get awfully sick of what He sees: all the little cowbells we have to jingle to try to be happy when we are simply missing the fountain of happiness that ought to spring from within. When the well of joy isn't flowing, we try to paint the pump in order to get a little joy or tack jingle bells on the old pump handle, but it doesn't bring the water up.


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Christianity has seen a steady decline in the quality of Christian worship on the one hand and, on the other, the rise of religious entertainment as a source of mental pleasure. Wise leaders should have known that the human heart cannot exist in a vacuum. If men do not have joy in their hearts, they will seek it somewhere else. If Christians are forbidden to enjoy the wine of the Spirit they will turn to the wine of the flesh for enjoyment. And that is exactly what fundamental Christianity (as well as the so-called "full gospel" groups) has done in the last quarter century. God's people have turned to the amusements of the world to try to squeeze a bit of juice out of them for the relief of their dry and joyless hearts. "Gospel" boogie singing now furnishes for many persons the only religious joy they know. Others wipe their eyes tenderly over "gospel" movies, and a countless number of amusements flourish everywhere, paid for by the consecrated tithes of persons who ought to know better. Our teachers took away our right to be happy in God, and the human heart wreaked its terrible vengeance by going on a fleshly binge from which the evangelical Church will not soon recover, if indeed it ever does. For multitudes of professed Christians today the Holy Spirit is not a necessity. They have learned to cheer their hearts and warm their hands at other fires. And scores of publishers and various grades of "producers" are waxing fat on their delinquency.


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The church today is suffering from a rash of amateurism. Any untrained, unprepared, unspiritual, empty rattletrap of a fellow who is a bit ambitious can start himself something religious. Then we all listen to him, pay him for it, promote him and work to try to help this fellow who never heard from God in the first place. Amateurism has gone mad, gone wild. That's because we are not worshipers. Nobody who worships God is likely to do anything off beat or out of place. Nobody who is a true worshiper indeed is likely to give himself up to carnal and worldly religious projects.


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Because we are not worshipers we are wasting other people's money tremendously. We're marking time, we're spinning our wheels with the axles up on blocks, burning the gasoline and making a noise and getting no place. God calls us to worship and I find this missing in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in this day. Instead of worship, the churches are now second in entertainment to the theaters. I want to tell you something. If I want to see a show I know where I can see a good one put on by top flight actors who know what they are doing. If I want a show I'll go down to a theater and see a show hot out of Hollywood by men and women who are artists in their field. I will not go to a church and see a lot of ham actors putting on a home talent show. And yet, that's where we are in evangelical circles. We've got more show in evangelical circles than anywhere else.


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When I say we are suffering from a rash of amateurism, I mean that we like to have just everybody, anything, anyway worship. It can't be. You must prepare yourself to worship God. That preparation is not always a pleasant thing. There must be some revolutionary changes in your life. There must be some things destroyed in your life.


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The church is not a religious theater to provide a place for amateur entertainers to display their talents!


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I hope that we will remove from our hearts every ugly thing and every unbeautiful thing and every dead thing and every unholy thing that might prevent us from worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in the beauty of holiness. Now I am quite sure that this kind of thing is not popular. The world does not want to hear it and the half-saved churches of the evangelical fold do not want to hear it. They want to be entertained while they are edified. Entertain me and edify me without pain.


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A crass example of the modern effort to use God for selfish purposes is the well-known comedian who, after repeated failures, promised someone he called God that if He would help him to make good in the entertainment world he would repay Him by giving generously to the care of sick children. Shortly afterward he hit the big time in the night clubs and on television. He has kept his word and is raising large sums of money to build children's hospitals. These contributions to charity, he feels, are a small price to pay for a success in one of the sleaziest fields of human endeavor.

One might excuse the act of this entertainer as something to be expected of a twentieth-century pagan; but that multitudes of evangelicals in North America should actually believe that God had something to do with the whole business is not so easily overlooked. This low and false view of Deity is one major reason for the immense popularity God enjoys these days among well-fed Westerners.


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The average Christian is like a kitten that has found a ball of yarn and has played with the yarn and romped until it is wrapped in a cocoon. The kitten cannot get itself out. It just lies there and whimpers. Somebody has to come unwind it. We have tried to be simple, but instead of being simple we have simplified we have not become simple. We are sophisticated and overly complex.

We have simplified until Christianity amounts to this: God is love; Jesus died for you; believe, accept, be jolly, have fun and tell others. And away we go that is the Christianity of our day. I would not give a plug nickel for the whole business of it. Once in a while God has a poor bleeding sheep that manages to live on that kind of thing and we wonder how.


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Because we are not truly worshipers, we spend a lot of time in the churches just spinning our wheels, burning the gasoline, making a noise but not getting anywhere.

Oh, brother or sister, God calls us to worship, but in many instances we are in entertainment, just running a poor second to the theaters.

That is where we are, even in the evangelical churches, and I don't mind telling you that most of the people we say we are trying to reach will never come to a church to see a lot of amateur actors putting on a home-talent show.


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So many churches and other religious structures are being built these days that the building industry, which once considered such things something of a dead weight, is pretty well steamed up about the whole thing and is now quite eager to have the religious trade. Church membership is growing out of all proportion to the growth of the population. Converts to one or another religion are being sought on every level of society and among all classes and age groups. We have zealous work going on among children and young people. We are using sound trucks, radio, television, streetcar cards, billboards, neon signs, messages in bottles and on balloons. We are using trained horses, trained dogs, trained canaries, ventriloquists, magicians and drama to stir up religious interest. Innumerable professional guilds, industrial clubs and businessmen's and women's committees have sprung up to provide spiritual fellowship for religious-minded persons engaged in the various pursuits of life. Religious songs are in the repertoire of many professional entertainers. Religion is being plugged by nightclub entertainers, prize-fighters, movie stars and by at least one incarcerated gangster who has up to this time shown no sorrow for his way of life and no evidence of repentance. Religion, if you please, is now big business.


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For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability. For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great God Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make whatever use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of Heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate "producers" peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.


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The great God Entertainment amuses his devotees mainly by telling them stories. The love of stories, which is characteristic of childhood, has taken fast hold of the minds of the retarded saints of our day, so much so that not a few persons manage to make a comfortable living by spinning yarns and serving them up in various disguises to church people. What is natural and beautiful in a child, may be shocking when it persists into adulthood, and more so when it appears in the sanctuary and seeks to pass for true religion.


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The cross stands high above the opinions of men and to that cross all opinions must come at last for judgment. A shallow and worldly leadership would modify the cross to please the entertainment-mad saintlings who will have their fun even within the very sanctuary; but to do so is to court spiritual disaster and risk the anger of the Lamb turned Lion.


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It is because there are so many of these ignoble saintlets, these miniature editions of the Christian way, demanding that Christianity must be fun that distinct organizations have been launched to give it to them. Yes, there are organizations that exist for the sole purpose of mixing religion and fun for our Christian young people.


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Christianity to the average evangelical church member is simply an avenue to a good and pleasant time, with a little biblical devotional material thrown in for good measure!


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I cannot determine when I will die. But I hope I do not live to see the day when God has to turn from men and women who have heard His holy truth and have played with it, fooled with it and equated it with fun and entertainment and religious nonsense. We cannot deny that this attitude is found in much of current Christianity. As a result, people have hardened their hearts to the point that they no longer hear the voice of God.


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The church is not a religious theater where performers are paid to amuse those who attend. It is an assembly of redeemed sinners men and women called unto Christ and commissioned to spread His gospel to the ends of the earth.


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Religious entertainment has so corrupted the Church of Christ that millions don't know that it's a heresy. Millions of evangelicals throughout the world have devoted themselves to religious entertainment. They don't know that it's as much heresy, as the counting of beads or the splashing of holy water or something else. To expose this, of course, raises a storm of angry protest among the people.


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One man wrote an article as an expose of me. He said that I claimed that religious entertainment was wrong and he said, "Don't you know that every time you sing a hymn, it's entertainment?" Every time you sing a hymn? I don't know how that fellow ever finds his way home at night. He ought to have a seeing eye dog and a man with a white cane to take him home! When you raise your eyes to God and sing, "Break now the bread of life, dear Lord, to me," is that entertainment or is it worship? Isn't there a difference between worship and entertainment? The church that can't worship, must be entertained. And men who can't lead a church to worship, must provide the entertainment. That is why we have the great evangelical heresy here today the heresy of religious entertainment.


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If a gospel troupe comes along, you're satisfied for a while, because they have cowbells and a musical handsaw and a lot of other gadgets. Actually, you can catch them at the Eighth Street theater any night by just writing in for tickets. I can't think of a single one of their names, but I know they are down there with the cowbells and banjos and their hillbilly songs and if that's what you want, go down there and get it! But I say that if the gospel proclamation has to bring that in in order to get a crowd, boycott it!


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Evangelical Christianity is gasping for breath. You can get a religious phrase kicked around almost anywhere right in the middle of a worldly program dedicated to the world, the flesh and the devil. Old Mammon with two silver dollars for eyes sits at the top of it, lying about the quality of the products, shamelessly praising actors who ought to be put to work laying bricks. In the middle of it, someone will say with an unctuous voice, trained in a studio to sound religious, "Now, our hymn for the week!" So they break in, and the band goes, "Twinkle, twankle, twinkle, twankle" and they sing something that the devil must blush to hear. They call that religion, and I will admit that, all right but it isn't salvation and it isn't Christianity and it isn't the Holy Spirit. It isn't New Testament and it isn't redemption it is simply making capital out of religion for a price!


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Why should believing Christians want everything pre-cooked, pre-digested, sliced and salted, and expect that God must come and help us eat and hold the food to our baby lips while we pound the table and splash and we think that is Christianity! Brethren, it is not. It is a degenerate bastard breed that has no right to be called Christianity.


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Anyone who needs to be chucked under the chin all the time to keep him happy and satisfied, is in bad shape spiritually. He cannot be satisfied without a visit from the latest gospel peddler, who promises cowbells, a musical handsaw and a lot of other novelties!


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Religious fiction... makes use of sex to interest the reading public, the paper-thin excuse being that if romance and religion are woven into a story, the average person who would not read a purely religious book will read the story and thus be exposed to the gospel. Leaving aside the fact that most modern religious novelists are home talent amateurs, scarcely one of whom is capable of writing a single line of even fair literature the whole concept behind the religio-ro-mantic novel is unsound. The libidinous impulses and the sweet, deep movings of the Holy Spirit are diametrically opposed to each other. The notion that Eros can be made to serve as an assistant of the Lord of glory is outrageous. The "Christian" film that seeks to draw customers by picturing amorous love scenes in its advertising is completely false to the religion of Christ. Only the spiritually blind will be taken in by it.
 

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One of the very greatest calamities which sin has brought upon us, is the debasement of our normal emotions. We laugh at things which are not funny; we find pleasure in acts which are beneath our human dignity; and we rejoice in objects which should have no place in our affections. The objection to "sinful pleasures" which has been characteristic of the true saint, is at bottom simply a protest against the degradation of our human emotions. That gambling, for instance, should be allowed to engross the interests of men made in the image of God, has seemed like a horrible perversion of noble powers; that alcohol should be necessary to stimulate the feeling of pleasure, has seemed like a kind of prostitution; that men should turn to the theater for enjoyment, has seemed an affront to the God who placed us in the midst of a universe charged with high dramatic action. The world's artificial pleasures are all but evidence that the human race has to a large extent lost its power to enjoy the true pleasures of life, and is forced to substitute for them false and degrading thrills.


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We hear that some fellow can whistle through his teeth. Someone else has marvelous talent for impromptu composition of poetry. Some musicians are talented players and singers. Others are talented talkers. So in this realm of religious activity, talent runs the church. A Christian congregation can survive and often appear to prosper in the community by the exercise of human talent and without any touch from the Holy Spirit. But it is simply religious activity, and the dear people will not know anything better until the great and terrible day when our self-employed talents are burned with fire, and only what was wrought by the Holy Spirit will stand


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I'm not interested in that church which brings somebody in from the outside and say, "Will you come and perform for us?" Can you imagine a pastor bringing a clown and saying to the clown, "Now come, clown into the holy place. Be reverent and do it for Jesus' sake." I would walk five miles to keep from seeing him or hearing him and I wouldn't walk one inch to see him and I wouldn't give one dime to support him. All of this extra-scriptural claptrap that has been dragged into the church in recent times grieves the Holy Spirit.


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Those Christians who belong to the evangelical wing of the Church (which I firmly believe is the only one that even approximates New Testament Christianity) have over the last half-century shown an increasing impatience with invisible and eternal things and have demanded and got a host of things visible and temporal to satisfy their fleshly appetites. Without biblical authority, or any other right under the sun carnal religious leaders have introduced a host of attractions that serve no purpose except to provide entertainment for the retarded saints.

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God's professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.

This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture, designed to house the golden calf.

So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped-candy technique has been so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

Any objection to the carryings on of our present gold-calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, "But we are winning them!" And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world's treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course the answer to all these questions is no.


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Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold "right opinions," probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church, the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the "program." This word has been borrowed from the theater and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.