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Evangelical Worship Is Too Cheerful, Neglects Sin, Theologian Says

Worship services in evangelical churches do not mention sin, a major part of the Gospel message, Dr. Cornelius Plantinga, senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, said Monday at the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Faith Angle Forum.

“In very many evangelical and confessionally Reformed churches these days, sin is a rare topic,” he said.

He came to this conclusion from his experience of speaking in different churches most Sundays for the past 30 years, talking to evangelical friends, observing the content of worship music used by evangelical churches, and reading the books and articles of Dr. David Wells, distinguished senior research professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Plantinga explained to the conference of journalists.

Anglicans, Catholics and Lutherans continue to include confession or a rite of penitence as a regular part of their worship services, he noted. But in evangelical and Reformed churches, he sees “less and less” sin-related material every year.

Over 158,000 churches in North America get the music for their worship services from Christian Copyright Licensing International, Plantinga explained. CCLI provides a valuable service to churches by streamlining the process of obtaining licenses for their worship music. Churches can pay a single fee and obtain all the licenses from CCLI’s library.

Looking at the content of CCLI songs, Plantinga observed that there are “very few penitential songs.” The “biblical tradition of lament, which is all through the prophets and the Psalms is gone, just not there,” he said.

One of the reasons Plantinga believes evangelical worship leaves out sin is a desire to be “seeker friendly” and avoid topics that may turn off non-Christians or new Christians.

“Mindful that seekers come to church in American no-fault culture in which tolerance is a big virtue and intolerance a big vice, worship finders in evangelical churches often want nothing in the service that sounds judgmental,” he said. And for that reason “lots of evangelical churches these days are unrelievedly cheerful.”

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