A few weeks ago, Les Lanphere, creator of the film Calvinist (you can read my review here), announced a Kickstarter Campaign and plans to produce a new film called Spirit & Truth: A Film About Worship. Referencing John 4:23, which reads: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him now,” the aim of this project is very timely considering the trend of secularization within the church culture.
At our core, humans are worshipers; we were created to worship. For Christians, this is truth is amplified. We have been redeemed and united with Christ for the purpose of worship and bringing glory to God. It’s not an overstatement to say worship is the most important thing we will ever learn to do.
Yet, across the world this seems to be something Christians fundamentally misunderstand. Many churches are in deep need of some serious recalibration in how they approach the worship of God. One does not have to look far on the internet to find examples of worship that are self-serving, non-scriptural, and in some cases outright evil.
If the quality and content of Calvinist is any indicator, Spirit & Truth will certainly be a soberingly wonderful film about worshiping God correctly. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Les and talk a little about the film, and its underlying driving force: The Regulative Principle of Worship. Our discussion is below.
You can find the Spirit & Truth Kickstarter Campaign here.
After the success of Calvinist, what prompted you to make a film on worship?
When I was releasing Calvinist, all I knew is that it was a blast to make. I didn’t know if people would like it at all. I was very surprised to find people liked it a lot. As I began to consider what subject I’d like to cover if I made another movie, there was something sort of obvious about worship. It’s a subject I’ve become very passionate about and it fits right in line with how the reformation played out. First reclaim the gospel, then reform worship. And it helped that Kevin DeYoung mentioned it was a subject he’d be interested in helping with as well.
What have you learned from Calvinist that you hope to apply in the making of this film?
Mostly technical things. It should be no surprise that I’m more comfortable with a camera now than I was when I started. I had to learn every aspect of the filmmaking process for Calvinist, so now I get to explore the craft a bit more, which is very exciting.
Knowing Patheos represents a very broad spectrum of religious ideologies, can you explain what the Regulative Principle of Worship is and why it matters?
The Regulative Principle of Worship is a philosophy that says: We don’t get to invent ways to worship God, but God gets to tell us how to worship him. Imagine, you wanted to do something special for your wife, and she told you she wanted roses and dinner at her favorite restaurant. If you showed up the next day with your favorite video game and Mountain Dew as a gift to her, who are you seeking to please, her or you? In the same way, we should ask ourselves why we do the things we do in church, and who exactly we are trying to please. If God has told us what he wants in worship, then our preferences should have nothing to do with it.
Can you elaborate on some differences between The Regulative Principle of Worship and The Normative Principle of Worship?
The Normative Principle leaves a lot of freedom for invention. This position says as long as God hasn’t told you not to do something in worship, you are free to do that thing. When you play this out to its logical conclusion, you can really justify anything and the term “reverent” becomes subjective. On the other hand, The Regulative Principle means you have the very simple list of the things God desires for his worship and we can trust that God is pleased and is faithful to bless us as we follow his instructions.
How do you distinguish between varying flavors within The Regulative Principle of Worship? How do you determine which is an excessive abuse and not?
For the sake of the film, I will be concerned with convincing the audience that the general principle is true. I don’t want to get into too much of the minutia, since there are various interpretations of its implications. But, I would say the only way to determine if something is excessive, biblically speaking, is if it goes further than the word of God. Man-made requirements in the guise of reverence are just as wicked to God as licentiousness.
Why do you think so many churches today do not adhere to The Regulative Principle of Worship?
There is clearly a different philosophy at play. Maybe without explicitly stating it, people believe the Sunday gathering is primarily about helping people. Don’t get me wrong, God meets us and blesses us, and we bless on another when we gather together. What we are forgetting is that this is a religious ceremony we are participating in. It should feel closer to those pagan rituals where they offer strange sacrifices than the rock concerts we’re trying to organize. We’re approaching a deity to ascribe worth to him. That is a task we should undertake carefully, fearfully, and in awe. True worship should be a joyful experience, but that does not mean we get to do it however we want.
I’ve heard critics of The Regulative Principle of Worship argue that because God gave us creativity we should seek to use that in worship, How would you respond to this?
God has given us creativity, and he does want us to use it. But there is a time and a place for everything. God also gave us sex, beer, and chicken wings, but most of us don’t think Sunday worship is the proper place to enjoy those gifts.
What dangers are churches opening themselves up to when they ignore The Regulative Principle of Worship?
Well, Nadab and Abihu ignored God’s explicit instructions on how he was to be worshipped, and God killed them both with fire. I’m not saying that will necessarily happen to you if you have a smoke machine in your service, but it should remind us that God cares how we worship him. The most obvious thing we suffer from when we invent ways to worship is that we lose the focus of simply hearing and believing God’s word. To distract God’s people from his word, by other sensory stimuli, is to do them a disservice at best, and to send them to Hell at worst. Hell… like fire… like Nadab and Abihu.
You mention an emphasis in your Kickstarter Campaign video about the local church. Why is that?
This is another area where we’ve lost an important emphasis. God gives us pastors and sheep in our own local contexts and those local gatherings are where all the drama of Christian worship and growth takes place. We need to remember how much we need these people God has placed in our lives and that this local congregation is a miniature version of what the gathering in eternity will be like.
What’s the connection between theology and doxology, and why is this important to how a church should function?
One of the elders at my church always says, “I can tell your theology by how you worship.” You can say all kinds of right things about God, but to paraphrase James: your works are how you put your money where your mouth is. How we worship God is the most blatant expression of what kind of a God we believe him to be.
Can you give us a sneak preview of some interviews you have lined up for your film, Spirit & Truth?
I’ll be interviewing Kevin DeYoung, Ian Hamilton, Conrad Mbewe and many other fantastic teachers. My biggest goal currently is to see worship in an international context. If the Kickstarter is sufficiently funded, I’ll be exploring the globe to see what biblical worship looks like all over the world.
Thank you for taking some time to talk to about your upcoming film, anything else you want our readers to know about?
Read your Bible, go to church, keep reforming.