Christian public worship ought to be simple. It should not seek to add to the elements warranted by Scripture or to elaborate forms not endorsed by the word. This is just the faithful application of the general biblical principle that we have nothing to add to God’s word that improves it! Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 12:32 that God says: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deu 12:32 ESV) and Proverbs 30:6 warns: “Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Pro 30:6 ESV). Indeed, the Bible virtually ends with the solemn admonition of the Apostle John in Revelation 22:18 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book” (Rev 22:18 ESV).
Christians have not always been careful in this area, however. Even great heroes of early Christianity took disastrous missteps in regard to the simplicity of worship. For instance, Cyril of Jerusalem, reckoned among the doctors of the church (and rightly regarded and appreciated in so many ways), attempted to compete with (and surpass) the elaborate rituals of initiation popular in the culture of that day by creating Christian rituals laden with mystery and symbolism, and instituted liturgical innovations that set the direction for the medieval church. He virtually laid the foundation for the errors in worship that the reformers would have to shed blood to overturn a thousand years later. And he did it with the best of intentions. He wanted to attract people to Christianity. And he thought that the way to do that was to create more attractive rituals and ceremonies. Wittingly or unwittingly, he located the power of attraction in the forms (and indeed, in humanly invented forms, ceremonies and rituals not commanded in God’s word). People have been making the same mistake ever since.
But the power of Christian worship (and the attraction of Christ and the Gospel) is not in the majesty and mystery of manmade ritual. Indeed, biblical Christian worship requires no intricate ritual, no prescribed, complicated, manmade, symbolic liturgical drama, on the one hand, nor does it demand a high-tech, electronic, technologically sophisticated setting on the other. So pastors who try to create “worship experiences” more akin to a rock concert or a late night comedy show are making the same mistake as Cyril (though with less taste and theological sophistication!).
True Christian public worship is merely based on the unadorned and unpretentious principles and order found in the Bible, by precept and example, which supply the substance of new covenant worship. Everything that is claimed to be essential or key or important to thriving or renewing Christian congregational worship (whether it be sound and lighting, instruments, clerical vestments, or prescribed liturgy based upon some fixed form of the past) must pass the test of the Apostles and the test of the catacombs. Is this warranted by Scripture?, and is this essential to the faithful corporate worship of persecuted Christians huddled away in some hole worshiping God together in Spirit and truth?
Anything that is asserted to be “essential” to public worship that cannot pass those tests is making a false claim upon the people of God, and laying a burden on them that will not help, but rather hinder, their corporate communion with God.