At Moody Bible Institute, I was taught the church’s mission could be organized into three basic functions: worship, evangelism, and the edification (building up) of believers. If a church undertook an activity that couldn’t reasonably be plugged into one of those functions, then that activity was a distraction from its mission. Have you ever considered the effect evolution has on our worship of God?
As an illustration, let’s say you’ve just met Barbara, a young woman who accepted Jesus as her Savior two years ago. Since then, she’s found great fulfillment through her life in Christ and ministry to others. She especially loves worshiping her great God with fellow believers. But three months ago she began dating David, a Christian man who attends her church. He’s smart and well-read, but he has ideas that are new to her.
For one thing, David believes many Christians have “outdated” doctrines that keep people from becoming believers—doctrines such as a literal Adam and Eve. He asserts that the revelations of modern science conclusively demonstrate humanity evolved through natural processes. Belief in a Creator who spoke the world into existence in six days is not only pointless, it actually hinders the gospel.
David’s convincing convictions raise questions in Barbara’s mind. Many of the Bible’s truths that once gave her comfort are now sources of doubt. The great and powerful God she felt was worthy of her adoration, praise, and gratitude has somehow been diminished. The next Sunday at church, she looks at the people around her. How can she join them in worship if the God they believe in isn’t based on reality? Quietly, she makes her way to the exit and leaves.
If you and Barbara had a chance to talk, what would you say to her about the question of origins and how it relates to her ability to honor and glorify God? Let’s consider the way the doctrine of biblical creation and the historical challenge from natural evolutionism affect our thoughts about the function of worship.
The Doctrine of God Is Based on Creation
The link of the creation event to the reality of a Creator God is the supreme reason why the Bible begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The very name “God” designates the status of the One who surpasses everything. We conceive of the highest being by reckoning that He is the ultimate source, or cause, of everything. He has always existed, and all things owe their existence to Him. These thoughts relate to God’s essence and the transcendent attributes He doesn’t share with any created thing. Scripture continuously affirms this:
For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary….Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:4-6, 9)
“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth…saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7)
The creation of the ultimate “effect”—the universe itself—requires the ultimate cause: the reality of God. Worship acknowledges the rightful authority and majesty of God. The first use of the word “worship” is in the insightful narrative of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22). This account illustrates the appropriate acts of submission and sacrifice.
Christians have a fuller revelation. We can practice worship in the light of the love and perfection of the Lord Jesus Christ. These Christian authors express how a special relationship is now possible:
Worship is practiced by paying religious reverence and homage to God….Pure worship expresses adoration and veneration without making petition, and predicates self-renunciation and sacrificial giving to God. Strictly speaking, worship is the occupation of the soul with God Himself and does not include prayer for needs and thanksgiving for blessings.1
Yet, conclusions drawn from evolution undermine biblical doctrines supporting the church’s function of worship.
Worship Diminished, Distorted, and Diverted
Just as Barbara sensed, if an evolutionary process is substituted as the creator of life and its diversity, then the person and attributes of the Creator God are either denied outright (as atheistic evolutionists do) or diminished in glory (as theistic evolutionary frameworks do). William Provine, the late Cornell University evolutionary authority, explains:
As Jacques Monod, E.O. Wilson, and many other biologists have pointed out, modern evolutionary biology has shattered the hope that some kind of designing or purposing force guided human evolution and established the basis for moral rules. Instead, biology leads to a wholly mechanistic view of life....There are no gods and no designing forces….The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false.2
Sydney Ahlstrom, who taught religious history at Yale University, recounts why the acceptance of evolutionism within many churches led rapidly to worship being distorted. Worship shifted from adoring the Creator to emphasizing earth-centered social reforms like the social gospel or social justice. Influential writers “insisted on an entirely ‘secular’ interpretation of the Gospel, or thoroughly ‘demythologized’ the biblical message” in the mid-20th century.3 Ahlstrom adds:
Yet, the question returns, Why now? Why so suddenly?... Radical theology is fundamentally an adjustment of religious thought to an ordered understanding of the natural world….Until the nineteenth century, the idea of providential design had easily turned man’s knowledge of the animate, as well as the inanimate world to the uses of natural theology [a Creator God]. With the rise of evolutionary theory, however, and especially after Darwin, this grand structure of apologetical theory began to crumble before the incoming tide of naturalism.3
When people fail to give credit for the creation to the Creator, then they divert worship of the Creator to worship and serve the creation (Romans 1:25).4 As early as 1905, the content in a college course on evolution stated:
Matter is the origin of all that exists: all natural and mental forces are inherent in it. Nature, the all-engendering and all-devouring, is its own beginning and end, its birth and death. She produces man by her own power and takes him again.5
This thinking grew until it even reached a publication that popularized science for lay audiences, in which a Georgetown University professor elevated a new “ecotheology” that was “an approach to religion that starts with the premise that the Universe is God.”6
Kenneth Woodward, longtime religion editor of Newsweek, described the first real formalization of the transfer of worship to nature at a conference by the World Council of Churches consisting of a “new breed of eco-theologians” that included Father Thomas Berry. Woodward wrote that “if religious leaders want to know what God thinks about nature, [Berry] says, books like the Bible...are the wrong places to look.”7 Rather:
The evolving cosmos is teacher, its destiny is our destiny, its values our values....Moreover, unlike the Book of Genesis, which is designed to desacralize nature, Berry’s new cosmology resacralizes the natural world and imposes certain values on its human offspring....Among some enthusiasts, the ecology movement itself has become a kind of religion, in which cosmic piety replaces worship of a transcendent God.7
The question of origins clearly impacts not only the capacity to worship but also who (or what) is worshiped. The effect of evolutionism on this key function of the church is primarily and profoundly negative. Next month’s article will examine what it does in the area of evangelism.
- Pfeiffer, C. F., H. F. Vos, and J. Rea, eds. 1975. The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia. Chicago: Moody Press, 1823.
- Provine, W. B. 1982. Influence of Darwin’s Ideas on the Study of Evolution. BioScience. 32 (6): 501-506.
- Ahlstrom, S. E. 1977. The Radical Turn in Theology and Ethics: Why It Occurred in the 1960’s. In Religion in American History: Interpretive Essays. J. M. Mulder and J. F. Wilson, eds. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 449-450.
- Guliuzza, R. 2017. Engineered Adaptability: Engineering Principles Point to God’s Workmanship. Acts & Facts. 46 (6): 16-19. See also Guliuzza, R. 2011. Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Natural Selection’s Idolatrous Trap. Acts & Facts. 40 (11): 12-15.
- Townsend, L. 1905. Collapse of Evolution. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 6.
- Long, M. 1981. Visions of a New Faith. Science Digest. November: 36-42. Emphasis in original.
- Woodward, K. A. New Story of Creation. Newsweek, June 5, 1989, 68-71.