How many times do we hear of a church family struggling in their community of faith because of differences of opinion over worship styles? Most churches will, at some point in their church life, be confronted with conflict regarding ‘appropriate worship’ for their congregation. And if not their own congregation, many in churches will pass judgment on the chosen worship style of other congregations, regardless of the authenticity in style or content of their worship. And by far, the arguments are aimed specifically at music.
A generation ago, many denominations (including mine) were deeply involved in what has been called “Worship Wars”. Books were written, conferences scheduled, consultancies formed, and ministry positions won and lost because of these so-called “wars”. I have read more than a dozen books on the rise and fall of the ‘worship wars’, and even outlined a few of my own to write someday. But as I continue to grow up in Christ, I continue to learn new ideas, to be exposed to biblical thought I have not yet seen….
It is my belief that worship style or music is not really the root of the disagreement regarding worship; the true root cause of disagreement in worship is found in our understanding- or lack of understanding- of our Loving and Just God.
I just completed a study session with friends from my church I called Worship 101. For 9 weeks, we talked about biblical worship; we heard from our Pastor and Minister of Worship regarding their philosophies and how they plan for worship. We studied worship posture, worship aids, silence, scripture, just about every way a local congregation can unite in worship. We wrote hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs for use in worship. And in all this, one singular truth clawed its way to the top of every other truth:
What we believe about worship isn’t really about what we believe about worship as much as it is what we believe about God. Let me say it another way: What we believe about worship reveals what we believe (or don’t believe) about God.
Churches and individuals fail at achieving liberty in worship because we somehow believe that God prefers one particular style or worship behavior over another; or that one style of congregational worship is somehow more acceptable or appropriate than another. Churches often brand themselves by the style of music used on worship, as if one style is preferred by God and their style makes them more Godly. Don’t fool yourselves, friends. The worship wars still exist, but are generally limited to the back hallway and classrooms of our churches. Time to get the conversation back into the open!
How can we define what God likes? God designed and created mosquitos, skunks, tarantulas. He also created roses, the coffee bean, and my sweet wife. I am learning that God loves us so much and that His capacity of understanding the tiny efforts of humankind so vastly overshadow our capacity to please Him that style the worship is offered is actually neutral. The music means nothing, because music is morally and spiritually neutral. The primary consideration is the condition of our hearts when we offer our worship (Psalm 24: 3,4). I am learning to understand that the best, highest-quality music, complete with accurate pitch, rhythm, phrasing, lyric, harmony, and melody performed by a dirty, hardened heart has no value and is not worth the time devoted to performing it. On the other hand, a well-rehearsed, heartfelt song offered in humility and gratefulness with shotgun pitches and mis-pronounced words will be accepted as a sweet aroma of worship to God. Remember, God looks on the inside; only the pride of man looks on the outside appearance (and sound!), leading to condemnation and judgment. And if God does not condemn it, what does our condemnation accomplish but to drive a wedge in our relationship with God?
As you journey with Christ, I challenge you- I dare you- before you go to a worship service, commit yourself to look Jesus square in the face. Study Jesus’ teachings on loving one another, loving God. Be reminded how God loved you so much that He would allow His own Son to die to pay the penalty for your behavior. Read in I John where we are taught that God loves us first, before we can ever love Him. Discover at the end of the 23rd Psalm that God’s goodness and faithful love will pursue you for all your days.
Boldly commit to see your world, your church, your worship through the eyes and truth of God’s enduring love…
Now tell me which is more appropriate for worshipping a powerful God: A Mighty Fortress? or Since I Have Been Redeemed? or How Great is Our God?….
In light of the breadth and depth and power of God’s love- all are appropriate. We should all be mature enough to find ourselves worshipping in all those styles, and more… even if we don’t care for the music. After all, it isn’t about the music, and it isn’t about you… is it?
We all have preferences in worship. Those preferences assist us in offering worship to God, but don’t necessarily assist God in being worshipped. How can we learn to experience the presence of God in situations using music or styles with which we can’t (or don’t) relate?