Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Than a Reasonable Truce in the Worship Wars

I write a column for the Temple City News, the local monthly paper circulated by the Chamber of Commerce. Here's my November column.

The last twenty years may go down in church history as the era of the worship wars. No shots were fired, but plenty of shouts were. Basically, in the worship wars, the traditionalists were lined up against the contemporarists. One faction saw worship being degraded into performance, while the other saw worship being rescued from irrelevance.

I thought I’d lay forth some propositions that hopefully lay this misguided war to rest. I write as someone who is worship ambidextrous. What I mean is that I can really worship in a highly liturgical setting as well as something that’s as free-flowing as a Friends meeting or a Pentecostal service.

1. We don’t understand worship if we think it’s about us. It’s not. It’s about God. It’s not a show.

2. The essence of worship is expressed love to God. That’s the heart of worship. Love of God is the Great Commandment, Part 1 (see Mark 12:28-30). In worship, believers express that love. Real worship should be occurring all the time. Gathered worship has its own unique place and power.

3. We all develop our worship language, and can learn new words. “Worship language” is a term my old friend Mark Hamilton introduced to me. By that we mean that patterns of worship we have become accustomed to. For some, that’s a diet of Fanny Crosby songs, for others it’s Bach, for others, it’s Maranatha Praise Band.

Just as we can learn a new language by a combination of effort, practice and desire, so we can learn a new worship language as well. It’s just lazy to refuse to grow because, “That’s what I was raised with.”

4. There is no virtue in worship that raises unnecessary walls for non-believers. When I teach our new member class at First Baptist, I actually show a picture of the “culture gap” that God has called the church to bridge. It’s interesting how much the book of Acts describes the importance of cross-cultural communication. In Acts, Jewish believers in Jesus first have to struggle with communicating the faith to Samaritans and then to utterly pagan Gentiles. If you follow the story carefully, new cultural clusters are brought into the fold: in the northern Levant area, then in what is now central Turkey, then the western Aegean area, then Macedonia-Greece, then Rome. Each new area required a contextualization of the Jesus message that was appropriate to the area without compromising His message.

Part of that must have included worship and musical style. Jewish styles had to yield to Greek and Roman styles, or the style would have gotten in the way of the message. The message was too important to compromise or to block by mere style.

5. I don’t have to have worship my way—as a matter of fact, it’s good that I don’t. If worship is about God and not me, and if worship style should not be a barrier to worship, then it follows that I don’t have to have to have worship my way—as a matter of fact, it’s good that I don’t! If it were always to my liking, then I would be saying that it is all about me!

But there’s another reason. According to Philippians 2:3, believers should “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” The needs of others, including the need to worship in their “native worship language”, comes before my need (or preference) every time! Always having things “my way” breeds selfishness and arrogance on my part. Sacrificing my preferences for others breeds humility and tender-heartedness instead.

So, when you worship, and it’s not your preferred worship language, praise God for the ones who are worshipping, and in a sense, worship through their worship. And when worship is in your worship language, pray for the forbearance of others. And that is not only a truce in the worship wars—it’s real worship!

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