Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Fight Over the Celebration

Imagine trying to throw a party where everyone argued over the details. They argued over whether to serve chocolate or white cake. And over whether the decorations should be balloons or crepe paper. This would not be much of a celebration.

As Christians, we are called to celebrate the greatness and goodness of God and what he has done for us. And we have turned this into a fight over everything from the type of music to whether the prayers offered are previously written or spontaneous. But as I look at the New Testament, I find little stress put on the details of worship. There are, of course, examples, but few commandments. I return again to the concept that God commands what He intends to command (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Matthew 15:9). If this is so and if, as I have previously stated, the emphasis as well as the content of Scripture is inspired, I am forced to conclude that much of what we contend over are matters God regards as indifferent (see Romans 14:1-12) or at least unimportant.

There are, however, certain principles that are laid out in Scripture. We are to worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). (Note this is contrasted to the Old Testament temple ritual, where everything was spelled out.) "In spirit" indicates that we mean it and are not just going through the motions (Matthew 23:23-26). This is vitally important, but it is a matter of the heart, not of the outward form. It is possible to read a liturgy and mean it or to dance before the Lord and merely be caught up in the excitement of the moment. "In truth" refers to the content of worship, whether it is Biblical. There are certain forms of worship that are clearly contrary to the teachings of Scripture (for example devotions to saints, 1 Timothy 2:5, Matthew 4:10), but this mainly concerns, not the outward observance, but the sentiments expressed. We are also told to do things properly and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). But if we look at the description given in this passage, it pictures something fairly informal (1 Corinthians 14:26-33); individuals take turns speaking what God has given them. What is forbidden, in context, is people acting in a disorderly manner (everyone speaking at once) or doing things that make no sense to onlookers (speaking in tongues without interpretation).

While I admit there do exist abuses (probably on all sides), I am convinced that many differences in approach amount more to differences in culture, upbringing, and personality than real Scriptural issues. What I would really like to see is an attempt to combine various kinds of styles, incorporating the strengths of each and restraining the each others' extremes. But barring, that I would at least advocate seeing the worship patterns of other believers as genuine attempts to celebrate (though not always perfectly) our great God and His works.

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