Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Worship War

One of the most strident fights in the Christian church today is over styles of worship. Whether it is types of music or degrees of informality, this is an issue that frequently hits a nerve. Nor is this a new issue. Whether disputes over the date of Easter or how many fingers people should cross themselves with, even minor deviations in this area have caused great tumult. What does the Scripture say about this?

We do not find a detailed pattern of worship in the New Testament. God could have prescribed it as He did for the Jewish temple, enforcing exact conformity including the precise recipe for the incense to be burned (Exodus 30:34-36; Leviticus 10:1-3). But as we are given only broad guidelines, we must be careful not to add to God's Word what is not there (Matthew 15:8.9; Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6).

Worship must be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). In spirit means that the worship is not going through the motions or attempting to impress others (Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 58:1-12). This is not about an emotion, but basic honesty. Now I am far from being against emotion in worship. But we should not drum up a feeling to convince ourselves that we are spiritual or to impress others. Rather, we should focus on meaning what we say to God, and the appropriate emotion will follow. Worship in truth should reflect what is true about God and His revelation to us. Now we need to remember that we are still sinners and do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Philippians 3:12-16). But that does not negate our obligation to stand for God and His truth (John 17:17; 2 Corinthians 13:8; Ephesians 4:15). We must find this balance in our requirements for worship.

Worship should also be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). The word translated "decently" is a broad word. (Its basic idea is "appropriate" or "becoming"). In the context, it speaks of things that make sense. Speaking in tongues without interpretation is the example (1 Corinthians 14:7-14). This refers to something that does not communicate to others. This applies in other areas, but we need to be careful of rejecting something that is merely unfamiliar or requires explanation. "In order" refers to obvious conflicts, such as people speaking at the same time (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). But the meeting described is fairly informal, with various people taking turns speaking in the service. I am certainly not saying that no one's form of worship is in violation of these principles, but they allow a considerable breadth of acceptable practices. Now I am not rejecting all tradition or ritual. Rather, I would see Scripture as allowing for a wide variety of approaches to worship. What I would like to see is something that brings together the best of various approaches to worship. But I think we should be more concerned with what is in the mind and heart than the outer trappings.   

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