Rethinking the Worship Wars
Peter BeckPeter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
- 2009 Apr 28
Other than the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, few things are more explosive in the life of the church than the practice of worship. Churches have divided over everything from the type of instrumentation used to the number of verses in a song. While disunity is never a good thing among Christians, it’s all the more disconcerting when it’s over such a vital part of the Christian life. We are, first and foremost, created and saved to worship God.
Some whose hearts are drawn to peace and reconciliation in all things are wont to quote Rodney King when it comes to discussions of worship: “Why can’t we all just get along?” If it only it was that easy. Worship touches Christians deeply and the emotions it evokes are strong. Moreover, we can’t, and we shouldn’t, just ignore these matters.
For those struggling to embrace change in your worship services and those too quick to embrace change unquestioningly, allow me to serve you some food for thought:
Worship is about more than music style. Though style, contemporary versus traditional, is the face of the enemy for so many worshipers, style must be of secondary consideration. To refuse to sing in church because you don’t like the style is to deny God His glory because your tastes are more important. That’s a sin.
Words matter. It has been argued that the songs we sing in worship express the theology we hold in our hearts. That said, the words that we sing are more important than the instruments that accompany them. We need to be sure the words are rich and biblically accurate. We need to be sure that they affirm what we believe and that we affirm what we sing. To do otherwise is theologically dishonest at best and potentially heresy at worst.
Your tradition was someone else’s contemporary. Every song, every hymn, every approach that you might find in any church across the land was new at some time or the other. The “we’ve never done it that way before” argument just isn’t true in the grand scheme of things. Imagine where we’d be today, if that argument would have worked against Jesus.
Everyone has a theology of worship. Much of the current debate about worship is couched in the language of style or volume. In truth, the issue is one of theology. The question becomes what drives your theology or worship.
For many Christians, culture drives their theology of worship. They want to mimic secular music in all ways but the words because that’s what draws a crowd. If that’s what’s driving your theology of worship, that’s wrong.
Others seek to draw their theology of worship from the Bible. There are two ways in which we might do so. One approach is to say that anything that the Bible does not forbid is fair game. The normative principle, as this interpretive method is called, stands behind modern worship practices such as interpretive dance and drama.
On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that the church is to do only those things the Bible commands or commends regarding worship. That is, the regulative principle teaches, God has already told us exactly how to worship Him. Our job is to embrace those measures.
Worship is about God not us. God takes His glory and the worship of Himself very seriously. The Bible includes a number of stories to illustrate this fact. Cain’s sacrifice is rejected because of the attitude of his heart (Genesis 4:4-5). Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering strange fire in the Tabernacle. They were worshiping God in a way that He did not desire (Leviticus 10:1-2). Uzzah died when he reached up to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling to the ground. God had forbidden such things and Uzzah suffered for it (2 Samuel 6:6-7). If God takes worship that seriously, we would be well-advised to do so also.Worship is too important to overlook because the God whom we worship is too amazing to overlook. We must take these matters seriously. We must think them through carefully. And, we must worship our Maker completely.