I’ve had more conversations about corporate worship than I care to remember; not because I don’t like talking about worship but because I’m out of step. We talk about style & flow, not to be confused with Hustle & Flow (which I didn’t see), though the key theme in both my conversation and the movie was the same: dissatisfaction and the search for something more. My problem is I’m not searching for something more. I’m satisfied. As one expert worshipper said to me, “You just don’t get it.”
The “something more” in the search for something more was a stirring of the affections for Jesus (in corporate worship, not the movie). I’m not sure what that means in today’s context. My affections for Jesus are stirred when I hear the truth about Him whether in song, preaching, prose, poetry, or plain old conversation. By affections I mean those things I have for Jesus like love, wonder, adoration, or respect. I also mean those things I have from Jesus like love, courage, trust, and peace. The fruit of the Spirit is a good summary of what I’m talking about.
But I don’t think that’s what a lot of people mean when they talk about having their affections stirred for Jesus. If they did, the style & flow of corporate worship would be largely irrelevant. I tuned into a Wednesday evening broadcast of a small country church a few weeks ago and heard less than talented musicians and singers give a less than stellar corporate rendition of an old hymn but my affections for Jesus were definitely stirred. They were stirred in the same way when a friend played a Shai Linne cut for me and then again at a recent full-orchestra presentation of Handel’s famous oratorio, Messiah. Gee-whiz, my affections are stirred when we sing the dated Shout to the Lord, the original And Can it Be, the revivalistic Send the Light, or the simple Power in the Blood.
But folk today are coming from a different school of rock: “We were raised in youth group with our affections being stirred for Jesus. We don’t get that in our current worship service. We sing dated songs, the style is bland, and there doesn’t seem to be an audience connection or purposeful flow. We want our affections stirred and we’re disappointed when we don’t have that.”
I guess that fellow was right; I just don’t get it. Check that; I actually do. They want an emotional connection not only to God, but to what they deem is worship based on how they were raised or what their current preference is. It’s like the lady who said to me, “We don’t have fellowship in this church because we don’t have dinner on the ground like we used to.” It was lost on her that we have more fellowship than we ever had in the past through a number of thriving small groups. It’s nostalgia; it’s preference.
I was raised in church so high nose bleed’s were common. That’s why I prefer A Mighty Fortress with a pipe organ to Behold the Lamb of God with a guitar. And I really don’t prefer something like Here I am to Worship, djembe notwithstanding. But even a song on a hill stirs my affections for Jesus as much as a mountain top experience. That’s because it’s not the emotional experience that’s important; my affections for Jesus are not to be equated with mere emotion and especially not with nostalgia or preference in musical style. I do have emotions in corporate worship but affections are not the same thing. What I need in corporate worship is to be confronted with the truth to which I’m to rightly respond with agreement in the moment and a changed lifestyle when the service is over.
Again, my affections for Jesus are those things I have for Him and from Him. They have nothing to do with whether I like or don’t like the style and flow of what we do on Sunday morning when the body is gathered. Ask Christians in an underground church who have little or no music whether their affections are stirred for Jesus. I think their response would be one of incredulity: “Affections for Jesus? Why else would we risk our lives?”
Our problem is we don’t think things through; we skim across the surface of the ice and by that derive a definition of swimming in a lake. We make our preference sound more holy than it is by saying we want our affections for Jesus stirred (cue the holy grunt from the gallery). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with preference unless you don’t want to bear with the rest of the body members who may have different preferences (cue the get-on-board-the-train-is-leaving attitude). There’s nothing wrong with preference unless your preference leads you to say you know how to worship better because your preferred style is better (cue the eye-roll upon mention of other styles).
We have to know what we’re talking about in order to talk about it. We can’t confuse emotions with affections. And when it comes to the issue of corporate worship we have to look to Scripture rather than our entertainment enculturated preferences to determine what should happen when we gather with the body of Christ for worship. In these worship wars, we have to learn to sing the same song and we have to remember what the song is; it’s a song about love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land (cue the peace sign – it’s us – the church).
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