Sadly, the term “worship wars” has become a reality in churches today, leading to dissension among the body of Christ and in some cases splitting churches.
We have somehow come to believe that worship equates solely to music and if it’s a musical style we don’t like – or if it’s at a tempo that’s too fast or too slow, too traditional or too contemporary – we use it (and not the accuracy of Scripture being preached) to decide whether or not we will attend a certain church.
As if worship was ever about our personal preferences.
Jesus told a Samaritan woman worship wasn’t about where it was done – in a sanctuary, warehouse, converted storefront, or home – but about how it’s done. And He wasn’t talking about a beat or lyrics. He said, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 14:23 NASB).
Note that Jesus didn’t say true worshipers will prefer Gregorian chants, the hymns of the early 1800s, or contemporary music while raising their hands. To worship in spirit and truth means our attitudes are in check and we have a heart surrendered to God. It’s often difficult to be critical or condemning of something when our hearts are surrendered to God.
The Bible speaks of the dangers of putting ourselves and our preferences over others and even though we might believe we’ve got a good spiritual reason for liking or disliking a certain form of worship, God’s Word gives us reasons not to condemn something that is ultimately for Him.
Here are four dangers of condemning worship styles we don’t like.
1. It makes worship about us, not God.
Worship is not about us. It’s about recognizing the worth-ship of God. Therefore, when we impose what we like in terms of worship we’re getting it all wrong and putting the focus on ourselves. In a sense, we are making ourselves God…the one to whom the worship should please.
When Satan tried to do that he got expelled from heaven. When we try to do that, we exemplify pride – the no. 1 thing God hates, according to Proverbs 6:16.
Remember Who worship is for and it will help you realize you’re not in a position to pass judgment on whether or not you like it. In fact, better to ask God what He thinks of it, as a reminder that it’s about Him, not you and me.
2. It fosters within us an attitude of entitlement.
When we believe we can condemn certain worship styles that we don’t prefer, what’s to keep us from believing we can choose our preference of communion cracker, length and style of prayer, a certain translation of the Scriptures, and the type of believers we want to fellowship with? We are a people known to readily express our condemnation over the clothing people wear to worship services and yet we are to be known as a people who express love. Jesus said, “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Do all people know that you are a disciple of Christ by your love for other believers – or your outspoken opinions, preferences, and condemnation of the way other believers worship?
Instead of having an attitude of entitlement, heed the exhortation of Colossians 4:2 and “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”
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3. It presumes our tastes are more important than God’s.
In the mid-1990s, I played a contemporary Christian music song by the group, Petra, to end my adult Sunday school class on the Psalms. I thought Petra’s song, “Let Everything That Hath Breath” (based on Psalm 150) was a powerful illustration of the “exclamation mark” that Psalm 150 puts on the entire book of Psalms. An older gentleman, known for his Bible knowledge and years in the faith, loudly proclaimed after the song that I had brought him “to hell and back” with that “loud rock music.” Yet, teen-aged Eddie, a new believer whom we had prayed into that class, thought the music was great. He then began a preference of contemporary Christian music over his secular collection at home.
How can one song, with lyrics that praise God, bring one person “to hell and back” and light up another’s eyes at the prospect of “cool music that glorifies God”? The music was not about Howard that day who felt he went to hell and back, nor was it about Eddie who had been exposed to very little contemporary worship music. It was about the God whom the song exhorted all to praise. While everything that hath breath was to praise the Lord, the older gentleman in class that morning used his breath to condemn what he heard. And the sad thing is, instead of hearing the message of Psalm 150 in jubilant voices, he heard only the beat, synthesizer, and a set of drums.
Nowhere in God’s Word does He condemn worship based on a musical style. God, apparently, is more concerned with our hearts, our humility, and our obedience. In 1 Samuel 15:22, we hear God’s opinion: “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” In other words, obeying God’s command to not judge one another, or something we don’t like, which then brings dissension to the body of Christ, is better than our own singing, giving, or any other form of sacrifice for God, including what we might see as our “cause.”
When you and I start to cringe at the sound of worship music we don’t like, the real question that must be asked is “God, what do You think of the worship?” While the music might be rubbing you the wrong way, your God may be smiling at those engaging in lifting Him up. Isn’t that the point? When we get God-focused, about every attitude that comes our way, and surrender it to the Lord, that is when we truly worship. Putting Him and His thoughts and purposes above ours (Isaiah 55:8-11), keeps our agenda out of worship meant for our Creator and Savior.
4. It can be a stumbling block to others.
When Paul addressed the “eating wars” among the Roman believers – some who refused to eat food sacrificed to idols, others who found nothing wrong with it because idols were just wooden objects – he stressed that their concern for younger believers should trump their own convictions and preferences.
“Let’s not judge one another anymore,” Paul wrote in Romans 14:13, “but rather determine this: not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s or sister’s way.” Although he was talking about personal convictions toward food, how we feel about different worship styles certainly applies as that (not eating food sacrificed to idols) is a primary subject of contention among many believers today.
In Philippians 2:2, Paul instructed believers to make his joy complete by “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” What if we were to have that perspective when it came to the worship in our churches? Paul further instructs: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (verses 3-4 ESV).
If a teaching or doctrine or practice is contrary to the Word of God, we must speak up about it. But where personal interest comes in, we are to strive for unity. God said there is nothing “unclean” for a believer in Christ who is redeemed from the Old Covenant Law. That includes different worship styles.
When is judgment appropriate in the church? When it comes to lovingly confronting other believers who are in sin and only after we’ve made sure we’ve unloaded the log from our own eye before trying to remove the splinter from another’s (Matthew 7:3-5).
How Should We React When We Don’t Prefer the Worship?
The next time critical or judgmental feelings rise up in you about the worship happening around you, think of ways to be grateful for the worship that is taking place. Are others around you engaging in a focus on God, while you are quietly condemning the “music”? Is God being glorified through the words (regardless of the venue)? And most importantly, ask yourself Is my heart pleasing to God in this moment? Then seek to place your focus back on the One worth worshipping, not how others around you are doing it.
If you’re in a church that is battling through the “worship wars” or if you, personally, are struggling through it, ask yourself, Should worship – the very recognition and praise of our Holy God – be a subject of battle, struggle, or judgment in the first place? When you and I can surrender our own preferences to God and say, as Jesus did to His Father, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42), we are getting closer to understanding what worship is really all about.
Photo Credit: ©Sparrowstock/David Clark
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, Bible teacher, and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is the author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 150,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, When God Sees Your Tears , and When Couples Walk Together , which she co-authored with her husband of 32 years. Find out more about her speaking ministry, coaching services for writers, and books to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, at www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.