This week I took a January short course on worship with Jack Reese. The class was long, but the content was great! It really has me thinking more deeply about the way churches worship and how that worship impacts their formation into the image of Christ. I also found myself thinking about all the arguments, and sometimes church splits, we have over worship and worship styles. For a long time, I’ve thought that choices about worship styles were indifferent, but I’ve grown to believe that the way we settle “worship wars” has great significance for our lives as a community shaped by the Gospel.
It’s not about whether a church decides for contemporary songs or hymns or a mix of both (a compromise which may end up pleasing no one). One group prefers “the way we’ve always done it.” The other seeks “gospel” freedom to worship more expressively with upbeat contemporary songs. For both, the key factor in decisions about worship is personal preference: “Because I like ____.” Both have reasons to dislike the preference of the other.
But should the content of worship be decided in a similar manner to ordering a Big Mac? With pickles or without, depending on one’s preference or current appetite? So long as worship is oriented to please personal preference, we may use the name of Jesus all we want, but he will not be the one we are worshipping. We are then dancing to the tune of a consumerist culture with its focus on the wants of the individual “customer.”
Of course, Christians in every age have reflected the spirit of their times – it’s not surprising that we do too. But we come together to worship on Sunday to be reminded that we are supposed to be a people shaped by the ethic of the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, it’s not about me getting my way or you getting yours. There is no “us” and “them,” but all are one in Christ Jesus. The ethic of the Kingdom of God is that of renouncing privilege, not asserting it (Phil. 2). It may be immaterial whether a church chooses hymns or contemporary songs, but the way we treat one another in the process of making that choice matters a great deal. We have the opportunity to reconcile our differences in a way that demonstrates the unique story that we live by: one of love, mercy, sacrifice, resurrection.