The New, Modern Worship Wars

band gear

Ever get a pleasant surprise?  That unexpected leap within your heart?

The other day, I came across an article that resulted in that reaction.  A good article in the midst of a magazine that I otherwise would consider a waste of my money to purchase and not worth spending much time in skimming articles either.  Yet, in the midst of the bramble called Relevant, a rose emerged.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I will admit straight up that I am usually not the biggest fan of Relevant magazine.  I can see the draw of the periodical, but quite frankly find it to be the pendulum that has swung too far into the anti-Christian-consumerism consumerism model.  As such, I don’t often find much edification in the articles. Yet, the sweet surprise was an article called “The Modern Worship Music Wars.”

Having gone through, and assisted other churches through, the old school worship wars (remember when drums were equivalent to the devil’s heartbeat?), I was wondering where “The Modern Worship Music Wars” was going to head.  “Excellent” escaped my lips  as I read Stephen Miller’s article that called for Christians to take up their cross, deny themselves, allow the Lord to examine their hearts, and stop being a consumer (or anti-consumer) Christian in regards to worship music, especially within the corporate assembly of the church.  Miller’s insight into the subtler shift of the wars and the call to fight the real worship war is well written.

So, take a look at this rose of a Relevant news article:

The Modern Worship Music Wars

By Stephen Miller

Ours is a generation marked by war.

I’m not referring to a war with guns and tanks, though we have certainly seen our share of that as well. We are a generation that grew up witnessing the church fight over the very thing that was supposed to unite us: the worship of Jesus.

The Good Old Hymns vs. Modern Worship Choruses. Organ & Piano vs. Those Demon Drums.

Few of us emerged from these consumerism driven worship wars of our younger years unscathed. Their impact has been profound, both personally and corporately.

Fast forward a decade or two and, at first glance, the worship wars that once plagued the church seem to have died down. So it might be easy to chalk it all up to a problem from a bygone era.

Until we walk out of a church service that didn’t meet our own standards.

We have become professional critics of corporate worship. We complain about everything. The volume is either too loud, or not loud enough. The lighting is either too bright or not bright enough; too showy or too bland. We grumble about song selection, saying things like, “They introduce too many new songs,” “Why do we keep doing the same songs over and over,” or “I hate that song.”

From key signatures to instrumentation; from the worship leader’s fashion sense to vocal tone – it’s all fair game for our consumer-driven critique.  We are the fast food slogan-slinging generation of “Have it your way.” We are American Idol’s panel of expert judges.

We don’t know how to shut up, and we don’t have to because social media gives us constant platform to speak out about anything and everything we love and hate. Everything about our world tells us that we are the king (or queen) of the castle.

So as humans, it is impossible to avoid having our own personal preferences. Our distinct opinions shape the way we approach every area of life, including how we connect in corporate worship. As such, we tend to assign spiritual value to our preferences.

For example, if we gravitate toward a more stripped back, rootsy corporate worship experience, we exalt that as the most spiritually helpful, while demonizing a corporate worship experience that is more produced. We employ abstract, vague descriptors like, “That felt like a show – it just didn’t seem authentic.” All the while the person on the platform may be a genuinely godly person who has put much thought, effort, and prayer into using his or her own stylistic musical talents to lead in corporate worship as excellently and effectively as possible.

The modern church has spearheaded all new creatively contextual expressions of corporate worship. We have everything from Traditional church to Seeker church to Cowboy church, Biker church, Surfer church and everywhere in between. We have Jazz, R&B, Funk, Gospel, Pop, Rock & Roll, Country, Rap, Hair Metal, Classical, and more.

We must see the beauty in that … and the danger.

The vast variety of expressions of worship to our ever-worthy Savior is an incredible opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and express praise in new and fresh ways. But these tools ought not become the deterrents from or objects of our exaltation.

When we gather as the Church, we are not coming as critics. We are not talent judges from The Voice who get to slam a “worship button” whenever we like what we’re hearing. We are not entitled to make the call on whether or not we feel like worshiping God and building up His Church. His glory does not wait for us to like the music before He becomes worthy of all our worship.

We dare not approach the throne of an objectively great, timeless, unchanging and holy God with a consumer mindset that says we can only worship Him if our subjective preferential demands are met. That mindset only robs God of the glory He is due, robs the Church of the encouragement it needs as it fights the true war of faith, and robs us of being encouraged and shaped by the truth of God’s Word as we sing it.

We gather to preach and sing the good news to ourselves, one another and those who don’t yet know that a sovereign God loved us enough to give us His only Son to rescue us and give us eternal life. We sing that Jesus came willingly as to redeem and adopt us, defeat sin and death and give us the Holy Spirit to liberate and empower us to repent, believe, forsake our comfort, take up our cross and follow Christ.

We gather to serve one another because we have been served by God Himself.

It shouldn’t take the perfect circumstances for us to see the beauty, glory and wonder of our great God. If we have tasted the beauty of grace, it should be easy for us to stand in awe, utterly captivated by that incredible, glorious truth that transcends all preferences of all people in all cultures for all time. But we have to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto Him.

Worship is war. But it is not to be fought over our own preferences. We must turn our energy towards killing the selective, prideful nature within us. We must fight to put to death anything in us that would hinder us from pursuing Christ with all we are. We must fight to worship Him with a joyful adoration that cannot be contained.

So the next time you go to church and the music is too loud, or the leader is singing that song you don’t like, go to war. Fight against the sin at work within yourself. Fight against consumerism and disunity. Fight for a grateful heart. Fight for the truth to captivate you in a way music never could. Fight to stand in awe of a mighty God who rescued you and graciously sings over you.

Fight the true war of worship.

A Sight of the Cross

nail crossOnly a sight of the cross will make us willing to deny ourselves and follow Christ.  Our little crosses are eclipsed by his.  If we once catch a glimpse of the greatness of his love to suffer such shame and pain for us who deserved nothing but judgment, only one course of action will seem to be left.  How can we deny or reject such a lover?

If then, you suffer for moral anemia, take my advice and steer clear of Christianity.  If you want to live a life of easy-going self-indulgence, whatever you do, do not become a Christian.  But, if you want a life of self-discovery, deeply satisfying to the nature God has given you; if you want a life of adventure in which you have the privilege of serving him and your fellow men; if you want a life in which to express something of the overwhelming gratitude you are beginning to feel for him who died for you, then I would urge you to yield your life, without reserve and without delay, to your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…

This is not to say that you emerge from this [salvation] experience…perfect in the twinkling of an eye.  You can become a Christian in a moment, but not a mature Christian.  Christ can enter, cleanse and forgive you in matter of seconds, but it will take much longer for your character to be transformed and molded to his will.  It takes only a few minutes for a bride and bridegroom to be married, but in the rough-and-tumble of their home it may take many years for two strong wills to be dovetailed into one.  So, when we receive Christ, a moment of commitment will lead to a lifetime of adjustment.

-John Stott (Basic Christianity, pp 119, 126)

A.W. Pink on “Take Up the Cross”

Take up your cross

Have we begun to “take up the cross” at all?  Is there any wonder that we are following Him at such a distance?  Is there any wonder that we have such little victory over the power of indwelling sin?  There is a reason for that.  Mediatorially, the Cross of Christ stands alone, but experimentally the cross is to be shared by all His disciples.  Legally the cross of Calvary annulled and put away our guilt, the guilt of our sins; but, my friend, I am perfectly convinced that the only way of getting deliverance from the power of sin in our lives and obtaining mastery over the old man within us is by the cross becoming a part of the experience of our souls.  It was at the cross sin was dealt with legally and judicially; it is only as the cross is “taken up” by the disciple that it becomes and experience – slaying the power and defilement of sin within us.  And Christ says, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” O what need has each Christian…to get along with the Master and consecrate himself to His service!

A.W. Pink (Studies in the Scriptures)

Offended by the Gospel

offended“Paul has already said that the preaching of the gospel is terribly offensive to the human heart (Gal. 5:11-12).  People find it insulting to be told that they are too weak and sinful to do anything to contribute to their salvation.  The gospel is offensive to liberal-minded people, who charge the gospel with intolerance, because it states that the only way to be saved is through the cross.  The gospel is offensive to conservative-minded people, because it states that, without the cross, “good” people are in as much trouble as “bad” people. Ultimately, the gospel is offensive because the cross stands against all schemes of self-salvation…

The cross is by nature offensive!  And we can only grasp its sweetness if we first grapple with its offense.  If someone understands the cross, it is either the greatest thing in their life, or it is repugnant to them.  If it is neither of those two things, they haven’t understood it.”

-Timothy Keller (Galatians For You, pp 180-181)

Two Trees, Two Deaths, Two Results

“In the Garden, Adam was told, ‘Obey me about the tree – do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die’… God said to Jesus, ‘Obey me about the tree’ – only this time the tree was a cross – ‘and you will die.’  And Jesus did.”
-Timothy Keller (King’s Cross pp. 11-13)

Two trees. Two deaths. Two results.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam stood before the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  He chose to disobey God and eat of the latter tree.  The result was death – spiritual death and eventual physical death for him and for all of humanity.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus figuratively stood before the tree of the cross and a tree of his own life.  He chose to obey God and be nailed to the former tree .  The result was his death, a temporary death, that resulted in the potential of life for all humanity. The tree of the cross – a tree of death – was turned into a tree of life.

“Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many…
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

(Romans 5:12; 15; 17-19)

Justice for All

Midterm elections are right around the corner.  Television ads defaming opponents are screaming.  Judges promote their fairness while their competition declare that those judges are in fact biased.  In the end the conscientious voter tries to sort through the muck, find the facts, and vote for the least bad option.  Others will just vote for the name they see advertised the most or the person aligned with their political party.

We all want good leaders. Righteous leaders. Judges without bias who deliver the perfect verdicts.  Basically, people want God to rule and judge.  (Then again, people don’t want God to judge because we actually want rulings that favor us and ignore our transgressions.) For those seeking righteousness we can trust that there is One who is enthroned and does judge with uprightness.  And for those who have received His salvation through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross – where love and righteousness met – they need not fear the coming judgment.

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
He has established His throne for justice,
and He judges the world with righteousness;
He judges the peoples with uprightness.
Psalm 9:7-8

Worldliness Book Review

Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World edited by C.J. Mahaney is a book that demands attention.  The content is a necessary read for any lover of Jesus. It forces the reader to think, discern, and struggle in prayer with each turn of the page.  The book gets a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

After the reader finishes a five-chapter wrestling match over defining worldliness, media, music, possessions, and clothes the final chapter can come as a shock.  How to Love the World. The author of this chapter, Jeff Purswell, addresses the possible feeling that the Christian life is one of negation.

Discernment is…crucial. However, to read the message of this book as a call to avoidance is to misunderstand it. It would be tragic indeed if we ignored, diluted, or otherwise marginalized the command this book began with: “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). It would be equally tragic if we defined our relationship with the world simply in terms of negation. For John’s Gospel affirms both God’s love for the world (John 3:16) and his intention that we be in the world (John 17:18). (p 140)

Purswell does a great job of laying out how to love the world from a biblical worldview.  He gives an short “biography” of the history and future of the world. In that context he lays out three tasks for Christians: (1) Enjoy the World, (2) Engage the World, (3) Evangelize the World. In a masterful stroke, the author brings us to “The World and the Cross”:

In navigating these polarities [having “strictly spiritual preoccupations” and “relishing life in this world”], a different moment in salvation history dominated the apostle Paul’s horizon: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). For Paul, the cross was the singular, decisive, existence-altering reality of his life. No category of Paul’s existence remained untouched by Christ’s atoning death on his behalf. (p 169)

When we see our lives in light of what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, everything will be different. We won’t be enamored of a fallen world that opposes God; for it is such a world that our Savior died. Nor will we ignore the world, untouched by its God-glorifying potential or unmoved by its needs. Rather, we’ll take our place in this world, enjoying God’s gifts, fulfilling God’s purposes, and giving our lives to see the gospel proclaimed, sinners saved, and God glorified. (p 171)