Worship Matters, Part 2 by Pastor Bennett
What is worship? How would you define or describe it? Before reading any further, think about how you might answer that question. Is worship a certain activity? Is it a particular musical genre? What is it and how should we think about it? In “Part 1” (printed June 16), we said that corporate worship at New Life is (first) a crucial part of a bigger whole, and also (second) gospel-centered. In this follow-up, we’ll continue exploring the topic of worship together with two more aspects to consider.
Third, corporate worship at New Life is to be communal and participatory. With the inadequate but common assumption that worship is defined solely as singing, we often treat congregational singing as an individual encounter with God. As we sing, we try to avoid being distracted by others and seek after an individual experience. While that can certainly be a part of our worship, by itself it misses a much bigger picture of what corporate worship is meant to be.
Too often we put too much emphasis on ourselves in corporate worship―our own experience, our own favorite songs or musical style, etc. All of this misses an important point in aiming for a truly corporate experience in worship, however. “Worship is a broader thing than music, and music’s purpose in the church is bigger than my personal experience. It’s not merely my song, but our song. We sing together, uniting our voices and our words” (Cosper).
Rather than coming to church with attitudes that are tainted by individualism and consumerism, we must join together gladly with all the diversity contained in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4.1-16). We should not come to church expecting to have a worship experience delivered to us; we should come excited to sing together and sit together under the authority of God’s Word. Isaac Wardell of Bifrost Arts has helpfully pointed out that our worship services should not be viewed as a “concert hall,” but rather a “banquet hall”―not a place we go to merely receive something, but a place we enter to participate in something together.
So while it is important to have experienced and qualified people leading musical worship from the stage, it is far more important for the congregation to sing boldly the great truths of the gospel. They are the real “worship team.”
Fourth, our worship must be marked by humility and service for others.For years now in the American evangelical church, issues surrounding musical styles and preferences have become far more important than they should have ever been. Music is an important component of our corporate worship, but it should never have become a point of contention in the church. That Christians would literally argue with each other about which style of music to use in church worship is nothing short of sinful and embarrassing in our witness to Christ.
People are naturally deeply wedded to their personal preferences, but we must be constantly aware that the style of music we use in our church services is almost never a matter of essential theological importance. We must recognize the differences between what is theological and what is cultural; between where the Bible speaks clearly and where it does not.
Equating worship with music and becoming too attached to any particular style of music in our worship is extremely problematic. Cosper describes the danger like this: “If music is worship, then when you mess with someone’s musical preferences, you threaten their access to God. No wonder the debates become so heated.”
As discussed in the previous pondering, our access to God has been achieved and provided for us by God himself, through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any particular aspect of culture or music style. Of course we all know this truth, but it sometimes appears that we don’t really know it or truly live in light of it. When we join together with God’s people in corporate worship, we must come with open hands and humble hearts toward one another.
“While Paul tells the Colossians that social and ethnic boundaries are obliterated for Christians, we have found ways to divide into new tribes based on musical preference: traditional and contemporary, classic and modern, hymns and praise choruses. Harold Best once said, ‘A mature Christian is easily edified.’ If we’re gathering humbly, united by the gospel, we should be marked by a sense of thankfulness that brings us together, regardless of our stylistic and cultural decisions” (Cosper).
Paul wisely encourages us in Colossians 3.15 to “let the peace of Christ rule” in our hearts, to which we were “called into one body.” We sing together as one body for God’s glory. Practically, this may mean that at times our most sincere worship is singing a song we don’t prefer because we know someone else is helped by it. Disciplining ourselves to enter into corporate worship with this mentality is one way we can let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2.3, Romans 15.1-7).
To summarize, this is not an argument for any particular worship style over another, but rather a corporate approach to the issues of style and preference―an approach characterized by humility and service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, with unity in the Spirit as our highest aim.