Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Are Worship Styles Biblical?

Why do we have different styles of worship? Does the Bible teach us to be divided along lines of musical or atmospheric preference in our worship of Almighty God? I'm going to offer a pretty thick quote for us to consider, but it's ok if you glaze over it, because I'm going to break it down afterward. William Nichols writes in his book Jacob's Ladder,


"The foundation of Christian worship is Christ Himself, as One Who is both the Divine Word [REVELATION] and man's perfect RESPONSE to that Word. If we make it our endeavor, as we think of the different aspects of worship, to RECOGNIZE His work, we shall find the essence of worship, as well as the true concern of the different tradition, and also the unity which these differences obscure."


It's hard to wade through because it's the thesis of an entire book, so let's break it down:

1.) Proper worship happens when a creature responds appropriately to his or her Creator. God is always revealing Himself to His creation, and when we respond to Him in a way that shows we are surrendered to His will in our lives, we are worshipping appropriately. Which is to say, we are valuing Him and not ourselves or our fellow creatures. We set aside time on Sunday mornings to do this as a body, but we should always be worshipping (Romans 12:1).


2.) Christ is the ultimate revelation of God. Philippians 2, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, and pretty much every other chapter of the entire Bible emphatically claims this to be true.

3.) Christ is also the perfect responder to God. Jesus says in John 5, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." Jesus responds to revelation like a pro. That guy is a worshipping machine.


4.) Therefore, Christ is the ultimate worshipper, and as such, he is both the object of our worship and our example of what worship of Him should look like.


5.) Nichols then confidently asserts that if we study how Christ worshipped, we will find that all of the things which divide the church in worship will begin to fade. All are united in Christ. I agree with his assessment wholeheartedly.


So why different services? The gospel is the good news, but there's also bad news. The bad news is, we're not perfect. The good news is, we are being perfected by the Holy Spirit's transforming work in our lives. One of the key elements of pastoring is meeting people where they are. Where they are right now is ALL OVER THE PLACE. Equally important is loving them enough not to leave them there.
Not that we'll eventually get all of those "charis-maniacs" in the rock n' roll room down the hall over to the sacred sanctuary, or finally thaw the "frozen chosen" folks and bring them over to Seabrook Hall where the spirit moves. We can't even get the people within those individual rooms to agree on much. But in the Kingdom of God, those things don't even matter at all. They are so small compared to the glorious riches of Christ's presence in and among us. Worship styles are not Biblical because they're not even a big enough deal to make it into the Bible.


My prayer is that one day the church will be pleased to worship together without division of any kind, least of all, "style." But since we're not there yet, let's turn our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and He'll get us there together and in one piece someday. May our great triune God, Three-in-One perfectly united, make us more truly in His image even this day as we worship Him in spirit and in truth.

3 comments:

John David Walt said...

Good post Josh. And an interesting quote.

"The foundation of Christian worship is Christ Himself, as One Who is both the Divine Word [REVELATION] and man's perfect RESPONSE to that Word. If we make it our endeavor, as we think of the different aspects of worship, to RECOGNIZE His work, we shall find the essence of worship, as well as the true concern of the different tradition, and also the unity which these differences obscure."

A few thoughts: I would probably stay away from the "foundation" language as I think it is incomplete. It implies that something is built on the foundation. And it further implies that we build whatever that is. I do recognize Paul uses this kind of metaphor in 1 Cor 3. I would rather suggest that Christ is the entire edifice. He is the new Temple in fact. He is the presence of God. If we have seen Christ we have seen the Father.

I like his notion of "recognizing" Christ's work in the midst of worship. For my money, this is worship's highest aim--- to behold the living God in the prophecy, conception, birth, life, words, deeds, death, resurrection, ascension, reign and return of Jesus Christ. He is the Worship Leader-- who shows us the Father and who, with the Father, sends us the Spirit. Our worship needs to be absolutely fascinated with Jesus-- fixed on Him.

The paramount question we must ask ourselves is, "How do we do this as a gathered body-- How do we behold him-- fix our eyes upon him?" If we can agree that this is the question-- I find that the "style" issue falls out of the equation. If we can agree that this is the paramount issue-- then we will stop short of nothing in gathering up every possible style, act, confession, song, creed, posture, intercession, praise, instrument, and on we could go.

I find that the issue of "style" keeps the worship conversation circling around us and our preferences, which is the essence of consumerism. We want the "style" that helps us "worship" best. style becomes the "drug" so to speak that helps us get our worship "fix." what we need is our worship to be fixed.

More and more I think the style issue reveals that we don't really understand the true nature of worship. That's why I like the quote-- as it brings us to the beginning, middle and end of worship-- Jesus Christ.

Could you imagine how Christians in North Korea, among the most persecuted in the World, would respond to our worship "style" conversations? I sometimes try to picture myself trying to explain my worship style preference to a North Korean widow whose husband has been executed for confessing Jesus. "This service over here is for "young families" who like more contemporary music. This service down there is for people who like traditional worship. That service over there is for "passion" style worshippers and the one that meets tonight is for more "vineyard" style of worshippers, and the one that meets late night here is for people who like rave-style worship. imagine that conversation and how ridiculous it would feel.

so i agree with you-- there couldn't be a more irrelevant issue-- it's "not even a big enough deal to make it in the bible." nice.

I think the real task of a worship leader is to reshape the conversation about worship-- which reorients the worshipper. the question we need to be spending our time on is-- how do we do this?

Rick said...

"One of the key elements of pastoring is meeting people where they are." Amen to that Josh!
John ends with a very powerful question, "how do we do this?" I ponder this question daily. How do I (we) as worship leader guide people, in a highly consumeristic society, from a "have-it-your-way" lifestyle to one that marked by surrender. I'm encouraged to know that this question is being asked by others in this city. Bless you both!

Livewire said...

Doesn't styles imply different choices? Such as, "I want this style of hair" or "I want that style of clothing."

I choose Jesus as my ONLY style of worship!