Christians are already divided by so many things, yet we seem to insist on create more divisions amongst ourselves. I think this is one division we should work to eliminate.
Here are some reasons why.
- It divides otherwise healthy congregations. Many churches have been frightened by the mega-church message that says if you aren’t doing contemporary worship, your church will die. Of course, there are many examples that prove otherwise. And many churches with only contemporary services are closing, also.
This doesn’t have to happen to a traditional church. But since nearly all mega-churches are decidedly contemporary, the message seems to have some weight to it. And so, these churches have splintered themselves by adding something that they really never needed in the first place.
- It divides churches by age. I think this is one of the most tragic reasons. Children and youth need to worship with their parents. The old, likewise, need the younger. Of course, one day we will all join the heavenly choir, and something tells me we’re not going to have a smorgasbord of corporate worship options to attend. We will all join in singing the unending hymn, even if we don’t like the tune, even if there are no projection screens, even if the seating doesn’t perfectly mold to each individual backside. Perhaps we should start practicing now.
- It establishes a false “old vs. new” dichotomy in congregational song. This is one of the strangest things. Historical Christian worship, which most would now call “traditional,” has always sung new songs. Now, “traditional worship” has been equated with nostalgia, and contemporary with “pop culture.” It shouldn’t be this way. We should all be singing, speaking, and praying new things, in addition to the best of previous generations.
- It doesn’t provide “something for everyone.” It’s more than a little ridiculous to suggest that two service styles are going to include all everyone’s preferences. But what are you going to do? As much as they try, churches can’t be Baskin-Robbins. So we pretend there are only two kinds of people among us, those who like contemporary and vanilla, and those who like traditional and chocolate.
- It teaches different theologies. Like it or not, our theology is shaped by what we sing. Congregational singing has always been didactic in nature. And it’s effective. Music adds a new dimension. It gives our story life. Only now, in many of our congregations, we are no longer united by our theology. Why? Could it be because we are no longer singing the same thing?
- It equates music with worship. Though most of us would voice disagreement, it is almost comically evident in our practice. When I was at Baylor, I went to a college service. I didn’t really want to go, but there was this girl, and, well, long story. But the college pastor preached on worship, how worship was not about singing, how it was about how we lived our lives, all that stuff. Then, at the end, after he finished trying to differentiate the two, he said, “Now, our band is going to come back for a time of worship before we’re dismissed.” That’s how funny it is. We have “worship” CDs, worship leaders, worship bands, worship choirs, worship teams. Who ever heard of a “worship lay reader” or “worship preacher?” Supposedly, if we don’t like the music, we can’t worship. This misses both the heart of worship (sorry Matt) and the heart of Christian gatherings.
- It assumes that historic elements of Christian worship are optional. Again, the formative, didactic function of music and other service elements are compromised. “If the Apostles’ Creed means something to you, fine. If not, no problem. It’s really all about what makes you most comfortable.” This is a problem. We don’t do what we do because it makes us happy or excited, but because it’s important. If our faith tradition has long valued something, does that value go away suddenly because we want more butts in our seats? I don’t think so.
- It reduces corporate worship to an activity of individualistic self-expression instead of a gathering of covenant people. If worship services are about “connecting to God in ‘worship’,” we might as well just stay home. But that’s not the point. We worship because we are a distinct group bound together by the Christian story. What God hath joined together, let no worship “style” put asunder.
- It creates a self-centered atmosphere. Churches that proclaim freedom of choice in worship gatherings would likely lose half of their congregation if one of those choices when away. It’s about me, what I want, and if that’s not happening, I’m going to take my ball or guitar or hymnal and go home.
- It bows at the altar of American consumerism. This message of this false religion is that the customer is always right, that you can have it your own way. Of course, that is a lie. It’s a lie that pits one thing up against one or two others and makes you believe you actually have real choices. This is the unfortunate reality underlying messages like this one:
Sorry Pastor Darin. Corporate worship is for everyone, and it’s not a comfortable chair that fits us just right.
- It is distinctively seeker-sensitive instead of missional. Corporate worship is not about evangelism. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding over a century in the making. Evangelism may be a byproduct of worship gatherings, but it can’t be the main thing, or you can’t really call it a worship service. The kingdom mission begins when we are sent out into the world.
Enough. Our world is so divided it’s broken. It’s time the local church stop following suit. Let’s work toward making our Sunday mornings a time when we are united. After all, as motley a crew as we are, as covenant people, we have the same story.
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