Brothers and Sisters,
I write to you today to express some thoughts that have been on my heart and in my prayers recently as our church experiences a time of transition and new opportunities to worship and serve our Lord. As with any change in a church, be it with leadership, buildings, membership, worship style etc., there will always be those who are concerned by a change and those who are encouraged by it. Praise God for differing perspectives! Tainted as we are by our sin though, it’s easy to view each other as either impediments to progress or not respectful of who and what has come before. Those thoughts can often plant seeds of dissension and strife, leading brothers and sisters in Christ to view each other very negatively. Friends, we cannot fall into this trap! I am convinced that times like these are a means the Father uses to sanctify us not only individually, but also corporately as we dialogue and learn from each other. During these changes and opportunities for growth, we need to be doubly sure that we hold fast the to cross first and foremost, but also to each other…we are all running this race together!
In my experience, worship style in particular can often be a source of conflict between the generations. I have seen this borne out in other churches. Maybe modern praise songs seem like irreverent noise to you and you think that everyone in the service should dress formally. Or maybe you think hymns are tedious and choir robes are unnecessary. Those are obviously extreme examples to illustrate the point, and I’d imagine that there are people at various places along that spectrum in our church family. Do we go with jeans or a suit, drums or a piano, hymns from the 1800s or a praise song from the modern era? These are good things to discuss and even debate about, but I wonder if we sometimes let them carry more weight than they should.
I was recently reminded by a very wise man that what is now traditional was once contemporary. After all, to the best of my knowledge, many of the instruments we use today in various styles of worship did not exist in the first century. And although I could certainly be wrong, I can’t recall anywhere in scripture (with the exception of ceremonial law applicable to the nation of Israel or guidelines about modesty in the NT) where a specific style of dress was ever commanded. If indeed “…He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Is 61:10 ESV), then nothing I wear in this life, no matter how casual or formal by our standards, can ever measure up to that beauty anyway. Let us love each other and celebrate that our clothes…indeed even our best efforts for that matter…are filthy rags compared to that beautiful robe of righteousness we receive in our salvation.
In Ephesians 5, while Paul is instructing the members of that church about the means in which they are to walk in the ways of the Lord, among others things, he exhorts believers to “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5: 18-19 ESV). What wonderful counsel! While Biblical hymns and spiritual songs may not be inspired like the Psalms, throughout the generations they share a common paradigm in that they are (hopefully) written by artists who were filled with the Spirit to praise the God of the universe. Are we to think that believers of one era are more or less gifted with talent by a creative God to praise Him in song than those of another era?
As Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, we are one body, with many parts. Our great God, in His infinite wisdom, has brought together His people in this church…His church…from different generations and walks of life. We will not always see things the same way or agree on all matters of life or the work and worship of the church, be we are different parts of the same body! A body that Christ died to save! We must remember that this body was bought with a price and with that in mind, we must guard against the spirit of disunity and discontentment over matters that are not mandated by God’s revealed word. I sincerely believe that many of those matters boil down to personal taste and preference and fall under the umbrella of Christian liberty. While it is a testament to God’s creativity that we can have such diverse personalities, tastes, and interests, only scripture can bind the conscience and we do well to remember that, lest the enemy gain a foothold. We need to ask ourselves, do we want mocking laughter in Hell over our insignificant squabbles, or rejoicing in Heaven over our coming together in praise of Him who redeemed us?
When we evaluate a matter within a church…or any matter in life in fact, we must do so through the lens of the Gospel and with Scripture as our ultimate authority. This song isn’t my cup of tea…but is it Biblical? That outfit isn’t something I would wear to church…but does scripture speak directly about this or can it be deduced from Godly wisdom and discernment? Through it all we must take care to not denigrate or belittle the efforts of those who are sacrificing their time and using their God-given gifts to worship and praise Him. We must also not place a stumbling block in the path of other believers. After all, seeking to maintain one’s own comfort level takes a back seat to loving your neighbor as yourself. If ever you find your conscience pricked or a conflict arising out of something in church, be it with the leadership, another member, or whatever, take heart in knowing that Jesus gave us a method for conflict resolution in Matthew 18. Furthermore, praise God that our denomination has a form of government as outlined in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, which fosters Biblical conflict resolution.
So please, if you feel concern for something pray about it, look for applicable guidance in scripture, and don’t be afraid to speak up or ask a question. But by the same token, if you do ask a question or raise an issue you may get a response that you disagree with…and that’s okay! We are commanded to love each other and build each other up regardless of disagreements. I think Philippians provides some great encouragement that’s applicable to us (encouragement which I never seem to cease needing!) “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Ph 2: 3-4 ESV). “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Ph 2: 14-15). Respecting the history of this particular church and looking to the future do not have to be mutually exclusive. Let us not make them so. In respecting our history, let us be sure to not elevate tradition above Scripture as the Pharisees did. If we have been guilty of this, let us repent and seek forgiveness where necessary.
In closing, I am highly encouraged that recently Pastor David stated we would be discussing worship matters more in the near future. I believe this is a very necessary discussion to have. But in the meantime, what a joy it is to know that when the kingdom reaches its fulfillment, we will be worshiping hand in hand with God’s elect from all backgrounds, many of whom we undoubtedly would’ve had disagreements with in this life. Praise God for the beauty and diversity of His people! What a great witness it is to the world to behold the sheep of His pasture united! My prayer for all of us is that we move forward in this church united, not necessarily in opinion, but in love for our God and each other. May His peace be upon us and may His grace cover us all!
Blessings to you,