"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." - John 4:22-24
I was reminded by reading the archives of Touchstone Magazine's blog entries on worship that there are dramatic conflicts that exist among many Christians in regard to the "style" of our worship services. I am blessed to not have dissatisfaction working its way through our church, but we know of other churches with terrible struggles. Should music be fast or slow or a mix of both? Should everyone wear suits and ties or are jeans and a t-shirt acceptable? Is it necessary to say "thee" and "thine" or will "you" and "yours" suffice? I'm certain that you've heard or experienced many more points of disagreement than these.
The scripture does not directly teach us what clothing we should wear or style of music we should play when going to church. In fact, looking back into scripture sometimes creates cultural disconnects that cannot be reconciled: no one suggests that following the cultural norms of King David by playing the harp and lyre at a service would really cut it in mainstream North American services. Instead, church services are mostly based on cultural norms from (in many cases) hundreds of years of church tradition.
What should be at issue first and foremost is not the style of music or the dress. What should be our first priority is whether our worship services focus on the majesty of God through Jesus Christ. Do we speak the truths found in the Bible or do we gloss over them to serve the people instead of God? Do we prefer one another in our services more-so than our own interests? Do we spend our energies serving each other so as to build each other up in the Lord? Do we speak of and encourage faithfulness to God? Do we speak of his greatness, his holiness, his righteousness, his power, his sovereignty?
At stake here is not the style of our music. At stake is whether we, as a church, will be fully submitted to God as servants of the gospel. As the hymn recites, "look full in His wonderful face... and the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace..." When we see Jesus our desires for our own tradition should fall silent at his feet. If our passion is to worship at the feet of Jesus and our wholehearted desire is to see him glorified in our services, then first and foremost we will strive for unity in the Spirit: are we all seeking the same thing? Are we all seeking that God would be glorified?
We should desire to be transparent to the light of Jesus so that we may become instruments by which the song of grace is sung. Then we, who through prayer and personal inventory know that we seek to honor God, should encourage others to honor God in their culture and traditions. After all, part of what makes the gospel so powerful is that Jesus is honored across cultural boundaries - he draws all men unto him - not just those who sing a particular style of music.
We get into all sorts of trouble when we use music styles as the benchmark for the glorification of God in our churches. Instead, let us use reverence, awe, the fear of the Lord, repentance, thirst for the Word of God, or love, joy, peace, patience... These are measurements that the Bible itself teaches unequivocally. Without those foundations built on the truth of God, any song - hymn, contemporary chorus, rock, harp or lyre - will mean little to God and anyone seeking him.