Too often individual believers sacrifice the true heart of worship on the altar of personal preference in exchange for a particular style and substance of praise and worship songs. This sad exchange takes place when the true meaning of worship has been lost, or has yet to be understood.
When factions arise within a church and begin a civil war in the name of God, hell gathers around with pop corn to watch what is to them a comedy routine. In God’s eyes, it is a tragedy.
While there is at times a distinction to be made between holy and unholy songs of worship, in all of my years in ministry in the Church I have seen only a very few instances of truly holy distinction in the realm of music. Most of the time it is solely about personal preference.
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”
~ 1 Corinthians 11:17-19
Most of the conflicts in recent church history (in the last 300 years or so) have centered around things like: which musical instruments are acceptable (“holy”) and unacceptable (“unholy”) in God’s eyes. Whether it be a pump organ, a piano, a drum set, a keyboard, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a harmonica, a harp, a trumpet, a French horn… because at some point in time each instrument was popular in some secular arenas like saloons, theaters, or rock concerts, they carried a stigma that spiritually immature people could not get beyond. Therefore (in their eyes) those instruments were unholy in God’s eyes. They were like those in the Apostle Paul’s day who could not fathom eating food that had been sacrificed to an idol and then sold at the community market where Christians would then buy it for food.
“But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”
~ 1 Corinthians 8:7-8
While attributing a holy or unholy attribute to each kind of musical instrument might sound necessary to some and worthy of a church civil war, the problem is really with them: their own weak conscience, their lack of scriptural knowledge, and their immaturity. They may be sincere, and they may have been a Christian all their life, but their immaturity is obvious and their error in going to war is costly.
The style of music is another point of contention, a realm where personal preference is mixed with past experiences of God’s presence during genuine times of worship. A few hundred years ago there were several hymns where the lyrics were definitely scriptural and wonderful, but were battled against ferociously because the tune was borrowed from common songs of their day. This kind of “discernment” is still active today, certain genres of music are either required or are banned from being played in certain churches.
An additional attribute of worship music that is contentious for some is in relation to acoustic only, acoustic and digital, or only digital. The strongest opposition usually is on the acoustic side of the spectrum that rejects the more modern and “secular” digital sounds. So-called “distortion sounds” (i.e. Electric guitar) are rejected on the basis of stretching the meaning of a single verse of scripture from 1 Corinthians 14 about “distinction in the notes.”
The substance of a certain genre of worship songs are often mocked by other “genre groupies” (as I call them). Many of the old hymns have wonderful, rich proclamations of God’s goodness and love. Some hymns however are best left in the past. Many of the new choruses have wonderful, rich exclamations of love for God and speak of total surrender. Some choruses however are best left in the past. The point is this: the genre of the worship song is not what makes it worshipful or worthy of mockery. In fact, it’s not even the warm nostalgic memories that a song triggers within us that makes it good or right.
What is right or wrong about our worship is not our song, it is our heart! God is not impressed with our mastery of a certain musical instrument, our voice which might have “perfect pitch,” and our lyrics that have a “perfect doctrine” that is a recitation of our church’s 32 tenets of faith. He is however impressed with a heart that is passionately in love with Him, and that expresses that love through genuine, godly living. The prophet Isaiah spoke God’s corrective message to Israel about the difference between having right words vs. having right hearts:
“These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules… Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”
~ Isaiah 29:13-14
So, the question you might be asking at this point is: “In the worship war in my church, which side then is right?” or “How do we solve this raging problem?”
The key to solving the civil war is to call a truce, and then call them all to the altar of prayer to ask God to come into the church and teach everyone, both the immature and the mature, both the young and the old, both the traditionalist and the charismatic, what worship really is in His eyes. Ask Him to reveal to each person the distinction between what is holy and unholy about their own heart. Openly confess that there is something bigger to worship than music genres. Then, enter into a season of prayer-soaked Bible-studied teaching on the true heart of worship.
One question remains: will you “sacrifice” your personal musical preference out of love for Christ and love for every person in His church so that a true heart of worship can be transplanted in the body of the church, His bride? Personally, I can’t bear to listen to a single note of the Blue Grass genre of music, but what if God in His infinite wisdom wants to bring a church-wide and city-wide revival that among other things uses that genre of music? I pray that I may become a Blue Grass singing, God-worshipping, and people-loving revival-junkie!
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