Worship Wars–Principle #5: Worship Must Be Understandable and Orderly

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God intentionally designed diversity to be an integral component of the church.  The various gifts given in the church are to be used for the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).  Each member of the church is to use his/her gifts in a spirit of love for others (1 Corinthians 13).  Love should be the guiding motivation in worship so that Christians act in a way that “builds up” and not in a way that “tears down.”  In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul gives specific instructions to help guide the worship assembly in the Corinthian congregation.  In this chapter, Christians are instructed to make sure that worship is both understandable and orderly.

Christians with an elitist attitude in Corinth had apparently argued that tongue-speaking was the greatest spiritual gift (cf. 14:13-19).  Paul shows that prophecy is more beneficial for the assembly.  It is a “greater gift” because the one who prophesies is able to “build up” the church by clearly communicating God’s message to others (14:4).  One who speaks in a tongue needs an interpreter (14:5).  Like a harp that is out of tune or a random note played on a bugle, speaking in tongues is worthless noise in the air if the meaning of the sounds are not interpreted (14:6-12).  Likewise, prayers and songs in worship are useless if those assembled cannot understand what is said (14:13-19).  Visitors to the assembly will think Christians are crazy if the worship is not understandable.  But if they can understand the meaning, they will fall on their face and worship God also (14:20-25).  The point is that everything done in the worship assembly must be understandable.

            There are several applications of this principle for contemporary worship assemblies.  Most basic is that everyone must be able to hear what is said in the worship assembly.  Worship leaders must speak loudly enough to be heard (and properly use public address equipment) using understandable language.  When prayers are filled with advanced vocabulary and complicated theological terminology, it becomes increasingly difficult for worshippers to say “Amen” when they don’t understand what is said (14:16).  It is impossible to join in the “Amen” when worshippers cannot hear clearly because of a soft tone taken by the leader or because of a malfunctioning microphone.  Worshippers must be able to pray with the spirit and the understanding (14:15).  Also, Paul mentions singing with the spirit and understanding.  When worship leaders choose songs with antiquated language or highly symbolic poetry, it becomes extremely difficult for worshippers to worship with the “understanding.”  Thankfully, the contemporary church has a storehouse of worship songs that express praise utilizing current English and phrases that resonate with today’s worshiper.  Many older hymns have powerful and needed messages, but usually outdated language needs to be explained by the leader prior to singing the song so that all can sing with understanding.

            The worship at Corinth was highly participatory and spontaneous.  The worshipers were encouraged to come to the assembly prepared with something to offer: hymns, lessons, revelations, tongues and interpretations (14:26).  Apparently there was a natural and somewhat fluid order to their worship that was always fresh and engaging.  Everything was to be done in the worship to spiritually inspire and build up the worshippers (14:26b).  But apparently, the spontaneity of their worship had become somewhat chaotic and confusing.  Therefore, Paul gives some rules for ordering the tongue speakers (14:27-28), those who prophesy (14:29-33a), and women in the assembly (14:33b-35).  So that everyone can understand and participate in the worship, it was important that “everything be done decently and in order” (14:40).

            An important principle emerges from Paul’s direction to this congregation: we must balance spontaneity with order in worship.  In the worship wars among us, some people prefer a predictable worship order that they can anticipate.  The “traditional order” gives comfort and assurance to some worshippers.  For others, a predictable order feels stuffy, inauthentic, regimented and stagnant.  These worshippers want something fresh, unexpected and creative.  The worship at Corinth was highly spontaneous needing some orderly instruction.  Conversely, many modern worship assemblies among us appear highly programmed, needing some fresh spontaneity.    Surely, modern worshippers can love one another and be willing to balance both spontaneity and predictability.

            A fifth principle for worship assemblies is:

 “Worship should be guided by what is understandable and orderly while balancing spontaneity with predictability that will draw the entire assembly to participate.”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

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Worship Wars: Principle #4–Love Must Guide Our Worship

love-God_vs1Many Christians consider 1 Corinthians 13 as one of their favorite chapters in the Bible.  It is the “love” chapter.  Countless topical sermons are preached from this text.  Many wedding ceremonies use this text as a focus.  Yet, many people likely do not realize the context of this great chapter.  Paul is addressing conduct between Christians especially as it relates to worship assemblies.  Believers at Corinth were segregating themselves over social class (chapter 11) and even over spiritual gifts (chapter 12).  Chapter 13 is a strategic section (in the broader discussion of chapters 11-14) regarding the conduct of Christians especially when assembled for worship.

            There was no shortage of spiritual gifts present among the believers of this congregation (12:4-11).  For some reason, it appears that an elitist attitude had infiltrated the church.  Some apparently were teaching that tongue-speaking was the greatest spiritual gift (cf. 14:18-19).  Paul later makes clear that the gift of prophecy is of greater value than other spiritual gifts (14:1).  However, there is a “more excellent” way than even the spiritual gifts (12:31).  God wants his children to do everything with a spirit of love for one another.

            This congregation had all the tools for a dynamic and Spirit-filled (literally) worship service.  But Paul argues that even an excellent worship assembly is nothing but worthless noise if not done in an attitude of love toward others.  Tongue speaking is empty racket without love (13:1).  Even inspired teaching and mountain-moving-faith is pointless without love (13:2).  The highest forms of dedication and sacrifice gain nothing if those actions omit love for others (13:3).

            When it comes to differences and variations in the worship assembly we must make sure we have love for one another (13:1-7).  We must be patient and gentle with one another.  We must not envy one another or boast about ourselves.  We must destroy arrogance and rudeness and we must not insist that things be done “our way.”  We must not be easily irritated and must avoid becoming resentful.  We must not rejoice when the methods of those with whom we disagree fail.  Regardless of the methodology, we must rejoice anytime the truth is upheld and proclaimed.  We must protect one another and give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Even when our best efforts fail, we must not lose hope.  We must not be overwhelmed by circumstances but endure by putting up with more than a lot with one another.  When it comes to our worship assemblies, no matter what else is done, love must “never fail.”

            Why should we put such a premium on having love toward one another when it comes to the “worship wars”? Because all spiritual gifts will cease (13:8-10).  Worship services will end.  And what remains?  When the tongues cease, the prophesy stops, the songs end, and the prayers are prayed, what did it produce within us?  Did we love each other?  There is nothing more counter to the Spirit of God than to be divided over worship.  Worship is meant to bring us together, not isolate and separate us.  Love must be our guide in worship.

            Paul makes clear that love does not “insist on having its own way” (13:5, ESV).  A neglect of this description of love is the fuel that feeds many of the worship wars among us.  If I am acting in love, I will not demand that only older hymns are sung.  If I am acting in love, I will not insist that we sing all contemporary praise anthems.  Equally important is that “love is not rude” (13:5, ESV).  If I am acting in love, I will not insult those who love Stamps-Baxter hymns or songs written by the Gaithers.  If I am acting in love, I will not show disdain for newer worship songs by contemptuously calling them “campfire songs.”  When it comes to our worship assemblies, love dictates that we must not be “irritable or resentful.”  To do otherwise it to act like immature children.

            When it comes to our worship, we must “give up childish ways” (13:11-12).  We must see past petty differences and opinions and look in the mirror clearly.  Worship is all about expressions of love.  We are to love God and love one another in worship.  It is all about “knowing” and “being known” (13:12).  We all want to be understood.  We all want to be “known.”  We must open ourselves to one another and encourage one another to lay down our weapons and open our hearts before God.  We must all stop hiding in the trenches while the bombs of the worship wars go off all around us.  Let’s call a cease-fire of love and meet one another halfway on the field and really look at each other “face to face.”

            The church must always stand for truth.  We must unwaveringly embrace the faith.  We must hold firmly to our hope.  But there is something greater than our faith.  There is even something greater than our hope.  The Bible says it best, “the greatest of these is love” (13:13).  We must always worship in truth, but we must never omit a spirit of love from our assemblies.  Worshipping in a spirit of love for one another immerses us in the very presence of the One who is Himself love.  The fourth principle is:

 “Even excellent worship is worthless noise if not done in an attitude of love toward others.  Love must guide our worship and bring us together not separate us.”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

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Worship Wars- Principle #3: Participation Not Performance

Unity-2On the battlefield of the worship wars among us, change is the ammunition of the day. In an effort to understand the continual cry for change, many retort, “people don’t want to worship, they just want to be entertained.”  No doubt, the desire for entertainment in our culture is strong and some among us are clamoring for such, even in worship.  Some are trying to take worship into a direction of performance.

Yet, many others that equally are crying for change have no desire in the least for entertainment in worship.  Rather, they are simply pleading for fresh avenues for worshipping God in ways that are moving and relevant with our age.  The desire is not for selfish entertainment, but for inspiring ways to pour out their hearts to God in praise from our current context.  There are genuine hearts among us that feel shackled by tradition and outmoded methodology that are aching to break forth in powerful praise using avenues that give voice to their hearts in worship.  The only agenda of some in the “worship wars” is to gain ground on the front of being able to better participate in authentic worship to God.

The Apostle Paul sets forth a principle in 1 Corinthians 12 that can help with this tension. The believers in Corinth had many questions for Paul (cf. 7:1) many of which were concerning worship.  In the letter we call 1 Corinthians Paul addresses many of their questions with the repeated phrase “now concerning” (7:1; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 16:12).  One of their questions had to do with the “spirituals” (pneumatikon) in the church (12:1).  This likely refers to the “spiritual ones” in the congregation who had been endowed with miraculous abilities by the Holy Spirit.  The church at Corinth had no shortage of “spiritual ones.”  They had been blessed with every miraculous gift imaginable including miraculous wisdom, healing, prophecy, and tongues (to name a few) (12:8-10).  Paul reminds his readers that these gifts have all been given by the “same Spirit” (12:4) and are meant for the “common good” (12:7).

It appears that some in Corinth were arguing that the ability to speak in tongues was the “superior gift” and was the mark of a truly spiritual person.  Paul shows that the purpose of speaking in tongues was meant for “unbelievers” (14:22), so that foreigners could understand the message in their own language (14:21).  But it seems that some of the “spiritual ones” had turned tongue speaking into a performance demonstrating an elitist claim of spiritual attainment.  Paul is quick to remind the church that we are “one body with many members” and every person is of equal value and every contribution is needed (12:12).  After all, at baptism we all drank from the one Spirit (12:13).

Paul demolishes this elitist attitude with a series of rhetorical questions.  To do this, he compares the church to the human body (12:14-26). He outlines several principles in these verses for a properly functioning body.  First, diversity is strength to the body (12:15-17).  Second, the body is intertwined and interdependent (12:18-21).  Third, less noticeable parts are often indispensible to proper functionality of the body (12:22-24).  Fourth, discord among the body will threaten its survival (12:25).  And finally, members of the body must protect one another (12:26).

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the various roles that God has appointed in the church (12:27-28).  Not everyone has the same role.  God needs each person doing his or her part.  Not everybody has the same gift, not even speaking in tongues (12:31). We should not elevate one gift over another, neither should we expect everyone to have the same gift.  God intentionally gave a “variety of gifts” in the church by the “one Spirit” just as he desires (12:4-6).  Rather than elevating the performance of one particular gift, the church should recognize the need for every member to participate and do their part.

Emerging from this ancient context is an eternal principle that can help govern the battles over worship in the contemporary church.  We must not elevate certain aspects of worship over others nor elevate certain worship leaders.  It is true that worship is not just about reverencing God but is also about encouraging one another (14:26).  However, we must avoid the temptation to make worship into a performance event.  Jesus warned against worship becoming something “to be seen of men” (Matt. 6:5, 16).  Worship is to be a communal event where everyone participates with the spirit and understanding (14:14-15) and where everyone can join together in the “Amen” (14:16).  Worship must not become performance-based but must always be a congregational, participatory event.  It is the place where the many members “become one” with “one voice” (cf. Rom. 15:6) in their praise to God.  The third principle is this:

“In the one body of the church, each member should be provided avenues that encourage participation and not become a spectator of a performance.”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

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Worship Wars- Principle #2: Stay Together As One Body

UnityWorshipAs the worship wars rage among congregations, some have seen the solution to these tensions to be separation or division.  Too often we want things “our way.”  One person feels uplifted by traditional hymns, another by more contemporary praise songs.  Some prefer a highly predictable worship service, while others favor a more impulsive approach.  Certainly there is a difference between acceptable worship and worship God doesn’t approve (Heb. 12:28).  But within the framework of the substantive elements of acceptable worship, there is tremendous room for variation in format, method, and style.  Unfortunately much of the tension in the “worship wars” has been over matters of methodology and opinion.  Many congregations come to an impasse between groups who see these issues differently.  Too often the result becomes either a church split, or dividing the congregation into two separate worship assemblies often billed “contemporary service” and “traditional service.”  As we continue examining 1 Corinthians 11-14, in chapter 11 we discover another principle to help navigate such turmoil.

The standard practice of the early church was to assemble together in private homes (cf. Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; et. al.).  It would normally be the more affluent members who would have adequate space for the assembly in their residence (cf. Philemon 1:1).  Writing to the Roman church from Corinth, Paul mentioned that the whole Corinthian church met in the home of Gaius (Rom. 16:23).  Beginning in 1 Corinthians 11:17, Paul uses the reoccurring phrase “when you come together” (11:17; 11:18; 11:20; 11:33; 11:34) clearly identifying the worship assembly as the topic in view.  What he specifically has in mind is the assembly where the Lord’s Supper is a part.  Paul reminded these believers earlier that when they assemble for communion they were to consider their unity as believers: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (10:17).  When they assembled they were to eat the “Lord’s Supper” with their unity in mind.

But instead, Paul has heard that there are “divisions” among them in their worship assemblies (11:18).  As a result, Paul says when they came together “it is not the Lord’s supper you eat” (11:20).  Instead, the “haves” were enjoying a meal that the wealthy were accustomed to eating together while the “have nots” were humiliated having nothing to eat when they arrived (11:22).  Often the poor (many of whom were likely slaves) had to work late, and so the rich were overindulging in the meal while the poor had nothing.  Such was a social division in the assembly and they had forgotten that communion (and by extension, worship) is intended to bring people together, not divide.

Paul reminds these believers of the bi-directional purpose of worship.  First, worship is a communion with God.  The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the body and blood of the Jesus.  We are to remember his sacrifice and proclaim his death until his return (11:23-26).  We are to partake of the Supper with a mindset to “discern both the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27).  This is the vertical direction of worship.

But there is also a horizontal aspect to worship.  The major problem in the worship assembly at Corinth was selfishness.  The more affluent members were quick to want to fill their bellies with food without waiting for the others to arrive (11:21, 33).  Paul prescribes the solution to this problem: each Christian should check his/her own heart’s motives.  He says “examine yourself” and make sure that you are “discerning the body” when you eat and drink (11:28-29).

Weaker manuscript evidence includes “of the Lord” (reflected in the KJV), but this is not well supported.  It seems that the flow of thought in this chapter indicates Paul is saying that they should “discern the body” meaning, “one another, the church” (cf. 10:17).  Because they had not been “discerning” one another (the body) nor discerning themselves truly (11:31), God had sent some type of punitive discipline (perhaps a plague) among them so that many were “weak and ill, and some have died” (11:30).  God sent this “judgment” (discipline) so that they would repent and not fall under the final condemnation of judgment with the world on the final day (11:32).  Worship is a time to focus not only on God but also on each other.  We must promote unity and mutual spiritual encouragement of all believers (cf. 14:26).

Finally, Paul instructs them to “wait for one another” when they come together.  If the well-to-do hosts of the assembly want to have meals to satisfy their hunger, that can be done “at home” but not during the specified assembly time when they all “come together” (11:34).  The assembly should be a time for unity between Christians as well as focus upon worshipping God.

   A navigating principle for the “worship wars” among us comes to the forefront in this chapter.  We must remember that worship is a communal experience that expresses our unity as believers.  We must learn to “wait for one another” and tolerate one another’s preferences.  The solution to strife over worship methods, styles and formats is not division but understanding and patience.  The second principle is this:

“When it comes to different opinions about worship styles, formats and methods, we must not divide but we must promote patience and understanding, and stay together as one body.”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

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Worship Wars– Principle #1: Sorting Out “Traditions”

worship-wars1

Over the last several decades churches everywhere have been engaged in wars over worship.  Some skirmishes have centered upon adoration of God against entertainment and performance.  However, most of the clashes have been over worship styles, mythologies, and preferences.  Battles over topics such as contemporary worship, traditional worship, high church, low church, praise songs, and older hymns rage.  Equally devoted Christians on either side often fight for different avenues of worship that resonate with them and express heartfelt loyalty to the Creator.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul dedicates four chapters to dealing with issues about worship (chapters 11-14).  In these four chapters, perhaps we can find some principles that can help us navigate the worship wars, aid us in seeing that some wars are worth fighting and others are not, and possibly promote a cease-fire.

            Paul begins by praising these Christians because they “maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (11:2).  Traditions can be either good or bad.  Jesus spoke negatively about the religious traditions of men that neglect the command of God (Matt. 15:3ff).  But Paul here speaks of “traditions” in the sense of the instructions of God handed down by inspired men.  The Apostle is pleased that this church has followed the non-negotiable principles of heavenly instruction.  A primary non-negotiable principle that Paul has in mind is the functional gender roles for the human family (11:3).  From the beginning of creation, God instituted a principle of authority/submission among the genders (11:7-9).  Paul shows that just as there is a functional hierarchy within the Trinity and the same is reflected in the human family (11:3).  This does not imply inferiority or difference in value.  Rather, there is a difference in function between men and women.

            From this commendation, Paul then gives direction concerning a cultural tradition—that of women’s head coverings.  Paul shows that the cultural custom in Corinth dictated that it was disgraceful for a woman not to wear a head covering.  Paul instructs these readers to “judge for themselves” that “if” it is disgraceful for a woman to be uncovered, she should wear a veil (11:6, 13).  In the cultural setting of Corinth, the cultural tradition of women wearing a veil was closely connected to the heavenly principle of the authority/submission principle of functionary roles between genders.  If the women of Corinth ignored the cultural tradition of the veil, it would be perceived that they likewise were rejecting the heavenly principle of authority/submission and difference between the genders.  In some places in the world, this connection still exists (i.e. Middle East).  But in America today, the cultural tradition of women wearing veils is not normally connected to this heavenly principle.

            Paul begins this section by commending the Corinth believers for “maintaining the traditions” and holding firm to the non-negotiable principles of inspired teaching.  But as the section concludes, Paul says regarding the cultural tradition of the veil, “we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (11:16).  Paul here shows that the first-century churches did not have an established custom of head covering as a matter of Christian doctrine.  Paul makes a distinction between the inspired precepts and cultural customs.

            Sometimes the connection between Christian doctrine and cultural customs are extremely close.  Christians must learn to separate the two.  However, Christians will not ignore cultural customs when it might appear that one is also ignoring eternal principles in the process.  Paul says that women ought to have exousia (freedom of choice) on her head (11:10).  While there is much debate about the meaning of this verse, it seems that Paul’s continual usage of the term exousia throughout this letter (7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 5, 6, 12, 18) indicates that women have the freedom of choice to voluntarily submit to God’s created order.  In their context, this involved a cultural custom of head coverings.

There are many things in our faith that are not themselves inherently right or wrong, but are viewed as such in particular settings.  A Christian must be sensitive to the faith of others and not demand his/her rights nor ignore customs (i.e. veil) that might cause a person to ignore a clear Biblical principle (i.e. male spiritual leadership principle).  A great example of this truth was given years ago by Roy Deaver who points out that there is nothing inherently wrong with a woman carrying a red purse; but, if there were a place and time where impure women were known for carrying red purses, Christian women should not carry a red purse!

            There is a major principle that comes to the forefront in these verses that can help us navigate the worship wars.  The first principle is this:

“Learn to separate specific, religious traditions of culture from the instructions (traditions) of non-negotiable principles of inspired truth.”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bulletin Article, Church, Culture, Women, Worship | Leave a comment