Thursday, December 22, 2011

We Need More Worship Wars, Not Fewer

Self-denying humility ought to show up in the way we worship together. Thankfully, we don't hear as much these days about worship wars in Christian churches as we did just a few years ago, but they are still there. For years I thought this phenomenon was the bane of the "make it up as you go along" whirl of low-church evangelical Protestantism, and mostly it is. But even with a set traditional liturgy, Roman Catholics and other groups often experience the same kinds of tensions.

Maybe you're like me, reared to have the worship music tastes of a seventy-five-year-old woman. That's because, I think, a seventy-five-year-old woman was picking out the hymns and gospel songs in the church where I grew up. I tear up when I sing "Just As I Am" or "To God Be the Glory." And I'm left cold by what some people call the "majestic old hymns." They sound like what watercress-sandwich-eating Episcopalians from Connecticut would listen to (not that there's anything wrong with that). And so many of the contemporary songs sound as if they were written by commercial jingle writers, trying desperately to find words to rhyme with "Jesus" ("Sees us?" "Never leave us?" "Diseases?"). I'm not saying aesthetics don't matter in worship. Worship is, after all, commanded to be offered with "reverence and awe" (Heb. 12:28). I am saying our varying critiques of musical forms are often just simple narcissism disguised as concern about theological and liturgical downgrade.

We need more worship wars, not fewer. What if the war looked like this in your congregation—the young singles petitioning the church to play more of the old classics for the sake of the elderly people, and the elderly people calling on the leadership to contemporize for the sake of the young new believers? This would signal a counting of others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), which comes from the Spirit of the humiliated, exalted King, Christ (Phil. 2:5-11).

When I insist that the rest of the congregation serve as backup singers in my own little nostalgic hit parade of back-home Mississippi hymns, I am worshiping in the spirit all right, but not the Holy Spirit. I am worshiping myself, in the spirit of self-exaltation. The church negates the power of the third temptation when we remind ourselves that we all have this devilish tendency and cast it aside whether in worship planning or missions or budget decisions.

-- Russell Moore, Tempted and Tried (Crossway, 2011), 149-150.


BrianB. said...

“Self-denying humility” is tough to learn. I have heard it said that if there is a division in any church and both parties are committed to expressing true humility in Christ, then the conflict will be killed through the power of the Gospel. I believe this is true, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy because true “self-denying humility” works even when no one else’s “self-denying humility” is. It’s hard for me not to get my way. My self is wired to not deny myself. I need help. I need Christ.

I enjoyed Moore’s book. It was very helpful to me. Enjoyed your new one too Jared. Merry Christmas!

Joanna said...

The last bit of this post about one group begging for the worship experience of another echoes thoughts in "Contemporary Worship Music" by John Frame, something I had to read in seminary. Don't let the title fool you. It was really about the novel idea of theological integrity in worship, regardless of style, and that the overall spirit of worship in community ought to be sacrifice as we remember Christ. Sacrifice your likes and dislikes in music for the sake of others in the congregation.