Three Hymns and an Anthem? The Sequel

In part one of this “intended” discussion (not enough people have responded yet to call it an actual discussion), I offered the question as to what worship would look like in the Kingdom of God.  My hope was to argue that there is not really a Biblical mandate anyway, as to what style of worship is appropriate to be reverent or creative or anything in between.  What I do find clearly in Scripture regarding worship is that mandate that we do it together, putting our preferences for style in service to the larger call to be the church of Jesus Christ as the Body of Christ.  It is my experience that we don’t see this mandate lived out very often in the church of North America.  It’s a challenge for all of us.

As an extension of the first question, let me offer a second.  “Why do so few people in most churches participate in worship?”  This might be more of a mainline statistic when compared to some of our brothers and sisters in more evangelical and community church models, but typically my observation is that around half of a church’s membership is in attendance at any one time for worship.  So just for clarity, if your church has 100 total members, you might expect to find about 50 worshipping with you on a typical Sunday.  This changes of course on “alumni weekends,” Christmas and Easter, but is pretty reliable most other times.  Why is that?

Several reasons might be offered.  Maybe people are sick?  I truly hope your community is not quite that afflicted with cold and flu season.  I don’t think that’s it.

Maybe it’s because lots of our members travel on the weekends?  In many affluent communities there is a lot of truth to this one.  At a former church I served in South Carolina, we used to say we were an “up and down congregation” in the summer months, meaning our members were either up in the mountains or down at the beach.  However, again the numbers change some but even at most other times of the year we don’t break the trend all that much.  So perhaps that’s not it either.

Any other suggestions?  What do you think?  Where is everybody?

Let me offer one.  Could it be that we don’t have a very high ideal about worship?  What if even this question was related to the question I offered in part one?  Let me explain...

If worship remains simply about personal style and choice, then by it very nature it is all about me.  We hear it often in response to worship.  “That song really spoke to me today.”  Or, “I didn’t get anything out of being here this morning!”  Each of those comments seems oblivious of the reality of offering oneself to another as an act of worship.  It’s another opportunity for our church to provide a service to a member in exchange for their support and commitment.  It remains simply all about me.

I would suggest that this “me first” mentality then translates to whether or not members participate at all week-by-week.  If the mandate to attend worship is totally in my control, then I decide when and if I want to worship.  If there is something better to do, then I can choose that over worship.  If the weather is nice and I want to be outside, well there is always next week.  If the weather is not nice, and it’s a hassle to drive across town, well then there is always next week.  You see the point.

Let me say, I want to be clear that I am not offering a theology of worship that is devoid of grace.  This is not an ideal that should become a burden, and make us feel guilty.  We certainly have enough of that in Protestantism.  I am not saying that worship is salvation, and that if you don’t come to church you aren’t as faithful as you should be.  I actually think there are several good reasons not to participate in worship, but that’s a different topic for a future discussion.

I would like to suggest that we more critically examine our choices when it comes to worship.  Is it simply about us?  Or is there more at stake than that?  When I was a youth pastor, I used to tell our youth, “Sometimes we come to youth because we need something, but then at other times we come because someone else needs something from us.”  It’s become a bit of a personal proverb for me.  I would apply that same axiom to worship.  Sometimes we attend worship to be fed spiritually, and to experience the presence of God for ourselves.  At other time we come because our presence can foster an experience of God in someone else.  In a world in which individual choice and personal preference rules the day, a community that gathers in spite of preference and individual choice can be a wonderful witness to faith in God.  In our independent culture, a witness to unity in spite of differences might provide a bridge for someone else to begin to see God in the midst of our world.

It has always been so.  The Apostle Paul faced a divided church in his day.  He appeals to the church at Corinth for unity.  (1 Corinthians 1)  There were those that identified with other leaders, and who were willing to divide the church over the issue.  Paul called the church to stay together as a witness to Christ and to Christ’s cross.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” -1 Corinthians 1:18 (NRSV).  Unity is the very power of the cross.

Again I ask, “What do you think?”  Let’s talk about the witness of Christian worship in the midst of our culture.                


  1. There is an old song of which I am sure you have heard. The words are "Jesus walked that lonesome valley, he had to walk it by himself, no body else could walk it for him, he had to walk it by himself." And it goes on to say we have to do the same. If what I learned about Church history is correct, Peter believed that people had to become Jews before they could be accepted as believers. (I don't know when the term Christian came to be.) Paul disagreed and, the story I heard was that Peter said you do it your way and I will do it mine. Don't know if those were the exacts words or not, but that is what the story is. I don't know if that has anything to do with what we are talking about now, but, the idea of differing methods of worship is not new and certainly seems to support that individuals who believe in worshiping in a particular way, with particular music or particular style of worship seem to wordhip better than they do with a different style, music, etc. Not that one method or style is better than the other, it just that one is preferable to some people and the other is preferable to some other people.

    So is it necessary that we all worship the same way? I don't think so. What is wrong with preferring one method over the other? And our biggest issue is the music. Do we have to worship in a style in which we do not feel a sense of spiritual fulfillment?

    1. Jim, as always, you absolutely hit the bulls-eye. Forced unity is not is a lesson many churches (like the Catholic one!) have not yet learned. There is s valid reason for preferences in worship - otherwise, I believe the Bible would have outlined a specific method and course. The diversity of humankind speaks to the variety that God enjoys....I don't think He only hears one type of worship. If that's true, we've got lots bigger problems. The biggest question to me, is, if such a vocal part of the church family is opposed to a change, why isn't Session listening???

    2. Thanks for your comment Jim. I really appreciate your willingness to share your opinion. You bring up a couple interesting points... Let me try and engage you on the Peter and Paul story because I think it is a relevant comparison.

      I think I understand the story a little differently. Paul is from the beginning the apostle to the Gentiles. All his work is outside the city of Jerusalem, not with the Jewish community. Peter begins primarily with the Jewish believers in Jesus in Jerusalem and is the head of the church there. In Acts 10, however Peter has a vision in which he is convicted that Gentiles are also part of the covenant. He baptizes Cornelius, a Roman centurion and his family. Clearly he is in favor of Gentile belief. The dispute comes later when Paul and Peter go to Galatia. Paul writes in Galatians 2:12,13 that Peter "began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." The point of contention was not that Peter disagreed with Paul about the Gentiles, but that he was acting as a hypocrite in believing one thing and acting in another way just to make his friends happy. Peter must have accepted the rebuke because he writes in 2 Peter 3: "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him." I can't find evidence in scripture that they went their own way, but instead it seems that Peter listened to Paul on this matter anyway and they worked together even more.

      The point of the story, and the reason in part I believe as I do, is reflected in the overall point that Paul seems to be making in rebuking Peter. Paul calls Peter to die to self, and to live for something better than his own need not to offend his friends. Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

      So it's not the whether or not we have preferences for worship. I have no problem with that at all. Everyone has things they like and things they don't. Music, style, and all the rest is all subject to our likes and dislikes. The issue for me is then what happens once we have identified our preferences. Are we willing to die to self and to submit our lives to something better? The preference is not the issue. By the way I don't think we always have to do without our own preferences, but the question is would we be willing to do that for something better?

      Speaking of preferences I have never liked the song you mention, because I don't believe we have to walk in faith by ourselves. Jesus did because His call was to be faithful when nobody else could. We are now His Body of Christ, and so together we are faithful because He was. Yesterday at the Living Room, a twenty-two year old homeless woman asked me how to come to faith. She said she has tried all her life to listen to preachers and to go to church and to get faith. My answer to her was to surround herself with people that believe that are willing to "love on her" meaning to treat her as important and worthy as a person. She has to belong to something before she can believe in something. She can't do it by herself. She has tried that and it hasn't worked.

      All this is to say, I really do appreciate your comments because I know they are genuine and thoughtful. It makes me continue to consider what I think and believe, and for that I am grateful to you. I don't think I am forcing unity as the next comment indicates, but I will try and engage that soon. Again thanks brother for your friendship and your faithfulness!

  2. You have more knowledge than I about the particulars of the disagreement between Peter and Paul. I know only what I have learned.

    Nevertheless, who decides what or which method of worship, music or whatever is better? Are there not many ways to worship, many ways to pray, many tpyes of music, etc? Dying to self, to me, means a little more than just a methodology. The question that we have before us is why do we need just one service with one favorable type of music, at the expense of another? Do we want to satify one group and ignore the other. Who decides which is better.

    The song means a lot to me. It means to me that one can have all the resources, all the support, all the means, etc; yet, the decision is an individual one. No one else can make a decision for us? We have plenty of examples of this: Martin Luther, John Kennedy, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Milton Olive(I'll have to explain this one to you), James Kavenaugh(maybe this one also, and, closer to home Don Beiswinger. I disagree with the way Don did what he did, but, he did what he believed he should do, even though many did not agree with him.

    I look forward to hearing your comments about "forcing unity." I also look forward to further discussion

  3. Interesting discussion. I do believe the "die to self and submit" idea is a key here. 99% of the time my participation in worship is being part of the band, and in that role submission is easier in a sense because of the coordination required to make beautiful sound in ensemble. I don't like every tune we set out to do, but I submit and do my part because I know I am called to the endeavor to add all the beauty I can bring. I think it would be harder to submit if I were participating in worship from the pew because what's required for my part and how I bring beauty wouldn't be so clear to me. Jody


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