Why is there so much division in something designed to unify?
The idea that Christians fight over worship is mind boggling. There are disagreements over architecture and liturgies, conflicts over instrumentation and technologies, and downright animosity when it comes to sacraments and symbols. We get a lot of questions about what type of church we are going to be. Many of those questions deal with the way we plan to worship.
From a modern-Western, Protestant-Evangelical perspective, there is a high emphasis on “biblical” worship. But there are no prescriptions for the New Testament people of God when it comes to the most frequent and volatile worship disputes.
Some early Christ followers seemed to maintain elements of Temple worship. Others utilized local synagogue practices. And others began what we would call “house” churches. Neither Paul, nor Peter, nor James, nor John, nor any New Testament epistle gives prescriptive practices for Christian worship. In fact, it seems they all describe more than prescribe. The letter that includes the most material, 1 Corinthians, highlights the nature of the debate instead of making decisive proclamations.
While I [Charlie] was serving at First Christian Church – Clinton, I had the opportunity to learn from Dinelle Frankland. Dinelle has spent her entire career engaged in leading and teaching worship. She shared some of her foundational premises with our team in light of all the disruption to worship habits during the pandemic. According to Dinelle, all Christian worship is framed by content, structure, and style.
The content of all our worship is the gospel – and that unifies all Christians across time and space. The structure of our worship is the way the gospel is arranged – this is where we start to diverge from one another. The style of worship is contextualized and differentiated in order to enable the participants to clearly engage the content (the gospel).
Our “worship wars” over style and structure cost us and others the possibility of engaging the gospel. Whether environments are gothic or gastropub, whether sermons are exegetical or topical, whether songs are traditional or contemporary, whether dress is casual or formal, whether instrumentation is classical or techno, and on and on and on…the gospel content is unchanging. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has a way of humbling us and drawing us together. The primary fruit of our worship is genuine humility and peace.
We’ve been fortunate in this season to visit a variety of churches whose structures and styles vastly differ from our own. We sincerely thank God for the multitude of ways in which his Church is drawing people toward the gospel.
It’s beyond time to call a “cease fire” in the worship wars so that people can clearly see the One we worship instead of the many ways we choose to worship.