Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Real Worship War

[This email follows a sermon called "Evaluating Religion".  Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

For several decades now, "worship wars" have been taking place.  What is a worship war?  Well, in terms of the American church, a worship war is a battle over what style of music will be used in any given congregation.  Let's just call them cultural worship wars, since that's what they really are.  Thinking in military imagery, picture a line of men and women on one side, armed with hymnals and organs...they fight for the "traditional" army.  On the other side, picture men and women armed with electric guitars and drums...they fight for the "contemporary" army.

I realize there shouldn't be a third side in a battle, but in this case, there is one.  It is the side of musical compromise...it's the "blended army," and they hold a hymnal in one hand and an electric guitar in the other.  Much like a blended family, there can sometimes be inner turmoil in the "blended" camp.

Anyway, one army calls out its battle cry, "Turn to hymn #..."  The second does the same: "Let's rock the house!"  The third adds its voice: "Let's rock the hymnal!"  Let me give you a down to earth example of what I mean from the congregation I serve.  We have communication cards in the back of our pews, and though they are not meant to be "comment cards," they are sometimes used that way.  It's not necessarily a big deal...it's just an observation. 

Anyway, one Sunday, we received two communication cards that were used as comment cards.  I'll paraphrase how they read.  One essentially said, "I really like the old hymns...is there any way we could sing more of them?"  The other read this way: "Can we please sing some more contemporary music?"  Each of these represents one of those armies.  The same kind of preferential division could be said of preaching and preachers...each army takes up arms for their particular desire and is prepared to live or die for it.

This kind of 'cultural worship war' is everywhere.  Everyone likes what they like, and everyone would prefer to have more of what they like (the author of this blog included).  With that being laid out, I need to break the news that the purpose of today's blog is not to settle the debate between the traditional, contemporary, and blended camps.  In fact, this issue of musical style is not the real worship war...however, it does mask the real worship war.

The real worship war is revealed in the words of Isaiah 29:13 - "...this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men."  This is where the battle lines are drawn...the battle is to keep the heart engaged where the mouth is.  Our mouths must say good and right things as we praise, preach, and pray, but we must fight to keep our hearts engaged with our mouths...to fight against the drifting heart.

In Isaiah 29, the battle is not about words...the rightness of the words is settled in Isaiah's mind.  It's right doctrine...it's right content.  God says their words "honor me."  The problem in Isaiah's audience is that their hearts don't believe what their mouths are saying!  This is where the real battle is...it is the battle for the heart.  "Above all else, guard your hearts..." (Prov. 4:23).

Think about this.  Cultural worship wars are primarily centered on preferences...in that way, they are mostly self-centered.  The real worship war is centered on spiritual sincerity...in that way, it is more God-glorifying.  Part of the difficulty, in the American culture, is that the line between what is merely preferential and what is biblical gets blurred.  Some styles are said to be truly sincere, while others are not.  This is simply untrue.

Do you realize what happens when cultural worship wars dominate our view of corporate worship?  We lose the real worship war, and we lose our hearts to consumerism.  We become convinced that we can't reflect on the goodness and mercy of God in Christ (in song and in preaching) unless is comes in the package we prefer.  Then, when we find the package we like, it's not the glory of the cross that generates awe and wonder; it's the packaging.  At that point, our defeat is concealed by our happiness in having our desires met.

As I said, the cultural worship war masks the real worship war, and it seems that the enemy loves to mask spiritual issues with superficial issues.  That way, if we can stay divided and argumentative and stubborn and selfish about the superficial, we'll never actually deal with the spiritual.  As Christians, we must take the warning of Isaiah 29 seriously, and we must fight the good fight of the worship war.  We must fight to stay doctrinally right in our praise, our prayers, and our preaching...and we can't stop there.  We must fight to believe, love, and live in light of all that we sing and pray and hear from the Word...then, we have victory in the worship war for our souls.