Is there a “right” way to “do church”? What are the non-negotiable elements of Christo-centric worship? There are thousands upon thousands of pages of erudition directed at these questions and I shall not try to duplicate them here. Instead I want to challenge the assumption that there can even be “right” way. I want to draw our conversation away from theory and ask ourselves if we should even be placing ourselves in that seat of judgment?
We have all heard accusations leveled at churches that express themselves differently than us;
“They are entrenched in cultural practices that are not reproducible.”
“Liturgical services are bound in traditions that oppress and stifle worship…”
“The X church is just an institution propping up a dead religion that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.”
“Worship by rote isn’t authentic, it is lifeless and cold…”
“They are too loud, too relevant, not solemn enough …”
“They are idolatrous, with all that gold and tapestry and incense…”
Most of us, if we are honest, have said things like this. I know I have.
It grieved the Holy Spirit when I besmirched His beloved Bride with words full of spite in the name of “objectivity”, when I participated in the evisceration of His Church to further an ideology or preference. It grieves me to recall my words, words flowing from a judgmental heart and critical spirit.
Because, Beloved, we are created One in Him. He has made us holy. He has declared us righteous, not by our own acts of observance but by His beautiful Sacrifice, and when we lose sight of that, when we decry our differences as divisions, we lose a part of ourselves.
I have belonged to, grown in and loved many different expressions of this wondrous Bride of Christ. I have been blessed by the richness this has afforded me in my walk with the Lord. The ability to worship him in many streams has kept me alive in some of the deepest valleys of life. But, in my reflecting over these past years, I have found myself distressed by one commonality across all streams; that we, the body of Christ, seem to be unable to love the way we do things without denigrating other preferences. We default to the position that the way we express our adoration to our King, is the way, the best, the most Godly, the most theologically correct.
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Galatians 5: 14-15
The problem this presents, for a unified, beloved Bride of Christ, is that, rather than celebrating the beautiful symphony that God is creating and perfecting in us, we insist that the section in which we sit is the most important. Insisting that only woodwind is worshipful, and that the oboe is obsolete, the trumpet is too traditional, the triangle is superfluous at best, downright ridiculous at worst, may reflect our passion in our pursuit but, ultimately, it causes us to lose sight of our greater purpose. Our problem is one of perspective, for we cannot hear the fullness of the sound to which we are contributing. We are perfecting our part and will not experience the full symphony until we are around the throne of Heaven, and yet, each instrument, under the direction of a master conductor, contributes to the full expression of the sound the Composer has intended from the very beginning.
Perhaps we should not take another’s endorsement of a particular style or stream so personally? What if it isn’t about us? What if, instead, we ask our King for His vision, for His desire for our communities? Would we then be more willing to experience the breadth of the body without feeling threatened?
You see, I adore loud congregational worship, hundreds of people singing their loudest and most ardent praises to God fills my soul with fire and joy. Yet, paradoxically, I choose to worship in a liturgical setting. I choose to still my soul to the rhythm of sacred words, to recite aloud the goodness of God, to pray in the communion and bring my sin to the cross before I approach the banqueting table. Life is loud, clamoring for attention and my soul cries out for stillness, for space to listen to the still small voice of God. I need the rhythm and stillness that a liturgy provides. I need to be reminded to come to the table with a heart refreshed by repentance. I need very little encouragement to jump and shout and sing!
In this season, he is leading me into still waters, rooted in a liturgy that runs deep and nourishes my soul. Where is he leading you and how can we play our parts together as fellow members of the beautiful symphony which only Jesus could conduct?