Sins in the Sanctuary
The worship wars have hit my church. Lately people are fighting over how we should do worship services—the style of music, the songs and liturgy, even what the preacher should wear.
I don’t mention this to knock my particular church, but rather because deep rifts develop over these matters in many churches. Your church may be one of them. Or you personally may have left a church, complained about your church, or avoided church altogether because you don’t like how worship is done. I catch myself leaning in these directions also. So I think we need to learn from the worship wars, and grow.
Let me suggest three ways I tend to stray when it comes to worship services. I’ll call them my sins in the sanctuary:
Sin #1: I don’t value unity.
The New Testament says much about the unity of believers but says little to suggest that a worship style that makes individuals feel good is anywhere near as important. I’ll grant that separate services with different styles are a solution in some cases. But churches that resist this for the sake of unity make a powerful statement.
Galatians 3:28 says our common faith in Jesus means: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NLT). The fact that we worship together despite social and cultural differences, and the stylistic preferences that go with them, is central to being in Christ. It’s something to celebrate, not find aggravating. We’re joined by something bigger than our differences.
Sin #2: I get selfish.
A primary rule of the entire Christian life is selflessness: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4, NLT). The Bible applies this specifically to life in the church: “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NLT).
This suggests that even if we’re convinced another’s way of worship is somehow inferior, one instinct should be to make allowance for it if we can do so lovingly. What would happen if, instead of judging a service by how much we got out of it, we got more joy from seeing others blessed by it?
Sin #3: I leave out God.
Today’s mindset emphasizes what feels worshipful to us. But I can’t think of any of the great, old reformers who would have entertained a notion to change worship so as to make us feel more worshipful. Rather, they said we should adjust worship to fit God’s preferences. They searched the Bible to decide how to worship.
In the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for worship and then said, “You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods…. So be careful to obey all the commands I give you. You must not add anything to them or subtract anything from them” (Deuteronomy 12:31-32, NLT). The great beauty of worship lies not in bringing our own familiar styles before God, but in escaping worldly styles to enter an experience patterned on God and pleasing to him.
Doing this, we might still disagree about what sort of worship best fits a godly pattern today. But imagine how the worship wars would change for the better if we stopped arguing for personal preference and started discussing how elements of worship might best reflect God’s instructions.
Beyond the worship wars
So how can I live this way? These principles are hard to follow when I’m actually in church faced with a song I don’t like. Again, the Bible has an answer. At the end of a long passage about believers getting along, it says: “We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself” (Romans 15:1-3, NLT).
Yes, Jesus valued unity above self. He gave up his whole life to bring us back into union with God. That life of sacrifice took him to the cross. It did not come from personal preference but from joy in his Father’s good plan. Jesus put me before himself—and God first of all.
It is only by this Good News that I or my church—or yours—have any chance of overcoming our sins in the sanctuary. I must remind my heart daily of the cross, and ever worship in its shadow.
Jack Klumpenhower is the author of Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids and the gospel teaching resources at www.jackklumpenhower.com.