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Liturgical or Contemporary Worship- Which one from God?

My last post ran over 2,000 words and it still did not say all that I wanted to say.  If you do read the last post, you’ll see that the title of this post already engages in the error described in it, assuming that ‘worship’ is the appropriate word to describe that gathering time among Christians once a week on Sundays.  (You really should read that last one before reacting violently to this one).

I phrased it this way, though, to help clarify my position.

I find among Christians two basic mindsets regarding the Sunday morning ‘service.’  One mindset sees tremendous value to liturgical forms in our gatherings and the other sees value in ‘contemporary’ ones.   Typically, one mindset frowns down upon the other.  It is rare, though it does happen, to find someone who finds value in both.  You probably have never met someone like me, though, who finds value in neither.

Thus, no one reading this post, or the previous post, should think that I have a secret agenda pushing one side or the other in the ‘worship wars.’  My argument is that that particular war is being fought on entirely the wrong front.

The Scriptures seem clear to me in saying that our times of gathering are meant to be in service to each other, building each other up.  In actual practice it usually reduces to the individual making the effort to try to ‘get’ something from the event.  This is pretty subjective.  I find proponents in both sides of the event describe the value of their positions in terms of what it gives them.   Ironically, they think they are giving glory to God and they feel like they can just feel the community.  But God asks us to take the praise we owe him, who we can’t see, and direct it to the people around us, whom we can see.  (1 John 4:20).  (See previous post for more explanation)

Now, 1 John 4:20 reads:  “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

We could add to this 1 Cor 13:1-3, which reads:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding  gong or a clanging symbol.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Here is one of those passages that can really annoy you.   When we think of the things that are raised up in the Church as precious they are listed in this passage:  fine, proper preaching… Spirit led discernment… unwavering faith… and even service?… are all rendered worthless apart from love.

What makes any one of these, and even giving to the poor, loving, if they are not intrinsically loving?  I would submit that the critical difference is this:  in genuine love, the concern is for the object of the love, rather than the subject doing the ‘loving.’  Paul’s phrasing about the person giving all to the poor but then surrendering his body to the flames suggests to me that this person had no real concern for the poor, but was on a spiritual trip.  In short, the generosity was done because it made the giver feel good about his own righteousness, not because he was seeking the poor’s best interest.

I think the same distinction exists in the other clauses of the passage, as well.  Don’t you see the pattern?  I…. I…. I….  I….  I…. I…. I…. Everything Paul counters has ‘I’ right in the middle of it.

So I said that I did not value any ‘worship’ form.  However, in reality, when I say that, I mean it in the spirit that Paul means 1 Cor 13.  “If I sway my arms and swing with the thumping praise band, but have not love… it’s nothing.”  “If I relish reciting the same creeds recited for thousands of years and in thousands of places, but have not love…”  If the ‘love’ is there, then I can see my way to find all sorts of value in the way we do things.  If not, then not.

If our gatherings are not marked by love- that is, attending to the genuine needs, desires, and wants of those around us, rather than seeking our own fulfillments- they are ‘nothing.’  As far as I am concerned, I would be happy to endure just about any kind of ‘worship’ form  if I saw a community that was geared to look out for each other, even to the point of laying down their lives for each other (1 John 3:16).

Now, of course there is some attending to needs in the way gatherings are structured.  It isn’t an entirely loveless endeavor, and of course the whole work of the Church does not occur one hour on one day a week.  You wouldn’t know this from listening to those engaged in the ‘Worship’ Wars, though.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I read something by either side where ‘love’ was mentioned at all, let alone as the defining characteristic of the event.  (Except of course as some comment about God loving us and us loving God… not usually us loving each other… see previous post)

The day the Church examines itself on the issue of ‘Love’ I am convinced that much will still happen as before… liturgies will still be read, praise bands will still be in play, but the Worship War will be over, because it will be recognized that there is a much more important War to be fought, and we will be devoted to fighting it.


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