More thoughts on worship

Christians should be taught that our responsibilities to be like Christ do not get suspended when we step over the threshold of the worship center (or house or hall or room, etc.). Ironically, debates over corporate worship often reveal just how deeply American individualism has embedded itself into the evangelical culture. How many times have you heard church members complain about the type of music or instrumentation that is employed in corporate worship?

Just recently a pastor told me about 20 young adults who left a historic, inner city church because he would not promise to remove the pipe organ within a month of the commencement of his ministry there. Their justification was that they “did not like the worship.” So they left. The church has a storied history with many elderly members who have been faithful for decades. The twentysomethings left the church because their preferences were not being served in corporate worship. By doing so they forfeited a great opportunity for spiritual growth. And they showed great immaturity, though they probably are oblivious to it. They probably feel as if their separating from (and thereby dividing) the church was not only justified but absolutely called for in order for them to worship the Lord more wholeheartedly. I say “probably” because, although I do not know these 20 individuals, I have met their spiritual cousins and have listened to their justifications.

Well, what should a 25 year old member of a staid, pipe organ, downtown church do when the worship music does not seem to be his natural “voice?” Here are a couple of suggestions. First, he should remember the Scripture’s teachings that remain in force even in this area.

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).

“Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

“Love…does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5)

Corporate worship is not a duty-free zone for Christian deference. Every church member should remember this when sizing up his or her congregation’s expressions of worship.

Secondly, the church member should recognize that he is part of a body that has multiple generations. As a church continues to exist and incorporates people of various generations or from different cultures into its membership, its voice will (read “should”) change to reflect that growth in variety. Obviously, leadership is crucial at this point. The elders–or other church leaders–must be wise in teaching and explaining how the church should work to offer its best expressions to the Lord in worship. Members should be willing to thoughtfully share their concerns and questions about this. As a pastor, I welcome suggestions that are made in humility and out of obvious concern that our church’s corporate worship be more and more God-honoring. On the other hand, I refuse to cave into the threats–implied or stated–that are sometimes made in the form of “suggestions.” Those who make them, or who would divide a church over music, are at best very immature believers and need to be encouraged to take seriously their commitment to Christ and His church.

The healthier a church is, the less likely it will face severe conflicts over corporate worship. So, issues of worship should be studied and considered in the context of a rigorous ecclesiology. It is incumbent on the leaders of a church to work hard to teach the members the importance of church life and to help cultivate a true sense of community. When brothers and sisters are relating to each other as “members one of another,” they will be much better equipped to work together in offering to the Lord their very best efforts in worship.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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