Throughout the history of Christianity, the Church has faced crises from which have been birthed the giants of historical theology. Augustine defended God’s sovereignty over salvation in the face of Pelagian heresy. Athanasius stood in solidarity for the deity of Christ amidst the sinking sand of the Arian controversy. Wycliffe advocated for the translation of the Bible when it was yet to be made available to the masses. Though he was allowed to stay at Oxford, he was all but discredited by the Catholic Church. We are familiar with the battle grounds on which Luther fought, heralding justification by faith alone as the central tenet of Christian teaching.
Each of these doctrines is forged in the fire of the truth of Scripture. None are the musings of mere men. Not one of these men defended himself on the basis of his own power, nor according to the whims of human feeling. No, the Bible has always stood as the litmus test at these critical junctures along the path to orthodoxy.
Every generation has the opportunity to stand on the pages of Scripture in a way that is culturally relevant and paradigm altering. More recently, Martin Luther King Jr.–criticized though he was in the theological realm–heralded the gospel as central to ending racial injustice. Though the Church has far to come in the area of racial reconciliation, we owe any progress to his faithfulness to the crisis of his generation.
But I am fearful as I consider these historical implications. I’m afraid for my generation. I’m wondering who might stand up for gospel truths in today’s time and in the face of our current crisis. What is that crisis? What branch of historical theology might our generation either forfeit or fight for?
I believe it is a robust theology of worship. Allow me to explain.
It is 2015, and the “worship wars” still rage strong. Many churches are divided on lines of worship style. Now, it is not inherently wrong to have a preference with regard to style. Churches have walked this line for decades. And I must admit that I more often find myself lost in God’s goodness during the worship set in my church’s “traditional” service due to the biblical depth with which many of the old hymns are dripping. As a musician, I prefer music with drums and guitars, and all that stuff. So I can even understand the tension within my own life. But let’s be careful with preferences, for they can only take us so far. And I want to be very clear–I do not think preference should be central in worship. There is much more at stake
I’ve spent my life within the bosom of the Church. Though I wandered for a while, I have never been away for a prolonged period of time. I’ve been to suburban churches, and city churches, and small town churches, and everything in between. But I haven’t been to a church that is doing multiethnic worship well. How does ethnic diversity relate to worship, you ask? I’d be glad to tell you. But, like the churchmen of old, I must hold true to what I have attained, to what I have been given, namely the Word of God.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)
Multiethnic worship should not be a peripheral concern for the Church. The Bible tells us it will take place for all eternity. The pages of Scripture are flooded with God’s delight in the work of Christ to redeem people from every nation. You simply can’t miss it. And yet somehow we have.
How does this relate to the style-driven worship service? Here’s the question we are perhaps afraid to ask. What if our preferences are disordered? What if we have allowed them to become central when they ought to be peripheral? What if we built our worship services with the biblical notion that God has chosen his people from every tribe, tongue and nation? What if that truth was embedded in every fiber of our service planning?
When Paul says, Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4 ESV), he connects this imperative to the gospel. You can’t miss that in the text. Allowing our preferences to take a back seat is a gospel endeavor.
But our generation is so consumed with words like “attraction” and “offense” and “seeker” that we cannot see the forest for the trees! Sure, maybe you get a few thousand people to come to your church for a few years. But what is that within the scope of redemptive history? How many mega-churches are allowing preference to dictate that which the gospel should dictate? How many smaller churches are following their lead? Have we lost our way?
Historically (and biblically), Christianity has stood against culture when such crises of faith were at stake. But today’s church wants so badly to be liked by the culture that we drive ourselves crazy trying to look as inviting as a shopping mall! It is madness.
As a pastor, I have to confess that I don’t have it figured out. I don’t have the backbone this kind of thing requires. I want people to like me. I want people to like my church. But isn’t this idolatry? Shouldn’t I want people to love Jesus? Shouldn’t I want people to love his church? In the end, I wonder if I am too afraid.
There is but one cure. The Bible. Like the churchmen of old, we MUST return to the Word, which is sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We must go back there. We must live in the pages of Scripture. We must dine there. We must be driven there in our desperation. We must trust that Jesus was right when he said,
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19 ESV)
Can we live there? Can we abide the hatred of the world, and trade its love for the favor of God in the finished work of Christ? Will the gospel permeate every aspect of our worship? Will our generation be known for its robust theology of worship? Or will we recant? Will we escape?
Soli Deo Gloria