Why the Worship Wars Never Should Have Happened

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:18-19

I believe that the infamous “worship wars” never should have happened. Which wars are these? If you study church history, you’ll discover that we Christians have been fighting over worship for centuries, bless our hearts. But I’m thinking specifically of the so-called “worship wars” that erupted in the 1970s and continued through the 1990s. Some skirmishes are still being fought today, though, for the most part, the wars have ended. I’m referring in particular to conflicts over music used in worship, especially to what once would have been described as a battle pitting lovers of traditional music (hymns, choirs, organs, etc.) against lovers of contemporary music (praise songs, worship songs, bands, etc.). During much of my tenure as a pastor, I spent plenty of pastoral time and energy trying to stop the worship wars that plagued the churches where I served.

When I first became the pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I heard loud and clear from the traditional folk that I must not abandon the traditional hymns and strong choral music program of the church. Yet, dozens of members begged me to banish “those tired, old hymns that nobody can sing” in favor of guitar-led praise songs. Hymns vs. songs, choir vs. band … it was a classic worship war.

To me, this all seemed so sad and unnecessary for lots of reasons. Scripture calls us to put up with each other, to value others above ourselves, and to look not to our own interests but to the interests of others (Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3-4). It’s pretty hard to fight a worship war, defending our own preferences, if we’re seeking to follow these biblical directives. But, even more obviously, Ephesians 5:19 says we are to use “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” Whatever these words mean, they clearly suggest that the musical content of our worship ought to be diverse. The inclusion of “hymns” and “spiritual songs” in verse 19 should have cut off the worship wars at the pass. I’m sad to say this didn’t happen in many churches for many years.

I’m sure you can find some worship skirmishes in the church today. But, thanks be to God, most churches seem to have found a better way. Cutting edge worship services often use traditional hymns, sometimes as written, sometimes with new musical settings or added choruses. Churches with traditional music programs offer contemporary services or incorporate newer music along with the beloved hymns and anthems from the past.

I’m encouraged by these developments of worship in churches. Yet, I continue to wonder why so many of us were not guided by the clear teaching of Scripture as we became embroiled in the worship wars. I ask questions like …

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Why did we Christians fight so hard for hymns vs. songs or songs vs. hymns? Why were we so reticent to bear with our brothers and sisters when their musical preferences did not match our own? Why were we unwilling to value others higher than ourselves or to put the interests of others above our own? What are we doing today that shows the same tendencies to fight for our preferences, even if they wound the body of Christ? In what ways might God be calling us to be agents of healing, compromise, and self-sacrifice?

PRAYER: Gracious God, I’m thankful that so many of the worship wars have ended. But this doesn’t mean we won’t find other issues to hurt your body and divide your people. Sometimes these issues are deeply significant matters of core theology or ethics. But, often we’re so caught up in our own preferences and tastes that we sacrifice the health of the body of Christ just so we can get our way. Forgive us, Lord.

May we learn to bear with one another, in matters of music to be sure, but in so many other ways. Help us to be Christ-like in our ability to humble ourselves and serve others. Unify your church, Lord, so that we might be a demonstration to the cosmos of the truth of the gospel. Amen.


Habits That Work

"So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering" (Rom. 12:1, MSG).

There are habits designed to bring us closer to God—church-going, praying, reading the bible, taking communion. But what about the habits of our everyday, ordinary lives? In addition to the traditional habits we naturally think of, can our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around routines become the habits of spiritual discipline, too? What are the habits in your life that serve to bring you closer to God? And, how can we recognize the presence of God in the ordinary habits of living? Join us for Habits That Work. You might be surprised by what you discover as you consider how the habits of your daily life might also help bring you closer to God.

Featured image by Patricia Hunter. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.