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January 2017

Winning the Worship Wars

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Do you enjoy the worship in your church? Which do you favor: traditional music or contemporary choruses?

Few things provoke skirmishes among Christians quite like different styles of worship. I suppose it’s because the stakes are so high. After all, what’s more important than glorifying God? And if you’re going to praise Him, you’ll want to make sure you do so properly.

But I suspect that it’s more a matter of personal preference than of honoring the Lord. Some people appreciate what they grew up with and they resist any changes. Others feel like church music should fit the surrounding culture and if the old songs don’t cut it, replace them. God’s name gets used more as a cover than as the genuine motive.

The apostle Paul offers a solution to this problem. He wrote about worship to two different churches: one in Ephesus and one in Colossae. His comments mimic each other, as you can see:

Colossians 3:16-17

Ephesians 5:18b-20

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, “Be filled with the Spirit,
with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”

Two churches, two different approaches to worship? Let’s see.

Paul gives the same advice to each congregation, but he points the Colossians to Scripture while he directs the Ephesians to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this doesn’t mean much; after all, the results turn out the same.

But combatants in the worship wars take sides. Traditionalists gravitate toward the Word; dynamists (seems like a good name for them!) emphasize the Spirit.

In one sense, each group is right. Our worship songs should be biblical, meaningful, and informative. They should also invigorate our commitments and inspire our hearts.

In another sense, each group is wrong for denigrating the other. Songs that do nothing but rehearse Bible verses without the warmth of God’s Spirit fall short of their intended purpose. And worship music that releases the flow of the Spirit but conveys nothing meaningful fails to build up the faith of Jesus’ followers.

So how can we end the worship wars? What songs should we sing? In these passages, Paul hints at a solution.

First, he reminds believers that we are to teach, admonish, and speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul doesn’t say that we should quote lyrics to each other. He expects songs to be sung. But he assumes that every bit of praise we offer to God has an educational impact on those around us. It’s foolish to deny it; the words we sing have the potential to damage or fortify the trust we and our brothers and sisters place in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s serious business.

Second, we’re told to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Let’s place these on a spectrum.

Psalms—————————–Hymns—————————Spiritual Songs

Psalms represent the Word. We know this because they’re part of the Scriptures; in fact, they form the largest book of the Bible. Every time we chant a psalm, we’re repeating God’s Word. This should please traditionalists. If they want their worship to be biblically grounded, they should include the psalms.

Spiritual songs typify the lyrics and expressions given (often at the spur of the moment) by the Spirit of God. These songs can either be timeless or crafted to meet a specific need. Dynamists relish spiritual songs; every believer should.

And then there are hymns. In my experience, both groups of worshippers enjoy hymns. It’s hard not to like them! The words are deep and the music is usually pretty simple. Regardless of their stylistic preferences, most Christians recognize the value of the hymns of the church.

Why is that? Why do hymns have such value and make such an impact on the devotional lives of God’s people? It’s because hymns integrate the best of the psalms and the spiritual songs. Unlike the psalms, hymns are not Scripture; but, they are scriptural. And unlike spiritual songs, they’re not contemporary or spontaneous, but they’re timely.

Hymns lie in the middle of Paul’s worship list; they ought to occupy the center of every church’s worship. Because for dynamists, hymns can reinforce the importance of sound theology. And for traditionalists, they can promote the movement of the Spirit within the heart.

Incorporating hymns in your services will help your church to win its worship war.

On second thoughts let’s not go there

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