Sometimes we do it on purpose, with reckless regard for the consequences. Most of the time I suspect that we do it unthinkingly, without any deliberate attempt to offend or wound. I am talking about the ways we folks who call ourselves Christian often take stands and defend our opinions and desires against all comers.
What is that something in we humans which makes us feel that we must affirm the validity of our personal preferences by seeing them as somehow superior to the alternatives? Why are we so uncomfortable with simply knowing and stating in “I” language that which we value? Why do we find it so hard to respect the opinions of others who think differently?
Consider, for example, the many kinds of music played and sung in various styles of worship services throughout America. I used to believe that the so called “worship wars” would subside quickly as we believers remembered whose we are. I was wrong. I still hear folks, many of whom I call friends, make statements about what they consider appropriate, worthwhile, meaningful, and godly without pausing to consider how their choice of words and the defense of their position may wound others. Lest I appear to be speaking to only one group let me go on the record as saying that I have seen this from people whose preferences include every style of worship and music I have experienced. We have all used language and justification which wounds and excludes. We are all guilty of coming across as judgmental! So to all my friends and acquaintances I want to say this from the bottom of my heart:
When I celebrate God Incarnate through the works of “The Messiah” or any of John Rutter’s marvelously rich creations I am not being snobbish or superior. I am simply savoring the musically rich and elegant way God comes to me in song and sings me onward on my journey. What could equal the joyful exuberance of the “Hallelujah Chorus?”
When I sing and play contemporary Christian music from the pew or behind a mic I am not doing it to be entertained or to be adored as a performer. God speaks to me through the music (and through the enhanced visual experiences). It feeds and nourishes me in my faith, and yes, it also challenges me. I don’t find many hymns which ask me tough questions like “If we are the Body, why aren’t His arms reaching, why aren’t his hands healing, why aren’t his feet going… why are His hands not showing – Jesus is the Way?”
When I partake of Southern Gospel and am not, by default, a rigid and legalistic believer who thinks that everything about this Christian life is black and white, easy, or simplistic. “Because He lives” really is why I can face tomorrow.
If you see me singing along and swaying to some Bluegrass gospel I am not an ignorant country hick who does not know better. My ancestors, and some of yours, could outplay Joshua Bell on that thing they called a “fiddle.”
For that matter, when I shake my maracas during Latino worship, I do not become immediately fluent in either Hispanic language or culture. I am just enjoying the fellowship and lively worship with my brothers and sisters of another culture. Gracias, Jesus!
The same goes for when I play the bongos!
No one of these or any other forms of worship and music is the “right” way, or the godly way to worship. God speaks to us all in many different ways, through many different experiences. There is nothing wrong with having our own individual preferences. It is a very spiritually and emotionally mature person who can calmly and loving acknowledge the ways the Holy Spirit speaks to them while also affirming that the same Spirit speaks to others in varying ways. It is also a very loving way to share our thoughts.
I seem to recall a fella named Paul who was a Jesus follower saying something like
“If I could speak (or sing, play, etc…?) in all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
If you like traditional worship, with the hymns you have known all your life, I celebrate that God speaks to you through those songs. If you enjoy the drums, or the flute, or the orchestra, or the cantata, or the Gaithers, or Allison Krauss then I applaud that you open yourself to hearing His voice in the music. If you wave your arms and applaud I celebrate God with you. If you stand quietly, with hands folded prayerfully while kneeling, I affirm your attentiveness to that still small voice of God.
So how about we put aside all considerations about what is “appropriate” or “correct” or “reverent” and simply celebrate that in spite of all our differences, GOD STILL SPEAKS TO US. Then we might just find that others hear God speaking to them through our spirit of love and acceptance.