“I don’t like the electric guitars…(or the pipe organ)…”
“Oh, he’s preaching? I guess we will miss this Sunday…”
“I like it when she leads worship – she’s better than that other singer…”
“I follow Paul…”
“I follow Apollos…”
“I follow Cephas…”
For the past six weeks our pastor, John Wood, has been preaching through the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians. I encourage you to listen to or watch those sermons, starting with August 7, 2016, at www.cspc.net/sermons.
First, let me be clear: Paul is addressing the church in Corinth; he is not writing about the worship wars of the American church. He is talking about the foundational and counter-cultural message of the cross of Christ. As a prelude to this message, Paul has denounced the dividing of the Church that happens when people declare their allegiances to different leaders due to their particular gifting in rhetoric, personality, or other attributes. This is still happening today, and it is still frustrating and heart-breaking.
The other day I received a note in my box that complimented me personally on the music for the worship service the previous Sunday, and then noted that part of the reason it was better that day was that the electric guitar player was absent and “the voices could be heard.” In other words: I follow you, not that other musician. To get even deeper, I believe that the writer meant: I “worship” better when I get what I want.
While this is an isolated incident, it’s not nearly as isolated as it should be. It also points to the need for constant vigilance against division in the church, especially in the area of music. We all have our personal likes and dislikes about music, but the thing about our personal likes and dislikes is that they don’t matter.
Passive-aggressive attacks disguised as compliments reveal our hearts. They show us when we have taken music and made it into an idol. My very livelihood consists of serving as a musician of the church, but hear me say: do not worship the music, the organ, the guitar, the gifts of the singers or the style of the songs. Encouraging those who lead worship is a wonderful thing, but it is turned to evil when it contains words truly meant for division.
We are to work for unity in the Body – setting aside our personal preferences (which tend to be like a child who only wants to eat their familiar favorites) and embrace a larger vision of God’s kingdom. Music can be a wonderful part of worship, but it is never to be worshiped itself, nor are we to use it to split the congregation into factions. When we preach Jesus Christ crucified, we gain an eternal perspective and abundant joy, abounding in power and truth. Let that be our focus, and let that be our life.
Soli Deo gloria.