What If You Couldn’t?

Suppose – just suppose – for a few moments that you couldn’t worship in a gathering of Christ-followers anymore.

I don’t know why. War. Disaster. Takeover by a totalitarian foreign government. Imprisonment in an iron lung. Eighty-eight-dollar-a-gallon gasoline. Doesn’t matter. You can’t worship while gathered with Christians anymore. Just suppose.

What would that mean to you?

Would the quality of the singing or the sermons or the temperature of the worship center still be important to you? How about the paltry class offerings or the cold decor of the church or the ministry staff’s salary? Would the style of the worship or the hat of the lady who always sat in front of you or the fidgety teens in the back still ruffle your feathers?

Could the length and redundancy of the prayers still tick you off? Or the guy who parked across two spaces? Or the little children running among the old folks?

Would the teacher who had always hinted around at what you consider heresy and false doctrine still stoke your smoldering wrath?

How about the deacon who kept pestering you to teach, or help with benevolence, or take communion to shut-ins?

Or all the fundraising drive and charity event flyers that people kept tacking to the crowded bulletin board?

Or the broken step at the back of the church building that nobody ever bothered to fix?

Or the babies crying that parents were slow to remove to the nursery?

Would you be glad to be rid of the songs you don’t like?

Would you miss the cranky old people?

Would you miss Jesus?

Would you still worship alone, your way, the way you like, the way that speaks to you, the way God must like because He made you in His image and that’s the way you like it?

Would you like it better alone? Would you bother to worship at all?

What if you couldn’t?

Lessons from History

Go back in time with me, a little over a century and a half, when the Restoration Movement was still aborning and unrest was brewing in the United States of America regarding the ownership of human beings as slaves.

That’s when the disagreement over instruments of music used in worship began in earnest. Before that, you can find very little in the way of history or commentary about it, beyond a meager number of disgruntled writers who did not like it and variously composed a few lofty poetic metaphors or pithy comments about it, but did not count the matter worthy to number among 95 theses nailed to a door. (The Greek Orthodox Church has long practiced a cappella-only worship for many of the same reasons cited by those in the Restoration Movement who require it – but rarely makes an issue of it when parishes in America adopt instruments.)

The issue pretty much came to a head at Midway, Kentucky in the early 1860s when a melodeon (small organ-like instrument) was brought into a church building to aid in the singing. If he did not have the consensus of the other elders, then one of them and his slave engaged in the acts of breaking and entering the building, stealing the instrument, and chopping it to bits with an axe. When it was replaced, they were satisfied simply to break in and steal the second one and store it in that elder’s barn.

Those who dislike instrumental praise are apt to cite a related incident at a Christian college in Texas in 1894, where their point of view protested more civilly and democratically – but still disrupted worship and caused an awkward confrontation as an organ was about to play – long after both sides should have come to the table of discussion and ironed it out.

There is plenty of blame and plenty of unChristian behavior to be assigned to both points of view over the issue and over the years.

So in weighing the issue on its own merits and demerits, may I ask that we consider these questions together:

Is Christian worship with or without instruments a scriptural matter, which one side or the other or both can definitively resolve by pointing to scripture and saying, “This what God says about it, and this is inarguably all He says about it”?

Or is it a disputable matter, about which God expresses no preference in scripture?

If it is, at its essence, a disputable matter – and people have been disputing it within the Restoration Movement for 150+ years and in Christendom at least to some extent for centuries before it – what does scripture say about handling disputable matters?

Can both points of view practice what they believe without calling it God’s law, enforcing it upon others and judging them as wanting in the balances if they disagree and practice differently?

Did Christ live, teach, bless, die and live again in order to bring more law, unspoken law – or freedom from law?

Does the ongoing disagreement over Christian worship with or without instruments unite or divide people in the body of Christ?

Does God stand to gain from men insisting on either side of the disagreement as the law for all and perpetuating it?

Does Satan stand to gain from it?

Where Do You Draw The Line?

If you’re persuaded that instrumental praise (or mixed singing-and-instrumental praise) is not acceptable to God under the new covenant through Christ, at what points do you determine the praise to be unacceptable?

If the song/worship leader uses a pitch pipe or tuning fork before it begins?

If the song/worship leader taps a foot audibly during singing, does that constitute the use of a percussion instrument?

If an electronic recording of an a cappella performance is used at some point during worship to teach a song while the congregation sings with it?

If a recording of an a cappella performance is used without the congregation singing along?

If a child’s toy falls off a pew and a bell on it rings during a song?

If the child keeps time with the bell?

If the child is so filled with joy that he/she begins clapping in rhythm to the song?

If an adult is so filled with joy that he/she begins clapping in rhythm to the song?

If a musical ringtone begins to play on a cell phone that someone forgot to turn off during worship?

If the song/worship leader happens to fall into rhythm with the sound of an off-balance ceiling fan thrum-thrum-thrumming away above?

If a worshiper has had throat cancer, has no voicebox, and uses a an electronic voice synthesizer to sing, like the one that theoretical scientist Stephen Hawking is famed for using? Even if it “sang” in a monotone, like a Gregorian chant? Is a Gregorian chant unacceptable because it does not aspire to four-part harmony or tuneful gymnastics? If a voice synthesizer is acceptable, what about a talking guitar (like Peter Frampton’s TalkBox) that could add tune to the lyric just like a voicebox?

If a song/worship leader uses a megaphone as an instrument of amplification?

If a song/worship leader uses a microphone as an instrument of amplification?

If a praise team uses microphones as instruments of amplification while the congregation is singing?

If a praise team uses microphones as instruments of amplification while the congregation is not singing?

If any of these occurrences took place in a surrounding that was not a church building?

If any of these occurrences took place in a church building, but not on a Sunday?

If any of these occurrences took place in a church building, but not on a Sunday or a Wednesday night (or other period of gathered worship normally observed by the church in question)?

If any of these occurrences made someone feel a little uncomfortable?

If any of these made someone feel very uncomfortable?

If any of these prompted someone to stop worshiping?

If any of these triggered someone walking out of the assembly?

If any of these possibilities made someone feel that their elders should meet and legislate unanimous policy on all of them – and any others that could be thought of – before public gathered worship was permitted to take place again?

What if you’re not in a worship assembly, and you’re listening to a worship song on the radio or your CD player or the P.A. system at Hobby Lobby that is accompanied by instruments?

If you’re not worshiping but being entertained by it, is that permissible?

If you start singing along with it but are just being enertained by it?

If you start singing along with it but begin to mean it and stop being entertained by it and start worshiping along with it?

If you continue to be entertained by it and also worship with it?

If you sing along with it and don’t mean it as worship but God hears it and is entertained by it, does that become sin?

Is it okay if it’s not Sunday (although Hobby Lobby would be closed, so it would have to be a radio or your CD player)?

If any of these possibilities made someone feel that their elders should meet and legislate unanimous policy on all of them – and any others that could be thought of – before fellowship with you could continue to be extended?

I ask the questions because I have heard it said (and have read it written) that the simple answer to the question of worshiping with an instrument is essentially “just don’t do it, and you know that you’re safe.”

I don’t find it simple at all.

In fact, I find that if you’re inclined to make rules where no rules have been made, you invariably end up having to make more rules to clarify the rules that you made where no rules were in place before. That’s how Congress and the legislatures stay in business – not to mention all kinds of courts, judges and attorneys.

But do we really need all those rules if God didn’t explicitly go into them Himself, through His Word? (He didn’t seem to have any reservations about being too detailed in the old covenant. And He seems to have nothing against instrumental praise there, nor in heaven as metaphorically described in the Revelation to John. So why would anyone want to call “unclean” what God has called “clean”?)

Wouldn’t Jesus’ favorite top two rules pretty much suffice in worship as well as in the rest of our lives? You, know:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself ~ Mark 12:30-31

That, I think, is where He would draw the line.

Truth is, I don’t find it “safe” at all to make rules God hasn’t made and then bind them on other folks and judge them when you deem there’s been an infraction and then condemn them. Isn’t that what Jesus lit into the Pharisees about doing, time and time again? Didn’t He say things like “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2) and “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 and “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57)

Was He ever recorded as saying “Why don’t you judge what is right for others?”

As nearly as I can tell, there is nothing wrong with having a harmless, uplifting tradition and observing it and enjoying it and even sharing the joy of it with God. Things like holidays come to mind. Or carving a good roast turkey. Or dining vegetarian. You don’t have to impose them on everyone else. And if one tradition makes others edgy, you don’t have to make it a part of your worship together. In fact, if it is a matter of conscience with them, you shouldn’t. Observe that tradition between yourself and God privately. If you’re aware of others observing a tradition that makes you edgy, don’t let it cause you to stumble – especially to stumble into being judgmental of them.

That’s where Paul draws the line of love.

It’s enough to say that a cappella praise can be beautiful and pure and that it is a cherished tradition in your religious heritage; to observe it and thrill to it and worship God with it. To go beyond that is to go beyond what God says in His Word; into the realm where teachings become rules taught by men. (If you are seeking condemnation for instrumental praise, that’s where you have to go – because you can’t find it in scripture.)

In addition, going beyond scripture in this direction limits the concept of worship only to what is done in the assembly of the saints. What we practice in our lives, outside of our gathered worship, affects our worship to God. In fact, what we obediently do every day can also be worship. (Romans 12:1) Worship through day-to-day obedience is the very context (in Matthew 15) of Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 29:13: the Corban tradition set aside God’s instruction to care for parents, and it nullified both the word of God and their worship:

“They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Tradition can be good – and blessed by God – but not when it supercedes His Word.

And I can’t help but believe that’s where the Spirit of God draws the line, too.

A Life of Worship: The Implications

A few months back, I posted A Life of Worship, but didn’t really have time to develop the idea as fully as I would have liked.

Take a look back at it, if you don’t mind, before plunging ahead here. I don’t mind waiting.

Done already?

Now, what are the implications of a life of worship?

These are the conclusions I’ve drawn:

1. Gathered Worship is still vital.
I don’t agree with those who conclude that living a life of worship means that Sunday is just like any other day. Our worship as gathered followers of Christ is important. We need it. God knows that. It was His idea, from the very first days of creation, that one day should be spent in re-creation. No, not just recreation, but re-creation: rest in His presence, in awareness of His love and righteousness and will for us … and in meditating on it together. Why “together”?

Because very few of us get it all right all by ourselves. We help shape and teach and mature and mentor each other. We fill each other’s lacks and deficits. We gain strength from each other, especially when we worship together. We reinforce each others’ faith. We also get on each others’ nerves. So we learn patience and love and forgiveness and many other Godly traits from being with each other. And we are more credible witnesses to the world at large, which still tends to accept the testimony of two or three as preferable to just one. God knows that, too. So He is present in a unique way when we are together, still serving our needs in the Person of His Son – serving us the elements of the bread and the cup.

Plus, we have the opportunity to be like Christ in accommodating the worship preferences of others. We sing songs that bless others even when we are not blessed by them. We refuse to judge or take offense when others express their praise in ways different from our own. We overlook the flaws of our leaders and encourage them and pray for them, rather than insisting on deposing them and having all the worship done the way each of us individually prefers. Don’t we? God knows that we should, and that is part of the reason He wants us to worship together – to become more like Christ in His selflessness.

2. Gathered worship is deeper when we can see God working in our lives the other six days of the week.
To clarify that: “when we can see God working in our lives individually and corporately.” We are more thankful for what God is doing when we have been trying to perceive it in others and be a part of it ourselves. We are more likely to give God the glory when we see that He is working through others, too – not just “me.”

We are less likely to be concerned about the way in which worship is expressed when it is clearly in spirit and in truth.

If worship were tp be attempted by a body in which all its parts were identical in form and function, it would be clumsily performed – “all thumbs,” you might say. God knows that. Therefore, He gifts us differently as members of the body of Christ, so that we will work together.

3. Gathered worship is not a substitute for individual worship and daily service – nor vice-versa.
People grow and mature daily – not in spurts every seven days. God has never had any interest in the expressions of worship from anyone who consistently lives a life that serves self above others.

If we perceive gathered worship as dull and lifeless and disspirited and that Christ is absent from it, it is quite possible that it is – because we have failed to invite Him, neglected to bring Him with us, and pushed His Spirit from our hearts because they are too filled with self for there to be room for Him. He is not satisfied with just going to church with us. He wants us to serve daily in His kingdom, too. God knows we need that; to stay constantly busy and not easily distracted by the one who calls attention to the seemingly endless demands of self.

4. Sacrifice never left the building.
We should be talking about Jesus’ sacrifice as the atoning one for our sins, and we should be talking about it more frequently and confidently. In fact, we should be living sacrifices, imitating His – providing the members of our bodies as instruments of His peace in all that we say or do on His behalf. God knows that. That’s why it has always been a part of His plan.

5. A life of worship never ends.
Check out the pictures that John paints of eternity in the Revelation to him. See what the angels and elders and four living creatures spend most of their eternity doing. Does that sound boring? Chances are, if you don’t enjoy it here and now, you wouldn’t enjoy it there and forever, either. Try seeing it for more than it appears to be in those verses. In worshiping God, they are giving Him credit for the perfect holiness that made it possible for a relationship with Him; for the forgiveness of sins and the infinite potential of life itself. On that unending day when the new heavens and the new earth intersect, there will be nothing but good to do – together.

What are some more implications to you of a life of worship?

A Cappella and the Ancient of Days

All scripture aside … all hermeneutics aside … all logic aside … all passion aside.

With all that put aside, let me tell you why at the core I cannot agree with the proposition that God would condemn to eternal hell a soul who praised Him with a musical instrument.

Because I would not want for God to take me into a private closet at judgment and ask me: “Keith, I gave you a beautiful little daughter, didn’t I? A joy to your life and the delight of your eye? With a sweet voice that goes straight to your heart?

“Keith, If she had ever bounced into the room where you were sitting and said, ‘Daddy, I’m so happy I just don’t know what to do!’ and you answered, ‘Well, I’d love it if you sang me a song,’ and she ran and got her little blue electronic keyboard that you bought her for Christmas and sang to you with it … Keith, would you have flown into a rage and cursed her and screamed, ‘I said SING! I never said ANYTHING about PLAYING A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT!’ and bound her up and threw her into a burning city dump to die?

“Is that the kind of Father you think I AM?”

A Cappella and the Ancients

Have you ever written something in vehement and vociferous opposition to something you like?

If you really enjoy watching a particular television program, do you spend a lot of words taking it apart piece by piece, critiquing the acting, the script, the cinematography, the score, the special effects and the editing?

If you feel it has a place in the world of entertainment, do you mention it at all in your writing? Or just enjoy it?

The reason I ask is that one of the claims made by those who seek to condemn instrumental praise is that “The early church didn’t use it.”

That, simply put, is a conclusion drawn from a handful of non-biblical historic critiques of the practice from people who obviously did not like it.

The source which makes that implication is none other than Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 275-339) in his commentary on Psalm 91:2-3:

Of old, at the time those of the circumcision were worshipping with symbols and types, it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and cithara and to do this on Sabbath days … We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living cithara with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.

He makes this statement at a time in church history when Christians could not agree on the relationship among God and Christ and the Holy Spirit. So it is possible that he writes of the way he feels the church should be, though not necessarily as it was. His remarks are, after all, commentary. (Though it’s also possible he polled all of his fellow bishops at the Council of Nicea [A.D. 325] and states an accurate summary. It’s one of those writings that you can easily accept as indisputable fact if you’re inclined to do so, seeing no other possibility.)

And his contemporary, Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430), gives a clue why he might have felt that way when describing the singing at Alexandria:

… musical instruments were not used. The pipe, tabret, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship.

Now obviously their predecessor by a century, Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 190), didn’t like instruments either – and wrote that each of the instruments of the scriptures he knew actually meant the human voice:

Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and intent on their idol worshipping. Such musical instruments must be excluded from our wingless feasts, for they are more suited for beasts and for the class of men that is least capable of reason than for men. The Spirit, to purify the divine liturgy from any such unrestrained revelry chants: ‘Praise Him with sound of trumpet,” for, in fact, at the sound of the trumpet the dead will rise again; praise Him with harp,’ for the tongue is a harp of the Lord; ‘and with the lute. praise Him.’ understanding the mouth as a lute moved by the Spirit as the lute is by the plectrum; ‘praise Him with timbal and choir,’ that is, the Church awaiting the resurrection of the body in the flesh which is its echo; ‘praise Him with strings and organ,’ calling our bodies an organ and its sinews strings, for from them the body derives its Coordinated movement, and when touched by the Spirit, gives forth human sounds; ‘praise Him on high-sounding cymbals,’ which mean the tongue of the mouth which with the movement of the lips, produces words. Then to all mankind He calls out, ‘Let every spirit praise the Lord,’ because He rules over every spirit He has made. In reality, man is an instrument arc for peace, but these other things, if anyone concerns himself overmuch with them, become instruments of conflict, for inflame the passions. The Etruscans, for example, use the trumpet for war; the Arcadians, the horn; the Sicels, the flute; the Cretans, the lyre; the Lacedemonians, the pipe; the Thracians, the bugle; the Egyptians, the drum; and the Arabs, the cymbal. But as for us, we make use of one instrument alone: only the Word of peace by whom we pay homage to God, no longer with ancient harp or trumpet or drum or flute which those trained for war employ.

(Evidently Clement would have no difficulty with the singing group called A Cappella, which imitates instrumental sounds by using tongue and palate and lips.) Yet, in a work dated five years earlier, he weakens the argument by lauding the power of David’s harp to send “daemons” fleeing from Saul:

Moreover, King David the harpist, whom we mentioned just above, urged us toward the truth and away from idols. So far was he from singing the praises of daemons that they were put to flight by him with the true music; and when Saul was Possessed, David healed him merely by playing the harp. The Lord fashioned man a beautiful, breathing instrument, after His own imaged and assuredly He Himself is an all-harmonious instrument of God, melodious and holy, the wisdom that is above this world, the heavenly Word.” … “He who sprang from David and yet was before him, the Word of God, scorned those lifeless instruments of lyre and cithara. By the power of the Holy Spirit He arranged in harmonious order this great world, yes, and the little world of man too, body and soul together; and on this many-voiced instruments of the universe He makes music to God, and sings to the human instrument. “For thou art my harp and my pipe and my temple.”

… and he makes an interesting claim that “He who sprang from David and yet was before him, the Word of God, scorned those lifeless instruments of lyre and cithara.” One is led to presume he means Jesus, the only One who could have sprang from David yet preceded him. Yet the claim is unsubstantiated by scripture – unless the phrase that follows, “Thou art my harp and my pipe and my temple,” is a snippet of scripture lost to us yet known to Clement.

John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) seems to echo Clement’s interpretation, yet it is not immediately clear that he is expressing any disdain for instrumental praise; he may simply be building a metaphor for the unity and full harmony of mind and body:

David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody.

Now, these are the most ancient of the sources I usually see quoted by folks who don’t like instrumental praise and are convinced that God hates it too.

The oldest is still nearly a century past century one, and far more than a hundred years past the cross and Pentecost. If the New Testament does imply an early church beset by difficulties without and within – pagan and Jewish persecution, Judaizing teachers, pre-Gnostic and/or Gnostic teachers; Roman emperors ordering them hunted down, tortured and slaughtered – and if those difficulties continued and worsened for the next couple of centuries, it would be perfectly understandable that cell churches would have worshiped as quietly as possible to avoid detection … followed by torture and protracted death, in many cases. Instrumental praise might not have been their first choice.

Expedience becomes practice; practice becomes precedent; precedent becomes tradition; and if we’re not careful, tradition becomes law – whether two thousand years ago, or less than two hundred.

Nevertheless, nearly two hundred years have passed within the span of century one to century three about which these writings tell us only one point of view. And it’s important to note that it is a point of view. It is commentary. It is not scripture. No one claims that these writers were inspired. They themselves do not claim it. Nor do these writings appeal to scriptures which directly support their point of view.

They are mere mentions among the volumes of works generated by some of these authors, which implies to me that their opinion on the matter was of distinctly less importance than many others they discussed.

So when those who dislike vocal and instrumental praise maintain it is incontrovertible fact that the early church absolutely did not worship with musical instruments and none of the apostolic or successive leaders approved of it … well, is it?

Really? When those who appreciated vocal and instrumental praise as they had known it in their previous worship – Jewish or pagan – would have felt no compunction to write against a cappella worship because they liked it, too?

Do these quotes prove anything other than the depth of history through which this difference of opinion extends?

And all those who followed – from Barclay to Clark to Knox to Luther to Spurgeon to Wesley; from Campbell to Franklin to Lipscomb to McGarvey to Stone to West, and all in between and beyond – surely had their opinions, too. Many of them are quoted by those who dislike instrumental praise. Do they not in those quotes state their own opinions, traditions, and interpretations on the matters of instrumental praise and a cappella worship, however well-researched and clever?

Would we agree with all of their opinions on other religious issues? With most of them? Would time change some of them? Might C.H. Spurgeon’s nineteenth-century declaration “I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery” be altered were he alive today and he realized that electronic machinery could help him lead prayer to millions?

I believe that the conclusion we can draw from these quotes is just this: It has long been true some folks like vocal and instrumental praise, and some folks prefer their a cappella worship unaccompanied.

And God, in His new covenant with man, mentions them together not at all. But scripture is not silent. He approved of both in the old covenant, whether together or separately. His revelation to John of Patmos paints a vision of both throughout eternity – whether literal or metaphorical.

Does it really make sense that His silence blesses and affirms one and condemns the other to eternal hell, but only during this span between the dawn of church and the end of days?

Or that He expects us to connect the dots between the eras and worship with the gifts and preferences He has given us, with all our hearts?

Footnote: I just received my copy of the eleventh ZOE Group album, Overflow two days ago. It is a cappella worship at its best, to my ears and heart. It is like being able to hear the songs as God must hear the rest of us singing: a blended, liquid, near-perfect praise. It is as refreshing as water, purifying to the spirit, expressive as the face of an uninhibited child. There are other a cappella groups who lead worship through their singing, and I love to listen to them and sing with them, too. I like some better than others, and some groups speak to the hearts of other listeners more keenly than to mine.

I love to sing in the gathered worship of my church family, multi-part harmony, completely without accompaniment. It is nowhere near perfection, but it is for the most part the honest expression of the hearts and voices of those I love, declaring their adoration of God and affection for each other. If someone were to try to introduce instrumental praise among them, it would violate the conscience of many and destroy that beautiful harmony. I would not ever wish that among my family. Causing such disunity would violate my conscience.

I also love to worship – though I have not availed myself of the opportunity very much – with voices accompanied by those whose expressions come through musical instruments. As with unaccompanied singing, this worship is not mere entertainment for those gathered, but I do believe it is entertainment for God. He hears His chlldren perform selflessly for His pleasure, together, for at least those brief moments. Sometimes this worship is quiet, reverent, meditative. Other times it is loud, thrilling, exhiliarating. And often it is somewhere in-between, because it is the collective expression of many, among whom are broken hearts and eager thanksgivings and givers and sharers and keepers and losers. There are thoughtful ones, achieving ones, social ones, private ones, analytical ones, experiential ones – and He made them and gifted them each to be unique.

And I believe His heart is touched by expression of praise of all these, His children, together. If He had intended for the expression of instrumental praise to be punishable by eternal hell-fire, I would think that at least a footnote to that effect would appear in His holy scriptures. If a cappella praise were to be required as a precondition to salvation, I should think that Jesus would have at least mentioned to God that His followers might always sing unaccompanied along with His petition that they might all be one.

So you must understand that I consider it very wrong for me to try to speak for God where God does not speak … to add to or subtract from what He has said … to judge when God has commanded not to judge … to condemn when I am clearly not qualified to do so … to rely solely on merely human knowledge and logic where divine matters are concerned. I want to hope that others share those convictions.

My personal preferences are not the same as God’s law. But God’s law is definitely my preference.

Conflict Conundrum

What do you do when a good number of people in your church are blessed by something they participate in together in worship with others – but there are some among those others who are not just offended by it, but convinced that it is contrary to scripture and something they cannot share in?

Does the first group have to quit doing what they have been doing?

Does the second group have to leave while they are doing it?

Can the first group continue doing what blesses them and what they are convinced is permissible, but privately, without the folks in the second group?

Must the second group part company with the first if they do? Has their fellowship been rejected as well as their conviction?

And, by the way, I’m not talking about some trivial conviction here, but something that is a long-standing, time-honored and quite literal interpretation of scripture.

And I’m not talking about anyone in either group of people who care nothing for scripture nor each other – quite the opposite.

Nor am I describing a situation in which one person or group is actively seeking to have his or her own way by some kind of scriptural blackmail or power play.

I’m talking about an honest disagreement; a conflicting view of scripture.

What if they talk it out, exhaustively, and still cannot agree?

What if giving in is not an option for either party, because convictions are deep and perhaps even well-founded?

I wish I could give you a glib answer. I wish I could tell you I know an elegant solution. I wish I could tell you that I was making it up. I wish I could tell you that it never happened and never will. But it has, and it does, and it happens in churches and fellowships of all sorts and sizes.

Some think that, in a situation like this, one party must be right and the other must be wrong. (Generally, the folks who are right are the ones who agree with us when we learn the details of the conflict.) That is simply not always the case.

Romans 14 is an example of this, I believe.

Was it right or not to eat meat when you could not be sure whether it had been sacrificed to an idol?

That was one of two questions at issue.

And Paul could have come down authoritatively on either side of that question.

According to Mark’s gospel (7:19), Jesus declared all foods clean.

According to Luke (Acts 15:29), the council at Jerusalem had forbidden eating food sacrificed to idols.

So in Romans 14, Paul does his best to advise the followers of Christ there to work this out within and among themselves.

They should accept each other, not judge each other, not allow what they considered good to be spoken of as evil, and make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

And, after sharing his conviction (v. 14), he recommends a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about one’s convictions in verse 22.

(This surely can’t be Paul’s favorite thing to do, especially long-distance with Christians he hasn’t yet met. He would probably much rather be out preaching the gospel to people who have never before heard it.)

While there are great and deep principles embedded in this chapter, I’m not at all sure that every conceivable conflict can be superimposed on it, conclusions accurately drawn and good results guaranteed by doing so. In fact, we have no idea how the conflict among Rome’s Christians turned out at this point in century one.

Most of our contemporary conflicts have nothing to do with eating meat. The application of the principles can be difficult. Paul says nothing whatsoever about whether God really wants the faith of the weak to remain weak forever. Nor does he really get into the question of whether one day is more sacred than another.

Still, several important principles – I believe – can be drawn from the situation.

  1. There are disputable matters. Not everything is intrinsically right or wrong.
  2. You should not judge each other and should rather be willing to sacrifice your own rights if exercising them would cause a sibling in Christ to stumble and fall. Sometimes we win by losing it all – just as Christ did.
  3. In such matters, everything that does not come of faith is sin – we are each still responsible for what we do.

I also believe that it might be a good idea when such matters arise …

  1. To pray, passionately, powerfully, transparently, and with holy hands lifted sans anger or disputing.
  2. To call in an arbitrator with wisdom approaching Paul’s who has no vested interest in the outcome, if the situation grows beyond the abilities of the parties involved.
  3. To love each other deeply, from the heart – because love obscures a lot of sins that can happen when conflicts arise.

To all the things I wished above, I add one more:

I wish it were easy.

Where Do You Worship?

In a humble house, like the one in Bethlehem where the wise men worshiped the newborn King? In the courts of a magnificent temple, where Simeon the priest once took Him in his arms?

In a boat, like the one in which the Lord stilled the waves and calmed the wind? By a river, like the one where Luke and Paul found Lydia and her household?

Outside of a place of judgment, perhaps a courtroom where your accusers have just turned you out? In maximum-security prison, where no reprieve is expected? Anticipating God’s judgment seat; His very throne in heaven?

In a church where fasting and praying takes place? In a church where everyone is prophesying?

In a synagogue – or the house next door? Or a public lecture hall?

Wherever the Lord’s light shines before men? At the foot of a cross, as the world’s light fades out?

On the road into town, as Jesus’ followers did when He entered Jerusalem? On the way back home, as they did after He was lifted up to heaven?

On a mountain or in Jerusalem?

Or does the “where” not matter to you at all – as long as you can worship in spirit and in truth?

Worship or Entertainment?

Does a moment like this have to be classified as one or the other?

For those of you who believe that moments like the one depicted above cannot be both worship and entertainment, how do you come to that conclusion if there is even just one person in the audience who is uplifted by it and drawn closer to God?

And if you are not drawn closer to God when a certain thing takes place in a gathered worship, is it not the very spirit of the golden rule to give yourself to it in order to encourage others – as long as it is not something specifically forbidden by God?

If a song of praise does not speak to your heart, should you stop singing it because it does not make you happy – even if it brings someone else joy and closer proximity to the heart of Christ?

If a song of praise makes you happy, should you stop singing it because it is also entertaining you?

Does God forbid joy in the praise of his people? Or desire it?

Just asking.

P.S. I must apologize for the darkness of the video as seen in some browsers. The script responsible for the transparency of the black background is the cause. Some browsers place the video image on top of it, and some beneath. My regrets. If your browser shows it too dark, view it here on YouTube.

A Life of Worship

Some months ago i proposed the positioning line “A Life of Worship” for the newly-conjoined ZOE Group | New Wineskins Web site before the advisory committee, believing that it encapsulated the objective mutually sought by both the online magazine and the inspirational worship ministry.

“Worship” and “serve” are two words that occur together frequently in scripture. I think there’s a reason for that.

I think that serving God – letting Him work through us – gives us a glimpse of His work first-hand, and it inspires the praise He alone deserves.

I think that worshiping God – giving Him due credit for what He has done, whether through us or not – inspires the kind of selflessness and humility that are a prerequisite for God working powerfully through us.

They go hand-in-hand.

They are not segregated by time or space. We do not just worship between 8:30 a.m. and noon on Sundays, and serve only the remaining waking hours of our week. (“Enter to worship; depart to serve” is a charming sentiment, but it is certainly not scriptural.)

We serve by worshiping. We worship by serving.

A life of worship is a 24/7 lifestyle. Christ is not an article of formal wear we put on in order to look nice at church. In baptism, we put on Christ, never again for Him to be shrugged off and hung up because of the inconvenience He might cause in our lives.

We live like Him out of respect, gratitude, indebtedness, willing servitude.

Paul puts it this way to the flock he has not yet met in Rome:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” ~ Romans 12:1

We offer our bodies because He offered His.

And if we deem His example too exalted to imitate, may I suggest an humble, human one: a aged woman; the Theresa of Calcutta of century one:

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. ~ Luke 2:36-38

What a tribute in three concisely-worded verses! I count these choices of hers worthy of enumerating separately:

  1. She never left the temple.
  2. She worshiped night and day.
  3. She fasted and prayed.
  4. She gave thanks to God.
  5. She told about Jesus to all who would listen.

Anna lived a life of worship.

Her example may seem extreme, but I truly believe that if you and I just chose one of those avenues of service, and prayed for guidance in it and focused solely on it until it had mastered us … then another … and another … if we only were mastered by two or three of them, we would still be well on our way to a life of worship.

And God would be very, very praised.