I had no idea that a fight over what style of “worship” used in the Church during its Sunday Service is such a big deal. Growing up in a Christian para-church fellowship has exposed me to many different styles of worship and I thought it was normal. Not until I went for my postgraduate study in Church Music and found out how different preferences in music style (and liturgy) in the church service could divide the church body. Only then I realized, “hmm…, it’s either I was too naïve or being ignorant (sigh).”
I knew there are liturgical and contemporary worship services, but I didn’t know how it could lead to some serious disagreement among the congregation. I find not a few of my fellow friends who serve in the church has had some serious talks in their ministries dealing with different “preferences” in their congregation about what style of worship the church should have. Some have succeeded to combine contemporary and traditional services, some settled separating the two into different services, some are still struggling with it.
I saw some people try to make some “theories” on what it means to have contemporary or traditional worship based on heart and logical expression. Some people say how liturgical service is only based on knowledge or mind, and contemporary is based on human’s emotion. I was like, “Huh? Really? So, are you saying that those choosing the liturgical order lack feelings and the ones who prefer contemporary do not use their mind?” These people seem to forget that Jesus told His disciples to love the Lord with all their heart and mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:29-30). It means we do not offer our worship to God with our mind only, or emotion only, or deeds only, but with everything in us.
Alright, let’s talk about it. I’m going to start from the weaknesses of both “styles” in the service order. It is a reality that many churches that have liturgical service orders do not explain what symbolizes what in their liturgy, and it makes the service rather boring for the congregation that loves excitement, mainly the youth. They have no idea what is going on in the service except for some weird movement and boring responsive words, not to mention boring hymns that many organists play at a very slow tempo. For contemporary service? The upbeat music sounds modern and exciting, the worship leader leads with enthusiasm, yet many songs are about God and me and all words that would make the congregation pour out their emotions and energy as the band plays their instruments with closing eyes. That’s great! But where is the word of God be recited to build the faith? Are they enjoying the songs themselves or as one body come together to the Lord? If everything is about us pouring our heart out during the worship time then when are we going to listen to the Lord? During sermon? Good. I saw many in the congregation of contemporary services are scrolling on their phone or falling asleep after such a high jump and loud cry during the singing part. They seem tired after pouring their emotion out, huh?
That being so, what is best between the two? What should the church do if there are separations among members choosing what kind of worship they want?
My proposed answer is: that’s a wrong question. Worship service is our service to the Lord, and it should not be done according to our preferences, but the Lord’s.
Allow me to explain my answer. The fundamental thing the church of the Lord should not fail to teach is that “Liturgy” means “public service.” It means we offer our service together, as a congregation, to the Lord. We worship the Lord with our lives as personal worship and a living sacrifice from Sunday to Saturday, and we offer Him the first day of the week as an offering to God. We, Christians, do not come and worship the Lord to get something from Him, but to offer our service together as a church to Him for He is the King of our lives that worthy of our praises and offerings. Remember that being a Christian means to acknowledge Christ as our Lord (who rules; King) and Savior (who saves).
Taking from that point of what liturgy truly is, we could see in the Old Testament how the Lord required the Israelites to offer Him several kinds of burnt and grain offerings. We do not have to do that anymore because Christ has substituted all the burnt offerings perfectly, but we must not forget the essence of worship and offering. It is that the offerings we offer to God should not be offered according to what we want but within God’s requirements. There were bulls and goats, and for those who were lacking, could offer birds (Lev 1-5). The Lord put the standard of what kind of offerings the people should offer, yet He let people give according to what they were capable of.
This is the point of my answer: Worship is worth-ship, we worship the Lord because He is worthy, and the style of worship should not be from us yet the Lord wills to receive our worship according to what’s the best we could give in His preference.
Worship is not only about pouring out our souls but how we offer our service to the Lord as a whole. Not only giving Him our tears, but also our brain to grasp on His words, and our lives not only during worship sessions but in the whole service (and every day). Not only doing the same boring ritual, but to understand its significance with the Scripture and see God’s revelation on every detail of the liturgical element, in that being so, we could put our heart and soul in it. Worship is not about our style or preference, but about how we see God’s revelation through the Bible and offer Him our service.
God lets His people know what are His styles of preference. And within His preference, we are to offer Him the best of our ability, be it music, songs, dances, buildings, attires, languages, all as offerings and thanksgiving to the King.
So, does worship have styles? It does, but not that style based on our preference, but the Lord’s. May God’s name be glorified!