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Unity – in Worship, in our Church, in our Nation

In our society there have been calls for unity recently; in fact, that has been a recurring theme throughout our history. However, it seems that for some people, unity means “everyone else agreeing with me.” Unity is not uniformity. Uniformity is everyone doing, saying, and thinking the same thing. Unity is when people with different opinions, strengths, and perspectives maintain those differences, but come together for a common purpose.

Unity is desperately needed in the church today, because unity is important to God. Just before Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane, his final recorded prayer (aside from his words on the cross) was focused largely on his disciples, and all future believers, being united (John chapter 17). In Tony Evans’ book America: Turning a Nation To God, he outlines several benefits that happen when we are united. It brings glory to God and builds His Kingdom (John 17:23). God often chooses to manifest His presence more fully when there is a spirit of unity in the body of Christ (Acts 2:43-44). The blessings of God rest in unity (Psalm 133:1-3). Jesus Himself warned of disunity when He said that a kingdom, city or even house divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25). I believe the principle applies at the church level as well.

When it comes to worship, one of the most common sources of disunity is choice of music in worship. I happen to value and enjoy both traditional and contemporary worship, but I think I am in a vast minority. Most people prefer one or the other. And you know what? That’s fine! If you grew up with traditional music, if you appreciate the rich lyrical content of hymns, if you like the sounds of organ, orchestral instruments and four-part harmonies, that’s great. If the only kind of music you like to listen to involves guitars, drums, bass and keys; if you appreciate the repetition that allows you to meditate on the words and let them sink in; if the sound of contemporary worship stirs your emotions and helps you connect with God, that’s great too.

The problem comes when we try to defend our preferred style of music as more holy, or authentic, and dismiss the style we don’t prefer as sacrilegious or outdated. I’ve read through the whole Bible, and I don’t believe God’s Word prescribes a specific style of music for worship. Sure, there are psalms that list specific instruments. Naturally, only instruments that were in existence at that time are mentioned. You don’t find drum sets, electric guitars and synthesizers in the Bible. But you also don’t find pianos and organs. However, our current instruments “descended” from ancient instruments that were used in Biblical times and were identified with worship, like these from Psalm 150:

  • Harp (Piano)
  • Lyre (Guitar, Bass guitar)
  • Timbrel (Tambourine, Drums)
  • Strings (All string instruments)
  • Pipe/Flute (All woodwind instruments)
  • Trumpet (All brass instruments)
  • Cymbal (Cymbals!)

In the end, the style of music you use in worship isn’t as important as Who you are worshipping. In the spirit of unity, one can still prefer one style while appreciating that another style may be just as valid and meaningful to someone else. That doesn’t mean we have to mix all styles into a single blended worship service. Rather, I think a congregation with members who have varying preferences is better served by having separate traditional and contemporary services that are unified by the same teaching and preaching of God’s Word.

If we, as the church, the body of Christ, can learn to have this kind of unity in worship, maybe we can learn to have unity in other areas of church life. As the body of Christ throughout this nation becomes more unified, we will see God move, and we will become a shining example to the rest of our society of how to live in unity.


Ash Wednesday and a Life of Worship

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart, and not your garments.

Joel 2:12-13a

This is a common Scripture reading for Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season of Lent. Lent is a time to honestly assess our sins, to humble ourselves, to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to re-focus on God. Many churches have additional worship opportunities during this season, in order to help people maintain this focus.

If we were honest with ourselves, and really understood how offensive our sin is to God, and realize that our sin was the reason Jesus had to suffer, it would bring us to tears, cause us to mourn, and maybe even cause us to fast – either by loss of appetite or by intentionally fasting to express our sorrow. Some people choose to fast from something (sugar, alcohol, tv, etc) during the 40 days of Lent.

God is not as much concerned with outward expressions of sorrow, like tearing one’s clothes (a common expression in Biblical times) or putting ashes on our forehead, like many do on Ash Wednesday. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but God’s primary concern is that we experience heartbreak over our sin, so that it leads us to repentance and a return to Him. So if you plan to fast from something during Lent, I hope it is something that helps you return, or draw nearer, to God. And perhaps you can add something in its place, like attending Lent worship services, or spending time in the Bible and prayer.

Over the last several months I’ve been lamenting the direction our country’s culture is heading, further and further away from God. I wrote a separate post about it (here), so I’ll just summarize it by saying that I believe the main problem is that the church – all Christians – in this country has failed to be salt and light in the culture.

Ash Wednesday is a great opportunity to start turning the tide, if God’s people, starting with me, will repent of our sins – of complacency, of neglecting our relationship with God, of neglecting worship, of neglecting His Word (or ignoring or changing parts of His Word to acquiesce to culture), of neglecting prayer, and of allowing disunity in the church (due to denominational or doctrinal differences, or worship styles, or other preferences).

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:13b
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