As Christians, we can be pretty judgy about other people’s worship services. Too loud, too boring, no atmosphere, too experiential, etc. etc. I’m as culpable as anyone if I don’t stop and check myself. There’s nothing wrong with having a preferred style, but we often fall into the trap of going beyond that, of smugly thinking that our way of doing things is the most effective way of interacting with God and that other people have missed something.
If you get a kick out of worship with guitars, that’s great. But if you think that God doesn’t move through worship with a church organ you’re either saying that guitars summon God like a genie or that God’s a kind of modish houseguest who rolls their eyes when you put Classic FM on. If you think that a service following the Book of Common Prayer is better than one that does not, you fall down the same rabbit hole of suggesting the creator of literally everything has a particular ‘taste’.
The Bible gives us no instruction as to how specifically we should worship God. There’s no preferred service structure, nothing about what the person at the front should wear, what instruments should be used, how long the sermon should be or whether coffee should be served at the end. True, Biblical worship is:
- Offered by people with the Holy Spirit living in their hearts (Philippians 3:3)
- Theologically consistent with the doctrine of Christ; i.e. in truth (John 4:24)
- Self-sacrificial (Romans 12:1)
- Conducted in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28)
- Carried out using our skill (Psalm 33:3)
- Musical (Isaiah 12:5)
God wants us to seek connection with Him, to seek knowledge of Him, to regard Him with wonder, and to express it to the best of our ability. He doesn’t tell us there are better and worse ways of doing this.
It’s a good job, really, because we all speak different worship languages. In line with the different personalities God’s given us, we connect and express in different ways. As with real languages, we can sometimes find it hard to understand each other, but God speaks all our languages. A love song written in French wouldn’t mean much to me, but it might move a French person to tears. Just because you’re not moved by the way someone else worships doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderfully pleasing to God.
We are made in God’s image. The things we do in worship, service, and reverence of Him are all expressions of who He is, and reveal different aspects of Him. No human thing can reflect all of God’s character; He’s far too complex for that! Individually we display glimpses, like the shards of a shattered mirror all reflecting the same light. But if each of us reflects a different piece, all of us together must demonstrate something closer to the whole than any one of us can alone. We cannot remove some of these pieces without marring the image of God we are projecting to the world.
People find Him best in different styles of music and literature and art, and that’s fine because God is the source of creativity; He invented music, He inspires art, He defies description and explanation by any one author. We only have to look around at the variety of creation to see that God’s creativity – the creativity we were each given a small part of – doesn’t conform to a single ‘type’ or ‘style’ or ‘genre’.
Some people worship best through tradition, and that’s fine because God was there instigating those traditions and God’s relevance defies fashion. The good things He initiates don’t cease to be good just because popular culture changes. Some people worship best through the modern and the progressive, and that’s fine because God is the most cutting-edge being there is. He literally created everything out of nothing. He’s always moving forward.
Some people worship best through structure and order, with prescribed prayers and repetition, and that’s fine because God creates order from chaos. His whole universe is built upon structure and order and rhythm. Some people worship best in freedom of expression, in fluidity and emotion, and that’s fine because God is unpredictable and He moves us deeply in ways that we cannot expect.
I think in heaven the worship must be the most beautiful mess. When everyone is worshipping all the time, all in one place, think of the amazing variety there will be! Here on earth our differences cause discord, but in the presence of our amazing God we will be united in a completely unrecognisable but stunning harmony. All these different pieces that seem so disparate and even contradictory will suddenly all make sense together in the face of our most beautifully and incomprehensibly multifaceted God.
So let’s stop with the worship snobbery. We are all entitled to our preferences, but let’s not for one minute limit God by suggesting they are also His.