10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
-1 Corinthians 1
I remember several years ago, I heard Chuck Swindoll, one of the great preachers in America today, talk about a “war.” He wasn’t talking about spiritual war, or political war. He was talking about music. Specifically, he was talking about the advent of praise and worship music and the massive push that it got in the mid 90’s.
I want to confess something: I was right there. I remember being in high school, going to camp and seeing everyone get emotional as they sang, “Step by Step,” “All in All,” and many other campfire songs. Then we’d go back home to our churches and sing the dried-up old hymns and we just thought we might die.
Then I went to college. This was in the days of overhead projectors, when someone would bravely stand with their face above a 100-watt bulb swapping out transparencies for every song. We’d sing “Shout to the Lord” and “Shine Jesus Shine” and feel like we could actually see God moving around the room, so enigmatic were our praises.
But that wasn’t the war. The songs weren’t the war. People have been writing new songs since the dawn of time, and new songs are a good thing. They keep things fresh. The war was something else; the war was our rejection of the old songs. To be fully honest, it was a rejection, at least in my church experience, of the old way of doing church.
I remember the older members of our church just hoping that the moment would pass without being noticed. I remember the younger people feeling like they were being ignored. I remember the thought in my own head: “This is REAL worship and these old fogies don’t get it.”
What happened over the next twenty years or so became polarizing. Churches became known for their style of music. It was a question you asked before you went there… “what kind of music do they play?” I asked it myself.
I was on staff at a church and the pastor said several times that the music was sometimes more important that the preaching. He got the best music minister he could, a guy who could spin pure gold out of music notes, so that the music would be the pinnacle of amazing.
God, my God. We were so wrong.
The more I read of Jesus and Paul and the formation of the church, the more I realize what a massive waste of time we have indulged in. How distracted we have become, and how Satan must do a jig every time another church splits because they can’t agree on praise songs. Music isn’t often mentioned in the New Testament, but there are a lot of other things that are. Unity in the body. Loving one another. Being of one mind. All that stuff got left by the wayside as we ran out and tried to find a guy who could play guitar and then taught one of the deacon’s kids to play the drums so we could hastily assemble a worship band, convinced that the lost would flock to our door if we put on a great show every week.
I’ll tell you what I’ve come to believe: God would rather have us be silent that sound beautiful in our divided state. So many times in the New Testament he calls for us to be patient with one another and bear with one another, let love be our lead. We do not care. We would rather have a soaring chord and hands lifted high.
Some churches tried to cool the fire with separate services. “Traditional.” “Contemporary.” “Liturgical.” “Praise.” What that leaves us with is services full of like-minded people who only see the rest of the church in passing, or at a picnic.
That. Is not. The church.
The church is a group of people who are “humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph. 4;2) It uses psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to admonish one another (Col. 3:16), not draw dividing lines.
I have a picture in my mind of a church that does that. There are teens with face piercings standing right next to older folks in ties and Sunday dresses. These people are singing together. They don’t always like the music. In fact, each of them greatly dislike a song or two every single week. But they bear with one another. They come together in that place because they share a mutual brokenness, and the music isn’t the point. Leaning on one another and worshiping together is. Being one body is. Celebrating the restoration that comes through Jesus’ death on the cross is the thing that rises above everything, and His love draws together even the most polar of opposites.
“We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
We are One in the Spirit
Peter Scholte, 1966