Years ago, our church had two different styles of worship. We had a traditional service early in the morning, and we had two contemporary services at the later morning hours.
We did both well. Everything was working fine. No complaints, no problems, right?
We began to feel a burden to unite our church together greater than the desire to keep status quo.
A group of 100 members struggled for 1 year concerning what it would mean for our church to be united. We knew that getting away from 2 styles of worship would cause issues on both issues, but we felt a conviction to lead in such a way to unite our church.
We essentially had 2 churches under one roof and we believed we could glorify God better if we could unite in worship.
The following content is from a document that we shared with our church as we prepared for such a change. While this article is lengthy, maybe it could be an encouragement to you or your church as well.
The Glory of God
Any serious theological discussion must begin and end with the glory of God.
The word “glory’ has as its base meaning “weightiness.” God’s glory speaks of His supreme worth, His shining perfection, the absolute totality of all of His attributes wrapped up in total holiness. The Bible from beginning to end is a book that reveals to us the glory of God and how we as His chosen people should live in light of His glory.
- It was for His own glory that God created the world; “all things have been created by Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16b).
- It was for His glory that He saved the Israelites from Egypt; “Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known” (Psalm 106:8).
- We read in the book of Ezekiel, “But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where thy went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went” (Ezekiel 36:21-22).
- In the New Testament, we once again see that salvation is the gracious work of God in which He redeems sinful man unto himself for His own glory.
- In the gospel of John we read where Jesus prays concerning his crucifixion, “Father, glorify Your name. Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28).
- Jesus summarizes the purpose of his life as he begins his High Priestly prayer in John 17 by saying, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You” (John 17:1).
- No wonder the Apostle Paul admonishes us that “Whether then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
- He reiterates this in the book of Colossians as he prays that the church will “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Colossians 1:9b-10a).
The Glory of God, Our Passion
A passion for the glory of God is the hallmark of the redeemed.
It must be our passion for it is God’s passion.
To live passionately for the glory of God means that our greatest delight is found in delighting Him and our greatest fear is found in displeasing Him.
When we fall short of living for such glory, when we fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23) then we fall into a life lived for the glory of self and that is sin. And when we lose the great, high, noble calling of living life for His glory and not our own, the results are disastrous for the church.
Worship is reduced to a personal experience that is consumer driven, discipleship is reduced to a self-help program, and evangelism is reduced to a sale’s pitch were we try to reach our numbers.
Certainly, living as a church for the glory of God will redefine our purpose and redefine the methods we use in pursuing that purpose; not the least of which will be in how we worship as a family.
Unity in the Church Glorifies God
Psalm 133:1 reads, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”
Although most of us have been conditioned to think of salvation in terms of the individual, the truth is, God has saved a people unto Himself.
- Peter wrote, “But you are a Chosen Race, a royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a People for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a People, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
- Paul writes in Philippians, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:1-3).
- In that same letter Paul exhorts the church to “do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).
This unity of the body was so essential in the mind of Christ that it was one of the last things Jesus prayed for here on earth. “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in you, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).
Such unity in the body of Christ sends the statement to the world that God sent Jesus to redeem sinful man.
Our unity is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!
No wonder church unity brings glory to God. Our unity points to the glory of God.
In fact, as we saw in the Book of Ephesians, God purposely, for His own glory, for His name’s sake, brought two very different groups of people together (Jews and Gentiles) and made them into one new group “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). How key is this chapter to understanding the mind of God when it comes to the church!
Two groups of people with different backgrounds, different traditions, different beliefs and different preferences were brought together by God so that they might live and breathe as one body so that His wisdom and His glory might be made known and put on display to both heaven and earth.
Listen to the words found in Ephesians 4; “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).
It would seem that Paul intended for the church to exhibit such unity in worship. He taught that the people of God should unite together, despite all differences and preferences, and become united by the redemptive work of Christ, for the purpose of proclaiming together with one voice the worth of God. This he makes clear when he writes in Romans, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
Does this one voice include music? Does it include singing? It would seem so. Paul writes in Colossians, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:16-17).
Did you notice that we find here the glory of God, the unity of the church, and singing all in the same context? Furthermore, the singing involves three very different types of music all being that the entire congregation is being encouraged to utilize in giving praise to God!
Divisions and Disunity in the Church Does Not Glorify God
If the entire Book of 1 Corinthians does not reveal how shameful it is for the church to be divided, I don’t know what does. Paul begins this letter by stating that the Corinthian church’s overarching problem was one of disunity. At the very beginning of his letter he exhorts them “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Paul reveals that the source of their divisions was personal preferences in regards to teachers and teaching style. Paul reminds them that a focus on personality or style is a wrong focus. Their focus should be on Jesus and the glory of God.
In chapter 11 he states that even when they came together for the Lord’s Supper, it wasn’t the Lord that was central, but their own personal preferences and appetites became their primary concern. Listen to his words, “For in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:18-21).
The very fact that we have people who would leave the body before they regularly worshiped with the body unless that worship was expressed in a style of their own preference would indicate that there is a problem of division.
Notice the category of sins that Paul places “dissensions” and “factions” in; “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Although I am not sure how to best go about addressing this issue and leading our people to be united in worship, I believe that we should. Why? I just believe that God has made it clear that he is glorified through our unity and dishonored through our division.
Some Closing Thoughts
- What will worship be like in heaven? Will we worship together as one body, singing the same song, with one voice? This is the scene we have recorded for us in Revelation chapter 5, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:11-14). If this is the worship scene in heaven, then we must strive to make such unified worship a reality here on earth or else we should not pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?”
- If we speak the worship language of other groups by providing a youth service, should we not speak the worship language of a “Traditional” as well as a “Contemporary” audience? My response to this argument would be that these other services focus on a group of people more than on God and for some very good reasons. Children’s worship can hardly be called worship because worship is unique for true believers and most of these children are not yet saved. In reality, children’s worship is more of a teaching or training time than a worship time. While there is an element of worship to what our youth do at the Peak Student Worship, at its heart, the Peak began and continues to be primarily an outreach and discipleship time for youth.
- True worship is a matter of the heart. In the Book of John, chapter 4, Jesus engages the woman at the well in a conversation about worship. Her concerns were time and place and I don’t think it is a theological falsehood to say that one of her concerns was even style. However, Jesus led her beyond such issues of worship and taught her that worship came from a heart that valued the glory of God. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23).
Perhaps even more convicting is what Jesus taught in Mark chapter 7 about worship that doesn’t glorify God.
There we read, “The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, this observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)
The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?’ And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written; “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of Men. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. He was also saying to them, ‘You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition’ (Mark 7:1-9).
- Presently, we do not have a worship service that reflects the true DNA of our church. We have two distinctive types of worship services that take into account only a part of the DNA of our church. We do not make it a practice to come together and glorify God as one family.
- Leading North Side to embrace such change may prove to be costly. However, it must be kept in mind that true worship itself is costly simply because it requires a sacrifice. King David said, “For I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord that did not cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). And again we read in the Book of Hebrews, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16).
- I continue to contend that the one thing we should be absolutely united on is the truth. While we can stand on our own personal convictions while accepting the convictions of others, the truth is what we should be united in. Personal preferences are just that; preferences. And all personal preferences should be placed aside for the sake of unity.
Perhaps there is no area in the life of the church where this is any more essential, than in our united worship to the glory of God.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.