Worship wars are going on all over. Some churches accommodate music preferences by having multiple services; traditional, contemporary, et cetera. Some churches sing only hymns. Some churches have multiple choirs and worship leaders with full bands.
What is worship? Some think church worship service is all about the music, and believe that the singing is when we worship. What is worship? In his sermon, Messiah, The Living Water, Part 2, Pastor John MacArthur describes worship – “Worship… is not music. Worship is loving God. Worship is honoring God. Worship is knowing God for who he is, adoring Him, obeying Him, proclaiming Him as a way of life. Music is one way we express that adoration.”
Loving God, honoring God, adoring and obeying God, and knowing God for who he is matters. Although worship may include music, it is not limited to music.
The Apostle Paul describes worship in Romans 12:1 ESV:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
More importantly, Jesus says:
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. John 4:23,24 KJV
The primary reason we sing God’s praises is because we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and because we’ve been redeemed we love, honor, adore and obey God. We know who he is and what he’s done. It’s not about the song, or the style, it is about the heart. Do we love God with all of our hearts? Is that love evidenced in obedience to him? Is it demonstrated in our love for our Christian brothers and sisters?
In Matthew 15:8 ESV Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy –
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
In the Old Testament, God rebukes the children of Israel, because he knows their transgressions. Amos 5:21-23 KJV
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not |take delight| in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
It doesn’t matter how sweet the sound, how sound the lyrics – if our lives don’t reflect we know the True and Living God. It doesn’t matter that we play skillfully with a loud noise (Psalms 33:3). God demands that we worship him in spirit and in truth. God looks at the heart.
Why are there conflicts over music? Conflicts over music is not new. I believe it is, and has always been because we all have different tastes in music. I also believe culture influences our preferences. For instance, I grew up in the 60s influenced by my environment, which had as its background noise the sounds of Motown with the likes of Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, all of which contained distinctive melodies, chord structures, and definite beat. So I end up preferring songs that are melodic unlike rap, and rock. The lyrics are also important to me.
Others are influenced by country music, rock, folk, classical, and rap, and each of these genres condition us for what we prefer in our worship music. Pastor and blogger, Ed Stetzer offers a helpful article – 7 Biblical Tests for Christians and Music, a metrics for evaluating music.
Although having an appreciation for certain styles of music is not necessarily wrong, believers ought to exercise the Philippians 2:3 KJV principle:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.
We ought to be able to sing together regardless of our style preference. Our style preference should not necessitate separate worship services. Singing together is how we demonstrate love by esteeming someone else’s preference above our own. Nor should we be dismissive or judgmental of songs that are not our preferred style. The test for all songs should be that they are Biblically sound, and consistent with the character of God.
So, does God care what we sing? Yes, but God is not impressed with our songs, be it contemporary, a cantata, a hymn, or an aria, if our lives are not lived out in obedience to him, and we cannot exercise love within the family of God. It doesn’t matter how sweet the sound, or even how skillfully played, it is a matter of the heart.