For at least the last twenty years or so, Adventists in North America have been in a quiet uproar about “worship styles.”
The very fact that we speak of “styles” of worship tells me we’re not talking about worship at all! How dare I say that? Simple. In the 1970’s, a lot of stylish people wore bell-bottom trousers and leisure suits. That was the style, and, quaint as it appears today, it was not all that remarkable at the time, because many people wore them. Now, the first person to wear a leisure suit may have been expressing himself– may have been presenting the real him to the world. But the next twenty million or so were just trying to be stylish. They took a look at the wearers of leisure suits, and thought, “That’s what it looks like to be up-to-date.” Of course, a few years later, leisure suits were tres passe— or in today’s language, “so yesterday.” Styles are like that. They come and they go, often very quickly. And they are how we want the world to see us.
But worship, true worship, is authentic, is real, and is personal. It is not how we want the world to see us— in church, we call that hypocrisy. It should not be how we want God to see us— because He sees us as we are, whether we want him to or not. Worship should be the response of who I am to who God is and what He does. This will vary from person to person, from time to time, and from place to place.
In my first post, I brought up a word many Adventists dislike intensely– relevant. I’m about to bring up another– culture. Because culture affects who we are, and therefore how we worship.
But here’s the thing, if worship is the authentic response of who I am to who God is and what He does, then what makes us think we can tell someone else how to worship? Do you think you know who they are better than they do? Even God doesn’t tell people that without their permission. And the minute anyone begins to think “will they, the other people around me, think that I’m worshiping,” we’ve made the first step toward hypocrisy, not worshiping God, but playing to the crowd. Concern with worship styles becomes concern with acting styles.
While it may be true that we are all hypocrites, and that the place for hypocrites is the church–hypocrites surely need to be saved–the church should not be a place that encourages hypocrisy. But all too often it is, because we are too concerned with worship styles.
Next time, would Ellen Harmon and James White be welcome in your congregation?