I wanted to spend a short amount of time in conclusion discussing some generic thoughts about the ten questions that weren’t presented in my reply to the sender for various reasons.
There are three main points in tone the questions that bother me.
The first assumption I disagree with profoundly is that if certain actions are not present in a person’s worship, they are somehow uncomfortable or oppressed in their worship to God. In many ways, the tone of the questions seems to indicate that if a person doesn’t raise their hands or clap, they aren’t worshiping God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and that the reason they hold themselves back is tradition, culture, or fear. I personally don’t believe there is anything wrong with clapping, raising hands, instruments, or incorporating mixed-media presentations into corporate worship times. I don’t personally clap or raise my hands during these times – but not because of tradition, culture, or fear, but rather because it is not the way my soul responds in praise to God. There seems to be an attitude of “Well why wouldn’t you want to do these things?” in the questions, and a slight hint that if you don’t do those things, you’re somehow not as spiritual as those who do. Simply because I’m free in this country to go eat a pint of ice cream doesn’t mean that I have to, or that I should, or even that I should want to. People who are “free in Christ” have the freedom to worship God in the ways they choose, but that does not mean they are forced to worship in those ways, or that they must worship God in a prescribed way. The questions also seem to assume that if there were no external barriers to how we worship God, each of us would worship God in an identical fashion, which seems to me in direct opposition to what I would say is a plain fact that each of us is different, and we all conceive and interact with God in different ways. Furthermore, this viewpoint assumes that the important part of “worship” is the action itself, not the heart behind the action. In truth, there are many places where people raise hands, clap, kneel, and use instruments which are absolutely devoid of God. Our external actions in corporate worship do not necessarily correlate to the internal condition of our hearts.
The second assumption with the questions seems to me to be that what is really important in Christianity is what happens on Sunday morning. I discussed this in the email response, but I think it bears mention again here. The majority of our disagreements in churches often come on issues which are related to corporate assembly times. Of the ten questions, the only ones that can be debated as having no clear tie with “Sunday morning issues” are Questions 7 and 10, one of which I will discuss at length in a moment. I cannot believe 80% of the major issues with Churches today are related to the technicalities of how we praise God on Sunday mornings. I cannot believe there are no bigger problems out there. The original author, I think, is quite right when he asks “Is it worth spending time arguing over something like this when we could be _____”? While I appreciate the burden and sincerity of his heart, I am disturbed by the ease with which he seems to have missed one of his major points, and the ease with which many of miss the same point. Do we really believe that these issues aren’t worth arguing about, or when we say it’s not worth arguing about it, do we simply mean that people who disagree with us should stop arguing and start thinking the way we do?
The final, and I think most disturbing assumption in the email is that each of us should do, and I quote, “whatever it takes to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Of all the attitudes expressed in the original questions, this, I believe, is the most dangerous. “Whatever it takes” is the most dangerous religious attitude precisely because it leads people to justify anything in the name of loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. “Whatever it takes” is the attitude that leads people to strap bombs on themselves, walk into buildings, and blow themselves up for the promise of Heaven. It is the attitude that leads people to fly airplanes into buildings, to murder doctors who perform abortions, to scream “God hates Fags!” at a homosexual man’s funeral, to declare holy wars, culture wars, and spiritual wars – all because, according to someone else, that’s “what it takes” to love God. There *must be* limits on “whatever it takes” to love God. In some ways it is a semantic discussion, but it is an essential one. If someone tells us that “in order to really love God, you need to ______”, we are not absolved of our responsibility to ask whether _______ is something consistent with the character of the God we are supposed to love.
At the end of World War II, many men were put on trial for their actions during the war. Many of the men replied that they’d only been “following orders.” The response of the jury was clear – soldiers have an obligation to disobey orders if they violate basic human decency. We can perhaps argue that refusing to murder someone in God’s name does not mean we’re unwilling to do “whatever it takes” to love God, but rather disagreeing about “what it takes” – but I personally reject that distinction. People who blindly and willingly obey any order they are convinced is in the line of “loving God” are a danger to themselves and others. While we cannot use this reasoning to get out of things we selfishly want to do but are prohibited from (e.g. I want to have sex with whoever I want), we must rather evaluate all of our actions and examine them in the light of the character of God.
Even with the extended amount of time that I’ve dedicated to the discussion of this situation on my blog, there is so much more that can be said. As I mentioned on Monday, this discussion is fruitful not necessarily because it reveals dissatisfaction with the particulars of worship styles, but because it exposes deep, fundamental, disturbing problems in how we view Christ, our relationship with Him, and the essence of what it means to please God.
My prayer and hope is that we would somehow be able to address the deeper questions raised by this discussion, moving past externals toward a deep transformation of our hearts, formed and reformed into Christ’s body as we journey together.