Let's end the taste wars: it's time to let God be the judge of our worship offerings
"Well!" harrumphed the elder's wife, nodding toward the choir, "that's exactly the reason we left that other church!"
The anthem was simple and childlike—not great music by any means, hut all that the chil-drens choir could muster. They had worked hard to prepare for today's service.
Two little girls from the choir overheard the womans disdainful remarks. One of them looked at me tearfully and said, "Maybe the Lord liked it, even zf she didn't."
"Boring!" intoned the youth pastor after the service was over. Soon the teens standing about chimed in, lamenting the length of the Bach cantata offered in worship by the choir.
Preparing the selection for worship had required nine weeks of arduous choral rehearsals and some sacrificial giving to hire the orchestra. "I suppose it is 'great' music," alloived the youth pastor, "hut I cant worship with it. For me, it was nothing but a pompous show."
Meanwhile, in the narthex, the choir director was busy gathering kudos that probably belonged to God.
A small group of volunteers gathered to rehearse a piece for the sunrise service; their singing skills did not quite equal their enthusiasm, and a mw east wind made the tenor a bit raw too. But they were the only ones willing to sing at that hour of the morning.
As their modest little piece swung into a predictable modulation between verses, disdainful laughter rippled through the back of the church. Two "well-trained" musicians were busy ridiculing Hie music.
Hurt feelings settled like a dark cloud over the erisemble.
Although these stories are fictional, the attitudes they reflect are very real. Wars of musical tastes are raging in most of our congregations, and they show no signs of abating.
We might be tempted to think that these widespread taste wars are taking root in the modern church because of the eclectic nature of our modern age. After all, television and the recording industry have led us to believe that we deserve exactly the kind of music we want (our modern musical scene spans enormous ranges!). And rather than stanching the flow of "me-first" at the front door, the church has embraced this selfishness as if there were a nugget of truth contained within.
However, this bickering over music is not a new problem. Taste wars have been going on for a long, long time. They did not please the Lord then. And they do not please the Lord now.
The Battle Is the Lord's
In 2 Samuel 6 we find the story of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel and the warrior king, leading the procession as the ark was returned to Jerusalem. The symbol of the presence, power, and blessing of God entering the city was more than King David's heart could bear; he danced with all his might as he rejoiced and worshiped God.
David's wife Michal, however, was not pleased with the royal display. She despised David in her heart and rebuked him for getting "carried away." She made fun of the king's dance-in-an-ephod, calling it "undignified." And her attitude so displeased the Lord that he closed up her womb and left her childless all the days of her life.
Had she been mature in her own worship, Michal might have been more generous in her appraisal of David's worship; she might have offered his worship in her heart to the Lord as if it were her own. Whether or not she liked his offering was really less important than her willingness to take and use it. In the end, the issue was not the offering itself; it was the heart condition that it represented. David's heart filled with joy and bubbled over; Michal's heart filled with haughty contempt and iced over.
Michal's disdain was rooted in her own attitudes about worship: she believed that David was putting on a show for the "servant girls." Her anger was rooted in the notion that his display was unworthy of her! "I'm worth better than this," she mused in her heart. She should have recognized that God was the audience. In this passage, God does not give an opinion on the dance, but God's opinion of MichaTs "me-first" attitude is crystal clear.
That story is packed full of wisdom for Christians who are waging taste wars today Let's take a closer look.
A heart full of joy in the Lord is a delight to God.
David's worship was from the heart— joyful, powerful, and unrestrained. "With all your might" is the worship instruction that David gives us by example. Give worship the best effort that you have, and don't hold back—not even when your best is less than perfect. Strive for better next time, but give God the best that you have right now. God's requirements in worship are different from ours: we actually encourage worshipers to hold back, but that is not the Lord's way.
We have no record of David's qualifications to dance in worship. His skill with the harp and song is legendary, but he may have been a bit awkward as a dancer. Could some of Michal's disdain have been because David was a klutz?
Maybe. But that didn't diminish his joy in worship. Nor did it hamper God's willingness to receive the gift.
"With all your might" pleases the Lord. God knows our "best" from something less than our best.
Despising someone's legitimate worship offering angers God.
Admittedly, the key word here is "legitimate." Scripture tells us about illegitimate worship offerings: those that represent neither heart, effort, nor price; those that are blemished or sickly; those that have been forbidden; and so forth. But dance is not forbidden, singing is not illegal, and there is no law against a public display of joy in the Lord.
The anger of the Lord toward Michal ought to make us recoil in fear! We all deserve what she received. God expressed anger toward her in a measured and proportionate way—choosing not to destroy her but rather to make her childless. It was as if God were saying, "I don't wish ever to see this attitude replicated." Her closed womb became a metaphor for the fruitlessness of "me-first" worship. However, her haughty spirit is still here today, and it lays waste the environment where worship should naturally grow.
Passion must be under biblical control.
Clearly, David's passion was not uncontrolled. The fact that he selected the priestly garment—the linen ephod—for his dance showed he had not cast off all restraints, nor did he act without thinking.
We live in an age that highly honors spontaneity in worship, sometimes even endorsing mindless emotionalism. Indeed, in some evangelical congregations, emotion is the benchmark of deep spirituality.
In contrast, we Reformed Christians have generally had a pretty firm grip on dignity. In fact, we're passionate about our dignity!
The message we need to hear is that neither passion nor dignity can stand alone. We who have the one desperately need the other. The body of Christ is perfectly made to meet our need: take the gifts that the Lord has given to others in the body and celebrate them as if they were your own. Celebrate the differences in others' tastes and gifts-—don't squash them!
God is able to judge worship offerings better than we are.
If we could but know the hearts of worshipers, we might be qualified to render judgment. We warn people not to take the sacrament of the Lord's Supper if they are not ready, but we would not dare to judge their hearts. We also frequently encourage, admonish, and exhort worshipers regarding their "heart condition" when they come to worship God, but who among us would be qualified to judge those same hearts?
Why then will we tolerate and participate in worship and music taste wars? God who knows the heart can and will judge, but only if we leave room for God to act. Why should I think that my taste impresses God in the least? God is surrounded day and night with the celestial song of cherubim and seraphim! Your favorites, be they J. S. Bach or John Ness Beck, will never compare to what God hears in glory. Noise, noise, noise! Why does God want to hear our highly polished, carefully rehearsed, immaculately composed noise?
I am God's child, and my gift of love moves God's heart; it is that simple. God discerns a heart of love beating in all that noise. Yes, it moves God's great compassionate heart to hear a simple song sung by redeemed humankind. Stony hearts leaping to life, adopted sons and daughters expressing adoration and praise for their new Father, the lame dancing with all their might in linen ephods—this is what makes our Father glad.
So, dear brothers and sisters in Jesus, give it a rest! Acknowledge that what you like and dislike, in the final analysis, really does not matter—not even a little. Celebrate the differences that God has given us.
Sure, let's promote and encourage the best quality. Having done that, take the worship offering, whatever it is, and give it to the Lord as if it were your own—for in the body of Christ, it is. Do not fail to give the Lord your best; but remember that your best may well be the children's anthem or that trembling solo by a frightened teen.
Unlike Michal, let our attitude toward other worshipers create a fertile womb for creativity and passionate praise. After all, the real issue is not "taste," but "love." The more the latter spills over, the more it will quench the flames of the former.
When taste wars flare, as they will until the Lord comes, douse them with genuine sweetness. Let the battle be the Lord's, and God will honor our worship by being present with us.
For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.