The Passion FOR the Christ–Yet Another Worship Wars Post


Despite the penetration of the Internet into countless households, most computer-related activities on the ‘Net are dominated by a particular personality type. We know these folks as the Mr. Spocks of the world, their early incarnations being those computer mavens glued to their monitors while playing Rogue into the wee hours of the morning. You know Rogue, the ASCII dungeon game (developed by Christians, BTW), wherein a little “@”-sign adventurer would explore an ever-changing dungeon looking for magic potions while fighting all manner of hideous beast? Fast-forward a couple decades and Rogue lives on in every first-person shooter that ever plunged through a bank of VRAM.

But I digress…

If Marla Swoffer were still blogging, she’d have these folks tagged by their Myers-Briggs type indicator: NT, or Intuitive Thinker. I gave up on the Myers-Briggs a long time ago, but the fact remains that Intuitive Thinkers dominate nearly every grotto carved out by the Silicon Glacier that has blanketed the world since the Homebrew Computer Club fired up their first Altair in the early Seventies. Toss a pack of Myers-Briggs tests into that group and you’d think all the respondents were the same person.

But I digress again…

Whether you adore the Myers-Briggs or think it’s a bunch of New Age Jungian hooey, there’s no ignoring the kind of person described by the NT personality: rational and logical—definitely not a sufferer of fools or “bleeding hearts.” The patron saint of this particular kind of person is the low-key cop of Dragnet, Det. Joe Friday. His trademark phrase: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

NTs still dominate the computer world. They’re the quintessential early adopters. If there’s a tech bleeding edge, they’re perched on it. Not only were they the first bloggers, they developed all the software for the non-NTs to start their own blogs. NTs have a limited set of passions because passion isn’t all that logical. However, if George Lucas were to film a few more Star Wars flicks, the NTs would be first in line with their homemade Darth Vader outfits sporting custom MP3-rigged labored-breathing effects. Or else they’d be out trying to create the world envisioned in the Matrix movies for no other reason than perhaps the Machines were right.

Christians who are adept at the Internet are also largely NTs. Scratch a Christian NT and they’ll bleed systematic theologies, a term for each minutia of doctrine, and enough intellectual apologetics firepower to sink every representative depicted in (Walter) Martin’s Book of Cults.

Because of the combo of Internet and Christianity, Godbloggers of the Intuitive Thinking persuasion dominate the Godblogosphere. Totally. For those few Godbloggers who aren’t NTs, wading into the collective Godblogosphere under NT terms is a little like gathering a few likeminded buddies and knocking on Dan Rooney’s door, wondering if his team is up for a game.

Better have REALLY good dental insurance.

I say all this because the worship wars are heating up again. Chuck Colson (could a former-Nixon-hatchet-man be anything else but an NT?) pitched a hissy over the weepy-eyed Jesus music he encountered recently. By “weepy-eyed Jesus music” I mean, of course, modern praise and worship choruses. Dr. Sam Storms (non-NTs do get PhD’s, believe it or not) leapt into the fray to defend the worship song in question, “Draw Me Close to You,” whose words follow:

Draw me close to you, never let me go.
I lay it all down again, to hear you say that I’m your friend.
You are my desire, no one else will do.
No one else can take your place, to feel the warmth of your embrace.
Help me find the way, bring me back to you.
You’re all I want. You’re all I’ve ever needed.
You’re all I want. Help me know you are near.

Not NT hymnody. There’s a hint of possible hugging and nearness. Too touchy-feely. No smiting at all. For NTs, it’s a bit like that Hymn That Dare Not Speak Its Name, Fanny Crosby’s “In the Garden.” The NT response on Fanny’s classic: “We acknowledge that certain hymns of determinate age are indeed superior to all other forms of sentient music, particularly when they reflect a Supralapsarian viewpoint, but by our considerable whiskers, that hymn has the line ‘He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing.’ You can’t rationally expect church elders to sing a line like that, now can you?”

And thus we get to yet another facet of the worship wars.

Despite Sam Storms’s attempt to punch through the psychological Maginot Line erected by NT folks who go searching for a hari kari knife the second someone fires up a song like “Draw Me Close to You,” he failed. That should come as no surprise though, because few of us ever stop to think that our opponents might have a good point once in a while. Too often, those of us who say, “Once saved, always saved,” are the same folks who add, “And once wrong, always wrong.”

Van Gogh—Starry NightLet’s draw a parallel in another medium. You find the exact dispute in the art world. Before the worship wars came the Realist vs. Impressionist wars. Neither side in that fray found the common ground that still said “art.” The Realists might have looked at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and said, “Well, the night sky depicted in this deranged work bears no resemblance to what we see with our eyes. The artist is taking brutal liberties.” On the other hand, the Impressionists might have considered Millet’s Millet—The Sheep Meadow, Moonlight“The Sheep Meadow, Moonlight” and said, “It’s lacking the passion of the artist to see with the mystical eyes of the soul.”

When we start this debate in the Christian music world, it’s the same tired dichotomy.

Nothing is more difficult than trying to get disparate people to understand the merits of differing viewpoints, especially in the Church. Take your staunchest NT-like Christian and sit him down next to a bawling single mother of six in your average Pentecostal church and the disconnect will be so brutal both parties might explode. Yet in the same way that “Come Ye, Sinners” stirs the heart of Mr. NT, that bawling mom is experiencing the same feeling (oops, bad word) when singing “Draw Me Close to You.”

I hate to say this to the NTs out there, but we can’t put a tricorder on a Christian connecting with the Lord and derive any kind of meaningful data out of the experience. There’s no yardstick capable of measuring passion! And God is not only passionate about His chosen, but a few of His chosen return that same passion.

Sure, we can distill a commentary on the Song of Solomon and we can systematize its theology, but if we miss the passion in it, the unrestrained feelings expressed in that most holy book, then we’ve missed most of the point:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.
—Song of Solomon 1:2-4 ESV

Bears a striking resemblance to “Draw Me Close to You,” doesn’t it? And if you try to analyze that passage under a theological microscope, you’ll miss not only the entire context, but the very passion of the Author.

Let’s remember: One of the many wonders of Christianity is that it embraces both mind and heart.

  • “Set your minds on things above…”—the mind! The rational part of our being that God fashioned to grasp wisdom and knowledge. That same mind God Himself designed!
  • “I have laid up your Word in my heart…”—the heart! The blood and guts passionately human essence of who God shaped us to be. That same heart God Himself designed!

To those who are siding with Colson—and they are legion—I say this: Our love for Christ can’t exist only in our minds. Nor can it be analyzed for logical consistency. “You’re all I want. You’re all I’ve ever needed.” Sometimes there is no greater truth found than what burns in the passionate heart of the child of God. Even the wisest wise man with the strongest mind every forged knows that passion is too wonderful to understand.

These worship wars are complete nonsense, folks. Unless a song is utterly heretical, we need to stop persecuting works we can’t understand because we’re only perceiving their usefulness with either our mind or our heart (but never both). Doesn’t matter if we’re castigating today’s worship song or yesteryear’s hymn. We’ve got to stop.

Call the truce
. But before we do, let’s all consider the merits of the other side first.

And in this week of Christ’s Passion, may our passion for Him encompass both our hearts and our minds.

Calling a Truce in the Worship Wars


WorshipOver the last year, one topic has arisen on more blogs than any other: proper worship. The tenor of these posts is typically aimed at how to do worship right, with the writer explaining why his/her token method of worship is THE ONLY KIND THAT WORSHIPS GOD IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. Like so many aspects of the Faith, we’ve turned worship into a tangle of pointing fingers. Rarely do we claim any higher ground than to contend that our higher ground is loftier than someone else’s.

Yiddish speakers have a name for this: Oy Vey!

There’s no better place to start than the battle between modern worship choruses and classic hymns. Nothing will split a church faster than forcing people to take sides on which is better. Advocates of modern worship choruses tend to be younger, middle class, with less history of long-term church attendance, and a greater affinity for Third Wave and Megachurches. The Vineyard churches get a lot of press—good and bad—for being the nexus for the trends in church music today; a Vineyard moldy oldie like John Wimber’s “Isn’t He” is a classic example of a modern worship song. The Pentecostal church I attend favors this kind of music, and as the drummer on our worship team, it’s what I’m used to playing for church music.

On the other side are those who advocate the old hymns. These folks tend to be older, were raised in the church (usually in a conservative congregation) and tend to be from churches that are either wealthy/upper-middle class or dirt poor. On the Web, most of the Reformed bloggers are fans of the old hymns; they tend to be the most vocal critics of modern worship choruses, too. I grew up in the Lutheran church (and spent time in an old-fashioned AoG and modern Presbyterian church who supported the hymns) so my history is also with the hymns.

If you listen hard enough, you hear the arguments pro and con for one side or another, but I want to cut through the rhetoric and tackle the common talking points we hear on the Web.

Modern worship songs are theologically shallow.
Yep, many of them are. The hymn supporters get a point there. Unfortunately, they lose it, too. The problem? The hymns we commonly sing today are a tiny fraction of all the hymns that have ever been written. Only the best have survived the test of time. In defense of the modern worship song camp, time will have the same pruning effect on worship choruses. A hundred years from now, we may still be singing some of them. Chances are that those that will have survived will be the ones that have the deepest theological meaning—just like the old hymns.

Now this doesn’t excuse shallow lyrics and brain-dead melodies in today’s worship music, but we need to apply standards fairly. There have been many hymns that were popular in their day, but have since vanished from our Sunday repertoires because they weren’t all that deep. They played into the era’s popular music styles, corresponded to theological fads that have since passed away, or weren’t all that great to begin with. Sounds a lot like modern worship songs and the deficiencies noted by those folks who love to criticize them. Outcome? Draw.

Worship music (and the people who write it) must reflect our doctrine.
Oh really? Let’s look at the facts.

  • If we believe that the only source of revelation is Scripture, then we must oppose singing “How Great Thou Art,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “This Is My Father’s World,” and a whole host of other hymns that have lyrics that support the fact that God’s creation speaks—apart from the Scriptures—attesting to His glory. If we’re part of that group of Christians who believes that it’s all going to burn one day anyway—so why not cut down the rainforests now—then these hymns must also be verboten. That’s a tough loss; a lot of people really like those hymns.
  • If we believe that Christian mysticism is just another word for apostasy, then we’ve got to cut out hymns like “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” by Catholic (uh oh, there’s another problem) mystic Bernard of Clairvaux. That puts a serious damper on Good Friday services, now doesn’t it? Clairvaux also wrote the popular hymns “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” and “O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts.” Too bad. He and all the other mystic hymnwriters are out.
  • If our eschatology is not postmillennial, then we must no longer sing “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and just about any hymn that came out of The Salvation Army movement. That’s a big chunk of hymns in the 1865-1890 timeframe, too.
  • If we’re Reformed and reject books written by Arminian authors, then in order to remain consistent we should also reject hymns written by Arminians. This is particularly painful since that means all hymns by Charles Wesley have to go. Considering he wrote more than 900, that’s a big loss. Say goodbye to “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” We also have to reject “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” because not only did Wesley write it, but George Whitefield changed it so that it was no longer Scripturally accurate to the Luke 2 passage Wesley based it on (because nowhere does it say that the angels were singing.) The two fought bitterly over the change, and we can’t be supporting two Christian brothers fighting, now can we?
  • If we’re Arminian and can’t stand what Reformed hymn writers have to say, then we’re probably Dave Hunt and could care less what this blog has to say about anything anyway, nevermind my comments on hymnody.
  • If hymns written by the unconverted and apostates are out, then we need to delete “O Holy Night” from our Christmas services. The lyricist was a Catholic who later renounced Christianity and became a Marxist, while the music was written by a Jewish composer. That song contains political overtones, too, by dealing with the then current issue of slavery. We all know that politics and hymnody should never mix.
  • If we oppose Catholic theology, then besides all the Bernard of Clairvaux hymns we must stop singing, scratch everything written before the Protestant Reformation. Wow, that’s a lot of hymns we need to chuck!

At issue here is that the same people who are unwilling to stop singing the hymns listed above are the same people who rant and rave against writers, pastors, and whomever doesn’t toe their doctrinal party line. That’s profoundly hypocritical no matter how we look at it. It’s even worse when we apply those filtering criteria to modern worship songs and their writers, while giving the hymns a pass. Yet we seem to do it all the time. Call it just another case of selective memory on the part of Evangelicals. Just be consistent—that’s all I’m asking for here. If we can’t be, then we need to stop judging other houses because we can’t get our own in order.

Too many of today’s worship songs sound like nothing more than “God is my boyfriend” songs.
You know what I mean, the “I love you, I love you, I love you” kinds of worship choruses that never point out who the “you” is. We could be singing them to our sweetheart or to God…who knows?

This is a favorite argument among hymn supporters and there’s a legitimate beef there. However, my experience is the amount of these kinds of worship choruses is highly overinflated by those who oppose them. I looked through all the worship choruses I’ve played in church over the span of three years and only one or two fit this accusation. If you ask me, this argument is a non-starter.

If there’s a legitimate beef against “God is my boyfriend” worship music, it’s actually the modern worship chorus fans who have a better case against the hymn supporters. Any perusal of hymns written in the hundred years between 1800 and 1900 shows a fascinating tendency of hymn writers of that era to portray an overly feminized Jesus who resembles a sort of sensitive 1980’s man. Hymns like “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling,” “In the Garden,” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” were often criticized in their day by clergy who believed they were softening the manliness of Christ. When compared with hymns that came a hundred years before them, it’s difficult to argue against that criticism. Later Church historians can point to these and other hymns of their day as one of the sources for the long-term feminizing effect on the Church in this country, a problem cited by many of the same people who sing those very hymns and defend them tooth and nail.

Our worship needs to be Scripturally based.
Do we really believe this? I mean truly? If so, where are the loud crashing cymbals, tambourines, and dancers?

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
—Psalms 150:1-6 ESV

Some would argue that this doesn’t represent a New Testament worship sensibility. However, if you do worship-related keyword searches on the New Testament, there’s not a single Scripture that would imply that the early Church negated psalms like Psalm 150 above in order to dial down to some different form of worship. The early Church worshiped in the temple, right? Would that worship not include Psalm 150 styles of worship? Unlikely.

I hear far too many Christians negating the kind of worship styles that their brothers in Christ might use. Whenever I hear some stone-faced believer saying that his church doesn’t provide “entertaining worship,” I look at Psalm 150 and ask myself how it would be possible for those worshiping with trumpets, dance, cymbals, tambourines, stringed instruments and pipes not to find that stirring!

True worship involves ________.
That’s a pretty big blank. Some things that can fill that blank include:
* Our minds
* Our emotions
* Our cultural identities
* Our confession before God
* Our personal histories

No matter what we put in that blank, true worship involves our whole man, driven by the Holy Spirit alone. When we read this oft-quoted passage

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
—John 4:23-24 ESV

we use it to justify our particular form of worship without asking if it means something totally different. Truthfully, worship that is done in spirit and in truth is worship that proceeds from the Holy Spirit alone. The Holy Spirit is the one who enables us to know God, and knowing God is what leads to true worship. Jesus’ rebuke of the woman at the well for discussing the means by which people worship is the whole point here. The focus is not on externals, yet so often this is all we can note when we hold our own ways of worshiping up as the only way, while deriding those who worship in ways we don’t understand.

Is it possible to worship the wrong way? I believe it is. Like I’ve said a trillion times here, discernment is always needed. The Holy Spirit will not guide true worshipers into worship that is not true. But the Spirit is not so concerned with the cultural trappings, which is why a lot of us are going to be shocked when we get to heaven and see forms of worship that are not familiar to us culturally. Our worship wars are based on cultural trappings more than anything, and that’s too bad because that’s a very narrow slice of reality that we bring to worship. The true worshiper of God is content in all worship environments that are driven by the Holy Spirit. Such a worshiper is equally at home with an a cappella choir, an amplified worship band, a pulse-pounding black gospel group, a classical quartet, or any other musical expression that is fueled by the Holy Spirit.

Worship isn’t just about music, but you would think it was all that matters from all the furor over its musical aspect. I’ve talked only about music in this post, but all of worship incorporates this same common sense. Worshipers with hearts focused on God, worshiping by the Spirit, can sing (and dance) to any kind of music and God will be pleased with their offering.

Why do we strain so hard to define what is appropriate? We want to honor God. We want to do the right thing. But the right thing is focusing more on God and less on our methods.