Worship in the Church: Attitude is Primary

by Cliff McManis

God wants pure worship. He puts a premium on the right heart-attitude when it comes to worship. Samuel the prophet reminded Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam 15:22-23). God later said to Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7).  

 This principle applies to the “worship wars” in the church today. Too often, sinful and divisive attitudes dominate the conversation about what music is appropriate for church. Such attitudes obfuscate the issues. It is not uncommon to hear Christians “complaining” about the music at church. The complaining happens for many different reasons. “I don’t like those boring hymns!” “Those new praise songs are shallow—I don’t like them!”

Many Christians spend more time criticizing and complaining about a three-minute song than they do thinking about how they are going to apply the thirty-minute sermon they heard from God’s Word. Many Christians spend more time undermining the pastor’s authority or the music minister’s service by spreading discontent over the music selection than they do praying for the church, the pastors and the serious needs of the church. This is a huge problem.

Grumbling and complaining about church music preferences is a sin, and unfortunately it is rampant in the church today. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” That is a command for all Christians. God hates it when saints complain. Paul gives a sobering reminder of this in 1 Corinthians: “Nor let us try the Lord,…nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor 10:9-10). This verse refers to the time when God killed 14,700 Israelites who grumbled against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:41-49).

When a believer whines about music preferences, that person is being disobedient. And there is a good chance that such a person is spreading discontentment throughout the whole body of Christ. Such a rebellious attitude can give root to bitterness that spreads like cancer. God’s Word warns against this: “Pursue peace with all men…see to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Heb 12:14-15).

One minute Christians are arguing with each other and gossiping and backbiting one another about musical preferences, and the next minute they are singing praises to God. That is the grossest form of hypocrisy and God wants none of it (James 3:8-10). God exposed such hypocrisy in the Old Testament, saying,

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies….Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

God’s will is that believers be content, thankful, compassionate, prayerful and patient—even when it comes to the “worship wars” over music. Instead of infighting about preferential matters like the style of music, God commands believers to walk in the Spirit with a heart of love: 

put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Col 3:12-14).

God puts a premium on unity in the church and the preservation of it among believers is a mark of the highest form of spiritual maturity (Eph 4:13-16). The deeds of the flesh include “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions” (Gal 5:20).

Take special note of and be leery of any “Christian” who wants to “wage war” about music preferences in the church. In the words of Paul, “keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned and turn away from them” (Rom 16:17). On the contrary, Christians should do everything in their power to preserve the peace, in love and truth, in the local fellowship—even when it comes to music (Rom 12:10, 18).

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