In my last post in this series, I focused on the central issue of means and ends in corporate worship, specifically worship through music. That central issue is of the heart. Having all of our means/ends correct does not guarantee that our hearts are right (in the sense of striving after the glory of God through faith). Conversely, having our hearts right doesn’t guarantee that our means/ends are biblical.
Today, I wish to look at three reasons why our services might be out of step with God’s Word.
Ignorance. To put it plain and simple, many pastors/ministers just don’t enough of the scriptures to know any better. To be totally honest, in my own ministry, I’ve done things that I wouldn’t do today. I meant well in doing them, but I now know better. I say that meaning to convey a deep gratitude to God and to men who have pastored me through my ignorance. I do believe my heart was right at the time, but my means (at least) weren’t.
For instance, I used to believe that I had a direct connection to leading a congregation into the “holy of holies” in worship. I thought that as we began to sing, we were inviting God to join the service and as we sang more and more (especially with repetition) I was assisting a congregation to get closer and closer to God.
I now know that to be an unbiblical notion. As I have studied God’s Word, I now see that it is Christ Who ushers us into the Most Holy Place through the work of His death and resurrection (Mark 15:38; Heb. 4:14-16) and that as a congregation sings it merely expresses a deeper and more concentrated affection God-ward during a song service. That may seem to be a subtle difference of language, but it is a substantial contrast of thinking.
Immaturity. While in ignorance (blissful? LOL) and when confronted with the truth of God’s Word that challenges our understanding of leading music—or anything else for that matter—our reaction initially may be one of offense, skepticism, or uncertainty. Most of the time, we are so engrained in our own understanding, we can’t begin to accept a teaching that would question our own.
Because of that, many continue on in their own unbiblical way of doing things simply because they don’t yet have the maturity to humble themselves before God’s Word. Repentance and admission of the need to correct one’s own practice is usually humbling. Pride demands that we never admit that our own man-made means and ends are wrong.
It is this immature stage that serves as a crossroads. Will I die to my own idols? Will I joyfully admit that my way of doing things may not have been God’s way? Even if my motives were sincere? If the answer is “yes” then a great victory has been won and needed reforms can take place. If the answer is “no” then the subject (to use C S Lewis’ term from Screwtape Letters) will thrust himself into the next category.
Iniquity. While using unbiblical means ignorantly might not be sinful (John 9:41), using those means with knowledge is certainly sinful. When we are reforming and being sanctified it means that we are never having arrived but always arriving. I may be doing church music in certain ways today that I will one day repent of. Hence the importance of “continuing in [Jesus’] words” (John 8:31).
I’ve encountered preachers and church musicians who would privately admit that they are manipulating congregations in the way they preach and sing (through the use of unbiblical means) but they would never admit it publicly. It might be training choir members to raise their hands on cue (without heart engagement) or mood music to coerce folks to answer an alter call. They just refuse to change because to do so would hurt their effectiveness and success (even though it may be false).
My pastor has had men who have publicly criticized him and our church for the means that we use at Grace Life Church (because my pastor and elders believe them to be clearly biblical) but those same men affirm him privately as being biblically correct. Even as I read over the sentence I just typed, I don’t understand it. But whoever said that sin is logical?
It is my prayer that as you read this you will search your own heart (as I am) and ask the Lord to show you where you are either immature or iniquitous and repent of any and all unbiblical means employed in your ministry (hence the warning to not harden our hearts–Heb. 4:7). I also pray that where you simply are unaware, God would also reveal that and that your response would be of broken, joyful change. Please pray that for me too!
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