Don’t you just love Christmas Eve services? Don’t you just love the quiet carols, the sound of the organ, the smell of candle wax? Don’t you just love the boisterous singing, the sound of drumming hands beating on a cooking pan, the smell of curry? Don’t you just love the Mexican mariachi band, the German hymns and the West African conga line as it winds through the pews of the church amidst great rejoicing? When one is blessed to attend a Christmas Eve service in another country, it is easy to see how God is glorified when He is worshipped in many languages and many cultures. We still often prefer our own way, but we rejoice that the diverse people God created can worship Him in diverse ways.
Too bad we don’t extend this same grace to those from our own culture. In our own culture, there is only one right way to conduct a worship service and while there may be slight variations, any major changes in style are worthy to be condemned. Sometimes they are condemned by serious people trying to show how a certain worship style is unbiblical, (and sometimes they graciously prove their point). More often than not, however, too many Christians just feel the right to mock other believers. We Christians have a whole vocabulary that is reserved for mocking the worship styles of other Christians. Smells and Bells. Happy Clappy. Frozen Chosen. White, hipster music. Slick. Cheesy. Is God really looking down on sincere worshipers and saying, “That was really cheesy”?
Why do we have this double standard? I once met a woman who attended a church that believed guitars and drums could not possibly honor God. She surprised me, however, when she told me that her son was attending a Spanish-speaking church that had drums, but that it was fine because the Christians were from Mexico. Why did she feel that she couldn’t judge her Mexican brothers and sisters, but Christians from America were fair game?
I think that we make great allowances for Christians from other cultures because they are obviously different from us so it makes sense that their worship styles would also be different. Unlike “foreigners”, however, those from our own country must think just like us and so they must have the same worship style as us. We all know that this is not true, though, and that people from the same country are often as different from each other as people from different countries. I know someone who says that she cannot really “worship in the Spirit” (Rev 1:10), until she sings a chorus seven or eight times. I know many others who have confessed that they refuse to sing a chorus more than two times because it is “mindless repetition”. I know people who are attracted to the liturgy of traditional churches because that style of worship shows respect for Almighty God that they think it missing in churches with worship bands and pastors who wear jeans. I know others who left traditional churches and who find their worship services bereft of a personal connection with a personal Savior. All of these people have legitimate reasons to prefer a worship style based on their personality and background.
We all have preferences and, to be honest, I get very distracted by loud drums and electric guitars and usually try to go to the traditional worship service at our church. That is my preference, but I do not condemn those who prefer different styles of worship. Their worship service may have unbiblical motives, it may be manipulative, it may be mindless repetition, (either singing a song 10 time mindlessly or singing a familiar hymn one time mindlessly), but since I cannot see into the hearts of the worshippers or those who are leading, I cannot know. When I see a worship style that I do not like I can either live with it, choose another church or humbly approach the church leadership and state my concerns. I can also show how a specific style may be unbiblical or how the lyrics of certain songs are theologically incorrect. What I cannot do is start a revolt in my church through a campaign of gossip and complaining because I do not like (fill in the blank). What I cannot do is think that I am more spiritually mature than people who prefer another worship style. What I cannot do is mock other believers.
It can be very frustrating to be in a church where you walk out the door every Sunday frustrated because you don’t like the worship style. Maybe this is important enough that you would have God’s blessing to find another church. If not, however, just think of it as practice for heaven where the saints may be worshipping God with conga lines and mariachi bands.