This photo was recently e-mailed to me and provided me with a good chuckle on an afternoon when I was quite drowsy. The humor of the sign communicates an important message: Don’t over-emphasize the lesser need while making light of the most important one. Yes, the sign may have sharp edges and one could get cut by sliding his or her hand along the edge. But compared to the possibility of driving one’s car into a lake, a lacerated hand seems rather insignificant. The slight hazard is elevated to the neglect of the “real” danger.
The humorous message of this sign is a good illustration of much of the discussion regarding worship music in the church today. The so-called worship wars continue to pop up on new fronts. Debates rage and churches divide over song choices, music styles, instrumentation, volume, leadership, liturgy, and technology. The lines are often quickly drawn between false dichotomies: Stale hymns or silly choruses; Boring traditional or charismatic contemporary; Dry and wooden liturgy or sloppy sentimentalism. There are as many different views of worship music as there are people in the church. Everyone has their preferences and are glad to voice their opinions and “constructive criticisms” when it comes to music.
I certainly do not want to imply that discussion about song lyrics, instruments, and music styles is unimportant or unnecessary. There needs to be “caution” taken lest we get cut by the “sharp edge” of worldliness on one side or by ritualism on the other. We must be very intentional in what we do as corporate worshippers so that we are not being drug along by the culture or stuck in the rut of tradition. So “sharp edges” are real dangers that need to be warned against and avoided.
However, there are more weighty matters with regard to our worship of God—I am speaking particularly of our corporate worship in song, as this is the main battlefield of the worship wars. There are caution signs in Scripture that alert us to serious dangers: “THE BRIDGE IS OUT AHEAD!” One such sign is found in the context of Jesus’ interaction with the immoral woman of Samaria. One of the many twists and turns in their dialogue leads to a question about worship: Were God’s people supposed to worship Him at Shechem or in Jerusalem? Jesus saw no reason to discuss locations since both places would soon be obsolete and would play no role in the lives of those who genuinely worship God. Rather, He turned the conversation to what was most important about worship. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
What is the crux of worship? That it is done in “spirit and truth.” “Spirit” does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the human spirit. We are to worship God inwardly with a proper heart attitude. William Barclay wrote on this point, “The true, the genuine worship is when man, through his spirit, attains to friendship and intimacy with God. True and genuine worship is not to come to a certain place; it is not to go through a certain ritual or liturgy; it is not even to bring certain gifts. True worship is when the spirit, the immortal and invisible part of man, speaks to and meets with God, who is immortal and invisible.”
Our spiritual worship is to be wed with truth. To worship in truth means a number of things: (1) We must approach God truthfully. We come before Him wholeheartedly and with sincerity; (2) We must worship Him on the basis of revealed truth. “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is our worship manual; (3) We must approach God through Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). God’s way for us to approach Him is in Christ.
The Samaritan woman hastily wanted to focus on the “sharp edges” of worship. She asked, “On what mountain are we supposed to worship on?” Jesus quickly steered their dialogue from the peripheral to the central: “Worship in spirit and truth.” We also need constant correction regarding our focus in worship. Volume, instruments, and song choices matter, but they are not the ultimate tests of genuine worship. When you gather each Lord’s Day to corporately praise the Lord (and I hope you do), resolve to be a truth-rich and affectionate worshipper. Work hard to engage mentally and emotionally into all aspects of worship—songs of celebration, prayers of confession, or offerings of gratefulness. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!”