“Cain and Abel,” Jacopo Palma il Giovane (Italian, ca. 1548–1628)
“Worship wars” is the popular term used to characterize the conflicts of this past half-century within the churches over the shape of public worship; dissent over musical styles is its epicentre, with many divisions secured.
Interestingly, the non-negotiable aspects of biblical worship (substance over style; i.e. faithful witness to the Christ-event) are generally not at issue, and if the lyrics were read there would be mostly concord. Rather, it is the penchant for personal preference, as a kind of consumerism, which has fomented this schism.
It is never a good omen when the church is seen to degenerate into a mere vendor of religious goods and services. For contemporary Christendom, as a result of what is largely a triumph over tradition — guitars and drums over the organ, the band over the choir, PowerPoint over the hymnal — “worship” is too often synonymous with the musical/singing portion of the service, to the neglect of elements native to New Testament worship: prayer, reading of scripture, sermon, sacraments, psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, doxology, benediction et al.
Music is unquestionably one of the most powerful means of human expression and communication, simultaneously unifying and divisive. Nonetheless the true worshipper, one who loves the Lord, whose heart is humble before Him, will gladly and with gratitude sing in any style or mode unto their dear Saviour. Trends come and go. There is nothing new under the sun.
This approaches the deeper issue at stake: are we, as worshippers of the Most High, willing to surrender our whole being and our preferences, and to rediscover the sacrificial nature of true worship; to wit, worship is for God, bringing our all unto Him, such as we are, offering our bodies as living sacrifices?
The first recorded worship war occurred between the sons of our father Adam and our mother Eve. Cain, the firstborn, brought before his altar the work of his hands, thus making worship about him instead of his Maker; sin was crouching at the door, and an archetype of false religion was constituted, reverberating into this twenty-first century.
Abel, seeing the skins the Lord God had provided to cover his parents’ sin, comprehended that sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty is the only means of standing before the throne of mercy. Conversely, the self-consumed Cain, whom the Apostle ascribes to the evil one, became offended and enraged by Abel’s humility, and rose up and slew his righteous brother. This act of violence becomes a picture and pattern of the War on earth among men, endured ever since and surely nearing its great crescendo.
This cosmic War is waged between the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and the powers of darkness, led by that bent one whose ambitions and aspirations have ever been to receive worship as God, of which pride and self-importance were always well-reflected in the heathen rulers and despots serving him throughout the Old Testament. However, it appears this pathology cuts to the chase and is brought into stark clarity at the temptation of our Lord. There, Satan offered to Christ all the kingdoms of this world if Jesus would but worship him, that arch-narcissist. To this, our Lord gave the last word: “Away with you Satan! You shall worship the LORD your God and serve Him only.”
Tragically, our foe will finally attain his goal, initially to the adoration of the masses worldwide. He shall be given power to make good his mission, yet fallen human nature, especially that which has hardened itself against God, is implacable and difficult to unify for the long haul. So disastrous and destructive shall Antichrist’s reign prove that the Lord Himself must shorten those days. Such is the scorched earth policy of the adversary.
And such is the Worship War, ultimately fought in every human soul, and most acutely in the soul, heart and being of every true worshipper, in those whom the Father is seeking to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. A willingness to humbly obey the Lord and to love the brothers and sisters — indeed, to love everyone, friend or foe! — liberates us to prefer one another’s needs to our own … and with regards to public worship, for only about 1 1/2-3 hours per week.
Herein is true unity in diversity: every tribe, tongue, kindred, nation united — that which the world seeks so desperately and which Satan can never deliver — only by and through and in Jesus Christ, the Risen One, the Lion of Judah who has prevailed. Worthy is the Lamb Who was Slain! Amen.