The Creative Variety of the Worshiping Church

Featuring Tom Kraeuter Posted on February 1, 2010

Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another (Romans 14:13a).

Let us consider a number of different church worship services. But before setting out, let us first establish an important proposition: no two churches are alike. Not only are the worship services of various denominations different from one another. Each church within a given denomination is different from all the rest.
Anyone who has ever moved from one town to another already knows this. While “shopping” for a new church, a part of you is constantly comparing the churches you visit to the one you just left in your old town. There never seems to be a church which is quite like the one you left. There never will be. They are all different.

This was even true in early church. A reading of Paul’s letters gives us a variety of church styles, from Philippians to Galatians, from Corinthians to Colossians. They each had different strengths and weaknesses. The contrast is even greater among the seven churches from the book of Revelation (see Revelation 2-3).
Did you ever stop to think about the congregations in these various New Testament churches? How different they must have been, and how different their worship services might have been! Suppose one of the Ephesians traveled on business to Corinth and decided to go to the Christian church in town.

Doubtless he would have been delighted to find other believers who were worshiping together. But as we are all prone to comparing, as he left the service there might have been other thoughts going through his Ephesian head.

“That worship service certainly was longer than we have in Ephesus. Too long! And why did they sing those strange, boring songs? I really didn’t enjoy those. And another thing, I wish they didn’t use those modern Greek instruments.”

I am not trying to seem irreverent. The early saints were people, just like you and me. They, too, had their preferences concerning worship, and when these were not encountered, they doubtless had just as much difficulty being patient and tolerant as we do. Because, as I have pointed out, every church is different.
Why are churches so different from one another? Don’t we read the same Bible and pray to the same God? Certainly. Our differences arise from another factor. Churches are made up of people. Every person is unique, and therefore each church will also be unique.

This seems to be fine with God, who, after all, is very creative. He inspired four different Gospels, each of which tells the same life-changing story, but each with its own distinct characteristics. He clearly accepts all types of people into His Kingdom—intelligent people, not-very-intelligent people, exciting people, boring people, nice people, and, well, a number of grouchy jerks. I’m sure you have met some of these people.
Knowing this to be true, it shouldn’t bother us so much that there is such a variety of different types of churches and denominations. In order to meet the needs of the different people, there will have to be wild churches, dignified churches, churches that are very loud and churches that are rather quiet. After all, each church is made up of people—and some of these people are loud while others are quiet.

God’s Kingdom is surely large enough for a very diverse group of Christian churches. Consider His creativity at giving gifts and talents throughout His people, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

Certainly there are sincere doctrinal differences between various denominations. However, for every obscure point one can find to argue about there are probably a hundred essential points on which we can all safely agree. As elucidated so well in C. S. Lewis’ great work, Mere Christianity, it is far better to concentrate on our commonalities than our controversies. The differences between any two denominations within Christianity are minuscule compared with the difference between Christianity and anything else.

Of course, one church may begin with a song, while another church begins with a prayer. Perhaps another begins with a word of exhortation, while still another begins with a Bible reading. These are not differences in content, but simply of order. Some of the clergy dress in beautiful vestments, while others wear suits. I have seen church services in which the leaders wore old blue jeans. In the same way, some churches are beautiful edifices in marble and stained glass, while others are very plain and utilitarian. However, the same God can be worshiped in both “high” churches and “low” churches. The differences in worship styles among all these churches do not seem bother our Lord. Perhaps they shouldn’t bother us either.

Doubtless the most obvious difference that is heard about so frequently concerns worship music. Some churches sing older hymns, while others sing contemporary songs. Some use organ, some synthesizer. Some add orchestral instruments; others add the drums and electric guitars. And yes, the music of some churches is quiet, while for others loud is the definitely preferred.

These differences in style may not sit well with Christians who have been taught that their church or denomination is “right” and all the others are wrong. Maybe the Ephesians thought that about the Galatians and Philippians. But Paul did not think so, and I suggest that our Lord does not either.

The Biblical injunction given throughout the fourteenth chapter of Romans clearly forbids us to censure another Christian church on such debatable matters as worship styles: “Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another” (Romans 14:13a). One is reminded of a maxim of Augustine: “In essential matters, unity; in debatable matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Adapted from the book Worship—A Way of Life by Patrick Kavanaugh (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Chosen Books—a division of Baker Book House Company, 2001)