The components of corporate worship have diversified, renovated, and “modernized” throughout church history. Today, it seems everyone has a preference and those preferences have become a requirement. By preferences, what I intend to communicate are those elements in corporate worship not prescribed in Scripture even though important to a person. Style of music is a preference whereas preaching the Bible is directly from the Lord (2 Tim. 4:2). Passing an offering plate or sock is preferential yet the biblical issue is your motivation (see here for details).
I sometimes imagine, church “shoppers” bringing a bingo card with preferences on it and if the church bingos then the family stays. Debates in corporate worship include style of music, offering logistics, children’s church, pastor’s stories, attire, and length of corporate worship. Most argue these issues along preferential lines even though everyone thinks he or she has a great argument.
All of these issues are really not the issue in worship. In fact, the search for preferences above biblical fidelity minimizes God’s glory by replacing it with personal selfish worship. By emphasizing what I like best, I am really looking for what pleases me. I want my preferences reinforced. But worship is not about me, it is about the Triune God. When it comes to the debate on worship, Jesus speaks. He addresses an issue appearing to be unrelated, but in reality overwhelmingly addresses this issue.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches His disciples worship must be done to honor Him. “Beware of practicing your right works before men to be noticed by them” (Matthew 6:1). What are the right works? Jesus says, “giving alms or give charity” (6:2); “pray” (6:5); “fast” (6:16). All of these were known and emphasized forms of worship in Jesus culture.
Jesus teaching does not emphasize how we should give, pray, and fast, rather our motives for worship. Jesus says when we worship it needs to honor the Lord in heaven, “Do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men” (6:2). The hypocrites worshiped to “be honored by men,” “seen by men,” and “noticed by men.” Their giving, praying, and fasting has nothing to do with the Lord and everything to do with fulfilling selfish motives. In fact, the word for “honored” in the Greek is the same word used to give glory to God — so the hypocrites desire the glory intended for the Father.
Is there a difference between our worship preferences and Jesus concerns? No. We can hear this objection, “Style of music preference does not mean I want to be seen by men.” That is true. The Bible does not teach a correct music style for corporate worship. The Bible communicates the importance of truth and content (2 Tim 3:15-4:2). The common relationship between emphasizing preferences and “being seen by men” is the fulfillment of selfish goals. Both parties are intently working “right works” in such a way as to fulfill personal desire. In other words, the issue is pride. Pride is self-exaltation. Pride and worshipping the Lord cannot mix for they are contradictory actions.
Jesus teaches His disciples their worship must honor the Father. There is no reason to draw attention to yourself when worshipping because the Father sees in secret and He rewards for faithfulness. “Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (6:4, 6, 18).
The believer worships to honor the Father. No matter what the issue in contemporary worship debates, here is the issue, do you worship to honor the Father in heaven? Whether the church chooses hymns or contemporary music, do you sing for the purpose of exalting Him? The Father who sees in secret knows our heart motives. When you set aside preferences and sing for His glory, the Father who sees in secret will reward you.
What a surprise. Jesus speaks regarding contemporary worship issues. When we listen to Him, understand Him, then we find Jesus ministers to our heart — encouraging us to make worship about Him. When we desire His glory, preferential issues become less important because He is more important.