I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
During the 1990s many churches in evangelical America were engaged in what we now call “worship wars.” These were not wars waged by churches against the evil forces out in their secular communities, but rather it was intramural strife. A lot of the blood spilt during the worship wars was over music. How do you determine what songs to sing in a worship service? What instruments will accompany these songs? Who will lead the congregation in singing? Stuff like this. The fighting over these prizes produced heavy casualties on both sides. Those who dug in their heels about the sanctity of the piano and organ on one side, and those who were heaven-bent on implementing a more modern style of praise music on the other – they both lost something very valuable during their crusades: they lost each other. The hand said to the foot “I have no need of you” and the foot said to the hand “what difference do you make?”
And music is just one example where this kind of ecclesiastical shunning took place.
Thankfully, the worship wars seem to be winding down. I wish I could say that the reason is because both sides came to the table of peace, understood and learned from each other, and then found a mutually edifying, biblically faithful solution – but that has probably been more the exception than the rule. Instead of the traditionally oriented and contemporarily calibrated wings of the church coming together to enrich one another and defer to one another in Christian love and charity, what we’ve largely seen is just a proliferation of new churches.
New churches offer saints a fresh start with none of the 1990s war baggage to weigh them down or get in the way of “effective ministry.” And these new churches tend to grow a lot faster than well-established congregations precisely because they don’t have to deal with the decades (or centuries) worth of expectations that build up in places like 1st Baptist or 2nd Parish. They have the luxury of homogeneity and youthful optimism. It’s easy for them to be on the “cutting edge” because their tools are fresh out of the box. But eventually… new churches become old churches. The young and the hip become the old and the broken-hipped. And what happens then?
Another round of wars and a fresh batch of new churches???
There is a better way. Not an easier way – but a painstakingly difficult path toward the Christian unity that Scripture describes. But before I say anything about it (and I won’t say much), let me just be clear that I am usually very happy to hear about new churches being planted. The people who start them don’t do it with some kind of ulterior motive to steal away all the disenfranchised Christians from the war-weary local churches. There are almost always some good reasons for starting a new church. And I’d much rather see people coming together to worship God than not. So, if you’re a member of a church that is less than (oh, let’s say) 15 years old, I am in no way, shape, or form saying that you must be doing something sinful. I don’t think that at all. Every church was new at one point, and there is almost always a mixture of admirable and questionable reasons involved in the founding process. (For example, 2nd Parish began in the heat of a worship war of its own variety – so this is certainly not an issue where we can afford to look down on others).
But with that said, I do think that we need to be very careful as Christians that we not exchange Christ’s call to unity within diversity (i.e. hands and feet working together as part of the body), for a kind of comfortable consumerist model of church where you just slide into whatever place it is that you won’t have to deal with anyone who has opinions contrary to your own. It’s humility –not homogeneity– that holds the key to real and lasting peace in Christ’s kingdom. It’s bearing with another in love – the young with the old, the hip with the broken-hipped, the cool with the lame, and the traditional with the contemporary. Anything less than that kind of seemingly impossible unity is less than what Christ would have for his bride. We really do need one another and Christ really is Lord over all.
So, how do we get there? Well… that’s for another post :-).