Come (Back) Together!
Is the Theology of “Dividing the House” Passing?
Come together! Come together! Come together, in Jesus’ Name
Jesus People come together, let your light shine.
Let no difference grow between you, let your light shine.
So let it shine, shine, shine!
Come on and let your light shine!
Come together! Come together! Come together, in Jesus’ Name
“Come Together” Jimmy and Carol Owens
©1972 Lexicon Music
“We Wanted to Do Our Music.”
I was a member of the Jesus People movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In college and in my early teaching career, we conducted crusades on campus and had trans-denominational prayer meetings in the woods. We baptized converts in lakes and swimming pools (There was no ocean available to the Jesus People in Arkansas!) and I even helped run a Coffee House in my hometown called His Place. Music, our own music, was a huge part of what we did. (Did you know you can sing Amazing Grace to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun? Well, we did.) We were the Christian version of the youth counterculture that exposed a “generation gap” in American society. I suppose I will always see true Christianity as a counterculture.
In 1972 a musical was published called Come Together, by Jimmy and Carol Owens. In their wonderful book Words and Music, Jimmy and Carol reveal that this musical was written to carry a certain theology of worship to the church at large. What was that theology? Worship is ministry to the Lord, not ministry to man. It is our first ministry and it demands unity in the body as we focus on Jesus. This became my theology of worship and has served me well for all these years of ministry and study.
In other words, my generation conducted its own reformation of worship which produced the twin fruit of contemporary Christian music and, later, Contemporary Worship Music. The centrality of Jesus and the unity of the church were at the heart of our reformation. “Come together in Jesus’ Name!”
Come Apart in Jesus’ Name
Some years ago, for whatever reasons, the unity of the church became less important, as if the focus on Jesus was sufficient on its own merits to reach the world for Him. When older worshipers pushed back against the “reforms” and musical forms of their children and grandchildren, churches allowed music to become a dividing force.
- A theology of appeasement cast a deceptive light on the worship service and on the music of worship.
- Leaders did not want to lose the new, fresh and exciting aspects of contemporary worship but they could not afford to lose the support of the older generations who paid the bills and wielded the political power.
- The only solution seemed to be separate, style specific services or even new churches built on musical style preferences.
- The justification was “relevance.” Traditional music just wasn’t relevant anymore. Society’s generation gap fractured the local Body of Christ.
A theological shift took place. The worship service became a ministry to the worshipers themselves and to seekers looking on.
Recently I have heard a number of reports that churches who have tried this approach are now coming back together for unified, diverse, inclusive worship services. I believe this is essential to true worship renewal. How can we really focus on Jesus and deliberately fracture His body?
This family worship reunion is happening because it must happen.
As Christ-followers, we need each other. We always have, of course, but perhaps we lost sight of that when life was more accommodating to Christian living in the good old USA. But now, as troubled times arrive, when we try to circle the wagons against a hostile host of enemies we find there are some important wagons missing. Churches who have driven young worshipers out because of new music and forms of worship and contemporary worshipers who formed their own wagon trains find the protective circle of spiritual defense to be a broken one.
It is time to come back together in Jesus’ name.
The Bible is clear.
We are designed to be a whole worshiping family.
- Repeatedly the Psalms tell us to speak to each other across generational lines about the glory of God.
- An important result of True Worship is the passing of the faith along to the generations coming behind us.
- We need to rediscover the disciplines of congregational worship. I see this in the phrase, “in the midst of the congregation.”
- It is true that public worship must be personal and meaningful to each worshiper but we must exercise our personal worship in public with sensitivity to others in the Body.
This principle is at the center of Paul’s worship guidelines in 1 Corinthians.
- There is a “fitting and orderly” way for us to come together in worship for the purpose of ministering to the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Peter declared that we were not, by nature, a single race. But, supernaturally we who were not a people became a chosen generation, a purchased people, a holy nation, and even the people of God.
- Paul testified that at the church in Ephesus, Jesus had torn down the walls of hostility between Jews and Gentiles to make the two opposing groups into one worshiping community.
The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus
Can we come to any other conclusion when read the prayer of Jesus in John 17? His prayer was that we would be one people bound together with bonds as powerful as those between our Heavenly Father and His Only-begotten Son. It is time to come back together.
I know the musical challenges of inclusive public worship are great. Everyone has to surrender a little personal preference for the good of the Body. But that’s a good thing. Pastors and official boards need to agree on a unified service that is focused on the Lord Jesus.
- Pastors need to preach it.
- Musicians need to demonstrate it in the music they choose and how they present it.
- Leaders need to participate with their whole hearts.
This calls for something deeper than “blended” services. This calls for a convergence of cultures at the heart level. The admonition is to “come together,” not just sing together. This spiritual, generational reunion must be a work of the Spirit.
And I believe it is a work the Spirit wants to do.
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved