Be wary of tradition, worship in spirit, in truth
April 5, 2005
I love traditions like floating Oreo Cookies in milk and then eating them only after they sink to the bottom. You may have a household tradition of pulling them apart and eating the filling first. I would disagree … not my style.
One of my favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof. Throughout the story, Tevye, the peasant milkman, is doing his best to hang onto the traditions of his culture. But at every turn his beloved traditions seemed to be in jeopardy because many of them now make no practical sense. He doesn’t even know why or how some traditions got started. Yet, he continues to try to hang onto the age old traditions of his people and his culture.
We Baptists are just as apt to be filled with “tradition.” We claim to be a “free church” and we believe that our worship services are to be guided by the Holy Spirit. When in actuality (come on … it’s confession time), we are just as tradition-bound as Tevye.
Former Missouri pastor, Rick Ferguson, had a favorite way of illustrating how we Baptists are tradition bound. Some years ago, he was in an antique store and discovered a worship service bulletin that was more than 100 years old. I believe it was from First Baptist Church, Dallas. What a treasure for a Baptist preacher to discover in the old book section of an antique store!
Well, being the good Southern Baptist that he was, his eye discovered this bargain and he bought it for about $3. He then sealed it in plastic to preserve it and would take it out of his Bible to illustrate “tradition.” I remember him reading aloud this “ancient” order-of-service. It was identical to what you would find in 95 percent of the Baptist churches of North America this Sunday!
You would be comfortable with: prelude; announcements, prayer, two hymns, Scripture reading, a hymn, the offering, special music, pastor’s sermon, invitation, and benediction. That was 100 years ago! How close to that order of service was church where you were last Sunday? See, you too are tradition bound. Is tradition necessarily evil or wrong? Absolutely not! But let’s be honest, the style of worship we practice may have more tradition than biblical content. Many churches today are fighting unnecessary internal worship wars when in fact, they may be tradition wars.
Some years ago, I sat in a huge civic auditorium with thousands of other attendees and was told that any worship service that had more than a piano and an organ was just ungodly. Try telling that to African or Asian Christians. If you didn’t read and study this instructor’s “proof-texting,” you might believe that this teaching was thoroughly biblical. Is it?
As pastor, I would delight from time to time to remind our people what the Bible says about worship. First, I would remind them that as Baptists, we are not “creedal” people. We ascribe only to the Bible for our faith and practice – to which everyone would voice a hearty “AMEN”!
Armed with that enthusiastic support, I would have everyone turn with me to Psalms 150 and we would slowly read the verses one by one. You see, to be exactly biblical in worship, we should have EVERY element of worship that Psalms 150 teaches us. Right? Well in verse 3 it tells us to have a trumpet, a harp and lyre. Trumpets are good. Most churches have a harp and/or lyre laid on its side with the strings being stricken with little hammers. Today, we call that instrument a piano.
Verse 4 says that we are to praise God with the tambourine. So, if your church doesn’t have a tambourine in your church for worship, then you are not thoroughly biblical! Whoa! Sylvia Holier-Than-Thou in the sixth pew will not tolerate that! Now Psalms 150:4 says “praise Him with strings (guitars, violins, bass fiddles … these are good) and the flute. Flutes are nice. But when you read verse 5, it says, “… praise him with the clash of cymbals.”
Dilbert Dry Dust may be the first to say, “Well, we are not going to have any drum set, wild cymbals or tambourines in our church! It just isn’t the Baptist way!” Well, it may not be your idea of “Baptist”, but it sure sounds biblical to me … how about you? Read Psalms 150. What does it say to you?
Oh, let me not leave out the word in verse 4 that says we are to praise Him with “dancing!” You know what that sounds like to me? It sounds like people worshipping the Lord with a lot of ENTHUSIASM, ENERGY and JOY! That’s the way the Messianic Jews worshipped Jesus in Israel when I was with them a few years ago. It certainly is the worship style of the Baptist churches of Malawi, Africa, when I was there.
Am I advocating ballroom dancing, “the twist” or jumping and hopping around in worship? Absolutely not! But I believe Psalm 150:4 does say a LOT to us about worship and praise that is enthusiastic, energetic and full of joy. Did that describe worship where you were last Sunday? Or was it more like a funeral dirge?
Many traditions are good; they are rooted in solid, practical, biblical convictions. But let’s be honest, many of our church traditions are probably rooted more in personal opinion and that’s when things can go really bad because some people want their opinions to prevail more than biblical principle. Please don’t kill a spirit of joyful worship in your church with a poor attitude. Worship the King!
Our state Worship Specialist, Bill Shiflett, is committed to teaching us how to worship Jesus Christ in spirit and truth (John 4:23). Jesus made this very clear to us. More than any other criterion, be sure your soul is genuinely worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ — and not just “singing songs.”
I have worshipped with great joy in some of the most traditional worship style churches that you have ever seen. I have worshipped just as wonderfully in churches with praise bands and drama groups. I have even had a wonderful heart of worship under a Banyan tree in Africa where there were only voices and some instruments made of reeds and small rocks shaken together. Style of music is not the issue. The heart of worship in a church is what ministers to my soul. Need help? Get around Bill Shiflett and have him minister to and with your worship leadership.
And remember, Oreo cookies just DEMAND to be sunk in a glass of cold milk! Not torn apart!