In the last few decades, many churches have found themselves in the midst of the dreaded “worship wars”. Will we sing traditional hymns or contemporary choruses? Will we have a choir or a praise band? Is a screen a tool or a giant TV set? Is a tie mandatory, optional, or forbidden?
Books have been written about the “worship wars”; and, as a pastor, I have heard a lot of stories of pain, conflict and loss – members leaving and entire churches splitting – over these very questions.
When you read Amos and Hosea, you see worship at the center of controversy yet again. I want to spend a moment reflecting on each prophet and the “worship war” they are waging.
Amos is concerned that the worship of the people is becoming “infected” by the same lack of righteousness and justice that has come to define the culture of Israel.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!” … Come to Bethel – and transgress; to Gilgal – and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; bring a thank offering of leavened bread, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel! says the Lord God. (Amos 4:1, 4-5)
God later says through Amos that he will no longer accept their offerings or listen to the “noise” of their songs. The problem is not the performance of the rituals; the problem is that the men and women of Israel are not changing their lives to reflect the virtues taught by the rituals.
As Christians, we have fought with one another to determine what should happen in worship. However, have we given as much attention to whether what happens in worship is leading to transformation outside of worship?
Hosea is concerned about what takes place outside of worship, but he is more concerned with exactly what – or who – it is that the people are worshiping in the first place.
When Ephraim multiplied altars to expiate sin, they became to him altars for sinning.(Hosea 8:11)
Hosea sees Israel mixing the sexuality and debauchery of Baal worship with the worship of God, to the point where worship is not focused on honoring God but gaining personal pleasure. It is not God or Baal that is being worshiped, but themselves.
God can be worshiped in so many ways and with so many instruments and tools. However, it is always God who should be worshiped. Sometimes, it is easy to forget to worship God and instead worship a pastor or a building or an accomplishment. It is easy to focus more on personal pleasure than offering a sacrifice of praise. Hosea reminds that however we worship, we should always insure that it is God who is worshiped.
I don’t know which trench you may find yourself in because of the “worship wars”. I am sorry that anybody has ever been hurt arguing about worship. I wonder if the “worship wars” would be wars at all if we started with the questions Amos and Hosea ask us to consider. Let us all ask for forgiveness and for healing not only from our battles but from our selfishness and hard-heartedness that too often gets in the way of our ability to worship God.