Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 22, 2012


The solution to the worship wars within our churches


          In every age there have been control freaks in high places. Sometimes these control freaks were rulers who insisted that people accept their ideas about the worship of God. 

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was not the first monarch to erect a huge statue of himself and then demand that his subjects worship him. Centuries earlier, in that same country, King Nebuchadnezzar did that very same thing. He built a “golden statue” very likely of himself and demanded that everyone, at the sound of music, bow down and worship the statue.

          Bible stories are not just for children. Daniel’s story of King Nebuchadnezzar can teach adults a valuable lesson about worship. Old Neb was so thirsty for control that he promised death in a furnace of fire for any who refused to worship his way. He was enraged that three Jews, among his own officials in Babylon, had refused to obey his orders.

Questioned by the king, the three men bravely declared themselves servants of another God. Furthermore, they were prepared to die rather than worship the king’s gods. Thus did their names – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – become synonymous with unflinching courage.

          The three young men had made a prior commitment to the God of Israel – the one they believed was the true God. Not only had they made a covenant with this God, they had confidence in their God. Calmly they explained to the king, “The God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.” Then they uttered the unforgettable words, “But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

          That did it. The king was so furious that his face was “distorted with rage.” He ordered the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual! The fire was so hot that it killed the soldiers who threw the men into the flames.

          As the king watched he was astonished to see that the three men were unharmed. And the king saw a fourth man with them, someone who looked like a divine being! The king believed that man was “the Most High God” at work. So he called the men out of the furnace and rewarded them.  

          When it came to worship Nebuchadnezzar was very foolish. He tried to force people to worship. First he tried to make them worship false gods and honor a statue. Then he attempted to force people to worship the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Using force was the same mistake that Constantine would make centuries later when he decreed Christianity to be the official religion.

          Forced worship always fails. It never works. But this does not deter some leaders from trying to coerce people to worship in a particular way. Some pastors, for example, insist that people must embrace “contemporary worship” as the authentic way to worship.  The music is different, exciting and popular. Young people love it. So it must be the new and better style of worship. What seems forgotten is that what is “contemporary” today will soon be old-fashioned, and perhaps eventually obsolete.

          There are others who insist just as strongly that God can only be rightly worshiped by using the honored rituals of the past. So these wise souls circle the wagons and contend with their last breath that “traditional worship” is the way to go. Will we ever learn that love, not force, is God’s way and the obvious solution to the worship wars within our churches?

          The secret to dynamic worship is not the methods, the liturgies, the orders, the chancel, the stage, the music or the preaching. The secret is the spirit in which we approach God and each other in the assembly. Real worship happens when we freely assemble in brotherly love to praise God for the loving kindness he has shown us in the gift of his Son Jesus.  

          Real worship happens when worship leaders, the music, the praying, and the preaching of the gospel are so anointed by the Spirit of God that worship seems electrified by the presence of the God. Real worship happens when people have a sense of meeting God and experiencing the forgiveness of their sins. Real worship happens when people feel like crying with David, “Have mercy on me, O God,” or with Isaiah, “Lord, I’ll go! Send me!” 

Real worship happens when we are more aware of the loving presence of God than the rituals or order of worship. Real worship happens when we become disciples who refuse to argue about forms of worship but focus on loving hurting people into the kingdom. Real worship happens when we find joy, not in having our way, but in seeing someone find new life in Christ.  

Real worship happens when, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we freely chose to worship the true and living God, no matter the price. The God who has come to us in Jesus offers us everything we need – in this life and the next. But he does not force us to worship him. He gives us the freedom to make that choice. + + +