Living the Gospel In Corporate Worship

Living the Gospel in WorshipIn speaking against the evils of “worship wars” within God’s Church, John Mark Hicks, Johnny Melton, and Bobby Valentine say arguments and divisions over corporate worship practices are a sign of immaturity. Their book, A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter, argues that our Sunday morning assemblies are fundamentally sacramental. They are encounters between God and his people that act to form and transform us more into the image of his Son.

Arguing over the many various styles and practices, they say, denies that basic premise:

We must learn to not only tolerate this diversity but to appreciate it and even learn from it. Diverse worship styles are one of the ways the body of Christ bears witness to the one gospel among diverse cultures and subcultures. As long as we are regulated by the gospel, we should value diversity as it reaches people beyond the limits of our own settings. But this demands maturity. The gospel calls us to put the interests of others above our own. As we walk worthy of the gospel, this calls us to listen to each other and prioritize others’ — including unbelievers. This demands mature discipleship.

The first level of maturation is tolerance. Can we tolerate different tastes and styles even when we do not like them?

A second level of maturation is mutual consideration. Can we not vary our styles out of respect for what touches the heart of another even if it does not touch ours?

The third level is appreciation. Can we appreciate what a particular style does for one even though it is not as meaningful to us?

The fourth level is appropriation. Can we practice what is uncomfortable for us for the sake of the other? The gospel demands that we do because Jesus himself endured great discomfort — to put it mildly — for our sakes. As disciples of Jesus, we must follow him into that kind of discomfort, even suffering. To say that we must “suffer through” a particular song for the sake of another trivializes the cross of Christ but to deny that song to others simply on the basis of our own comfort and tradition is to reject the cross of Christ for narcissism.

I long for the day when all of us — ALL OF US — mature to the point of worshiping together in Christ-like unity and mutual encouragement. What if the teenagers on the third row begin singing How Great Thou Art with great energy and gusto? Not because they love the song. Not because it particularly speaks to them at all. They may actually really dislike the song. But they sing it at the tops of their voices because they look across the worship center and see how that song really impacts an older man. They enjoy singing it because they recognize that the middle-aged woman behind them sang this at her dad’s funeral. They delight in encouraging the others. They understand that their singing is, first, their offering to God, and, second, their offering to their brothers and sisters.

What if the older people stood and sang and clapped to Days of Elijah? Not because they enjoy the song. Not because they think the lyrics are especially moving. They may personally dislike standing and clapping. They may have a list of 40 things wrong with the song. But they see very clearly how that song speaks to the young people. They observe the joy it brings to others around them. They understand this is the song that some of these teenagers rock out to on the way to school in the mornings. So they sing loudly and robustly. To bless God and to bless their younger brothers and sisters.

What if?

What if we all began to grow in the Spirit to the point of understanding that everything we do in our corporate assemblies is an offering to God? Our songs are our offerings to our Father. Your grumbling or non-participation is a clear message to our God and to your brothers and sisters around you that you’re putting yourself first. That’s the only way to say it, right? Is there another way to view it?

Our prayers, our readings from Scripture, our time at the table, are all offerings. These are the things we bring and offer to God. Your brakes-off, full-steam-ahead, all-in participation is a way of acting like Christ. And it’s a sign of your spiritual maturity.

So, sing!




  1. Weldon McKinney

    Our assemblies should not be a matter of what pleases me! Rather, following the example of Jesus who humbled himself taking on the form of a servant…in order to please God.

    Unity of believers in Christ will not be attained until we each humble ourselves and stop insisting on our own likes and dislikes. The old covenant was written and shared with us to, well as an instructor, a teachers, to enlighten us more fully about the nature and holiness of God. Over and over again, God’s people were told to be careful to do all that He commanded. The result would be blessings from God.

    Today, in our assemblies, I submit that true unity can only be attained by our mutual submission to the Lordship of Jesus in our corporate worship of God. The answer to that unity is found in the acceptance of his Word, not in merely agreeing to just accept each other in spite of each other’s personal preferences.

    The beauty of our worship has so often been found in its simplicity: Children of God coming together to edify one another and worship our Father as we toil daily in his Kingdom. I don’t believe that it’s the excitement of the assembly as much as humble hearts feeding on the Word and fellowship together and with God that makes us the one body that Paul identified to the Ephesians in chapter 4:1-6.

    Disciples bearing their own crosses and denying themselves will have little thought or time on deciding whether we should clap with a song or not.

  2. Caleb Courtney

    And that is the hope Brother McKinney, that we are all so concerned with being God’s disciples, and praising him with our lives, that we give little thought or time to being bothered by someone clapping during a song.

  3. Tim Sharpe

    If a person was brought up to believe that clapping was just another form of instrumental music ( since clapping hands cannot emit words of worship) one must consider that being a stumbling block for the sake of self expression violates the scriptures. If we’ve done without clapping for 150+ years, why start it now? The practice falls outside of the instruction to sing and make melody in your heart. The same verse that says “make a joyfull noise” also says “come before HIS presents with singing”.

    Please reconsider,


  4. Allan

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Everybody stop and read Romans 14. Come on, brothers. We’re all baptized believers here. And none of us was just baptized in the past couple of weeks.

    Two groups of Christians in Rome. Weak and strong. Paul’s words. The weak believers are vegetarians. The strong believers enjoy a good steak. The weak brothers keep all the Jewish holy days. The strong brothers don’t. The weak Christians are developing all kinds of elaborate worship and lifestyle theologies and drawing lines in the sand over what’s right and wrong. The strong Christians don’t have very many lines and they’re not as concerned about which worship and lifestyle practices are right and wrong. The weak are criticizing the strong for being spiritually insensitive. The strong are looking down on the weak for being spiritually immature and inferior. The strong proclaim freedom in Christ. The weak say that doesn’t mean anything goes. The weak tell the strong, “You’re wrong!” The strong tell the weak, “Grow up!”

    Over what? Over food. Over days. Over worship styles and traditions.

    And Paul says, hey, nobody looks down on anybody. Nobody condemns anybody. For God has accepted him.

    Accepted whom? Who has God accepted?

    This brother or sister or group of brothers and sisters who disagree with me on this church tradition or who don’t see eye-to-eye with me on this disputable matter, this matter of opinion that’s not even worth talking about.

    You’re not his master. You’re not anybody’s master. Christ Jesus is your brother’s Lord and Master. Not you. Whether he stands or falls is up to our Christ. Whether he’s right or wrong is up to the Son of our God. Not you.

    And Paul goes ahead and makes the call: he’ll stand. Whether he agrees with you or not, whether y’all are on the same page or not, he’ll stand because he’s in Christ. So, you accept him because Jesus accepts him.

  5. Tim Sharpe

    “This brother or sister or group of brothers and sisters who disagree with me on this church tradition or who don’t see eye-to-eye with me on this disputable matter, this matter of opinion that’s not even worth talking about. ”

    Whether the Church is following scripture or not is a disputable matter. Why did Paul withstand Peter to his face? Because his practice was in error. When the scripture stipulates singing and making melody in your hearts, clapping is outside of the intended spiritual act of worship. If the clapping had run off arguementative hard-heads I would agree with your point. That’s not what is happening. The people I know that had to leave because of this issue fell into the “cream of the crop” category, therefore I believe the stumbling block arguement applies.



  6. Allan

    Your argument begs the question, which practice of Peter’s was in error? Eating and fellowshipping with the Gentiles in their Gentile ways? Or withdrawing and separating from the Gentiles out of fear of being labeled by Jewish Christians who didn’t like it when others didn’t observe their pet practices? Peter was doing both. Which practice was in error?

    See, it wasn’t his actions that were in error. Paul makes it very clear in Galatians 2: he confronted Peter because of his hypocrisy. His actions were not the issue. Actions rarely, if ever, are the issue in Scripture. It’s always the heart. Peter was, in Paul’s words, clearly in the wrong, because he practiced his freedom in Christ when he was with his Gentile brothers and sisters but reverted back to the chains of man’s customs and traditions when he was with the faction of Jewish believers who told everybody they had to do everything a certain way if they were going to go to heaven.

    Paul would have been fine if Peter had just practiced some Romans 14: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” We do, whatever we do, to the Lord out of deep gratitude. Either way, we belong to the Lord.(Rom.14:5-8)

    Peter was guilty of erecting a stumbling block here. By not standing up to those in the Church who were demanding everything be done their way, he led others to believe it was OK to add to the Gospel. He led others to believe that drawing lines of acceptable behavior based on comfort and culture and calling it God’s will was fine. He condoned it. His actions work to stunt spiritual growth. Same thing happens when we condone this kind of behavior today. Spiritual growth is stopped.

    Paul demanded that Peter stand up to these of the circumcision group who were telling everybody else what to do. Paul tells Peter in front of everybody, “How dare you force these Gentile brothers and sisters to follow your Jewish customs when you don’t even follow the traditions correctly! These are not the things that justify us. We’re made righteous by our faith in Christ Jesus.”

    To paraphrase Paul in verse 19, “These are the kinds of petty arguments and divisions and silly diversions and rule-keeping things we die to, so we can live instead for God.”

    Shame on us. Lord, please have mercy on us.

  7. Caleb

    The CoC has long believed Paul’s statement that all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, and encouraging.

    Psalm 98:4-9
    Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in preaise and sing for joy!
    Sing your praise to Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
    with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord,
    the King!
    Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
    Let the earth and living things join in.
    Let the rivers clap their hands in lee!
    Let the hills sing out their songs of joy
    before the Lord.
    For the Lord is coming to judge the earth.
    He will judge the world with jsutice,
    and the nations with fairness.

    Brother Tim,
    You make great points about the “cream of the crop.” We have lost some cream of the crop at my church recently. My daughter is 10 months old. At her moments of most vivid joy she claps her hands. I don’t know if she is copying us, but it seems to come from within her. I hope our response to God, to Christ love, to the promise of heaven, to worshiping him, is the same kind of glee my little girl gets when her brother makes her laugh.

    You mentioned the way we have done things for the past 150 years. We have to be willing to examine ourselves, to step outside of our traditions, and decide if the reasons for them are preference, or scriptural command. The great unity movement that sparked our current strain of Christianity centered around the idea that despite the different beliefs of the denominations represented (Methodist, Baptist, Presbretyrians, etc.) that they could unite around the common cause of Christ. For the first 100 years of our movement, unity was the cause. It was Christ prays for in the book of John, hours before his death. I wish for a revival, such that they had at Cane Ridge in Kentuckey in 1804, in which Barton Stone and other ministers brought people of every denomination together and they worshiped God as one. The countryside was lit on fire for the Lord, “fire in dry stubble,” as Stone put it. When we stop being so concerned with our preferences, we focus on own hearts and lives, we stop quenching the spirits fire, and what is left is hearts opened to God, and when that happens, we will have a wildfire on our hands in DFW, a good one!

  8. Anonymous

    “See, it wasn’t his actions that were in error. Paul makes it very clear in Galatians 2: he confronted Peter because of his hypocrisy. His actions were not the issue. Actions rarely, if ever, are the issue in Scripture.”

    Matt 7:16-19
    Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

    17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

    18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

    19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

    I’m really interested in how you arrive at the point where actions are not the point when the hypocrisy(Peter’s)was evidenced by his actions. The scripture I referenced demonstrates this connection. If someone comes in to our assembly and by his actions praises God by juggling rattlesnakes is that an appropriate action? If you’re going to continue to defend this point I’m hoping this guy likes to sit down front.

    As for your original quoted point on diversity:

    2 Chron 30:12
    Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.

    Eph 4:11-14
    1 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

    12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

    13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

    This should make the point obvious that diversity was not the Lord’s intention. The new Testament church was diverse in background and culture but not spiritually. For proof check out:

    Acts 2:44
    4 All the believers were together and had everything in common .

    As for worship diversity:

    Lev 10:1-2
    10:1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.

    2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

    After you have pondered this in good turn, please answer the proposition I previously stated, Is clapping hands during the song service an addition of instrumental music or not? Since your hands cannot emit words of worship in unity with the music I believe it represents a deviation from what the scripture says.

  9. Timothy Sharpe

    I skipped putting my name in by accident. Although I think you could have figured me out.

  10. DavidW

    “Is clapping hands during the song service an addition of instrumental music or not?”

    “Since your hands cannot emit words of worship in unity with the music I believe it represents a deviation from what the scripture says.”

    Tell that to our deaf brothers and sisters.

  11. Allan

    No, Tim, unfortunately, brother, I can’t figure you out. The whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, makes it clear that actions are not the basis for our righteous relationship to God. It’s our hearts. Those actions, yes, do speak to what’s in our hearts. But it’s never the actions themselves.

    Time or space do not allow us to continue here. You might check out the first three very familiar verses of 1 Corinthians 13 which sum up the canon of Scripture on this point. Or read any of the Prophets. The words of our Savior in Matthew 23 are also helpful on this point.

    Again, God help us. Have mercy on us. Forgive us, Lord, when we tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders and are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Forgive us when we shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces. Have mercy on us when we win converts and turn them into sons of hell.

  12. Tim Sharpe

    Your discourse is a perfect example of a “straw man” arguement. I’m simply trying to demonstrate what the Bible says as contrasted to a current practice in our church. The Bible has already done the binding. I can’t bind you to anything. The issue is not what the Bible says ( that’s already firmly established), but whether or not we’re nose-diving away from what it intends.

    It’s interesting your first answer came without a scriptural reference.
    As for your second answer – this is a good example of a disconnected arguement. Our deaf brethern use their hands to perform their praise to God. They obviously are outside of consideration of people who sing and clap at the same time.

    There are discussions where the logical sequence builds to a better understanding. There are discussions where the arguement overrides the logic and it becomes necessary to “walk away” from the discussion. This is a “walk away” for the above mentioned reasons. Thank you for your time and efforts.



  13. Lance

    What a great discussion. I’m sad I’m just now jumping in.

    Wow. What great insights you gave to the joy that wells up inside innocent children! What a perfect example of letting that joy manifest itself, and what a lesson we adults can learn from such a small child of the joy we should have in our everyday lives. I guess Jesus knew what he was talking about after all, when he said that in order to enter into the Kingdom we must become like children…makes sense. Thank you for that point. You know, Allan and I were talking the other day about the joy the Israelites must’ve expressed when they were delivered from the hand of the Egyptians when they crossed the Red Sea. They were being pursued, in danger of being killed, and within minutes God completely destroyed their enemy before their very eyes. They were rescued! Saved from the hand of the enemy! I doubt very seriously that their worship was somber and quiet with their hands folded in their lap. I imagine it was loud and rowdy with clapping, dancing, and praise! They had witnessed the love of God in their hour of need, how could it have been anything less than a joy filled celebration? Now, aren’t we rescued? Aren’t we saved before our very eyes in the waters of baptism? Yes! Why should our worship response be anything different? We’re saved! Before our very eyes, we are saved! Hallelujah! It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

    Brother, I appreciate what you’ve said. I don’t agree with you, but I appreciate what you’ve said. You have blessed me with an opportunity, the opportunity to consider your needs in worship when we come together in our corporate assembly and for that I thank you. I pray that I will be a Christ-like example and encouragement to you as we worship our King side-by-side every day.

    You bring up a great point about our deaf brothers and sisters. One thing that I’ve observed about our deaf brothers and sisters is that the sign for “praise” is to clap the hands together. Very interesting, don’t you think? My question then is why is it ok for them to make music in their hearts and express praise by clapping, but it’s not ok for me to make music in my heart and express my praise by clapping? Rhetorical question…

    Allan (and/or John Mark Hicks):
    Could not agree more! These levels of maturation speak volumes to the understanding, and practicing, of Christ’s attitude in Philippians 2, looking to the interest of others, having the same attitude as Christ. Christ had a humble, self-sacrificing, servant’s heart. He never once considered his feelings above anyone else’s.

    I’m not perfect. I admit that plainly and boldly. I have not gotten there. I struggle, I fall short, I lose my patience, I judge…but my prayer for myself is that I will consider my brothers and sisters in love while we worship our King together! I pray that when people see me they see Christ. I pray that when I disagree with someone they feel the love that I have for them and not the tension of disagreement. I pray that I can always set aside my selfish desires for the betterment of the Kingdom of God, and not the kingdom of Lance Parrish.

  14. Weldon McKinney

    Just saw this discussion and I must say Allan that I completely understand what Tim is saying—it is the same as my thoughts and beliefs. The Word is the final authority.

    In Him!

  15. Allan

    I’m afraid that if we all truly behaved as if the Word were the final authority, most of this discussion never would have happened. I pray for that day, the day when God’s Holy Scripture is truly our only guide.

  16. Howard Holmes

    Saying the Word is the final authority seems to imply “I am abiding by the word in this disagreement and you are not.” As an outsider, it appears all parties to this disagreement are doing the best they can do to abide by the word. Since it is the intention of all to abide by the word, abiding by the word is not at issue. Everyone agrees with that point. At issue is whether I can take my “interpretation” of what the Word means to me and “bind” it on another person. What any of us believes the word says is primarily our “belief” as to what the word says. In fact, our belief about what it is saying will never be more than our belief. God will be bound by His word. God will be the interpreter of His word. Thank God, we do not have to be the interpreter of His word, since our minds are far to feeble for this task.

    Since only God can interpret His word, we should always began any discussion of His word with “It is my belief that His word says…” We should then remember this ourselves that such is the case. Hopefully, this practice will allow us to let others have their honest beliefs about what the word says as well. Surely we can find room in our hearts to fully accept anyone whose intention it is to abide by the Word of God. If it turns out that our beliefs about the Word are incorrect, or the other person’s beliefs about the Word are incorrect, the resolution of this will strictly be up to God. It is our hope (and belief) that God will be merciful for any errors we make.

  17. Allan

    Oh, such fabulous symmetry! I love ending where we started.

    “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand…Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind..If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord…Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another.” Romans 14

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