Preference or Prescription?

May 07, 2014

"Having worked in the church world as long as I have you end up logging a lot of face time with people. Invariably, many of these conversations end up revolving around the church. Its something that everyone has an opinion about, even if they haven't darken the door of one in years. When most talk of the church they are usually referencing the organized, institutional aspect of it. Invariably, everyone has a preference to the way they believe the church should function and operate.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the varying opinions about styles of worship, preaching, and what constitutes authentic community. Without putting too fine a point on it, for the most part, these discussions revolve around personal preferences. Now there is nothing wrong with this, we live a lot of our lives based on our preferences. What we wear, what we watch, what we eat, where we shop...the list goes on. The danger comes when our preferences become confused with biblical prescriptions. We may like a particular style of worship, but that is a preference, not necessarily a biblical prescription. You can argue all you want about hymns, singing the Psalms, liturgical tradition, whatever, but the reality is that the Bible allows for a broad spectrum of worship styles. This becomes a real tension in a leaders' life because for most leaders its about prescription, not preferences. In other words, what do the Scriptures prescribe and how do we best reflect that in our churches? If we are to take seriously passages like John 4:23-24 where Jesus frames worship as being ""in spirit and in truth,"" then how does it affect the way we conduct worship? What about Paul's riveting statements in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 where he ""becomes all things to all people in order to bring them to Christ?"" That is quite a prescription for building bridges so that the Gospel is able to find fertile soil. In that one passage alone we get Paul's motivation for his entire life and ministry and what compelled him to work so tirelessly for the Gospel. And what about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (Matthew 22:36-40; 28:18-20)? Do they not essentially give the church, the people of God, its marching orders? The prescription for the priorities that should frame our decisions as church leaders. Now, you may push back and say that these examples give us plenty of latitude in the way church can function as a vehicle for worship and community. And you know what? You would be right. We have years of tradition that has framed the organized church in all its various mutations over the centuries. That is the beauty and wonder of the church. God has given us many ways that are allowable in terms of expression. But we need to always be careful not to let what is essentially our preferences to stand in the way of biblical prescriptions. The reason is that any preferences that take priority over biblical prescription will derail the purpose God intended in the first place. Would love to hear your thoughts?"


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