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Why We Need The Worship Wars

Unless you believe in orthopathy as essential to Christianity, the worship wars are much ado over nothing. They represent the dying thrashes of hide-bound traditionalists, raging against the waning popularity of those songs most familiar to them. They represent the immature clamor of people who do not understand the Romans 14 principle, and want to elevate their preferences to the level of orthodoxy.

If you believe, as I do,  in the very notion of orthopathy, then the worship wars are a natural, and indeed, essential part of church life. While no Spirit-filled Christian delights in conflict, no Spirit-filled Christian doubts that some conflict is inevitable and necessary. Consider how important doctrinal conflict has been.

We should be very thankful for the heretics and their heresies. Without them, we would not know all the ways that Christian orthodoxy can be denied and twisted. Before the heretics come along, orthodoxy is assumed, without clear definition. Through the heresies of Gnosticism, Ebionism, Apollonarianism, Eutychianism, Arianism, Sabellianism, the church hammered out orthodox Christology and trinitarianism. The Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds represent responses to heresies, and defining points for orthodoxy. The creeds represent points of definition. After the definition, deviations represent heterodoxy. A certain amount of vagueness or imprecision is expected before the point of definition that becomes intolerable after the point of definition.

For that matter, we can be thankful for the heresies of transsubstantiation, indulgences, baptismal regeneration, Mary as co-redemptrix, and others, for leading to the Reformation with its five solas. In many ways, our propositional statements of faith, as ornate as they now appear, partly represent a kind of timeline of doctrinal combat.

What has been true in the area of orthodoxy, has also been true in orthopathy. The affective domain of the faith, which is not merely what we have said, but how we have felt, how we have responded to those truths, has had its heresies, and its defining turning points. If we are orthodox in doctrine, we should expect that we will respond to the truth as other orthodox Christians in history have, not an identical reaction, but an equivalent one for our place and time. And in two thousand years of doctrinal development, there has also been two millennia of affective, aesthetic development.

Steve Miller, in his masterful misrepresentation of liturgical history in The Contemporary Christian Music Debate, enjoys surveying the worship wars of previous centuries, in hopes of persuading us that sooner or later, the critics of CCM will get with the times, as did the critics of Watts’ hymns, or the critics of the organ, or the critics of a liturgy in the vernacular. That these debates existed, we do not doubt. That the modern worship-wars are simply the contemporary version of these discussions, we do not dispute. That they represent nothing more than initial alarm to what will become standard orthopathy in one generation, we vehemently dispute.

Certainly there have been overreactions and over-corrections. Certainly, novelties are often regarded with suspicion, and once they become normative, the previous objectors seem amusingly alarmist. But what we often miss is that through the debates over orthopathy such as conflict over polyphony, original (that is, non-psalmic) hymns, or the gospel song, the church was doing in the affective domain precisely what it had done in the doctrinal domain. Doctrinal controversies said, “We speak of Christ like this, and not like that.” Affective controversies said, “We respond to Christ like this, and not like that.” And before the nearly wholesale abandonment of traditional worship forms in favor of entertainment at the end of the 19th century, Christian worship represented an inheritance of hundreds of years of corrections and refinements.

We should not be surprised that there exists in our era contention over proper sensibilities toward God. The truly alarming thing would be if there were none. What is somewhat different in our era is the post-modern mood that despises debate and clear definition. This pseudo-tolerance has long ago compromised the doctrinal integrity of professing Evangelicals. The same worldly mood that despises necessary conflict and clear definition in doctrinal matters is even more incensed at the thought of anything similar in the more subjective realm of orthopathy. In some ways, the most problematic people are not the combatants in the worship wars, but those who insist there should be none.

David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn currently pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Towards Conservative Christianity.

17 Responses to Why We Need The Worship Wars

  1. Martin says:

    Very well put, David!

  2. Adam Blumer says:

    Excellent! Thank you.

  3. Taigen Joos says:

    thank you once again for clarity of thought.

  4. Well said, David. Thanks.

  5. Scott Cline says:

    Largely agreed.

    One quibble:

    Baptismal regeneration as "heresy"? Please.

  6. Ben says:

    Baptismal regeneration ISN'T heresy?

  7. Scott Cline says:

    Ben,

    I don't want to derail things further, so I'd just direct you to your friendly neighborhood LCMS pastor.

  8. Peter says:

    You argue methodology as equal to theology. (Orthopathy as equal to orthopraxy). All that does is make you a pharissee. Your claim is bogus.

  9. Scott Aniol Scott Aniol says:

    Peter, what is the greatest commandment?

    Seems like orthopathy (right feeling) is pretty important.

  10. Scott Cline says:

    In the abstract at least, who is more likely to be a pharisee–one who considers orthopraxy much more important than orthopathy, or one who considers orthopathy just as important as orthopraxy? There is an irony about this.

  11. Chris says:

    Peter, if you want to call conservatives Pharisees, it's more effective if you actually get the categories right. OrthoDOXY = doctrine; orthoPRAXY = methods; and orthoPATHY = the part you don't think matters.

    So what are you then, a Sadducee?

  12. Ben says:

    Interesting.

  13. paul says:

    It's funny – I read about the people writing here and how pompous, devious and divisive you are. Then I read what you write here and find a consistent presentation of ideas and a patient invitation to consider and civilly discuss them. How clever!

  14. Scott Aniol Scott Aniol says:

    Thanks for the comment, Paul. We certainly fail often enough, but we are truly trying to communicate these ideas respectfully. Thanks for coming and seeing for yourself!

  15. [...] make their way into most debates about worship and music, and I cautioned against using them. As David rightly pointed out last week, worship wars will always be with us and are often necessary, so it is ever the more important that [...]

  16. ben says:

    Just to be clear, are you saying that love is a feeling?

  17. [...] of criticism has been dumped on RAM (so far here and here), which RAM has answered (so far here and here).  There are a lot of background occurrences that has stirred this recent flurry of [...]

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