Philosophy Corner: Everyone’s A Critic

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Temmel Opinions
Pictured is Brandon Temmel, a senior majoring in Music Performance. Photo by Steven Carver.

Allow me to describe for you the perfect worship service. The worship leader is singing off pitch. The guitar is horribly out of tune. Some people are singing loudly while others are sitting in silence. Some are raising hands and some are kneeling; yet others seem to be staring off into space. It’s a scene that, on the surface, looks just like what happens in many churches. None of what I just described is what makes this a perfect worship service, though. It’s perfect because every single person is reacting to God. While different people have different reactions, still each and every person is worshiping.

There are a couple points I want to draw out of this parable. First, despite our eagerness to label a worship service as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s impossible to judge a person’s heart purely by their physical reaction—much less what’s happening in the hearts of a large group of people. We must be cautious before passing judgment on a worship service, as things are not always as they seem.

If the presence of God causes one person to leap with joy and another person to kneel in humility, then both are engaged in worship. And if the presence of God causes one person to sit in silence and internally confront their sins, then that person is also engaged in worship. The reality is that we will never know simply by looking at someone why they are sitting in silence. Perhaps they aren’t participating, but maybe they are. If we can’t distinguish by looking, then neither should we judge by looking.

The second thing I want to pull from this parable comes from the opening line—the line that probably provoked you into reading this article. “Allow me to describe for you the perfect worship service.” This statement strikes a nerve because this isn’t the first time you’ve heard it. The conversation about worship is dominated by blog post after blog post of people claiming they have it figured out. They say we can’t use this lighting or that song, this instrument or that volume, this stage or that liturgy. They say that their way is the way.

I think that we’ve got it backwards. We spend far too much time focusing on things that divide us and not nearly enough time on the things that unite us. We talk about things that distract us from worship and not things that pull us into worship. We talk about things that keep people from singing praise instead of things that make people sing praise.

This may seem pedantic, but it’s as different as saying “I have only found darkness,” compared to saying “I have yet to find the light.” One is focused on darkness and the other is focused on light. One is filled with pessimism while the other is filled with hope. The conversation regarding worship in the church has spent too much time focused on what’s wrong with worship. And as is evident by the other articles in this paper, there are many opportunities for growth.

It is extremely important, though, that we approach this conversation in a Christ-like manner. If our goal is to encourage others into deeper worship, then they should leave the conversation encouraged by our words. We may never map out the ‘perfect worship service,’ but if we can learn to speak life as we strive towards that goal, then maybe our very words will be worship that is pleasing to our God. When we discuss these things, let’s remember the words of the psalmist: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”