Early one February morning, I eavesdropped on a conversation about worship -- on Twitter.
The two men did not know about their interaction. One had written an article entitled, "It's Time to Boycott the Worship Industry." The other had posted a video on the story behind a song he'd co-written called, "At the Cross (Love Ran Red)." The two men's tweets appeared close by each other on my news feed. I clicked on the article first. The author, Jonathan Aigner, lamented the money-making marketing of worship music. One of the points he makes is that the worship industry "creates its own idols....like this..." What followed was a photograph of Chris Tomlin.
I finished reading the article and returned to my Twitter feed. I clicked on the link to the music video. There was Chris Tomlin, struggling to express in words what the cross means, recalling the first time he heard the line, "Where Your love ran red / And my sin washed white / I'm in awe of you..."
Aigner's article contained five reasons for the Church to boycott the industry that produced songs like the one Tomlin sang. In all fairness, I understood some of his points. Many modern worship songs in production today do not lend themselves to congregational singing. Churches need to pay attention to the theology of the songs we sing. Worship is more than mere entertainment, Churches should also carefully consider their financial commitments in the area of music.
What made me cringe was the labeling of another person as an "idol," especially one who has devoted his life to writing and recording songs around worship of the one, true God. Yes, we can easily fall into a trap of creating idols out of people, events, work, self, and social media. There is great danger in idolatry. But before we name someone else's idol, we need to look within and cast down the idols in our own lives.
In our technological age, we can easily take for granted the power of the written word. With blogs, op-ed pieces, social media, and comments' sections on news articles, we fling our words into the unknown. Over 38,000 people listened to Chris Tomlin talk in that video. The site that publishes Aigner's work has a large readership with multiple authors.. Words touch us deeply, often unconsciously. How careful we must be to remember the power in our voices, especially when we speak of the Word.
I wish that Chris Tomlin and Jonathan Aigner could sit down for a real conversation. They both obviously care about the worship of God. They both believe in the power of music. Yet how will we ever find unity as the body of Christ if we keep calling one another names like "idol"? How will we ever sing with one voice if we confine one another with our labels of right and wrong?
For many years, I have heard the term "worship wars" to describe the saga of traditional and contemporary music in church services. I have always disliked that language of battle. Perhaps we should take a deep breath and return to what Chris Tomlin shared in the story behind his song. We experience God's power in worship when we return to the cross. When we sing about the cross. When we stand in awe of the cross. We can unite across opinions in the knowing that without the cross, we are nothing.
At the foot of the cross, we remember Jesus' plea to his disciples to be One.
Where love runs red, we encounter our idols--and see our sins wash white.
And His Word of blessings turns our words into one great song of praise.
all good things to each of you,