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Posts Tagged ‘church absolutes’

When do you open your Christmas presents … on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

I once asked a congregation this question.  The overwhelming response was that people opened their presents on Christmas morning.

My wife and kids opened our presents on Christmas Eve.

I don’t know why we did it that way.  Maybe it was our reward for attending two services on Christmas Eve … or our kids clamored for opening “just one more present” and we parents gave in … or we just felt like breaking tradition.

Most likely, the truth is that my wife likes to stay up late and sleep in the following morning … and how many kids are able to wait until past noon on Christmas to open their gifts?

You may think my family is weird, or unconventional, or even a wee bit impatient … but is it wrong for a family to open its gifts on Christmas Eve?

It’s not wrong … it’s just our preference.

The reason I bring this up is because way too many Christians still believe there is only one way to do church, and if church isn’t done their way, they complain and protest and scream … and eventually launch major conflict.

For them, everything is either black or white … or right or wrong.

Let me share an example.

When I was a kid, most worship services on Sundays started at 11 am … and many people expected that the pastor would quit preaching by noon.  If the pastor was still preaching at 12:01, some people became angry … and if he went until 12:10, they hit the roof.

We only become angry when we feel we’ve been violated.  In other words, every person who became angry when the pastor preached past noon believed he was wrong for doing so.

But where did that idea come from?  The Bible is silent on the beginning and ending times for worship.  (In fact, you can’t find even one instance in the New Testament of a Sunday morning worship service.)  Unless a church’s governing documents specify that services will dismiss by noon … and I’ve never heard of such a thing … it’s not wrong for a pastor to preach past noon.

It may go against local culture, or that gnawing feeling in one’s belly, but it’s not wrong.

(Some pastors solved this problem by moving their service time to 10:30 or 10:45 so they always got out by noon.)

Here’s another example:

Many of us grew up in churches that used only two instruments: a piano and an organ.

From infancy through my late twenties, every church I attended had those two instruments.

Modern rock instruments like guitars, bass, and drums were not permitted … only a piano and an organ.

The worship wars that were fought in churches in the seventies and eighties revolved around not only music style (hymns vs. praise music), but also musical instruments (piano/organ vs. guitars/drums).

Is it wrong for a church to have a piano and organ?  Of course not.

Is it wrong for a church to have guitars and drums?  Of course not.  (Did you know that the very first and very last musical instruments mentioned in the Bible – in Genesis 4 and Revelation 15 – can both be translated “guitar?”)

Then why did so many people act like the presence of those instruments in church was wrong?

It simply wasn’t their preference.

Here’s my point: many … if not most … church conflicts are really about preferences rather than absolutes.

The conflicts are about “what I like and don’t like” rather than “what God commands or doesn’t command.”

Here are some more examples:

*Should a church list its order of service in the bulletin/program or not?

*How many praise and worship songs should a church do in a service?  2?  4?  7?

*How long should a pastor preach?  20 minutes?  30?  45?

*How loud should the drums be?

*Should the worship center temperature be on the cold side or the warm side?

*How involved should women be in a worship service?

*How should a pastor dress when he preaches?  In a suit and tie?  In a coat without a tie?  In dress pants or jeans?

*How many times should a public prayer be offered in a Sunday service?  2 times?  3?  5?  10?

*During communion, must the congregation be silent?  Can music play in the background?  Can people sing?

*Should a pastor greet people at the door after a service, or stay up front to pray with people?

*Should a church use name tags … and if so, should everyone be asked to wear one?

*Should the pastor project Scripture references onto a screen or expect that people will bring their Bibles?

*Should adults have Sunday School as opposed to small groups?

*Should adults have Sunday School in addition to small groups?

*When the youth go to camp, should they go on a bus or in cars?

*Should church leaders promote and attend every meeting/event in their district and denomination?

Believe it or not, I have experienced minor or major conflict concerning every issue I’ve listed above.

I have been criticized, condemned, and vilified because my preference in one of these areas clashed with the preference of someone else.

People became angry with me … and complained to their friends … and wrote me critical notes … and threatened to leave the church … not because I had violated Scripture, but because they didn’t like what I was doing.

I visited a church a while back where a musician on stage wore a nose ring and was covered with tattoos.

It was hard for me to look at him.  I can take an earring … and long hair … and even bare feet … but a nose ring makes me feel ill.  I can’t help it … I have a visceral reaction to it.

Was it wrong for the pastor to allow that musician on the stage?

Not at all.  And if I chose to attend that church, I would never tell the pastor, “Get rid of the guy with the nose ring or I’ll leave.”  For all I know, it’s a new convert … or the pastor’s son … or the boyfriend of the pastor’s daughter!

There is only one way to God, and that’s through Jesus Christ … but there are many ways to bring people to Jesus.

So the next time you’re upset about something at your church, ask yourself:

Is this a violation of Scripture?  (In which case it’s an absolute.)

Or … is this just something I don’t like?  (In which case it’s a preference.)

I’ll write more on this topic next time.

Your thoughts?

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