Greeks at Nine, Jews at Eleven

For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us.

Eph 2:14-15 NLT

    In a spasm of anachronism, I want us to imagine that the church in Ephesus had a sign out front inviting the community in for worship.  At the top of the sign would be the name of the church:  "First Church of Ephesus."  Just below that, in smaller letters would be the service times:  "Greeks at 9:00AM" on one line and "Jews at 11:00AM" on the next line.  Next would be something like "Worship with us!" followed by "Timothy, Sr. Pastor" and "Dr. Paul of Tarsus, Pastor Emeritus."  The topper would be the last line: "This Sunday's Sermon--Unity in the Body of Christ."

    Ludicrous?  Of course.  Intercultural strife is not new to our generation.  Among the Jews there were many divisions and parties.  The Samaritan Women at the Well presented Jesus with a clash of worship cultures when she said, "Sir, you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?"[1] The Apostles had the assignment of making one church out of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, the rich and the poor, and ignorant peasants along with the educated elite.  And we think we have problems.  Paul indicates that these "walls of hostility" can be broken down by the grace of the Lord Jesus.  Barnes' comment on this passage is rich:

The Jews regarded the Gentiles with hatred, and the Gentiles the Jews with scorn. Now, says the apostle, they are at peace. They worship the same God. They have the same Saviour. They depend on the same atonement. They have the same hope. They look forward to the same heaven. They belong to the same redeemed family. Reconciliation has not only taken place with God, but with each other.[2]

     Can we find better solutions than these:  Spirit and Truth worship and putting Jesus at the center of our worship?  I don't think so.  Let's examine the problem from a Scriptural standpoint.  First, God intends worship to be multi-generational.  Second, though we are many, Jesus wants us to be ONE as we worship.  This is not a natural phenomenon but a supernatural gift.  Third, the NT church is by nature multi-cultural. True Worship stretches us beyond ourselves into the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

Multi-Generational Worship--

A Whole, Worshiping Family

One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
Ps 145:4 NIV
    The transfer of faith from one generation to the next is a major theme of Scripture and a primary function of Lord's Day public worship.[3]  A strategy of hell is to divide the generations; the strategy of heaven is to unite them.  In the USA since the 1950's each generation of teens has felt obligated to rebel against their parents.  Each rebellion has had its own music and now the music of each revolution can be tuned in across the radio dial as the "Hits of the 50's and 60's" or the "Music of Your Life" or "Classic Rock and Roll" and so forth.  The church must be the one place in the world where there is peace among the generations.  This is no uneasy ceasefire but an actual intergenerational discourse on the glory of God.  The great Evangelical music scholar, Donald Hustad, in his important work, Jubilate! Music in the Evangelical Tradition, writes that a vital function of music and art in a society is this transfer of the values and beliefs that "tribe" from generation to generation. [4] By this he means music that communicates the values and beliefs of a people from one generation to the next.  Songs express the shared identity of the people.  This means that the music of public worship is the "tribal" music of the people of God. 

    Americans turned to traditional songs when we were attacked on September 11, 2001: "God Bless America", "The Star-spangled Banner", "America, the Beautiful", "God of Our Fathers", etc, our tribal songs.  This is trans-generational music.  The feelings expressed in the music and the values contained in the words belong to all of us, not just the old or the young, the rich or the poor.  The music of Sunday worship should fit into this category, affirming who we are and what we believe and taking us into our common destiny. 

    Note that Psalm 145 indicates that this is a two-way communication, a meaningful conversation among the generations.  It is not enough for the young to sit down and listen to their elders.  The elders must listen to their children and grandchildren; they have much to say.  They love the same Jesus, read the same Word and express the same emotions as their elders.  Their music may sound different to us but they are in our tribe.  In fact, they are the future of our tribe.  Without them we are headed for extinction.  Instead of recoiling in horror because of the sound, or the sound level, or the beat, or the instrumentation, elders need to listen for the truth in the songs and rejoice that these precious things have been successfully transferred to their progeny.  The "new song" is not a grievous thing, but a sign of success.

    I had the honor of driving my wife's aunt around Florida a few years ago. She was in her 80's and healthy as a horse.  She talked constantly and it was a delight to listen to her rattle on and on.  At one point she said this, "They tried to bring that new music into our church and we put our foot down and said we weren't going to have it."  I didn't challenge her.  About an hour later, she said this, "You know we just don't have any young people anymore!  I don't know why!"  I wanted to help her connect the dots but had little success.  In public worship we need to listen to each other's songs and sing along whenever we can.  We need to be a whole, worshiping family.

Becoming ONE in Worship--

Unity with Diversity

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one...May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:20, 23 NIV

    We have all marveled at the priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17.  Can there be any doubt that unity in the church was His chief concern?  Paul and the other leaders of the church shared this concern as they sought to make the fractured, fractious followers of Jesus into a functioning whole.  Musicians have a special understanding of unity with diversity.  The musical term ensemble means "together."[5]  There is a difference between fifty people singing at the same time and a fifty-voice choir.  Unity with diversity is vividly demonstrated in the instruments of the orchestra.  Twenty-five instrumentalists all improvising at the same time on the same song will most likely be chaotic and noisome.  But the same twenty-five orchestra players in an balanced instrumentation playing an excellent orchestra score can express anything from the intimate, to the mighty, to the joyful, to the plaintiff, to the music of peace or of war!  Ensemble, togetherness, results in real communication.

    And so it is with the church in worship!  In the unity of substance (Worship / Word / Altar) and the diversity of the cultures of the peoples of the earth, we can be ONE without the loss of our individuality.  I quickly tire of the sound of the brass only, or woodwinds only, or strings only or percussion only.  But with all of them playing decently and in order, with ensemble, the orchestra is never a tiring sound; it is always fresh, new and appropriate.  This is a picture of the universal church.  Each family of nations has a sound of its own to add the choir and orchestra of humanity in worship.  I have heard the unbridled joy of the African song and the immediacy of the African-American song; the passion of the Eastern European song in Romania and the peace of Taize worship from France; the sweetness of the Filipino song and the joyful energy of the Latin-American song; and, in my own land, the truth of the great hymns of the English-speaking church, the testimony of the great gospel songs of our parents and grandparents and the tender intimacy of the songs of American youth. We can only imagine the variety of sounds and forms worship will contain in the Millennial Reign when every tribe and tongue and nation gathers before the throne of God and of the Lamb.  But today, instead of enjoying the diversity of all of God's singers and players, do we put our personal cultural sounds on like a set of cultural headphones?  If so, we are closing out the sounds around us and amplifying the sounds we are used to.

    If anyone had to learn how to open up to the worship of different brothers and sisters in the Lord, it was the Apostles.  From the record in the Book of Acts, it seems they were not prepared for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God as full partners, especially as brothers and sisters.  In spite of the prophesies of Isaiah and Amos that the Kingdom would be based on the Tabernacle of David[6] where Gentiles, women and children ("the remnant of mankind") were welcomed at the summit of Mt. Zion, this seemed to be a complete surprise to the Apostles.  Yet they could not deny that God had saved the Gentiles and had even baptized them in the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues![7]

    The process the Apostles used to bring the peace of God to the conflict and to expand their comfort zones has become a model for the ages:  (1) pay attention to what God is doing; (2) consult the Scriptures; and (3) follow the inner direction of the Holy Spirit.[8]  (1) They listened to the testimony of those who had seen the Gentiles saved and filled with the Spirit.  (2) The prophecy of Amos was seen as authoritative and, finally, (3) "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you..."[9] was their testimony.   This is still a good method for processing the surprises God brings our way.  If we use a lesser, human-centered method it is likely that a "wall of hostility" will grow between us and the change God wants to bring.

    Yet, the Church Fathers did it!  They forged a church out of lost and desperate people of every nation they visited.  How did they do it?  By keeping Jesus, the One who breaks down the walls of hostility between peoples, in the center of their worship.  Barnes explains:

The work of the atonement is thus designed not only to produce peace with God, but peace between alienated and contending minds. The feeling that we are redeemed by the same blood, and that we have the same Saviour, will unite the rich and the poor, the bond and the free, the high and the low, in the ties of brotherhood, and make them feel that they are one. This great work of the atonement is thus designed to produce peace in alienated minds every where, and to diffuse abroad the feeling of universal brotherhood.[10]

    With such an example to follow, why would we divide our congregations around something as trivial as musical style?  If style has become a "wall of hostility," ("I won't sing those songs!" "I can't worship with that music!") Jesus still has the power to tear down the wall.  If He can bring down the wall between Jews and Gentiles, He can certainly destroy the one between those who love old songs and those who prefer new ones.  Sometimes instead of bringing down the walls separating people, leaders actually decorate them, strengthen them and make them the whole point of the service! ("Contemporary Worship 9:00Am / Traditional Worship 11:00AM.")  Surely when placed next to vital considerations like the unity of the Body of Christ and the Scriptural demand for a whole worshiping family, musical styles should not be allowed to be divisive.  Why can't differing styles be celebrated as our diversity rather than segregated as defining our differences?

    Our pragmatic use of musical style as the centerpiece or the drawing card of our worship rather than the timeless universals of Spirit and Truth, is a result of our culture of choice.  We Americans have described out freedom of worship as the right to "worship God as we please" and our pleasure has become the ultimate judge of worship.  If we don't like a church, we'll find one we do like, one that "meets our needs."  In response to this cultural influence leaders build style-specific services to reach these "consumers."  If they don't, someone else will.  All the while, the present members of the church who don't welcome the musical and presentational innovations protest, generally quite loudly. So a "traditional" service is designed for them.   Thus, style-specific Sunday services are born in an effort to "give people what they want."   While this may be well-intentioned and it may actually "work" in that people come to the services with the style they prefer, is this what the Church Fathers did?  Were their actions shaped by their pagan cultures or did they raise up the Church of Jesus Christ as a holy counterculture to change their world?

    Can you imagine the range of personal preferences available to the believers in the first century?  They came out of idol worship, orgies, human sacrifices, and offerings of appeasement to nasty little household demonic idols.  There was a lot more going on in these churches than drums, guitars, soundtracks and pipe organs.   The Fathers insisted on "Spirit and Truth"--on the substance of worship:  the Word, Prayer, and the Table of the Lord.   They took the traditions of the synagogue and the temple, added the Lord's Supper, made them Christocentric and created multi-cultural, multi-generational Christian worship.  They put Jesus at the center, not culture-clad concessions to the marketplace.  Let me quote Barnes a final time:

    "The best way to produce peace between alienated minds is to bring them to the same Saviour." That will do more to silence contentions, and to heal alienations, than any or all other means. Bring people around the same cross; fill them with love to the same Redeemer, and give them the same hope of heaven, and you put a period to alienation and strife. The love at Christ is so absorbing, and the dependence in his blood so entire, that they will lay aside these alienations, and cease their contentions. [11]

      The early church was forged in many furnaces of the ancient world: Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Alexandria, Rome and countless villages where the missionaries took the story and presence of Jesus.  In the church universal there was a diversity in the church that represented the nations of the world.  There was also a unity of belief and practice that soon consolidated itself into the Canon of Scripture and the great confessional creeds like the Apostles Creed.  From the local church to the universal church, Jesus broke down the walls of hostility between peoples, making enemies into brothers and warring camps into the Dwelling Place of God by His Spirit.

The Church Universal--Every Tribe and Tongue

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." Rev 7:9-10 NIV

     John saw that the church in heaven is multicultural.  The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that True Worship is the congruence of heaven and earth.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, Heb 12:22-24 NIV

     When we worship we really do, in the words of the Psalmist, "ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place."[12] It makes sense then that the church on earth should resemble the church in heaven--"every tribe and tongue and nation."

    Ideally the population of a church should reflect the population of the neighborhood where the church stands.  Gordon Fee makes an interesting and revolutionary observation in his book, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, about the essential nature of the church in Paul's theology.  "Homogeneous churches lie totally outside Paul's frame of reference."[13]  The congregations in the NT were multi-cultural because they existed in multi-cultural societies.  When a church stands within a mono-cultural context, it will be mono-cultural except for the generational sub-cultures (a black church in a black community; a white church in a white community; an Hispanic church in a Latino community, etc.).  Problems arise when churches are mono-cultural even though they stand in multicultural settings.  This indicates that these churches are insolated from their communities, rather than a part of them.  They are not reaching their surrounding neighborhoods for Jesus.  Most likely this is because their mono-cultural worship does not engage the cultures surrounding the church.  How does this happen?

    Closely related to the concept of using style-specific worship services to reach certain groups of people is the concept of keeping worship styles safely nestled within the comfort zones of a congregation.  These churches usually exhibit little or no interest in reaching the lost of the different cultures around them.  Comfort-zone worship is not True Worship--Worship in Spirit and Truth.  As a worship leader, I must not settle for popular, status quo affirming, people-pleasing worship.  That is grandstanding.  My job is to prepare the Sacrifice of Praise our congregation will offer to the Lord as I am led by the Spirit.  I want to lead prophetic worship pulsing with the power of God to change people's lives, convict sinners of their need for Jesus, and bring us all before the Throne of God and of the Lamb.  Our worship must accomplish three things: (1) affirm our heritage, (2) provide a meaningful encounter with the Lord Jesus, and (3) lead us into our future in Christ.  Comfort zones cannot withstand this True Worship, but lost people of every culture will be drawn to the Lord Jesus as He is lifted up in the power of the Holy Spirit.


How Do We Lead Multi-generational, Multi-cultural Worship?

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. 1 Cor 2:4-5 NIV

    This serious miscalculation lies at the heart of this discussion:  the impact of the church on the world depends upon our public presentations of the Gospel.  While our services are important, the real power to reach the world for Jesus is the power of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of the people of God.  Churches grow because lost people see and feel Jesus in the lives of God's people all through the week, not because we are slick and professional in our presentations on the weekend. 

    This choice of the power of the Spirit rather than the excellence of our presentation also is not new to our generation.  Paul made specific choices to rely on the Holy Spirit and not on his personal giftedness. "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.   For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."[14] Paul "resolved" that the ministry did not depend on his considerable gifts, but on the power of the Spirit.  The way to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit is to align ourselves with His purposes.  Here are some things to do:

  • A starting place would be to take the advice of Jesus to the Samaritan Woman--Worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, not just culture and methodology. 
  • The next thing would be to reverse the trend of continually dividing the church into generational groups.  Bring the family back together so we can talk to each other about the glory of God!
  • We should learn to merge the musical languages of the congregation into cohesive, integral sacrifices of praise and worship with Jesus at the center. Let's focus on the Lord, not our music!
  • We need to restore the biblical elements of congregational worship: the psalms, the public reading of Scripture, proclamations of praise, seasons of worship, corporate prayer, creedal confessions, anointing with oil, laying on of hands, altar services, singing in/by the Spirit, and especially the Lord's Table.  These things are all about Jesus.  They are means of grace and they are trans-generational and trans-cultural.
  • Finally, we must elevate our view of worship to the higher view of ministry to the Lord.  "Blended" worship and style-specific worship tend to be horizontal, focused on the desires of the people.  That is not what public worship is for.  When the whole church gathers as the people did in Acts 13, to "minister to the Lord," we, like they, will hear from heaven.

    We can be ONE--a whole and healthy worshiping family.  We can be ONE--celebrating the diversity of cultures with the unity of Spirit and Truth. We can be a universal ONE--an earthly reflection of heaven itself. 

- Stephen R. Pfifer

Further Reading

    Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community, Robert E. Webber, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2003.

    Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World, Robert E. Webber, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 1999.

    The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, Dan Kimball, Zondrvan, Grand Rapids, MI 2003.

    Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century, Harvey Cox, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, MA 1995.

    The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church, Robb Redman, Jossey-Bass, A Wily Imprint, San Francisco, CA 2002.

    Jubilate!  Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition, Donald P. Hustad, Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 1981 (There is a newer edition published in early 1990's.).   

    Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Gordon D. Fee, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

    Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, Simon Chan, Sheffield Academic Press, London 2003.

    Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture, Marva Dawn, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 1995.

    True Worship: Reclaiming the Wonder and Majesty, Donald P. Hustad, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL  1998.

    Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God, Sally Morgenthaler, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1995.

    The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World, Robert E. Webber, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2002.

[1] John 4:19-20 NLT
[2] from Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft
[3] My concern in this article is for Sunday worship services, not auxiliary or age-specific group meetings.
[4] Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate!  Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition, Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 1981 pp.3-8.
[5] Willi Apel and Ralph T. Daniel, Harvard Dictionary of Music Harvard University Press, Cambrdge, MA 1960, p. 92.
[6] Isaiah 16:5; Amos 9:11,12
[7] Acts 10:44-48
[8] Acts 15:1-31
[9] Acts 15:28
[10] from Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft
[11] from Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft
[12] Psalm 24
[13] Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Peabody, MA 1996, p.70
[14] 1 Cor 2:1-2 NIV