I said a couple months ago on Facebook that I think one of the causes of a lot of controversy in the church is a difference of opinion about the meaning (and application) of the word “reverence.” What I mean by this is, every denomination reads the same Bible, you know? And yet we have some denominations whose normal Sunday worship experience looks like a dance party while others’ looks like an evening in the first-century catacombs — and everything in between.
I think you can chalk a lot of those differences up to personality. Some people are naturally drawn to mellow, even subdued worship gatherings, while others are naturally drawn to boisterous, expressive ones. And then I think what happens is that the boisterous folks emphasize that they’re bringing the loud praise and shouts of joy commanded in Scripture, and the subdued folks emphasize that they’re demonstrating the awe and silence a Holy God requires. And then the criticisms begin. Loud Church criticizes Quiet Church for treating God like he hasn’t drawn near to us, like he hasn’t commanded “loud, clashing cymbals,” and for acting as though we haven’t been set free from an incredible burden, as though we have no cause to celebrate. Quiet Church accuses Loud Church of being casual and presumptuous with God, treating his presence like a rock concert, acting like worshiping God isn’t a heavy and sober responsibility. Each thinks the other is being irreverent — Quiet Church by denying joyful expression and Loud Church by ignoring God’s holiness.
But the thing is, they’re both right. Lots of churches on the hymns-only, piano/organ, liturgical, traditional end of the spectrum could stand a swift kick in the Somber Pants, in the direction of loud, expressive joy and delight in their Rescuing God. And lots of churches on the worship-band, rock-and-roll, contemporary end of the spectrum need to seriously dial down the mood swings and the key changes, and remember that they’re singing to the holy God of the universe every week, not their girlfriend.
In heaven, we’ll get this balance right, but in the meantime I think it’s healthy for us to consider how we can (within our own traditions, obviously) move toward more expression or more awareness of God’s grandeur in our worship gatherings.