Can Culturally Relevant Worship Cross the Line to Compromise?


Paul writes to the Corinthian Church, “I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (I Cor 9:20 NIV).  “To the weak I became the weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Cor 9:22 NIV).  What is Paul advocating when he states, “become all things” and “by all possible means?”  Most would agree that Paul is not suggesting biblical, doctrinal, or moral compromise.  Instead, he proposes cultural accommodations for the purpose of spiritually impacting that culture.

As we apply this principle of cultural relevance to our worship, is there a line of compromise that must not be crossed?  We have already established that compromising biblically, doctrinally, and morally crosses that line.  But have churches minimized worship by adopting the cultural practices of a people who do not know what they are looking for in an effort to reach a people who do not know what they are looking for?  Is it possible for worship to radically affect culture instead of culture always affecting worship?  Has the desire for culturally relevant worship pushed us across the line by relegating worship to the place of complete synonymy with evangelism?  If there is a line…is it static or fluid according to the context of each congregation?


4 Responses to “Can Culturally Relevant Worship Cross the Line to Compromise?”

  • Phil Walton Says:

    Tom Wideman hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t have said it any better.

  • Ida Richardson Says:

    It seems to me that Jesus always made his sermons culturally relevant without compromising His teachings. This is what we must strive to do. The style of our worship music isn’t as important as making certain that God is being honored with what we are doing.

  • Tom Wideman Says:

    The bottom line for me is, “Who, or what is the object of my worship?” Certainly, as church leaders we are seeking to lead in the corporate worship of the Triune God. But when we seek to do this in a “culturally relevant” way, which any good missiologist would agree we should do, we can run the risk of switching our worship focus from God to some other value system. For example, in being culturally relevant, we may decide that “excellence” will be our value, because, not only does God deserve excellence, but also our culture demands it. But in that value system, we can run the risk of actually focusing on excellence to the point of worshiping it. We can become prideful and arrogant as we evaluate one another’s “performance.” We can focus on talent and reject less gifted worshipers. We can become performance or image driven, all in the name of evangelism. This is a line that I see crossed far too often. Consequently, “culturally relevant worship” actually ceases to be worship at all. But this could also happen in very traditional worship settings as well, for example, where tradition, or the liturgy or the arts are held in highest value.

    When we seek to be culturally relevant, we must always keep in mind the distinction between the object of our worship and the target of our outreach. We’ve turned Sunday morning into an evangelism event. For me, I think we need to discover the difference between “going” to church and “being” the church. If all we are doing in “going” to church, then it means we must find a way to worship, evangelize, fellowship, minister and disciple all within a 2-3 hour period on Sunday morning. But if we all begin “being” the church, then all of this becomes less relevant because it’s no longer about programs and events and calendaring. Instead, it’s about loving God and loving people.

  • Bill Simpson Says:

    Good thoughts, David. In answer to your question, I’d say, “Absolutely, yes, ‘culturally relevant worship’ can cross the line to compromise.” However, I’d quickly add that I believe “culturally irrelevant” (for lack of a better term) worship can easily “cross the line” as well, albeit a different line, perhaps. I think it can cross the line into a lack of passion for sharing the truth of Christ with those who don’t yet know Him.

    To me, a major point of the incarnation is that God chose to reveal Himself to us in terms that we could readily understand (e.g. in human form). We must not, then, fail to share His truth in terms that those around us can understand. To be sure, the worship service should not be the only place that sharing takes place, but, at least to me, it should be one of the places.

    Yes, worship services of any style can “cross the line.” It simply puts a greater than ever responsibility on those of us charged with planning and leading those worship experiences, no matter where they may fall on the relevance scale, to ensure that they don’t compromise bibilical, doctrinal or moral truth.

    Thanks for asking some thought-provoking questions. We should always be thinking about what we’re doing.

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