Reposted with permission from The Gospel Coalition.
Today was a monumental, historic day at Coral Ridge.
For many years Coral Ridge had two very distinct worship services–one contemporary and one traditional. The result was the unintentional development of two different churches under one roof. It wasn’t healthy. So back at the end of Spring we started talking about what we could do to unify our one large church.
Given our desire to re-plant Coral Ridge around a holistic and comprehensive understanding of the gospel we concluded that we needed to make a change. After all, since the gospel is the good news that God reconciles us not only to himself but also to one another, the church should be breaking down walls, not erecting them. God intends the church to be demonstrating what community looks like when God’s reconciling power is at work.
Most churches would agree that any segregation arising from racial or economic bigotry runs contrary to the nature of the gospel and should not be tolerated. But there’s another kind of segregation, perhaps more subtle, that many churches today have unapologetically embraced.
Following the lead of the advertising world, many churches and worship services target specific age groups to the exclusion of others. They forget that, according to the Bible, the church is an all-age community, and instead they organize themselves around distinctives dividing the generations: Busters, Boomers, Millennials, Generations X, Y, and Z. Many churches offer a traditional service for the tribe who prefer older music and a contemporary service for the tribe who prefer newer music. The truth is, however, that if the only type of music you employ in a worship service is old, you inadvertently communicate that God was more active in the past than he is in the present. On the other hand, if the only type of music you employ in a worship service is new, you inadvertently communicate that God is more active in the present than he was in the past.
The only way to musically communicate God’s timeless activity in the life of the church is to blend the best of the past with the best of the present. In other words, we must remember in our worship that while “contemporary only” people operate with their heads fixed frontwards, never looking over their shoulder at the stock from which they have come, and “traditional only” people operate with their heads on backwards, romanticizing about the past and always wanting to go back, the Church, in contrast from both extremes, is called upon to be a people with swiveling heads: learning from the past, living in the present, and looking to the future. That’s the only way to avoid in worship what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”
You see, when we separate people according to something as trivial as musical preferences, we evidence a fundamental failure to comprehend the heart of the gospel. We’re not only feeding toxic tribalism; we’re also saying the gospel can’t successfully bring these two different groups together. It’s a declaration of doubt about the unifying power of God’s gospel. Generational appeal in worship is an admission that the gospel is powerless to join together what man has separated.
Building the church on stylistic preferences or age appeal (whether old or young) is just as contrary to the reconciling effect of the gospel as building it on class, race, or gender distinctions. In a recent interview J. I. Packer said, “If worship services are so fixed that what’s being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don’t believe the worship style glorifies God.” One of the leading ways the church can testify to God’s unifying power before our segregated world is to establish and maintain congregations and worship services that transcend cultural barriers, including age and musical styles.
So, I am thrilled that as of this morning Coral Ridge broke down a thick wall that had been separating this church family for years. Because of our firm commitment to and love for the gospel, we worshiped together as one body around one table united to one Christ by one Spirit–and we felt God’s infinite approval!
— William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, he is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. Tullian was the founding pastor of the former New City Church which merged with Coral Ridge in April of 2009.