What the Hatfields and McCoys Teach Us About Worship Wars

The Hatfield and McCoy families were at war with each other in the latter part of the 1800s, resulting in the death or imprisonment of dozens in their families and many more outside their families. At one point Kentucky and West Virginia almost went to war over the feud. In May of 2012 the History channel ran a three part miniseries on the feud, drawing record numbers of viewers.

Too often church members wage decades-long battles with each other over worship issues. We exchange angry and sometimes vengeful words with each other.

Not long into my first church job a long-time member marched into my office and pronounced firmly that she and 23 others all felt we should never do drama in the traditional service.

This church had three services and two styles and the arguments over worship style had been raging for almost 10 years by that time. Over the next eight years I got a first-hand taste of the Hatfields and McCoys worship style.

Now, looking back, I think of all the positive things that were overlooked because of the need to deal with conflict. The Hatfields and McCoys have showed us exactly what we will gain by fighting and arguing:

  1. Bitterness. In 2 Samuel 2 the armies of Israel and Judah were fighting each other and Abner, commander of Israel’s armies, said this to Joab, commander of Judah’s armies: “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” Joab then called off the pursuit of Israel.
  2. Self-righteous indignation. Worship wars are usually fought because one group claims the high moral ground over another group. Each group has it’s own standard of right and wrong and nothing can persuade them otherwise.
  3. Unhealthy pride. If your group “wins,” you can develop a very prideful spirit, and God has stern things to say about the proud. In Proverbs 16:18 God says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

These poisons will damage you and your church deeply. Instead, God calls us to demonstrate:

  1. Love. 1 Corinthians 13 says, “The greatest of these is love.” God’s currency is one of love, grace and forgiveness towards those who wrong you or disagree with you. Love brings more freedom than you could ever protect by being bitter and self-righteous.
  2. Humility. Christ gave us the ultimate picture of humility when he came as a child to save us. He actually had the high moral ground and he gave it up to save us. When he rose from the dead and proved he was the Christ, he did not flaunt it but gave credit to God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11 points us to Christ’s model for our lives:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

P.S. The Hatfields and McCoys of today are very much at peace with each other, showing that even the staunchest of enemies can be reconciled.

How can you demonstrate more love and humility in your worship discussions?

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