Respecting The Worship Traditions Of Others

I met a gentleman last year who said he attended another church in our town.

“We don’t worship like you do,” he said.

I smiled sweetly but had a couple of thoughts. One is that unless he attended our church--and I’ve never seen him there--he really doesn’t know how we worship. And two, his tone seemed to indicate superiority. This kind of attitude is unworthy.

I thought about this lately as we completed the holiest season of the church year--the weeks leading to Easter. Different churches marked these days in different ways.

One lady came to a support group at our church and mentioned ending her Lenten celebration after giving up chocolate and alcohol.

“I survived, and I feel better,” she said with a laugh.

This discipline was meaningful for her.

We Baptists normally don’t emphasize Lent, nor Ash Wednesday. A story is told about a parish school in Louisiana in which most children were Catholic. The teacher went around the room asking each child what they intended to give up for Lent. Television and candy were named a lot. But one young man had a unique response.

“We’re Baptists,” he said. “We don’t give up nuthin’ for nobody!”

That’s not to say that liturgical worship is bad. Many Christians find spiritual strength in observing holy days and time-tested Christian traditions.

It’s also true that there are varying worship traditions within individual churches.

One saintly senior used to complain to me about the minutes preceding morning worship.

“Preacher,” she said, “they’re like magpies in here. Like magpies!”

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a magpie, but I got her point. She was of the tradition that believed one enters the sanctuary quietly and prayerfully preparing for worship. But I gingerly told her that another tradition is fellowship, and greeting one another before worship wasn’t a bad thing.

A worship leader told me lately his conviction that announcements in public worship weren’t worshipful. And I understand we shouldn’t just read the Sunday bulletin to people without expecting them to read for themselves. But, I responded, announcements about spiritual activities or ministries church members can be involved in isn’t a bad thing. It’s a practical way to express what we often say; namely, we worship inside the four walls, but we go outside the four walls to serve our communities in the name of Christ.

Many churches try to have blended worship with something for everyone. This is a noble effort requiring the cooperation of all. But if we can’t meet the needs of everyone, and some choose other places to worship, we must have the good graces to respect worship traditions other than our own.