Yesterday I put up a post with a quote from John Calvin, “The music must not turn the church into an audience enjoying the music, but into a congregation singing the Lord’s praises”. Along with this post, I included some commentary,
“This is not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy worship, in fact, the saints delight in the worship of God. This is to say, pragmatism in worship is entirely unnecessary and tends to distract from the reality that worship isn’t about us or for us. It’s about Him. If you need dimmed lights, bells, whistles, even skilled musicians to set the mood and make your worship appealing or meaningful then you have missed the boat. Pragmatism in worship is an appeal to man, not to God. If we step back and ask, “why do we do it this way”, I think the honest answer is: because people like it. The seeker sensitive movement isn’t dead, it has just become hidden under camouflage labeled “spirituality.” Lastly, If you have to force an experience on the congregation then they’re experiencing your performance not the work of the Holy Spirit. Psychological and emotional tricks don’t make your congregation “experience” the Holy Spirit. We are to worship in spirit and truth, not shallowness and emotionalism.”
I received a comment that really got me thinking. It could be misunderstood that I am addressing this one particular comment, but the reality is that this comment is the corpus of evangelical rhetoric on the subject of praise. I have read and responded to such a comment, email, message, etc, many times, specifically after I wrote my article “Church Success Strategy Seminar”. I was home sick today and thought, “why not type up some thoughts on this” and with that said, I apologize for any errors in my writing.
To begin with, this post was not against contemporary music. It wasn’t even against dimmed lights and skilled musicians. It was against using those as a means to force an [artificial] worship experience (namely by means of emotionalism) on individuals and using them as a means to “draw people in”. Many of these concepts have been addressed in my article linked above, but I digress.
My post stated these concepts:
1) Worship is about and for God, not man. We enjoy it because we love God and we desire to worship him, but it is still his due worship. To expand on this, I believe it is quite clear that to make worship centered on us is a sin of idolatry. It is the sin of the Garden, that we would worship God in the way that we please rather than the way that he would liked. Of course, there are emotions in praise and laments (read the psalms), but the focus is always God and those said emotions are always subject to truth revolving around God.
2) If you need to set the mood for worship, then there is a fundamental problem in your theology of worship. I address this in that previous article as well, and I would challenge many to sit back and ask “why” we have the lights, “why” we need the vocalist going beyond the vocal range of the congregation, “why” we need them to be seen at all. I’m not saying outright that these are wrong, but I am asked are we actually thinking about the why? As I said in my original post, I believe if we are honest the why is simply, because “we like it”.
I actually had a discussion last week about this to some extent. The context was Bethel. The individual admitted that he wouldn’t play music from Mormons, the Benny Hinn Crusade Choir, and that the word of faith/prosperity movement was non-christian and dangerous. However, he stated that he simply would not stop playing the music [bethel] merely because “he liked it”. Is that God oriented? Is that obedience? Is that the true spiritual worship seen in Romans 12:1-2? No. It isn’t. To summerize, if we did things because they “felt good” or because we “like” them, then we would be in a lot of trouble. The man who commits adultery does so because it feels good and he likes it. Does that triumph over scripture? Absolutely not.
3) If you have to force an experience, then they are experiencing your pragmatism, not the Holy Spirit. We have become so infatuated with the notion that the Holy Spirit can be appeased or drawn into our experience if we do the right things. If the lights are low and people get emotional that must mean that the Holy Spirit is with us…right? I honestly have come to believe that this is a hint of New Age in the church. This notion of aligning yourself in the right way so that this mystical version of the Holy Spirit will enter into your worship. I would be curious, what does the Holy Spirit do in this context? When you use repetitive lyrics to incant the Holy Spirit in your presence, what happens? Emotions? The Holy Spirit is not a genie or a mystical spirit. He is the third person of the triune God who points to the Son and the Father, moves us to holiness, sanctification, conviction, and moves us to worship God. Here’s the kicker, he lives inside of the saints, and he doesn’t need you to beg him to come into the room if you’re a saint. Do you not know that you are a temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16)? There is so, so, much more that could be said here.
4) If you have to use a worship experience as an advertisement and hook to get individuals to your church, then you are a part of the problem. I talk about this in the same article mentioned before (I know, I’m a broken record, but what is the point of retyping it out when it is up on the website?). Aside from the fact that worship isn’t about us, the saints should desire to worship regardless of the setting. The saints don’t need a hook. The saints need to be fed, and sing praises to God. For those outside? The church is first and foremost, for the saints. See my article.
God cares about how he is worshiped, and the fundamental point of the post was that pragmatism is not focused upon God, it is focused upon man. What would people like? What would the congregation listen to? What would draw them in? How can we increase attendance? How can we move them to sing (which is not not necessarily worship)? How can we make them feel the Spirit? How can we have the Spirit move today? How can we bring in the Holy Spirit? It seeks to establish praise (worship music) on the preferences of man, not the worship of God. Again, it also treats the Holy Spirit like a mystical spirit that must be appeased to enter into our congregations. Needless to say, the Holy Spirit is not invoked by emotionalism, incantations of repetitive lyrics, or the skills of the people. To miss this is massive. This doesn’t even touch on how meticulous we get in our entertainment industry of “worship” – adjusting lights, volumes, etc.
Many people don’t realize it, but I play music and love music, and so when I am charged just not liking musicians or music, it humors me a bit. Here is the thing: skilled musicians are a blessing, indeed, but if they cannot step out of the way to give glory to God instead of seeking attention for themselves, then they are a stumbling block more than anything else. The career worship musicians (meaning they do it solely for a job) are on the rise, and they are damaging to the church theologically, financially, and spiritually. Skilled musicians are a blessing, but they do not need to be front and center on a church stage to give glory to God. My point again is simple: let us think more deeply about these things. I would actually argue that we need more Christian art and music out and about in the real world rather than the cookie cutter music we hear on K-Love, but we can save that discussion for another day.
So what it all boils down to is this:
Does saying that Worship is God focused, not man focused, “put God in a box”? Absolutely not.
Is saying that worship is not something you can fabricate because it is a disposition, “putting God in a box?” No.
Is saying that God can work and move without being in the “box” of pragmatism and human effort, “putting God in a box”? Of course not.
You see, all of these efforts to move and control God by what we do (which can become a deep topic), ironically, puts God in a box. The “radical” idea I’m putting forward is that we do not need ninety-nine percent of the “modern worship experience”. All we need are saints with hearts directed towards God, with hearts directed towards each other, gathering together to sing praises to the Lord, gathering to hear the word preached, and participating in the ordinances. So who has really put God in a box? I’ll wrap up with this. If our generation would put as much effort into preaching, teaching, and instructing from the word as we do in fabricating a worship experience, we would see authentic reformation and revival. Why? Because it is the “box” God gave us for that very purpose (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; Romans 1:1-2).