Worship is supposed to be the Body of Christ accepting God’s invitation into His life, the Divine Life of God as it is expressed in the selfless and absolute love of God lived out forever in the Trinity.
Source: How the Church Exchanged Worshiping God For Cheap Emotional Thrills
I am aware of the saying, often attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo (although it is not found in any of his extant writings), that “He who sings, prays twice.” As a former Methodist and continuing respecter of John Wesley, I am aware of the high premium he placed on congregational singing, as found in his “Directions for Singing.”
However, as I read the “Directions,” I am not at all sure he would find much to approve in a lot of what passes for “Christian music” these days. And I suspect he might share my suspicion of the assumptions underlying the concept of “praise music” – and the idea of “praise services,” generally: are not traditional services also filled with praise for God?
But they are not unbalanced in that direction; to use the oft-used acronym “ACTS,” traditional liturgies balance Adoration (praise) with Contrition (confession and repentance), Thanksgiving, and Supplication (asking God for His aid for the concerns of ourselves or others). And I am quite sure Wesley would look askance – as do I! – at blogger Sarah Koenig’s assertion, quoted in the linked post, that
“Praise and Worship time is a means of coming into close contact with the mercy and love of the Divine – one might even consider it a means of grace. It not only replaces the service of the Table as a primary ordering liturgical element, it also in some sense functions eucharistically for its participants.”
“Replaces the service of the Table”…? “Functions eucharistically”…? Hmmmm. I have a problem with that. Christ did not say, “Sing this in remembrance of me!” Rather, I agree with Patheos guest blogger Les Lamkin, when he writes,
“I do not question music’s power. I do not question that it touches us deeply and profoundly. I question its fitness for shaping us into Christ-like people both individually and as the Body of Christ. I question the idea that raw sensuality is what Jesus had in mind when he said that true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth. I question the idea that somehow drawing people into church with cheap, ‘sanctified’ parodies of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga is going to shape us into the Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle.”
More generally, to quote Lamkin again, “here’s the problem: the Bible never connects worship to preference. Or emotion. Or music.” As a wise priest once commented to me, part of our problem, or at least challenge, as Christians is distinguishing between feeling our heart “strangely warmed” (a la Wesley)… and heartburn.
We live in a society that teaches – sometimes explicitly, almost always implicitly – “if it feels good, do it.” We are trained, by our current society, to associate “warm fuzzies” (to use the old ’70s buzzword) with what is good and right, “cold pricklies” with what is bad and wrong. “How does it make you feel?” is the dominant question – not, “is it right or wrong?”
This is problematic, when dealing with theology, and related concepts like morality. Because often, our faith teaches us – or should, if it is itself being taught correctly – that there are times when we need to feel bad!
We need to experience the guilt, pain, and sorrow of understanding ourselves as sinners, so that we can truly repent; we need to feel the awe – and even terror – of realizing the power of God, literally the Creator of “all things, visible and invisible,” even if we are also grateful and reassured by his goodness to us. We need to mourn the fact that our sinfulness led to the death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in order to fully experience the joy of His Resurrection, and all that it means for us.
We cannot do these things, we cannot have these experiences and the understanding that comes with them, if we equate worship with a giddy emotional high. And we cannot even understand and appreciate that we as humans go through times of spiritual drought – what has often been referred to as a “dark night of the soul” – if we key our religious experience primarily into being made to feel good.
“I really felt the Spirit’s presence there” can mean exactly what it says… and it can also mean that we particularly enjoyed the music and fellowship that day. Can you reliably tell the difference? Is your heart strangely warmed, or do you have a case of heartburn? Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes to us in the midst of that dark night of the soul. Sometimes His presence isn’t even discernible to us, except in retrospect.
And we also need to reflect on these things, intellectually, using our God-given rational faculties. We need to understand their implications. We need to internalize not only feelings, but the truths of the faith, and their personal as well as doctrinal implications. This requires rational thought, cognition, reflection – not just emotion.
I am reminded of an excellent essay by David Mills, which I posted here on the blog a few years ago, entitled “A Defense of Traditional Worship.” In it, he writes,
“The concert ended with everyone singing an old hymn, swaying gently from side to side, many holding hands with the strangers beside them. Someone turned out the lights, and people began holding up lit matches, as a feeling of brotherhood descended, it seemed, on everyone in the hall. Out in the parking lot a few minutes later, many of them were fighting, stealing, and selling drugs to small children.
“It was a rock concert ending in the then-popular style. It taught me, a new Christian, that feelings of worship were easily aroused and often almost completely transitory and insincere, in the sense that they did not reflect any change in the will, or any desire in the worshipers to turn from their wickedness and live. Such feelings may be spiritual, but they are not always Christian.
“People are easily moved but not easily changed. The most elevated feelings are no guide whatsoever to the formative value of an experience. To be changed people need to be made to see the world and to act in certain ways and not in others, and this is the reason that Christians ought to worship traditionally, that is, in formal, ordered, regular, heavily textual liturgies designed by a central authority in its historical tradition.”
This is as true now as it was when Mr. (now Dr.) Mills wrote it, which was a good few years before I posted it here on The Anglophilic Anglican. I strongly encourage you to read his whole essay, if you have not already done so! It is well worth the “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” treatment I recommend for particularly seminal readings.
To return to the present essay, Mr. Lamkin reminds us that
“Worship is supposed to be the Body of Christ accepting God’s invitation into His life, the Divine Life of God as it is expressed in the selfless and absolute love of God lived out forever in the Trinity. It is supposed to be formative and the experience derived from is meant as a means of grace in which the Divine Life of God is imparted to us, individually and as the Body of Christ,”
and then warns us, aptly, of the hazards of using emotion as a guide to this:
“Our emotions are powerful influences. Scripture encourages emotion as a response to God, His greatness, His glory, His love. But we must recognize that scripture also warns against allowing emotion to be our sole, or even a significant, guide regarding faith and practice.”
He even goes so far as to assert,
“I’m a musician. I led my church’s worship team for nearly 30 years. I wish I could take it all back; all the rock and roll from the stage, all the outpouring of raw emotion in the name of worship, all the—do I dare use the word?— idolatry.”
“Idolatry”? Really? Yup! Some powerful stuff here. And and he writes “from the inside,” as it were: from the perspective of someone who’s been down the road, and trying to dissuade other travelers from taking the same unproductive detour.
Here again, I encourage you to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” I think you may find it interesting, helpful, illuminating, and perhaps even… to cite a “cold prickly” that is nonetheless an important part of faith… convicting.