and Worship Theology" is goofy
by Michael Spencer
I defend myself from false
the iMonk quite like the charge of hypocrisy. As a man of principle, I
seek to avoid having the wagging finger of the disappointed public in
my face, accusing me of phoniness.
So I must answer
a recent charge made by a nameless autograph seeker who was briefly
allowed inside the Internet Monk compound. With shock and
not-a-little awe, this friend observed the Monk's collection of
contemporary Praise and Worship music. "Hey! I thought you were, like,
really down on all this contemporary Christian music? How come you're
listening to it in the same office where you write all that stuff
saying it's bad for the church?"
It is, in fact,
true that the Monk's vast collection of music still contains a generous
amount of CCM, and a considerable stack of Praise and Worship music. I
must, however, say that my friend is sadly mistaken if he's read my
work and concluded that I have no place for contemporary Christian
music in my life. Such is not the case, nor do I ever expect it to be
the case in the future. Even though the vast majority of CCM is, in my
opinion, boringly bad, I still find many artists worthy of my support.
Am I a rank
hypocrite for listening to music at home that I do not use at my
church? I'll admit that I have a strange adherence to my own version of
the regulative principle that excuses me from any sin accrued from
listening to this music, some of which I would probably not use at
church for reasons only crack-smoking Calvinists can understand. So
unless you are willing to read the Puritans on worship, put that finger
back where you got it.
Here at home, I don't have to listen to the drooling theological nonsense that comes along with Praise and Worship music use these days.
The iMonk said it.
Yes, the iMonk said: Evangelicals can't stop turning methodology into theology. It's astonishingly simple, and frighteningly common.
Do something. Roll over. Sit up and beg. Start using Powerpoint. Set up an idol of Baal in the parlor. Marry Larry King. Anything.
If it works, then an appropriate theology will be quickly supplied. Methodology, i.e. what we choose to do, if it works, becomes theology, i.e. what we believe about God, and what we believe God has endorsed.
Take the public invitation as an example (a subject I may have exhausted in three IM pieces this year.) Baptists started telling people to walk the aisle if they were responding to God. People walked. Within a year, theologians published the well known book, Everything God Has To Say About the Invitation. Here's a quote.
"We now know that the Holy Spirit is pleading with you to walk the aisle. We know that if you hold on to that pew, you are resisting the Holy Spirit. We know that whatever goes on down front is the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Bible is talking about invitations in Southern Baptist Churches when it says "Take up your cross and follow me." We didn't know any of this stuff UNTIL we figured out what worked. Then God opened up our heads and poured that theology right in there."
Understand this, and you may understand more than you want to know about evangelicals. Increasingly, the only theology that matters is the kind we cook up to justify whatever circus we are trying next. And THAT is why I can listen to P&W at home, because I can just listen to the music, and not to the worship leader explaining to me the following spectacularly looney theological revelations.
Gotta Love a List
WARNING: The following list contains a near-lethal dose of theological malarkey. There is so much raw blarney here the page is glowing. Take it easy, be careful, and don't try this at home. In other words, please understand that this list is all wrong!
1. Contemporary Praise and Worship music is especially anointed of God. Advocates of P&W have lost the capacity to realize that Christian music companies will say anything to sell product. Once a couple of thousand units are moved, then "God is all over it," and the artists, producers, musicians and girls working at the checkouts are all anointed by God with a special anointing.
This cynical use of a powerful Biblical concept to sell CDs is number one on my list of stupid things said by Christian worship leaders. I don't want to be insulted by being told I have to like the next tune because God gave the lyrics in a dream or manipulated by testimonies of how this song has been anointed for the salvation of teenagers from broken homes.
God doesn't anoint songs, bands or songwriters in any way differently than He anoints any other Christian. Worship leaders and Christian musicians need to call off the ego mania and read the Bible.
2. God has sent contemporary Praise and Worship music to.....
A. Revive the End Times Church before the Rapture. This is patently ridiculous.
B. Break down "religious strongholds" in the church. I think this means that God wants us to act strangely and say it's the Holy Spirit. Losing a "religious spirit" seems to be Churchspeak for doing something that used to get the ushers on your case.
C. Minister to the special issues of "this generation." "This generation" seems to be a movable term that most often applies to young people willing to fight you to turn the front of the church into a mosh pit. Apparently, this generation has special needs that preaching, teaching and prayer can't reach. We're supposed to believe that contemporary Praise and Worship music was sent by God to help young people from single parent families experience His love. God loves those kids, but this little bit of Hallmark card theology can get lost.
This type of spin gets lots of applause with people devoted to the idea that the Gospel isn't nearly as exciting as what God is doing in the weekly dramas happening in these last days, end-times, free-in-the-Spirit churches. Churches that use lots of contemporary Praise and Worship music want you to know that God gave this tool to them, and you can see the results for yourself. How dare you say it's marketing?
3. Praise and Worship Music evangelizes without preaching. I'm fairly used to hearing Christians "amening" their favorite music, and I've heard the occasional comment following a great song, "We don't need a sermon. Let's just have the invitation." I've always figured this was about wanting to get on to the restaurants as early as possible.
But now, advocates of contemporary Praise and Worship music are saying that their music is anointed for evangelism, and preaching just gets in the way. After mesmerizing the crowd with 20 repetitions of their favorite anthem or ballad, these folks think the invitation ought to be next on the agenda, no preaching needed. Heck, a lot of these people would walk off a cliff if the cute worship leader said so, so why not have an invitation?
(I will confess bitterness here. I was once asked to speak for 10 minutes after an hour set by a local P & W band. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. Dozens of girls and guys immediately ran out of the congregation and straight after the band, wanting- I suppose- advice on the Christian life. I'm not bitter. I spoke to the exhausted crowd, who really appreciated the chance to sit down and relax after an hour.)
With apologies to those who actually put a comprehensible Gospel in their music and presentation, it appears to me that the majority of Praise and Worship music falls somewhere between pretty good use of Bible texts to complete nonsense. Preaching, when done right, proclaims Christ and how to be saved every time it opens its mouth. Any theology that says God can preach through whatever He chooses is good by me. Any theology that says leave out the preached Word is a loser, in my opinion.
4. Praise and Worship Music brings down the Holy Spirit. Among systematically goofy theology, this is one of the patriarchs. Starting innocently as the constant quotation of "the Lord inhabits the praises of His people," (metaphor alert!) we are now told that if we really get into the music, and keep singing, "God will show up."
I've heard this so often that I can't believe I haven't stood up and screamed yet. We are talking about telling people 1) That despite what scripture said, God isn't with gathered Christians 2) until we make it happen by singing praise choruses. We bring God down into the room with music. (Gulp.)
Of course, what we are really doing here is identifying God with some good feeling generated by electronics and people singing together. (Idolatry alert!) "I just really felt like the Lord was in the worship today." Well so what? When are any of our feelings the measurement of God's reality? God PROMISES to be present with His people when they gather in His name. Music is completely irrelevant to the intention of God to keep his promises to His people.
5. Praise and Worship music brings a unique experience of God's Glory. I've dealt with this in another essay, but it deserves a smack up sida the head here. Not only do these overconfident worship leaders claim special anointings and powers in P & W music, but they frequently assert that the music is mediating an encounter with the "glory" of God.
God's glory is a major Biblical theme, and encountering the glory of God would qualify as the greatest trauma a sinful human could experience. The contemporary Praise and Worship crowd apparently believes that Christians are now invited to become like Moses, and experience the glory of God routinely.
In order to keep the encounter with the divine manageable, it turns into an event mediated by the church worship band. And seems to have a lot to do with getting "into" the songs. (Is this starting to sound vaguely familiar? Is anybody getting irritated yet?)
6. The overridingly important factor in deciding what church to attend is MUSIC. Sometime in the last 5 years, the majority of evangelical Church-hunting Christians I know have made the decision about where to go to church based almost solely on music (or "worship" as they perversely call it.) The deciding vote is usually, "We like the worship." Which means we like CCM, and we like the band, and we like the fact that going to a church service is kind of like a concert, the kids like the music, and it's the same songs I hear on the radio.
This is, of course, personal preference, and not theology, so have I broken stride? No, there is theology all over the place here, and it's some of the most serious theological nonsense of the bunch.
Scripture hasn't exactly left the church-shopper without a list to go by. Even with the divergent views on what scripture teaches about the church, it's clear that church government, leadership, the sacraments, preaching, teaching, discipleship, doctrine and church support of the family are all areas where scripture gives some guidance of importance to any of us who are picking a church. Yet, I am not aware of any way to read the Bible that places music in such an important place in church life.
Music is part of Christian worship and Christian art. We're interested- as we ought to be- in how music participates in the life and worship of the church. But there is simply no way- in normal circumstances- to justify music as the deciding factor in church selection. To do so is to betray a consumerist mentality rather than a Biblical worldview.
Theology? The implication is that the Holy Spirit is leading in such a choice. Even more importantly, the message is that music is the important factor in Christian growth and discipleship. My Christian consumerist friends are quite certain that it's what happens during the 45 minutes of music at their church that will make the greatest different in the life they lead during the following week.
That's outrageously wrong, and I can't imagine why evangelicals are tolerating it. The demotion of preaching and the elevation of music is an invasion of the church by a culture that wants less content, less authority and more experience and feeling. Post-modern apologists may make the case that preaching is passe' (and some forms of it always will be) but preaching as a divinely sanctioned methodology has Biblical theology on its side.
(By the way, a big iMonk salute to my friends who bucked this trend this year and joined churches where the Word was the main thing, and music had its appropriate, and secondary, place.)
7. People worship better with contemporary Praise and Worship music. Now....how can we put this nicely?.......We can't. It's arrogant and stupid to call a bunch of choruses played by a band "worship." This little inanity has made it into mainstream Churchspeak and shows no signs of going away. (Even Rick Warren agrees. Ha!) Ever heard these lines?
"We had about 40 minutes of worship, and then the Pastor taught on giving."
"I can't worship at any church that doesn't have the words on an overhead. I just can't do it."
"I think you'd like the worship better at our church. We've got three bands now."
Are any comments necessary? How lame is it to say that a mini-concert with hand motions is "worship" and everything else is what we did before, after or instead of "worship"? Since when do we worship "better" based on whether we are singing "A Mighty Fortress" with piano or "Shout to the Lord" with a band? Do these people have any idea what worship is anyway? Maybe this will help:
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.So am I saying that music can't facilitate presenting myself to God in response to his mercy? Music can facilitate that response, but saying that we, therefore, should choose a church based upon music is saying that it isn't the message, but the presentation that makes a spiritual difference, and that's terribly wrong.
8. Contemporary Praise and Worship music is used by the Holy Spirit to bypass the mind and go directly into the human spirit where real change can occur. I feel dirty typing such an absurd sentence, but it's the unfortunate claim of many people who ought to know better. Advocates of P & W get all bleery-eyed talking about how this music just goes right past all those mental objections and barriers and ministers directly to the spirit. This kind of kookicity seems to come from the spiritual warfare camp, where tales of doing an end run on the devil by slipping in through music are pretty common.
What's bad about this piece of theology is its rejection of the mind and its promise of getting people into the Kingdom without a fully aware decision to embrace Christ. Some might say this seems to be honoring the sovereignty of God and ought to be good news for Calvinists, but Reformed Christians are not looking for mindless Christians. We want to follow Paul in appealing to the mind and heart, persuading with a message and a ministry. Paul who, by the way, repeatedly rejected any kind of manipulation.
9. Contemporary Praise and Worship Music is taking music away from the devil and using it for God. Theology at work here: giving the devil credit for the appeal of the larger culture, especially music, and then sending the church on a mission to raid the pantry.
This reads like some nitwit prophecy that the Beatles were supposed to make music for God but Satan took them over and it wasn't until CCM that God got the music back. Maybe evangelicals can't find a positive way to do ministry, so they need to loudly proclaim just how close they are to the world in order to draw a crowd?
In other words, if the culture likes it, make a Christian version of it. That's our appeal? Come down to church where the band is better than the group at the bar? "Taking back what the devil stole" sounds like a t-shirt at a TBN telethon.
Whatever music we make and however we make it, let's do it for the glory of God and our joy in Him!
10. Using contemporary Praise and Worship Music is necessary for a church growth breakthrough. Little theology is evident in this, my last observation. It's pure pragmatism. I hope you have caught on by now that we can expect the theology to follow. And, of course, it has. Read the above nine points. Articulated by the church growth gurus and evidenced by 23,000 people and nine services at Saddleback Valley's Easter services, who can argue? It's a God thing. Right? Perhaps. Or better, let's hope and pray so.
I don't believe that a "church growth breakthrough" in suburban America is going to need everything that is contemporary Praise and Worship music. Many good churches utilize such music in services that include strong Biblical preaching and other elements of Biblical worship. But then my argument isn't against using the music per se, and it's certainly not a quarrel with churches that seek to do worship Biblically with as much music as leadership believes is appropriate.
What I want to say is that if such growth occurs, the extent to which music is responsible for that growth is the extent to which we ought to be suspicious of that growth, and ask if the Gospel is being openly proclaimed? If growth occurs, we ought to be able to say with Luther, "The Word did it all!" However that Word came into the life of the church and bore fruit in the lives of Christians matters little, because God is great. But the same Word says that God is pleased to honor scripture, preaching and His sacraments as proclamations of the Word. Music is an echo, a teacher, an underliner. And in that role it is to be commended.
I commend those churches whose use of Praise and Worship music has avoided the theological numbskullery in this essay. May they grow and grow and grow some more. I commend every worship leader and musician who can see the proper place of music and works to keep music as the constant servant and encourager of the Word. I intend to keep enjoying praise and worship music, and encouraging it to have a God-centered, Biblical and God-glorifying purpose. Let's pray that churches who are foolishly building an empty theology based on methods that work will humbly seek the truth that brings the power of freedom and life in Christ.