Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Enthusiasm and Mindless Worship

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In the great divide between creedal Christianity and the search for experience, the worship service has long been a battleground. For those looking to worship God in spirit and truth, and with order and reverence, the torrent of worship leaders emerging from the charismatic movement who seemingly now gather at every major Christian conference with star billing, and exist to stir up the masses like the prophets of Baal on Mt. Hermon, is a phenomenon that should give us cause for concern.  My love in for charismatic forms of worship took a beating back in 2009, suffering from burn out and depression, I realised I couldn't muster the levels of emotionalism necessary to wrench God out of heaven.  I wanted quiet and peace in which to pray. I realised God didn't need my noise.  Today worship has turned into a theology of glory. With arms outraised and voices lifted, Christians climb the ladder of glory into heaven to get God's attention, so that He might in term bless them with his presence, spiritual gifts, and 'the baptism in the Holy Spirit'.

 Rather than a great banquet where God openly displays his gifts in Word and Sacrament, and gives them freely to penitent sinners, worship in the charismatic mode has turned into a Ponzi scheme where God dispenses his gifts according to how 'psyched' the worship service is that Sunday.  Everything in the charismatic liturgy exists to pull God down out of heaven.  This accounts for the often mindless and repetitive nature of charismatic worship, which I recently tasted at Kings Church Seaford (part of the quasi-Reformed charismatic church body New Frontiers to which I was once a member) just to remind myself how bad it can get. As the service started, I got 20-25 minutes of repetitive mantras and verses stretched out to infinity to make room for the 'Spirit to move', since freedom nowadays means no structure or order, although that is contrary to God's character.  It was after the event that it struck me, truth has been replaced by feeling in much of charismania.  Although there were some gospel nuggets free floating about in the ether, much of the biblical truth articulated by the worship leader served only to excite and stir the congregation to far higher plateaus of feeling.  I should point out that I'm by no means against emotion.  However emotions are not the end goal of any church service, neither are they a replacement for the true, objective Sacrament in which we can be 100% certain that Christ is present, whether we feel anything or not. When the objective truth of Scripture serves only to heighten the subjective experiences of today's Christians, the Bible becomes subservient to the 'worship experience' and whatever aesthetic that might take.

Rather than worship being a quid pro quo, it is how God dispenses his gifts to his people. Worship is not about us giving back to God, as if He needs anything from us. But rather it is about receiving.  Receiving forgiveness, receiving the Word that sanctifies us, receiving the truth of our identity in Christ, receiving Him in bread and wine, week in and week out. Christ reprimanded Martha for her busyness, but honoured Mary for choosing the better part, sitting at Christ's feet to receive him. He simply isn't interested in our entertainment, whether worshipping gives us pleasure in any hedonistic sense is irrelevant to God.  God wants us rejuvenated, rearmed so to speak, for the week ahead when we fight the same old battles with the devil, the world, and our flesh that wants excitement (in whatever form it comes) rather than the ordinary, mundane means of grace that God has chosen to feed his people.

So this week, how will you worship God, on your knees humbly receiving God's many mercies to you in Word and Sacrament even when you're spiritually dry, or with your arms outstretched trying to lure God into giving you a gift?  One way is the theology of the cross, the other is trying to inch up the ladder on the slippery path of the Law because however excited and pumped up you'll be this Sunday, the Law will say 'Worship God with all your heart'.  And after all your white noise, that's the kicker that will send you back down the mountain. The Law accuses all forms of enthusiasm for not being enthused enough, the gospel releases you from its grip. In Jesus' name.  Amen.

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