Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The "Dangers" of Charismatic Worship!

I've still been thinking and lurking-reading the continuing "Strange Fire" and John Macarthur controversy.  I do look forward to reading the book when it becomes available in this country at some point.  But the issue Macarthur has with "charismatic" worship does deserve careful thought.  Do the songs we sing and love potentially deceive and lead us astray?  Or in fact do they bring us close to the Throne of Grace and a living encounter with the Risen Son of God?

There are two scenarios I can think of in my church experience.  The more reformed/functional cessationist settings were my home church in Dunstable when Stanley Jebb had taken it out of the charismatic movement and essentially banned all choruses.  We sang hymns and raising of hands was not approved (and tongues were most certainly forbidden!).  The other reformed/functional cessationist situation was when I lived in Bristol and attended the SGM church for 2 years - and most of their SGM songs were "cross-centered".

The other scenario of course has been the charismatic churches I have attended, and the glorious conferences that seek to teach the whole gospel - Cross through to ascension and glorification and outpoured Holy Spirit.  Now cessationists would shudder I am sure at the examples I present - but if you can ignore the raised arms and upturned faces to heaven - hear the words!

I love particularly;

"You have overcome the grave, Your glory fills the highest place - what can seperate me now?  You tore the veil, You made a way when You said that it is done!!".

And this amazing one; "Worthy is the Lamb! Seated on the Throne!  I crown You now with many crowns - You reign victorious!  High and lifted up - Jesus Son of God! The Darling of Heaven crucified - worthy is the Lamb".

How much more Gospel-filled can you get?!  Because the fact is - the Son of God isn't hanging on a cross broken and dying.  So what is the point of "kneeling at the old rugged cross"?  Of course we will be forever grateful for His sacrifice, but like Pilgrim in John Bunyan's classic - that is where our burdens roll away!  We are then free to stand and march on towards the Celestial City knowing that one day we will see Him face to face!

I would just add a final video which I think strikes powerfully at the heart of this "charismatic/cessationist" controversy.  It is by Noel Tredinnick - the Music Director at All Souls Church Langham Place (neither person nor church could be called charismatic in any way!).  But Tredinnick was speaking about worship in particular - the wonderful "Prom Praise" concerts held yearly at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  And he said this (the video is below);

"Now worship is two-way.  Our hearts are being lifted through the music to Christ.  We are adoring Him - we are singing our praise to the living Saviour.  That is one way - the arrow is going up.  But at the same time there is that moment, where God comes down if you like.  The veil of His robe fills the temple - His Presence.  There is a sense of His holiness where God is coming down into our midst - and that is a very exciting moment to behold".

I would suggest that is the issue.  Cessationists want to (as it seems) put God in heaven and leave Him there.  And to suggest that He is not only willing but eager to come down and reside among His people seems to shock and horrify them.  That's nothing new - it was apparent throughout revivals through the centuries.  There have ALWAYS been the rigid prayer meetings continuing to meet weekly to pray for revival, even though outside and around them God is saving souls by the thousands.  It is that eagerness to see God come - I think - which perhaps leads some charismatics to embrace experience that is of the flesh.

But that is no excuse to change one's theology and limit God to what He can and cannot do - as Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said quite rightly - the greatest sin of the evangelical church and all that is wrong with "Strange Fire".  As this post was touching on worship - it seems appropriate to end with another version of "The Power of the Cross" sung by Chris Bowater at the (also charismatic) Bible Week - "Grapevine".


Peter Day said...

Thank you again for posting! It is so good to have you blogging and, I trust, people will soon be back to interact with these posts once again.

I think there are a few other issues here:

1) I've notice that, generally, there is a suspicion of emotion in worship among our cessationist- leaning brethren. Not exclusively so, but it is there. Hence, songs that reflect an emotional response to God, or even good songs with an emotional musical style, are avoided. Instead, the largely doctrinal older hymns are accepted. These can be appreciated intellectually and emotions kept in check.

Now, of course, one can be as caught up by emotion with And can it be? as much as with Worthy is the Lamb. And so we should - both express the glory of what the Lord has done for us - mind, heart and will are meant to be involved in worship.

Just as our cessationist brethren tend towards more doctrinal songs, among charismatic brethren the opposite is generally true. I suggest that this is a mistake. We are losing a rich heritage of sound songs that declare glorious truth. You only need to open one of the many evangelical hymn books and read the truths expressed in glorious poetry. It does thrill our minds (and should) but should also stir our hearts in adoration.

We are not meant to worship with just the mind; nor are we meant to worship with only the heart. We need both!

2) Repetition. The generally shorter "charismatic" songs do tend themselves to repetition more easily than the older hymns (it would be hard to repeat all of O for a thousand tongues (especially the full version)!

Now repetition can be good or bad. It can be good to reinforce what we are singing and to express devotion. On the other hand, it can become empty (vain repetition) and even hypnotic if it is done over and over and over. Charismatics would tend to emphasise the benefits of repetition while cessationists would emphasis the dangers. Again, both are valid points - it is good and right to repeat devotion back to the Lord, but it is not good (or devotional) to endlessly repeat songs.

3) Finally, even though many "charismatic" songs do express glorious truths, the language is generally more personal.

I'm lost in wonder,
I'm lost in love,
I'm lost in praise forevermore
Because of Jesus'
Unfailing love
I am forgiven
I am restored.

Again, my observation is that charismatics are more comfortable with this language, while cessationists are less so. Many of the older hymns are declarations:

Immortal, invisible God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days.
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

So truth is sung out. Great doctrinal statements are declared. Since it is the truth that builds us up, stirs our faith to stand in this needy world, surely such declarations are good.

But so is devotion!

So again, both have a place in our worship.

I suppose what I am saying is that the church needs to stop being either/or but both - in all these areas.

So keep up the good work, bro, and keep posting!

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks dear bro, it is SO good learning from your wise comments again!!

I cannot wait to see you in person - and promise I will GET TO DATES now I have some money!!