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Monday, September 28, 2015

“It’s a good worship song, but......”

Not a rant, but a concern. I heard Bryan And Katie Torwalt’s worship song “Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here,” that for the most part expresses the joy of being in the presence of God in worship. Yet, I have some issues with part of the text:

"Holy Spirit, You are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere...."

I believe that it is worth the time to share some concerns that I believe warrants further study and underscores the need for our worship leaders to take to heart the analysis the text we put on the lips and hearts on those with whom we are leading.  Rather than a long discourse, I’ll will just list them:

1. God is the one who takes the initiative in worship, we don't show up and invite God to join us. – Remember that the bush was burning before Moses got there.

2. Since the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, then it is not a matter of "welcoming the Holy Spirit", but acknowledging His presence in our lives. The song, I'm sure, is referencing Pentecost or when the church prayed and the place where they were staying was shaken. But in both accounts, they did not pray for those things, for they did not know they were going to happen as they did. Rather than praying for such an experience, we might should pray for the sensitivity to hear God's voice and the boldness to obey.

3. Praying for the experience is not what the early church did, they prayed for the boldness to share. I realize there are those that will disagree, and that's fine. I just think we are treading on thin ice doctrinally and we get much of our doctrine from what we sing.

This is a topic that needs unpacking:
There are four bases from which we make decisions: God’s Word, history and tradition, human intellect, and personal experience. Though all four are important, nothing should ever take precedence over God’s Word.  Throughout history the source for heresies can be traced to getting these out of balance.

For example, let’s say that we have a song that “the Lord gave me.” If we are not careful,  then we are saying that the text and music are directly from God, which places it on the same level as God’s Word, or to say it in another way, we have received further revelation from God. Such logic has led to many doctrinal heresies and problems in the Body of Christ. The issue here is that we forget that we have “clay feet” that we are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and share in their fallen nature.

We can be sure that any word we receive from God will not contradict what He has already said in His Word.  For this reason, then we must pass what we write through the filter of God’s Word: Is what is taught here consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture? Just because the Bible mentions something does not mean that it is teaching it: Scripture mentions that Judas hung himself, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we are to go and  do the same.

4. Seeking the experience first puts the cart before the horse. When Daddy comes in from a trip away and has a habit of bringing a surprise to his kids, it doesn’t take long before the kids begin to look forward to what their father is bringing more than himself.  We need to be cautious about measuring our worship based on feeling or the level of a given experience. Remember the admonition of Jesus: “Lord, didn’t we cast out demons in your name and perform all kinds of miracles?”  And he said to them, “Depart from me for I never knew you.” [Matt. 7:23] The test of our worship is our obedience response to God, not our feelings. We can have an experience outside of the realm of obedience.

5. Because many of the songs we sing come from artists, downloaded from the internet and then sung in our churches the theological filter is absent.  I have no doubt about the sincerity of the artist or composers, nor their good intentions, however, I imagine most are not trained in theology. We don’t sing intentions, we sing lyrics, regardless of how sincere.  In the days of the use of hymnals one could rely on the fact that a committee on theology had at least reviewed the text of the songs and made adjustments before publication. Now, however, the gates are down and we are dependent on the artists/composers and the theological depth of the worship leaders to serve as the gatekeepers for what is sung in churches.   It is worth remembering the Arian controversy, though he was sincere in what he believed [Jesus was not divine], and shared his teaching through sermon and catchy songs of the day. It became such a problem that congregational song was virtually abolished after the Council of Laodicea.

6. We must be careful that we begin to worship the idea of how we feel in worship, or worship the trappings of worship instead of the God whom we are worshiping.  Not to unlike the teenager that is “in love with the idea of love,” it is easy to become enthralled with the idea of worship. And for those leading worship, to become enamored with the feelings of leading worship, rather than focusing on the One to whom the worship is directed.

7. What can be done?  Fix the text as need be. Sometimes it can be done with just adjusting some of the text. Write the composer and share your concerns. If they listen to you fine, if not you just leave the song out or use your corrections for the local worship services. Remember, our people will remember more of what they sing than just hear, and if there is an emotional response, as is many times in a worship service, the memory of the text is actually stored in a deeper part of the brain. Paul pleaded with those to whom he wrote to guard themselves against false doctrines, so we should do no less and certainly not promote them through putting them in the hearts and minds of those to whom we serve.

Before the worship set is selected, as we are praying through what is to be sung for the service, we must check the text of what we are going to be using. If you are lacking in theological training, there are reputable institutions with online courses available– take advantage of them and prepare yourself. We are responsible to God for what we are teaching [James 3:1] and we must remember that we are teaching as we lead in worship [Col. 3:16].

10 comments:

  1. I'm not a worship leader, by any means. I simply love worship music. This idea of false doctrine in worship music has never really crossed my mind for extended periods. Recently, I have been having debates with my fiance on this issue, concerning the doctrine represented in the song that you mentioned, "Holy Spirit, You are welcome here". I've always been one to seek out solid doctrine and to understand sound theology. For some reason however, I've never made the application to worship music. My fiance gracefully shared the same opinions you shared above, but I was still led to disagree based on my immediate response. It obviously convicted my heart because it led me to seek out the truth of God's word. I don't know if it's how you said it, or just the fact that I'm hearing someone else's view, but I really appreciate you taking the time to address this issue online in spirit and in truth. I'm thankful to God for using your post to confirm His heart and truth in my life. My fiance will be grateful as well. Thank you.

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  2. Thank you for writing and for the willingness to pay close attention to what we sing. I want to stress that I don't think the song is bad; it has some very nice sections. But, like many songs written by those without much theological training, there is a lack of sensitivity to exactly what we are singing. Regardless of the intentions, and I have no reason to believe that the writer had any bad intentions, we really don't sing intentions, but words, and words have meaning and when those words are implanted in the heart with melody they remain and become a part of who we are. I praise God for your sensitivity and caring enough to share.

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  3. Ed, this was a very helpful post. I actually recorded a cover of this song last week with my wife. Ever since that day I had been thinking over the lyrics and feeling that something wasn't quite right. I was annoyed that it was experiential and kept talking about the Holy Spirit and God's presence as if we had to initiate and invoke it. I mentioned this to a buddy of mine who is a born again Christian, former pagan priest. He expressed his concern as well that the song followed a format of pagan invocation rather than biblical view of God's omnipresence. I was very happy to see how well you put together these thoughts on this song. Thank you so much. The church has to be careful what we are singing. Songs teach as much doctrine as the sermons if not more so with our current culture. I fear we sometimes become what Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah, "they honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me." Let us guard against the wiles of the Devil. Have a wonderful day. God Bless.

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  4. Samuel: Thanks for your comments; it is encouraging to see others who share the concerns of the needed theological filtering of what is incorporated in our worship songs. May God continue to bless your life and ministry.

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  5. Bingo. You hit the nail on the head. I couldn't put my finger on what was bothered me about this song. Thanks for articulating what I wanted to say.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Sometimes something just isn't right and we're not sure what, but if we keep at it, it will become clear.

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  6. Thank you, Ed. I lead a choir in a prison and we are always selective in songs we bring inside. Recently one had requested to sing this as a solo. I, too, had great concern. I appreciate your post and will use this, with your permission, to share with her why we won't be bringing this song inside.

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  7. Hiz Dotter: [Love the name!] The Seminary where I teach has extension centers in four different prisons in three states and I know how powerful ministry can be with inmates. Please share with anyone, any of the articles in the blog. I pray that God would richly bless your work and multiply fruit in all you do.

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  8. Thanks for your insights. This song is from Jesus Culture, a ministry of Bethel Church Redding CA, and the writers are schooled by their School of Supernatural Worship, as well as the error filled teachings of the church and false Apostle Bill Johnson. Both are major players in the New Apostolic Reformation Movement and Bethel Music is a major "entrance ramp" into that movement.
    "Presence" is a big focus in their teachings, as well as an unbalance on the experiential.
    What disturbs me most if the line: "Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
    To be overcome by Your presence, Lord." My heart's supreme desire is not an experience of mystic self-transcendence.
    Many people singing this song have no idea it is sourced by an aberrant movement.

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  9. Darla:
    Thanks so much for the comments. I agree with your assessment. When we desire the experience more than the God of the experience, we have made it an idol. We have placed our eyes more on what the hand of God might give us, rather than desiring what the heart of God is.

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