On: Symptoms of legitimacy accompany the concoction of fraudulent spirituality

3488 reads

There are 11 Comments

Mike Durning's picture

The ease with which we mistake feelings for the presence of the Holy Spirit is a theme of this article, and it’s an easy mistake to make. Brother Brandenburg’s article has much to commend it. Emotions should not be accepted as the sure sign of the Holy Spirit acting in us, but the two (emotion and the Holy Spirit) should not be totally disassociated in our minds either (I Tim. 1:6, Gal. 5:22).

In corporate worship, another dynamic exists. I believe it was Jim Bakker, in his heart-wrenching mea culpa, I Was Wrong, who admitted that he couldn’t prove that what believers feel in a worship service is different from what unbelievers might feel at a concert, holding their lighters up in the air, swaying. Yet abundant Scriptures exist in which strong emotions and results are tied to a corporate work of the Holy Spirit (tearful repentance in Ezra’s revival comes to mind). David, who models a man after God’s own heart for us, rejoices publicly as the children of Israel celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant.

Concern # 1: My first concern is not so much with this article as how it will be read by many. Biblical Christianity does not have to be clinically detached. The ideal Christian need not be a Mr. Spock.

Let me stress that I do not believe Brother Brandenburg is saying that. I simply know a few pastors who are cold and robotic and equate that state with spirituality. I do not.

Moving on, Brother Brandenburg correctly warns that a serious danger arises when leaders deliberately manipulate feelings, and the followers assume that emotions they feel are the work of the Spirit. I agree. We in leadership should recognize this danger, but…

Concern # 2: Brother Brandenburg’s article uses the word “flesh” or “fleshly” in presumed contrast with “spiritual” in a way that is, I think, problematical. Biblical definitions of such terms as “worldly” and “fleshly” are vital in discussions of worship music in particular, and yet are frequently lacking from the writings of those who are trying to block the door against modern worship music. “Fleshly”, in particular, is a problem, since Paul clearly uses the term in at least two ways. We must not confuse the two. The fact that a form of music is pleasant or enjoyable to our “flesh” (our physical bodies) does not necessarily mean that it is “fleshly” (under the influence of the portion of us that is drawn to evil). Confusing these two meanings of “flesh” is responsible for the hint of faux-asceticism that exists in some streams of Fundamentalism (faux in the sense that it is frequently applied to music, but not the pot-luck). Colossians 2 has much to say to us about these things.

Concern # 3: I am not sure that it is possible to separate wise programming of worship music and the danger of manipulation. I mean by this that there will be times when my choices as a worship leader may seem manipulative when they are actually logical and orderly worship choices. For instance, on the Sunday when our church observes the Lord’s Table, we will sing more songs about the cross. The one just before the Table is usually one that is slower. We are being slowed down to make us think. Since believers are admonished to partake in a worthy manner, it is appropriate for us to plan the service in this way. I would be foolish to choose a happy song that has no content about the crucifixion for that part of worship. Yet, in choosing the songs I choose, I AM attempting to set a mood. Some might see that as manipulation, but if you study the Psalms and now they were used in Old Testament worship, it is clear that this is a necessary and proper choice.

Concern # 4: Brother Brandenburg’s word choices are heavily weighted toward condemnation of more modern musical styles in corporate worship. Yet I think these problems exist in all church worship styles and sub-cultures. When I look back on the church music and worship services of my child-hood, it is clear that music choices were being used to alter emotions and set moods. Doubtless, there were those (including my young self) who confused these emotions with the presence of the Holy Spirit. I caution everyone who reads this article to remember that if your sub-culture is old hymns only, or Rodeheaver-style revivalism hymns, or modern praise choruses, the same danger exists. It existed in churches that were playing Bach’s music as well. Within your sub-culture, you have come to associate certain emotions with certain songs and performances of them, and you will respond on cue to those unless you are highly distracted. You also may be entertained by some of this music, whether it is old or new. This is not necessarily wrong. It just must be dealt with cautiously.

How do we deal, then, with the issues raised in Brother Brandenburg’s article?

1. I believe intent is important. The leadership themselves must be free of all confusion on the issue. We are not, Finney-like, attempting to engineer the presence of the Holy Spirit. The intent of the music and other worship-features must be to draw people toward the Lord, not to entertain. I sincerely believe that some of the Fundamentalist churches I have been in are as much entertainment-driven as the rankest Church Growth Movement Evangelicals – only entertaining a different constituency by different means. This is a great hypocrisy.
2. We should recognize that emotions are frequently along for the worship ride, but we must never put them in the driver’s seat. Scriptural content must always be driving everything we do. If emotions get in at some point on the journey, so be it. In fact, if they never do, I would suspect something is wrong.

Mike Durning's picture

I am happy that this burning issue has engaged the interest of so many.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

My reply to this post at Jackhammer was-

Quote:
I oppose ANY effort to manufacture spirituality and emotionally manipulate the crowd. While you’ve list “tightly closed eyes, head tilted heavenward, certain hushed tones, or the Clintonesque biting of the bottom lip”, I would add the kinds of theatrics and hyperbole commonly engaged in by many who still have the Independent Baptist Seal of Approval. They know what will stir up the “Amens” and the shouting and hanky-waving, and they use these tactics liberally. They can’t stand to preach to a quiet crowd. I personally object to the assumption that if there is no audible or visible crowd response, the Holy Ghost isn’t moving in people’s hearts.

I’ve closed my eyes in a service and tilted my head heavenward as I attempt to avoid distraction and focus my worship on the Lord. I’ve sat motionless, staring, because I was lost in thought about what was just said. And I’ve waved a hanky or two in my time because I felt so overwhelmed by God’s mercy and majesty that I thought my head would explode if I didn’t do *something*. But the minute we quantify the moving of the Holy Spirit and attempt to artificially produce it, we are in trouble.


I think this topic is important because IMO its overthrow is essential for breaking the cycle of spiritual predation in churches. Much harm is done because of this kind of emotional manipulation as well as wrong views of authority. Bro. Brandenburg's posts cover this double whammy very well.

I agree with Bro. Durning that intent is everything. But intent is also difficult to decipher, especially if someone is very practiced at being 'genuine' and 'humble'. There are tells, however, and it is more important than ever for Average Joe and Suzy Homemaker to develop some spiritual depth and discernment instead of being so complacent about their relationship with God.

Mike Durning's picture

Susan R wrote:
I think this topic is important because IMO its overthrow is essential for breaking the cycle of spiritual predation in churches. Much harm is done because of this kind of emotional manipulation as well as wrong views of authority. Bro. Brandenburg's posts cover this double whammy very well.

A very good observation!

PhilKnight's picture

Mike and Susan, you both introduced good points to ponder. It's certainly true that even in the presence of excellent worship music (or any other aspect of a "worshipful atmosphere") participants' reactions can be actuated by the carnal side of their natures rather than the Spirit. No particular type of music or "worship style" can ensure true worship. However, there are certain styles that are more conducive to true worship than others, and it is the responsibility of leaders in the church to foster that type of worship. Doing so is not emotional manipulation; it is simply marrying the great truths of God with an atmosphere and style that matches the ordinate affections that those truths should engender. If, in an attempt to avoid emotionalism we insist that strong demonstration of emotion is somehow carnal, we commit an error on the other extreme. We should worship God with our whole heart (i.e. with the whole man), and whole-heartedness involves mind, will and affections (or emotions). True worship occurs when we are contemplating things about God that are true (mind), submitting to God and his truth (will) and those truths are resulting in ordinate affections (emotions). Inordinate affection occurs when we respond to God's truth with the wrong sort of emotions or emotionalism (i.e., strong emotions actuated by something other God's truth or strong emotions that are innappropriate to the truth). It also occurs when we respond to God's truth with no emotions (via formalism or stoicism). There is nothing spritual about attempting to worship God with a stiff upper lip.

I think the ordinate affections question is a key consideration that unlocks many insights for making discerning decisions regarding worship styles and music. Granted, there is much subjectivity here (which is one reason there is so much controversy); however, the fact that there is a continuum of subjectivity doesn't mean there is nothing that is clearly out of bounds. For example, some styles are clearly inappropriate for communicating truths about the great, holy character of our God. There is nothing inherently wrong with someone doing an impression of John Wayne; however, we would all agree that it would be irreverent and sinful to lead a congregation in the Lord's Prayer while doing an impression of John Wayne. It would be inappropriate because it would demonstrate inordinate affections.

Philip Knight

Mike Durning's picture

PhilKnight wrote:
However, there are certain styles that are more conducive to true worship than others, and it is the responsibility of leaders in the church to foster that type of worship.

Phil, can you explain this more thoroughly? For instance, do you believe that these styles are more conducive due to cultural factors that are limited to our particular culture, or is their conducivity universal -- applying equally well to all times and cultures?

Just wanted to know what you are really saying.

PhilKnight's picture

Sorry to take so long in responding, Mike. I started typing a long response Saturday evening. Not sure what I did (some unintentional keystroke?), but just as I was nearing the end, *poof*, all the text disappeared. Sad

Subsequently, I looked back at some comments I made on music in another thread a while back, and they cover my thoughts better anyway.

I assume by "universal," you're asking if I believe there are qualities intrinsic to the music itself that make it have a similar effect across all cultures and times. If so, the short answer to your question is: I think both cultural and universal factors are involved. The "universal" factors have a tendency to communicate or evoke certain emotions in a way similar to the way our countenance and vocal tone communicate certain moods. However, emotions can't be judged morally by themselves: To make moral judgments we have to consider the context of the emotion. For example, anger is not wrong when it is directed at sin and injustice. (In fact, lack of anger in that case would be wrong.) In the same way, the "mood" of a particular style of music is not wrong in and of itself. The best music marries the right sort of emotions to the words that are being sung. That said, cultural and individual factors do play a significant role in the way a particular piece of music is experienced by individuals. There is a wide continuum of subjectivity here, and it's difficult (impossible?) to draw hard lines.

However, acknowledgement of the above does not imply that we can't make any judgments about musical pieces. Some things are clearly out of bounds. Some melodies or styles just don't fit the words, and in some cases the mismatch is so extreme as to constitute irreverence. In other cases, an acceptable arrangement (words and music) can be performed in way that makes it inappropriate. Let me illustrate: There is nothing wrong with the song "Happy Birthday." However, there was definitely something wrong with the way that song was sung in the notorious incident where Marilyn Monroe sang it to President Kennedy. It was sung in a sensual way that was inappropriate. In the same way, songs sung in supposed worship of God can be sung in a way that is inappropriate (e.g., with techniques that communicate sensual overtones). Ordinate affections are an indispensable component of acceptable worship. The best worship music tends to evoke a mood that accords with the ordinate affections that flow from a Spirit-filled believer as that believer contemplates the truth of God that is being expressed. Note, that the music should not generate those affections (that would be emotionalism), but should be in accord with them.

The comments I posted on that other thread flesh out this and similar thoughts. If you want to take a look, they begin at http://sharperiron.org/comment/16075#comment-16075 ]comment #54 and the discussion continues down through comment #62.

Note: Do not take the above comments to be an attack against "contemporary" vs. "traditional" music. (I'm purposely avoiding that debate here.) I think if we were to apply the "ordinate affections" test to all our worship music, we'd find music in both categories that doesn't measure up (and sometimes it's not a matter of right vs. wrong, but good vs. better).

Philip Knight

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think it is important to differentiate between emotions and emotionalism. It's ok to be happy, sad, angry, etc... but our emotions should be guided by Biblical boundaries of propriety, length, and intensity. Emotionalism is the penchant for filtering everything through one's emotions, and for indulging one's feelings to an inappropriate extent.

So for this discussion- it isn't wrong to be 'appropriately' emotional. But we get too invested in producing emotional responses, or trying to measure the effect of our words by whether or not someone laughs, cries, shouts, etc. or worse, trying to measure someone else's spiritual depths with our Holy Ghost-O-Meter.

As useful as the principle of 'fruit inspection' is, we've often applied it in ways in which it was not intended, IMO. Fruit should be consistent with the 'tree' it claims to be hanging on, and the fruits of the Spirit are "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance:" They are virtues that indicate one's basic character. Hanky-waving, shouting, navel gazing, and weeping are not listed.

I do love discussions about music, however problematic they are. I'm listening to http://www.oliversacks.com/books/musicophilia/ Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks on audio this week, and we are wrong IMO to in any way diminish how powerful music is on our physical bodies and mental processes.

Mike Durning's picture

Phil,

Thanks for the thorough reply. It helps me put your earlier comments in a context.

One question though. You say...

PhilKnight wrote:
I think if we were to apply the "ordinate affections" test to all our worship music, we'd find music in both categories that doesn't measure up (and sometimes it's not a matter of right vs. wrong, but good vs. better).

Would you agree that the opposite can be true? Is there, in your opinion, contemporary music that does measure up to this standard?

Again, just curious.

Mike D

PhilKnight's picture

Mike Durning wrote:

Would you agree that the opposite can be true? Is there, in your opinion, contemporary music that does measure up to this standard?

The opposite not only can be true, I think it is true. There have been songs written in recent years that are excellent: They have very strong doctrinal lyrics. They also marry those lyrics to musical compositions that highlight the meaning and emotion of the words and stick in your head so that you remember them. I could name several examples, but would rather not for a couple of reasons:

First, as soon as you start naming particular pieces of music, discussion tends to degenerate and polarize based on particular tastes, and that hinders objective discussions around the principles and high-level considerations whose implications need to be fleshed out prior to making any applications. (IMO, there has been too much shallow and emotional argumentation already on both sides of the issue.)

Second, although I've come to pretty firm conclusions on some of the principles and "high-level considerations" (i.e. my philosophy), I'm still working through the implications & applications.

Philip Knight