I have been a Charismatic believer for forty-two years. I was a weekly “worship leader” in Charismatic, “prophetic and apostolic” environments for thirty-five of those years. I get the picture as someone who has been on the inside for a very long time. I thoroughly understand the history, theology, values, beliefs, and practices behind Charismatic praise and worship expression. I also have had serious concerns and uneasiness about the theology and practice for a very long time.
Trends and practices in much Charismatic praise and worship have disturbing similarities to:
- a Hitler youth rally (of which I have written here).
- the practices of the worshippers of Moloch (Molech).
- the prophets of Baal.
Scripture records King Ahaz as offering his children to Moloch. The people followed his lead. The idol Moloch was shaped as a hollow bronze oven with outstretched arms. A fire was kindled in the idol until it was red-hot. When it reached temperature, the Israelites placed their children in the outstretched red-hot arms to be burned alive. The ritual was so disturbing to the remnants of human conscience that the worshippers did not want to hear the screams of their children being roasted.
So, part of their “worship experience” was to do their “worship music” for as long and loud as possible to drown out the cries of their children as to not bother their conscience and “ruin the experience.” They could enjoy their “worship experience” and ignore the ethics of what they were doing to the most vulnerable in their midst–even their own children. I am embarrassed to admit how many Charismatic worship services I have participated in, and led, with an indifferent conscience toward the “less-thans” in both the community and the world. It was all about providing the weekly Jesus-buzz for the paying attendees.
I have seen tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars and man-hours, spent on providing attendees a “worship experience.” I have watched and participated in meetings where hours of sweat, energy, shouting, and any number of other antics are encouraged to produce what is believed to be an experience in “the presence of God.” A friend of mine once coined: “The only thing missing is the knives to cut ourselves. I wish I was a cutlery salesman, I would get rich.” It is a most tragic phenomenon that presents God as a remote deity who has to be conditioned by our singing, antics, and metaphorical cutting, to “manifest” Himself in some way.
This goes on week after week while the poor, the afflicted, the destitute, the refugee, the war-ravaged, the sex-trafficked, etc., are left resourceless (or pawned off to the government to deal with such things). This should cause us some self-reflection of just what it is we are giving our time, talents, and treasure to sustain.
So What to Do?
I have no problem with passionate and expressive forms of worship and liturgy–if properly contextualized in understanding. An emotionally hyped, “pep-rally-for-Jesus” every week is not worship in any sort of Christ-centered, kingdom context. I believe the entire worship cottage industry needs deconstruction and a new covenant theology and praxis overhaul. I have written on these things in detail here.
In many places, the so-called worship experience has become nothing other than the institutionalization, perpetuation, and sanctification of passive spiritual narcissism and co-dependent behaviors. Worship without ethical output, worship without an awareness of our connectivity as humans–not only touching God, but also touching one another–is in reality, no worship at all.
This is because the world—humanity—is God’s concern. Humanity is on, and in, His heart. You cannot say you have “touched the heart of God” via your preferred spiritual disciplines and worship expression, and remain indifferent toward the plight of those around you in the human community. That would be like saying you can swim in an ocean of ink and not come out blue! No, if you spiritually make contact in a bona fide “God-environment,” you will come out permeated with proof of where you have been and with Whom you have communed.
Communities that touch God with their vibrant and expressive spiritual worship and touch their neighbor (broadly defined) with their acts of service, whose budgets are not inflated and skewed toward buildings, salaries, and maintenance of the worship experience, are to be highly commended.
Those communities that consume 80-90% of the budget maintaining the “worship experience” for attendees and who throw a measly tithe (or often less, it is 7% on average in American churches) “over the wall,” need to do a reassessment of their commitment to the values of Jesus Christ.
Some might say, “Well, what about ministering unto the Lord? Doesn’t ministering to Him take priority? Don’t we do that in song and ‘soaking’ in His presence and offering Him the worship due Him?” It’s all in the definition of worship. I chose Jesus’ definition over the novel theologies and practices cooked up in the 1948 Latter Rain Movement, the Charismatic Movement of the 60s and 70s, and the so-called Apostolic-Prophetic Movement of the last twenty-five years.[i]
We worship Him, (i.e. – declare His worth: worship=literally, Old English, worth-ship) by treating others as we would Him. How we treat others IS ministering unto the Lord. It IS worship. Singing for hours trying to create at an atmosphere with our own psychological, sensory, and spiritual needs at the center, is not.
When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.
There it is–Plain. Simple. Not complicated.
Paul made it clear: being a living sacrifice is our reasonable worship, not deafening and lengthy song services, as if volume and time were spiritually significant in a metaphysical way. No, for followers of Christ, spiritual substance is found in being the living sacrifice for the world, the One Loaf body of a kingdom of priests who lay down their lives in service. The problem is, there is normally no endorphin rush in the latter.
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