I had the privilege this past Monday of leading the music at our church’s Conference on the Church for God’s Glory. It was a great thrill to lead 100+ men in the singing of God’s praises. Here is the hymn list for the one-day conference (we had 3 preaching session in which there was singing):
- A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
- Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty
- Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor
- How Sweet and Awful
- Give Praise To God (sung in each service)
There is nothing like leading so many pastors in singing! These men sang with enthusiasm and understanding, truly responding with their spirits to truth about God. I enjoyed being able to connect eyes with these men as they sang, some with smiles, others with tears. There was no artificial enthusiasm here; no hype or emotional manipulation; but these men were clearly expressing their affection for God and his truth in a modest, controlled, reverent, enthusiastic manner. It was truly exciting!
In particular, it was a joy to introduce the men to “Give Praise To God,” a wonderfully rich hymn written by James M. Boice and Paul S. Jones and included in a collection of hymns by these men, Hymns for a Modern Reformation. We gave each of the conference attendees a copy of the booklet, and we sang “Give Praise To God” in each service throughout the conference. The men seemed to really appreciate this example of a new, fresh, modern hymn that is still conservative in form. Many said they had not known of these hymns and planned to use them in their churches. Mission accomplished.
After the conference, a pastor friend and I were comparing the musical worship of this conference with that of a much larger evangelical conference that both he and I had attended in April. There were many similarities: a unity around God’s truth, a deliberateness in the hymn choices and progression, enthusiasm and evident understanding in the singing, even many of the hymn choices were the same. That conference was attended by many who typically use a much more contemporary style in their church services, but for this conference settled for simple hymn-singing accompanied only by piano.
So on paper, the music in both conferences would appear to be the same. However, because of some very foundational philosophical differences between us and those leading music at that conference, there were still some stark differences. And this provides an excellent opportunity to highlight these philosophical differences because as I said, on paper, there was no difference. The differences came out in how the hymns were led and how they were sung.
Although every hymn choice for that conference was in and of itself conservative, and although the accompaniment was simple in theory, a completely different underlying philosophy bled through. The leader of the singing, who led from the piano, was a master at emotional manipulation stimulation. How he accompanied the hymns moved and swayed the audience in certain emotional directions. He constantly shouted out unintelligible exclamations that further roused the audience. And the audience did respond. Hands waving in the air, enthusiastic shouting, vigorous singing, and even some jumping around.
Now let me say right away that in theory, none of these things are inherently bad. They may simply be certain individuals’ ways of physically expressing true affection. However, what was evident by how these hymns were led was that this kind of physical response was the target, not just a result.
Let me back up for just a moment. I really appreciate the deliberateness of the worship at that conference. That’s something I strive for, and I believe it is commendable for them. I also appreciate their insistence that affection is at the heart of worship. I agree. Without a response of the heart, worship does not take place. I have no doubt that they have right motives and even a right foundational principle beneath what music they choose and how they choose to lead it.
But, I am convinced that they erroneously confuse the physical, external “feelings” that often accompany true affection with affection itself. And I’m afraid that many fundamentalists are getting swept into that as well, witnessing the enthusiasm at conferences like that and wishing they had that in their churches.
The Bible commands that we have affection for God. That is at the heart of worship, and that is at the heart of biblical religion. With affection often comes feelings. It may be exhilaration, enthusiasm, goose bumps, tears, smiles, etc. Those are good things. I saw some of that at our conference – smiles, tears, even subtle bodily movement. Some people experience them more than others. But there is the key. The external feelings are not essential to the affections. And what I’m afraid of is that people who are naturally enthusiastic kinds of people (like me!) are tempted to insist that others have the same kind of external enthusiasm as they do when we have certain affections.
But that’s wrong thinking. Often when I’m preaching, I’ll look over the audience and think, “Why aren’t they smiling? This is great stuff.” But then sometimes when I’m listening to preaching, and my heart is full, I notice that I’m actually frowning with furrowed brow because I have been thinking so hard. The point is that I can have the right affections without necessarily showing it physically. The error comes (and this was evident in comments made in one of the panel discussions at the other conference) when we insist that in order to truly worship or truly possess certain affections, we have to also possess the external feelings. That just isn’t biblical. The Bible never commands outward physical feelings.
Then, because of this wrong way of thinking, I’m convinced that some of their music, and even the way that they lead more conservative things, is actually intended to target the external feelings. The music director at that conference, as I said, is a master at emotional manipulation. I am not for a moment insinuating that he intends to manipulate. I’m certain that he thinks he is encouraging biblical affection. But as a matter of fact he is actually encouraging external physical feelings, which he wrongly assumes is proof of biblical affection. He is a master at working to a climax, moving the piece along to create a desired effect. If he gets to a point and doesn’t think the progression to climax is moving along, then he repeats the verse or phrase. His yelling and accompaniment style were all intended to encourage the external, physical feelings, which again, he assumes is proof of affection. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that the stimulation of the externals can be totally void of true affection, and actually, when the feelings are targeted, they automatically overpower any true thought or affection.
The problem is, then, that these people cannot worship (what they think is worship) unless they have that kind of music. Have those same people sing those same hymns at our conference with piano and organ, and those same people will not have the same experience. Why? Because since they automatically connect the physical feelings with true affection, if they don’t have the feelings, they don’t think they’re worshiping. And since they’re used to having those feelings roused by a certain kind of music, if they don’t have the music, they don’t have the experience. The saddest moment for me at that conference was when a good friend of mine, who grew up in conservative churches, told me that he loves the more contemporary style because he’s never worshiped better. We conservatives often get charged with idolizing certain styles of music, but I would suggest that comments like this reveal the real idolizing – people can’t experience what they believe to be worship without that kind of music.
All of this is a caution to us. Be careful not to insist that people in your congregation with different personalities than you and different ways of expressing true affection have the same kind of “enthusiasm” about truth that you do. Realize that they could actually be having the same affections for truth as you, but they just don’t express it externally like you do.
The fact of the matter is that the only certain evidence of true affection is holy living. The external feelings may or may not accompany affection, and the feelings can be stimulated apart from affection. Feelings are not certain evidence that affection is present. So the only way to know for sure that someone is rightly responding to truth is by their life, not by the external “enthusiasm.”