Write by Douglas Small on February 20, 2013
Recently, in a meeting of prayer leaders, I began to share regarding our ‘familiarity’ with God, the use of intimate language without any reference to God’s ‘otherness’ – and I will never forget the look of shock that registered on faces. It was as if I was saying something they had never heard before. In fact, as I persisted with the idea of approaching a God who was ‘past finding out’ it became clear that I was taking some of them into new territory.
Frankly, we have become too familiar with God. Intimacy is in; reverence is out. Listen to the praise music. It is almost completely devoid terms that describe God’s transcendence. The wonderful and rich theology of the old hymns is rarely heard, at least in Pentecostal churches. It is forty-minutes of ‘everybody on your feet, and put your hands together for Jesus.’ It is not a worship service, but a ‘pep rally.’ YHWH is now presented as ‘daddy’ God; and Jesus as our buddy – or lover, who is greeted with a ‘sloppy wet kiss.’ Ron Auch, a prayer leader, who I dare not impugn with this article, noted in a conversation, that the level of intimate language in praise music, language which we should note as, at least in some cases, inappropriate or border-line so, is a manifestation of people who are attempting to do publically, what is only appropriate privately. Public worship is attempting to compensate for the almost total lack of a private regular prayer life. Prayer does involve loving God and letting Him love us; there is a level of inexpressible intimacy in our relationship with God. Some things appropriate in private prayer and worship, are not necessarily appropriate in public worship. Bottom line – there must be a ‘private’ component to ‘public’ worship and prayer. Together, we sing declaratively, we affirm our theology, we offer praise at a different level. Privately, God deals with us in ways that break our hearts; or cause us to exult in passionate personal worship.
We now have a one-dimensional and almost exclusively emotional connection with God reflected in only in our public worship and prayer; and it is far too shallow. Worship must involve the heart and the head, as should prayer. Worship is not a matter of our feelings; it rises out of Scripture, and lays hold of God’s action in history. What is happening now in the praise and worship movement is promoting a less than reverent view of God. It is promulgating cheap grace. Few take off their shoes and tip-toe. We lift up unclean hands. We sing through unsanctified lips. We rush into a house of worship without the preparation of hearts and minds, as if we running by Grandpas house on the way to the lake, with little or no lifestyle impact. We kiss God, tell Him we love Him, thank Him for still being around, and rush off to the important matters in our life. Church services assure us by songs and sermons that all is well – God loves us, no matter how unfaithful and naughty we have been. Truth is dead; love has smothered it. Even Santa Claus keeps a list; but not the modern God. He has chronic amnesia, to our benefit. But does He?
This superficial, single-dimension of God is deadly. It is the essence of worldliness. It is a religious drug to which we are now culturally addicted; and it keeps us from seeing a whole God – one who is both love and truth, and utterly holy; and therefore we are prevented from understanding the full picture of justification and sanctification; of consecration and sacrificial service. So we have brushes with the Spirit, rather than transforming encounters in the Spirit, patterned on the Bible. We are numbed with the superficial lyrics and feel-good praise music. It actually prevents us from feeling real conviction and being motivated to get well spiritually. On this drug of superficial and syrupy worship, the Church is starving and dying; too anemic to do battle; and yet falsely feeling too well to get help.