Few modern praise choruses teach…

Too often forgotten by writers of praise choruses and other modern church music is the biblically mandated didactic role of church music. We’re commanded to be “teaching and admonishing one another in … psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Few modern praise choruses teach or admonish. Instead, most are written to stir the feelings only. They are too often sung like a mystical mantra with the deliberate purpose of putting the intellect into a passive state while the worshiper musters as much emotion as possible. Repetition is deliberately built into many praise songs precisely for this purpose.

The Vineyard paradigm of worship was virtually built on this principle. And churches worldwide have adopted the model. Consider this description of a typical modern worship service:

Music … is limited exclusively to praise choruses—with lyrics shown on overhead projectors rather than sung out of books, so that the worshiper will have total freedom to respond physically. Each praise chorus is repeated several times, and the only signal that we’re moving on to the next chorus is when the overhead changes. There is no announcement or spoken remarks between songs—indeed, no song leader, so the singing has a spontaneous feel to it.

The music starts slow and soft and builds gradually but steadily in a 45-minute crescendo. Each successive chorus has a more powerful emotional tone than the previous one. Over the course of 45 minutes, the emotional power of the music increases by almost imperceptible degrees from soft and gentle to a powerful, driving intensity. At the beginning everyone is seated. As the feeling of fervor increases, people respond almost as if on cue, first by raising hands, then by standing, then by kneeling or falling prostrate on the floor. At the end of the worship time fully half the congregation are on the carpet, many lying face-down and writhing with emotion. The music has been carefully and purposefully brought to this intense emotional peak. One senses that this is the whole purpose of the congregational singing—to elevate emotions to a white-hot fervor. The more intense the feeling, the more people are convinced they have truly “worshiped.”

Yet in all this there is no particular emphasis on the content of the songs. We sing about “feeling” God’s presence among us, as if our rising emotions are the chief way His presence is confirmed and the force of His visitation is measured. Several of the songs tell the Lord He is great and worthy of praise, but none ever really says why. No matter; the goal clearly is to stir our emotions, not to focus our minds on any particular aspect of God’s greatness. In fact, later in the sermon, the preacher cautions us against following our heads rather than our hearts in any of our dealings with God.

In other words, the worship here is intentionally and purposefully anti-intellectual. And the music reflects it. While there is nothing overtly erroneous about any of the praise choruses that were sung, there is nothing of substance in most of them either. They are written to be vehicles of passion, because passion—deliberately divorced from the intellect—is what defines this concept of “worship.”

 

John MacArthur, from Fool’s Gold: Discerning Truth in an Age of Error, p. 119

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