Monday, October 5, 2020
Let's unpack some weak theology in a specific song. Bryan And Katie Torwalt's worship song "Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here," for the most part, expresses the joy of being in the presence of God in worship. Yet, I have some issues with part of the text: "Holy Spirit, You are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere..." Here are some concerns:
- God is the one who takes the initiative in worship. We don't show up and invite God to join us. – Remember that the bush was burning before Moses got there.
- Since the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Then it is not a matter of "welcoming the Holy Spirit," but acknowledging His presence in our lives. I'm sure that the song is referencing Pentecost or when the church prayed, and the place where they were staying was shaken. But in both accounts, they did not pray for those things. Rather than praying for such an experience, we might pray for the sensitivity to hear God's voice and the boldness to obey.
- The church in Acts did not pray for an experience; they prayed for the boldness to share. Seeking the experience first puts the cart before the horse. When Daddy comes in from a trip away and has a habit of bringing a surprise to his kids, it doesn't take long before the kids begin to look forward to what their father is bringing more than himself. We need to be cautious about measuring our worship based on feelings or the level of a given experience. Remember the admonition of Jesus: "Lord, didn't we cast out demons in your name and perform all kinds of miracles?" And he said to them, "Depart from me for I never knew you." [Matt. 7:23] The test of our worship is our obedient response to God, not our feelings. We can have an experience outside of the realm of obedience.
- During the Arian controversy, though Arius was sincere in what he believed [Jesus was not equal to the Father], and shared his teaching through his sermons and catchy songs of the day. It became such a problem that congregational song was virtually abolished after the Council of Laodicea. Sensitivity to doctrinal error is a serious issue.
- Though songs may affect how we feel, we must not allow how we feel in worship to become the measure of the depth of our worship or to worship the trappings of worship instead of the God we worship. Not too unlike the teenager that is "in love with the idea of love," it is easy to become enthralled with the idea of worship. It is easy for those leading worship to become enamored with the feelings of leading worship, rather than focusing on the One to whom the worship is directed.
- Inspiration is not the same as revelation. You probably have heard the phrase: "the Lord gave me this song." God does inspire composition, however, that does not mean that the text and music are directly from God, placing them on the same level as God's Word, or to say it in another way, we have received further revelation from God. Such logic has led to many doctrinal heresies and problems in the Body of Christ. The inspiration for the song may be related to Scripture, however just because the Bible mentions something does not mean that it is teaching it: the Bible says that Judas hung himself, but that certainly doesn't mean that we are to go and do the same.
Options? Fix the error in the text. Sometimes it can be done with small adjustments. Write the composer and share your concerns. If they listen to you fine, if not, leave the song out and find one that is biblically correct that meets the need of the service. Remember, our people will remember more of what they sing than hear. Paul pleaded with those to whom he wrote to guard themselves against false doctrines, so we should do no less and certainly not promote them by putting them in the hearts and minds of those we serve.
Dr. Ed Steele is Professor of Music in Leavell College with many years of ministry experience in at home and abroad. This is the second part of Dr. Steele’s blog post regarding the importance of proper theology in music.