Mediating the Spirit Through Song?
In recent years, it has become common to view music as the means by which we are “brought into God’s presence.” This emphasis eclipses and confuses the overwhelming New Testament teaching that His presence has already been placed in us by the Holy Spirit through the sacrifice of Christ. One author, representative of this view, explains a view of worship: “It stands to reason that Presence is released. Atmosphere is changed… This is an amazing result from a dove being released… The atmosphere changes as the Presence is given His rightful place.”[iii] Note the third person reference to the Holy Spirit. “Presence” is capitalized (seemingly as a force) and it appears that the goal is to give this “Presence” special permission through the singing.
In truth, there is no New Testament verse teaching that music is a means of mediating the presence of the Holy Spirit. In some gatherings I’ve witnessed, it appears that the worship leaders are trying to “channel” the Holy Spirit through the songs, which is far more akin to mysticism than to biblical Christianity.
Christ Made and Makes It Possible
The lyrics of clear biblical truth in music can certainly deepen our worship and positively affect our emotions. (I have an entire chapter in Transforming Presence teaching on the vital role of emotion.) Yet, the Bible is clear that it is the work of Christ alone that has mediated the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Further, any diversion from the truth of what really mediates God’s presence (other than Christ) dilutes the glory of the gospel and diminishes the power and truth of all His cross has accomplished for us. Jesus gave His life and shed His blood to bring us into a new covenant relationship so that we would live with compelling assurance of the Spirit’s indwelling. It is the Spirit in us, the very power that raised Christ from the dead, that produces worship, transformation and supernatural gospel impact (Romans 8:11).
Vaughan Roberts clarifies that music “is not the means by which we enter the presence of God, but it is one of the ways in which we can express our joy at the wonderful truth that we are already there, in his presence, in Christ.”[iv] Worship leader Pete Ward has observed that in many circles today the praise and worship is being taught as the place of encountering God.[v] Many have referred to this as the “sacramentalization of singing”—worship singing becomes the new sacrament. This is a growing point of confusion across the spectrum of evangelical Christianity.
The Holy Spirit’s control in us will produce heartfelt worship expressed in song for the glory of Christ. The truth in the songs can certainly inform and inspire our worship but the song is not the key to the “Presence.”
Michael Horton notes, “Vagueness about the object of our praise inevitably leads to making our own praise the object. Praise therefore becomes an end in itself, and we are caught up in our own ‘worship experience’ rather than in the God whose character and acts are the only proper focus.”[vi]
A Better Start
So, I pray that next weekend church services across the nation will begin with the great truth of the person and promise of the indwelling Spirit. His work in us will point us to Christ and awaken real worship “in spirit and in truth.” Even if we are not led in this way, we can individually embrace these truths. Our surrender to Him will produce better singing, greater focus on Jesus, and authentic heart-to-heart ministry to one another for the glory of Christ and the supernatural advancement of the gospel.
Copyright © 2018 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Ed Steele, Worship Heartcries (North Charleston, SC: Ed Steele, 2016), 90.
[ii] Bob Kaughlin, True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 26 – 27.
[iii] Bill Johnson, Hosting the Presence (Shippensburg. PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2012), 166 – 167.
[iv] Vaughn Roberts, 75.
[vi] Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of Christ-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 26.
This article originally appeared here.