Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Alcohol 3 - Consequences

          One of the mistakes people make when studying complex issues in the Bible is they often rush right to the passages that are most puzzling. They pull two contrasting statements out and assert a biblical contradiction, or perhaps they pull out one that supports their position that the other position has trouble explaining. The reason this is a mistake is that an attempt to actually understand a complex biblical issue must needs begin with a wider base. The pinnacle of the spire on the top of New York City’s Freedom Tower only makes sense in the context of the foundation lain deep below. Above that foundation comes an entire superstructure and not until then is it finally crowned with a spire. Understanding it, grasping it must include the entirety of it.
          Context is critically important. The English word “bank” may mean the edge of a river, a place to store money, or the turning of an aircraft. I determine an accurate understanding based on context. Someone asked me after my blog post last week on weight where I got this new hermeneutic of weight. “I'd really like to hear an explanation to this. I'm not familiar with the ‘hermeneutic of weight’, but I'm sure that it could be said a different way somewhere? Maybe? Where does it stand within the rest of hermenuetical principles?” That is an excellent question and my answer is that weight is context.
          The context of a passage is not just immediate. It is parenthetical. By that I mean the context expands out in ever larger brackets. The context of a word is the phrase, of the phrase is the sentence, of the sentence is the passage, of the passage is the book, etc. But beyond even the book there is the larger context of what God means about a certain subject as revealed in the entirety of Scripture. If I want to know what "love" means in a particular verse I need to examine it through the light of all of those contexts. Weight is simply another way of saying the entire Bible context.
          Thus it is that in writing this series on what the Bible says about alcohol I am purposely beginning with the broad strokes. I aim to show you the larger context in which the Scripture places the subject before we narrow our study down to the more complex passages. In saying this some will no doubt accuse me of seeking to instill a bias prior to examining problem passages. What they call bias I call context.
          Today I want to examine some of the consequences of drinking. What does drinking produce? What does drinking bring? The world would no doubt answer that question with some variation of a good time. Beer is fun. Beer is All-American. Beer tastes good. Wine is sophisticated. Spirits are manly. I know all of these things because television tells me so. We shall look for our answer instead within the pages of God’s Word.
       Drinking alcohol produces poverty. For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23.21) I live in the heart of America’s second biggest inner city. At every major intersection on my side of the city you will be accosted with beggars. Shambling through traffic, holding up a cardboard sign and an empty paper cup they stroll from car to car asking for spare change. Where does such desperate poverty come from? Many reputable and highly experienced social workers, et al, say that the vast majority of the money put into those paper cups gets spent on drugs and alcohol.
          In 2008, for instance, the people of America bought 213 million barrels of beer produced by 3500 different breweries. In the United States there are 521,000 places one can go to purchase beer. When you combine an addicted clientele and an ease of procurement what do you get? People who spend themselves broke feeding the monster. In my state alone that year the average consumption of alcohol was over thirty gallons per person!
          Peapod has a twenty-four pack of Budweiser listed at $18.99. At that price beer averages $8.44 a gallon. At 6.6 billion gallons bought in 2008 that means America spent $55 billion on beer alone that year. That $55 billion did not get spent on education, health care, mortgages, rent, electricity, gas, bus fare, or car payments. Nope. Instead it took food out the mouths of children, clothes off their backs, roofs away from their heads, dentists away from their teeth, and ruined their family’s financial present and future. He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich. (Proverbs 21.17)  
          Drinking alcohol produces spiritual delusion. That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments:but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. (Amos 6.6) Amos is here speaking of God’s judgment being poured out on a rebellious Israel. Sadly, this judgment does not produce any spiritual sorrow in the people because the wine they chase dulls their spiritual perception.
          You cannot give yourself to drinking alcohol and be spiritually sensitive at the same time. Another Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, pronounced judgment on God’s people and linked their spiritually disastrous state to their drinking. Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people. (Habakkuk 2.5) Daniel tells us that when Belshazzar was drinking he was so out of touch spiritually he could not recognize the finger of God when it appeared before him. Nabal would not give David provisions but was willing to throw a party and debauch himself into a drunken stupor totally ignorant of the great danger he was in spiritually and physically.
          I love each person who attends my church, those who drink and those who do not. Yet those who do, curiously enough, do not tithe, do not give to missions, do not witness, and have a life that looks no different than the lost world around them. I cannot see their heart of course but the only thing that visibly marks them as God's people is the occasional Sunday morning visit. At the same time, if you ask them, they think they are in pretty good shape spiritually. The fact of the matter is they are delusional. They are spiritually deluded.
          Moses said it this way. Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven. (Deuteronomy 29.18-20)
          Additionally, Hosea tells us drinking and rebellion are found in concert. Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me. And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me. (Hosea 7.13-14) I attended a strict Christian high school. Not coincidentally, when those churchified kids wanted to rebel against the rules of their parents and their school how did they choose to do it? Yep. You guessed it. By throwing alcohol soaked parties.
To this Moses again adds his agreement. If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. (Deuteronomy 21.18-20) There are certainly many contributing factors that combine in a rebellious life. Alcohol is not the only one but it is one.
Drinking alcohol produces sadness. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. (Proverbs 31.6-7) Some people use this verse to justify drinking. They fail to understand that Scripture is speaking ironically here. Think with me for a moment. When we are sad, what or who are we supposed to run to? Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (I Peter 5.7) Solomon speaks here specifically about poverty. When you are troubled about your financial state what are you to do? Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4.11)
Obviously drinking gives no permanent comfort to a man who is economically stressed or in a heart breaking situation. Drinking does not help him to deal with it all only to avoid it. Guess what is there when he sobers up? The heartbreak and the discontentment. Problems must be dealt with not papered over for problems avoided become problems enlarged. What really happens is that when the guy sobers up he is even sadder than he was before because now he has a hangover to go with his suddenly returned sadness. Drinking has never cured any ill, fixed any problem, or healed any heartache.
Ask yourself this question: How does God want me to best handle my stress and sorrow? If your answer is drinking rather than prayer and faith your concept of God and your understanding of God’s Word is totally flawed. No, this passage does not teach permissible alcoholic ingestion when you are heartbroken; it teaches, rather, that heartbreak remains and worsens when it is dosed with alcohol. The context of Proverbs 31 is plainly negative on the subject of alcohol. Solomon is saying that it is ridiculous to think alcohol helps you solve your problems. It is the last thing you would rationally want to do. 
Lastly today, drinking alcohol produces health problems. It increases your risk of harming yourself due to accidents. It is the leading preventable cause of cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, dangerous heart rhythms, and stroke. It prevents food digestion and produces gastritis and ulcers. It reduces brain activity (which is why your speech gets slurred). If you drink enough your brain actually shuts down (which is why you can’t remember anything the next day). It robs the brain of the combination of water and glucose that it feeds on (which is why you have a hangover the next day). It destroys brain cells (which is why Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is so damaging; it severely impacts the brains of developing babies). Since 90% of alcohol is metabolized in the liver the more you drink the more you risk cirrhosis (scarring) and hepatitis (inflammation). It depletes the lungs of glutathione which leaves them more vulnerable to infection and disease. In the pancreas it produces pancreatitis, diabetes, and ulcers. It can cause blindness. It lowers bone density. It reduces the immune system thus increasing the risk of developing pneumonia, tuberculosis, liver disease, HIV, gastrointestinal infections, and septicemia. I could go on and on and on along this line. Just google the health effects of drinking and you can spend hour upon hour scaring yourself to death.
I suspect many of you will not agree with everything I have written today but I want you to honestly ask yourself this question: Where does the weight lie? When you place the positives of drinking on one side of the scale and the negatives on the other side how does it tilt? Ask it in the privacy of your heart and the integrity of your conscience. Ask it the context of how drinking affects not only your life but the lives of others around you. Ask it in the context of how your drinking influences those who follow you. Where is wisdom? Where is foolishness?

Maybe the real question is not whether you can but whether you should…

Monday, May 18, 2015

Alcohol 2 - Where Does the Weight Lie?

          Often, in studying a biblical issue that is puzzling, I will ask myself this question: "Where does the weight lie?" In other words, if one were to pile up all the mentions or allusions to the topic in the Word of God which pile is the biggest? Admittedly, this is not the only or only necessary or even the first means of biblical interpretation but I find it helpful. The whole point of studying the Word of God is to discover what God said and thinks. Sometimes, He seems to say several different things about the same concept. So I pile them up. I place them on an imaginary scale in my mind to see where the weight is. What does God seem to say most often about this subject? Where is His emphasis?
For instance God does instruct us once to hate our families (Luke 14.26) but repeatedly He tells us to love them. In this case the weight plainly comes down on the side of loving them. Understanding that informs how I view the passage instructing me to hate them as well as how I view family as a whole.
          When I first began study what the Bible says about alcohol I used this method. I gathered all the mentions of it and began to sort them into piles. Many of those mentions have no specific contextual basis of good or bad. I set those aside into their own pile. Some of the remaining mentions have a contextual basis of good. A large number of those with a contextual basis of good are prefaced with the word 'new' as in new wine. Setting those aside into yet a different pile (I will deal with them later) there are still a handful that mention wine, without the adjective 'new', as being a good thing. For example, Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, And shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, For wheat, and for wine, and for oil, And for the young of the flock and of the herd: And their soul shall be as a watered garden; And they shall not sorrow any more at all. (Jeremiah 31.12) In this passage God is clearly blessing Israel and He explicitly includes wine.
          On the opposite side of the coin there are some passages with a contextual basis that is bad. A large number of those with a contextual basis that is bad define the beverage under questions as 'strong drink.' Setting those likewise aside for the moment (I will deal with these later) there are a still some that mention wine, without the explanatory phrase 'strong drink', as being a bad thing.
          So which is it? Is wine good or bad?
My first attempt to answer that question came by trying to determine on which side the weight came down. In other words, with the remaining mentions in Scripture - setting aside those without a larger explanatory context and setting aside those with a direct explanatory adjective, good or bad - when I put them on the scale, did the scale tilt negative or positive?
The answer is clearly negative. The narrowed passages without underlying adjectives but with a contextual basis easy to understand overwhelmingly pile up on the bad side of the ledger. That is not only fact but the entire contention of my post today is that it is weighty fact. Indeed, some of the harshest language in the entire Bible is reserved for wine.
Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? (Proverbs 23.29) In this one verse we see six explicitly and highly negative things associated with wine.
Woe is a passionate cry of grief or despair. The dictionary defines it as trouble and anguish. The basic idea is that something really bad is headed your way. It is a word pregnant with warning as horrendously illustrated in Revelation 8-11.
Sorrow is pain caused by want. Alcohol causes children to want food, clothing, shelter, and parental affection. It causes wives to want security and a husband's affection. It causes husbands to want a chaste wife and an involved mother for their children. It causes society to want peace, quiet, a lessening of crime, and good health. When you drink alcohol it produces great want somewhere and always in those you love the most.
This stands in stark contrast to the image portrayed on television by beer commercials. This biblically defined sorrow also stands in contrast to the experience of many a young person who sees an alcohol soaked party as the penultimate example of a good time. But it is wholly false to judge a person's sorrow by how they appear to feel while drinking. The sorrow comes, in Solomon's eloquent turn of phrase, but afterwards. (Proverbs 20.17)
Contentions are strife caused by brawling. This is actually why some people ingest alcohol. They want to buck their courage up for a confrontation. Such people know that drinking leads to a feeling of invulnerability thus feeding arguments and fights. How many fist fights broke out in churches this past weekend? How many broke out in bars?
Some of the most foolish things ever uttered by a tongue have come while men are in their cups. Drinking loosens normal restraints including those over the tongue. It produces vulgar speech, argumentative speech, abusive speech – especially toward loves ones - and nonsensical speech. Men under the influence of alcohol reveal all sorts of secrets. In short, they babble.
Alcohol produces wounds without cause. Such wounds are self-inflicted out of sheer stupidity. Brain cells die. People fall into the paths of oncoming vehicles. They lie outside in the cold and freeze to death. They wound thousands of people a year when they get behind the wheel of a car. Drinking causes you to lose control not just of your thought patterns and your speech but of your physical body as well. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. (Psalm 107.27)
Additionally, your physical appearance takes a beating. There is redness of eyes. Your clothes, carriage, and especially your face over time reflect the alcohol you have ingested.
Who experiences these six negative things? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. (Proverbs 23.30) I can hear some of you now. "Yeah, but you have to tarry long with wine to experience these six things." In response I would say it is the nature of alcohol to produce these results. If you tarry long at milk you might get indigestion but you will not have these six things happen to you. The only drink we ingest that produces intoxication and its side effects is alcohol. It is wine itself that has this nature. Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. (Proverbs 20.1)
Solomon went on to say in Proverbs 23.31, Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. The devil is a master at making what is dangerously wrong look incredibly attractive. Wine is oft served from beautiful bottles via sophisticated waiters. It is poured into ornate glasses. The color and fragrance of good wine is in and of itself highly appealing. The whole experience is packaged exquisitely. It should not surprise us that it deceives so many.
A wise man does not even spare a glance for the pleasures implicit in such a situation. Why? At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. (Proverbs 23.32) One of the best tests you will ever place your decisions to is the test of later. If I have sex with this woman I will enjoy it now – but later? If I steal this money I will enjoy it now – but later? If I lash out in wrath I will enjoy it now – but later? Later alcohol bites and stings. This is true physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. (Proverbs 23.33) Alcohol consumption clearly incites immorality and indecency.
Where do men and women go to hook up? The library? I don't think so. They go to a bar. There is a country song that says, 'I'm in love with you baby and I don't even know your name.' In the dim light of that bar an alcohol soaked brain looks out of its eyes and says, 'Hey, that one looks pretty good to me.'
 Not only does alcohol make people seem more attractive than they actually are it also clearly lowers inhibitions. It lessens the natural restraint and control that God so graciously gifted to every person. Men utter perverse propositions under the influence of alcohol they would never say if they were sober. Women take off clothes in public under the influence of alcohol in ways they blush to think of the following day. Sexual sin and alcohol go hand in hand. Then said the Lord unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adultress, according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine. (Hosea 3.1)
Alcohol causes everything to move, swirl, and spin around you. Your sense of balance and discernment abandon you. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. (Proverbs 23.34) Jimmy Stewart tries to hand a drunk man his hat in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life". The man staggers around and asks which hat. Jimmy calmly replies, "The middle one."
They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again. (Proverbs 23.35) It is no secret that people who hurt themselves while drinking actually do not feel it at the time. More, though, this verse stresses the addicting power of alcohol. I can buy alcohol legally within two hundred steps of my church building but just because it is legal does not mean I should. Many of the brethren believe Christian liberty allows me that same freedom in a spiritual sense but even if they are right just because I can does not mean I should. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (I Corinthians 6.12)
There is something intrinsic in the substance that is alcohol which turns many a functioning member of society into a junkie. A wise man stays far away from such a risk. After all, if anything has control over me then I have lost the ability to yield myself to the Lord. Alcohol controls you. We have just examined a bunch of ways in which it causes you to lose control over yourself. But alcohol not only controls you when you drink it; it also often controls you when you do not drink it. It reels you in with hooks embedded deep into the flesh of your mouth. As a Christian we are supposed to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. We are to be yielded to God for His use. This cannot happen when alcohol enters the picture. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5.18)
Are there scattered references in Scripture that mention wine as a blessing, as a joy sent from God? Yes. But there are also scattered Scriptures that mention wine as a disaster. But beyond that dichotomy there is this one enormous passage in Proverbs 23 that to say the least weighs in on the negative side of the scale.

So which is it? Is wine good or bad? Should I imbibe alcoholic beverages or not? Ask yourself this question: where does the weight lie?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Alcohol 1 - Should You?

           Should you? Absolutely not! It is wicked as the devil! It ruins marriages, takes food out of the mouths of little children, and kills thousands of people! Don't touch the stuff!
          Should you? Well, historically, most Christians for the past two thousand years drank in moderation you know. After all, there was no such thing as preserved grape juice prior to Thomas Welch's discovery of pasteurization in 1869. Of course, we all realize that the Scripture never forbids drinking. It only forbids drunkenness. Why, even Jesus made and drank wine! How could it possibly be wrong?
          Most of Christianity takes one of those two positions. Generally speaking, they often do so with a blithe ignorance that is breathtaking. Yet I must be careful here because for most of my life that last sentence could easily describe me. I held a position and held it firmly while having spent very little effort and time to determine why I held that position. About four years ago I made up my mind to change that. I gathered a number of books on the subject. I tracked every verse in the Scripture that mentioned anything remotely like alcohol and examined them carefully. I wanted to find what God actually said about it and I believe I have.
          The word 'beer' is in the Bible but only two times as the name of a town. On the other hand, the King James Version uses some form of the word 'wine' 217 times, 'strong drink' 19 times, and 'drunk' 68 times so it clearly speaks much to the issue of alcohol
          Beer ranges from 3-12 percent alcohol though usually it lands between 4-6 percent. Wine contains from 9-16 percent alcohol. Fortified wine, such as port, Madeira, sherry, vermouth, etc. is usually between 15-20 percent alcohol; this is usually a mixture of wine and spirits. Spirits are distilled wine. Sometimes these are called hard liquor. They range from 20 percent at the low end to an incredible 95 percent at the high end. These include brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey and others. Thus we see that an examination of alcohol will cover each and every one of these from beer at the low end to vodka at the top end.
For the next three months I am going to wade right into the middle of this debate. We will look at where the weight lies in the biblical discussion. We will examine the consequences of drinking. We will discuss whether alcohol affects you. We will look at difficult passages which those on both sides often pretend not to see. We will emphasize context. We will spend a fair amount of time examining historical evidence. We will try to do all of this carefully, accurately, and thoughtfully. Hopefully, by the end of it, you will be able to form and hold a more spiritually educated position. Then again, some of you will simply read it in order to fuss with me but that's ok too. I need all kinds of readers. =)
So join me, won't you, for the next couple of months? If you would like to subscribe to this blog you can do so by entering your email address on the top right hand side of the page. Together let us study to show ourselves approved unto God. Let us rightly divide His Word. And then let us obey it though all the weight of the world comes against us.      

Monday, May 4, 2015

Worship, Part Six - Contemporary Worship's Three Problems

          Worship is our response when we meet with God. It is what happens in our heart and soul when we enter His presence, in awe of His greatness, conscious of His holiness, and deeply aware of our own sinfulness. When we come to Him in this humility and amazement we cannot help but fall prostrate at His feet and esteem Him in every way our superior. This is worship.
          This worship historically was done at a prescribed place in the Old Testament. In the New Testament however it shifts from being done at a certain location i.e. 'I went up to the Temple to worship' to being done at any location. Because of this shift, and because of the clear New Testament teaching that a church service is designed primarily for edification we are forced to conclude that a church service is not supposed to be a worship service. There is no such thing as a worship service in the New Testament.
          If you have followed me thus far in this short blog series you cannot help but see I am building a logical approach to worship layer by layer. Having arrived at this point we see that when we understand these truths it impacts how we live. By the same token, when we fail to understand these truths it also impacts the way we live albeit in a negative manner.
          Modern American Christianity, even orthodox Christianity, almost entirely fails to understand this. The vast majority of churches and pastors think that the church service is supposed to be a worship service. In so doing they unintentionally cause three potentially grievous problems in their churches. The purpose of today's post is to briefly develop these three problem areas and show you how they are tied to a misunderstood (and thus misapplied) view of worship.

          First, when you mistakenly aim your church service at worship you over-emphasize music and de-emphasize preaching. It is no secret that the preaching in American Christianity today is both poorer in quality and lesser in quantity than previous generations. This was driven home to me recently. One of our long time members finally managed to persuade her husband to visit our church. He promptly came back. Then he came back again. Knowing he had his own church I sat down with him and asked him why, at long last, he had decided to join his wife in attending our church. His answer was simple: 'Pastor Brennan, you preach more.'
He was essentially correct. I do preach much more than the average evangelical pastor. I preach four entirely new messages each week of between 30-60 minutes. Contrarily, the average contemporary evangelical church in this city has one sermon per week of 30 minutes and then chases that with a small group discussion later in the week. This man came to Christ in one of these kinds of churches but when he discovered he would be fed a whole lot more at our place he decided to keep showing up here.
  Please do not misunderstand me. I am not criticizing my pastor brethren in this city who preach Christ. However you cannot help but realize there is a tremendous difference between their approach to a church service and mine. Not only do they de-emphasize preaching they also over-emphasize music. This is because they think – even if they won't say it (and increasingly they will) – that music equals worship. Most American churches equate music with worship.

I could furnish a thousand examples but here is one I just saw last week. In the April 2015 edition of the Baptist Bible Tribune is an article titled 'Top 10 things churches just won't give up.' Number one is 'Worship and music style. Even though God loves all kinds of worship, this isn't so for many congregants, many of whom leave churches solely because of the style of worship during service.' The scriptural illiteracy of that sentence is staggering. It is wrong about the church service. It is wrong about music. It is wrong about God. It is wrong about worship. But you get my point don't you? Clearly, the Baptist Bible Tribune believes that church music is worship.
          Such churches, desperate to find a way to produce a better worship service, eventually run hither and yon after whatever the most recent trendy, relevance embracing, worship guru tells them will work. To such people a church that has bad corporate singing is bad at worship. Ergo, we must change the music in order to make the worship good. 
Again, I could furnish you with thousands of examples but let me give you just one more that came across my desk in the last week. In a blog article entitled 'Three Actual Reasons Why Millennials Are Leaving The IFB Church' by Eric Skwarczynski and dated 4/14/15 we find the following statement:

...here are three ACTUAL reasons why I believe millennials are leaving the IFB church. I. Apathetic Worship. Notice I didn’t say old-fashioned, or out of date, or traditional to describe the style of worship. It’s not the style which really irks me, or most others I’ve talked to. It is an apathetic, dead, careless, unenthusiastic style of “worship” (if it can even be called worship) which is very frustrating. The style of music is much less important to me than the spirit of worship. I have been to ├╝ber traditional IFB churches where the singing is just saturated with a love for God and a heart of worship. Likewise, I have been to hip, trendy neo-IFB churches where they have a guitar and a set of drums, playing the latest Hillsong track, and the spirit of worship is for all intents and purposes, non-existent.

          Eric isn't alone. Obviously thousands of churches and thousands of pastors think that they have to do something to make their music better or else the worship stinks. They completely fail to grasp that music is not worship. So they pull back on the downer confrontation inherent in preaching and ramp up the use of upbeat music.
          This failure leads to a second, even worse, problem. When you mistakenly aim your church service at worship you run the risk of teaching people to associate an emotional response to music with actual worship. The Bible teaches that corporate music in the New Testament church is designed for edification not worship.  But when I think the purpose is worship and the music is powerful I create in people the idea that because they felt something they worshipped. That is absolute nonsense yet it is the firmly held felt belief of millions of American Christians.

          If you want to seriously study music you must begin by defining it. Among the dozens of definitions I have encountered the single best one is this: music is an emotional language. Music is the way feelings sound. By definition then hearing and singing music done well almost always produces an emotional reaction. In a church setting this means that I do not have to actually be close to God in order to feel close to God; I just have to hear or sing about being close to God and – voila – I feel like I am. Worship is my response when I meet with God. Yet millions of Americans think they worshipped Him at church this past Sunday because they felt something during the music when in fact there are entire aspects of their lives that are in open rebellion to Him. This may be an extreme example but I have known adulterers to feel very moved by a church 'worship' service. They felt close to the Lord because the music moved them. The truth is they did not meet with God at all.
          It is spiritually disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, biblically illiterate, and developmentally damaging to teach God's people – by statement, experience, example, or implication – that they met with God in worship because the music at church emotionally moved them.
          I'm not afraid of emotion. I'm not afraid of emotion in a church service. I'm not afraid of emotion in a church service during corporate singing. It is not unusual at all for me to kneel in my seat and weep while my choir is singing of a Sunday morning. But if my heart is not right with the Lord and my spirit and soul are not humbled before His glory in actuality on a daily basis all the musically induced emotion in the world won't plop me down in God's presence. The average 'worship pastor' in America thinks his job is to usher people into the presence of God. He thinks the way to do that is with mood lighting, a good audio system, and a well-rehearsed band leading the people in a repetitive chorus. He is dead wrong. Such churches, pastors, and people are not worshipping God. They are worshipping their emotions.
          Even this, as grievously errant as it is, is not the worst problem. No, the worst problem produced by wrongly aiming your church service at worship is this: you limit worship. In the minds of your congregation they realistically think they have to show up at church to worship God. You may deny this with your words but everything you do and say in relation to the service preaches otherwise. In practice, your church has walked backward into the Old Testament. I go to church to worship God. I know I did because I felt something during the music. I do that once a week.
          Beloved, this is where it becomes heartbreaking to me. My God is so great and so lovely and so wonderful that He deserves to be worshipped by us constantly. Yet in practice we have trained our churches to worship Him at church during the music and that's all. Meanwhile, for the other 167 hours of the week God looks down at His people and misses their worship.
          Silly people, unreasonable people will take my blog series about worship and interpret it as an attack on worship. They could not possibly be more wrong. If the truth were known you would discover that the majority of my prayer time is nothing more than worship. God and I get alone somewhere – my church auditorium on a Monday morning, a country road on a Friday afternoon, a walk around the block on a Saturday night – and I meet with God. In humility I come to Him esteeming myself to be as nothing in His sight. I yield to Him the pre-eminence. I thank Him for His benevolences to me. I praise Him for His attributes, with His names, about His Word, and through the Scriptures. I see Him high and holy and lifted up. My heart overflows with wonder, joy, awe, delight, and love. He is great. I am insignificant. I meet with Him and I worship.
      Some will read this and say I am bragging. I do not mean to do so at all. Others will read this and say, 'Yes, but that is exactly how I feel while I sing in church on a Sunday morning!' Great. I have no problem with that – if you are actually yielded to the Lord, if it is not simply a response to the music, and if you constantly cultivate the same worship in private on a regular basis apart from any music whatsoever. I am not against worship in a church service. After all, God is there. I am emphatically against aiming a church service at worship, equating that worship with music, and giving God's people the false security that they have worshipped God when in fact they did nothing of the sort. And I am absolutely, positively, entirely against limiting worship to a church service. It is a disgrace to the grace, love, mercy, justice, holiness, faithfulness, wisdom, longsuffering, understanding, care, wrath, and infinity of an eternal God.
          Let us worship Him, beloved. Oh let us worship Him. According to the Scriptures.