Before I jump into my main argument, there are some preliminary issues that I think should be addressed.
Recently, Issues ETC host Pastor Todd Wilken, in discussing the practices of megachurches, said that those who tell people that they are experiencing God in those places – as opposed to experiencing the results of human efforts and manipulation – are charlatans, and that what they are saying here is evil (10/5/12, listener email and comment line)
I think these words are too strong. After all, more traditional folks would likely not say this regarding those who think that we should use the best art possible in our stained glass windows, sing hymns set to the songs of the best secular composers, preach messages utilizing the best rhetorical techniques, and think that some measure of pageantry and smells and bells are wholly appropriate for worshipping and revering the Lord. I know that one can argue that those who do these things want to glorify God first and foremost, but does such a person also not think that God will “move” others by using the works and efforts of these human creators? Do we not experience God and the eternal life that is in His Son through the actions and activities of others?
I will admit that it seems that what happens in the megachurch is more crass, and given over to every excess (and issues involving money can be more clearly linked as well). Nevertheless, how would we, for instance, somewhat objectively distinguish the efforts to “move” persons that happens in a megachurch vs. a cathedral? Do we deny that there is any effort on the part of those constructing the cathedral that the “cathedral experience” is something they have in mind at all? In any case, the argument that I will put forth here does not deal with the megachurch practices per se, but rather, the more “emotional” music of the “folk” variety.
In other words, it seems to me that there is indeed some difference between a black Gospel choir or Gospel songs of the Appalachian bluegrass variety, for instance – where persons are singing their hearts out to God in a very emotional way – and the megachurch praise band where proper ambiance (perhaps smoke machines and lighting, excessive amplification, a focus on the singers and the excessive “jumbo-troning” that often accompanies this…) and well-played, highly repetitive music all come into the mix (knowing that hymns sung by large traditional congregations can be very moving, I don’t bring up congregation size here).
Why do I go this route? Well, where the worship of one seems more like the way Paul describes the simple and inner beauty of a godly woman, for example, the other certainly seems more adorned (complex), or, if you are a high culture afficianado, contrived (bread and circuses come to mind). Nevetheless – and this is an extremely important neverthess – the roots of most all the music played in the megachurch are largely from more Baptist and charismatic (Pentecostal) contexts. The real argument here, I suggest, is over what kind of music is appropriate and how God would use music. After all, not every large congregation that utilizes rather emotional contemporary Christian music (surprisingly, many large Roman Catholic parishes do this – I’ve been to one that did so quite impressively) is given to the excesses found in some of the larger megachurches.
So, this is all preliminary to my argument, which will I will now begin.
Part III coming tomorrow