Still , let us go on – so that we can see where all of this goes logically. Let me concede for the sake of argument that this may indeed be true – that God does share His life-giving Word with us via the “language” – the “emotional language” of music. The point is simply this – we can’t have certainty about any of this! We are back with Luther and the “monster of uncertainty”. After all, we know for a fact that music, being a gift that God gives all of His human creatures, can be used to powerfully affect anyone – Christian or not – emotionally. How are we to distinguish a simple human experience from music from a distinctly Christian experience, where one can be confident that they are really experiencing a secure relationship with the Lord? If we feel we are close to God during a powerful worship chorus how do we know that it is really God, and not just the musicians, atmosphere, etc., which is affecting us? Of course, not everyone will ask these kinds of questions, but there are many people who can’t help but ask these kinds of questions!
And perhaps more persons than you think will ask these questions. What if your world comes crashing down and then you start asking these kinds of questions? Am I really connected with God? Does He really love me? Does He really forgive me? Is this really Him that I feel? In times like that, do we really want our answer to that question to depend on whether or not we get the “feeling” when musicians in Church try to “lead us into the Presence of God”? Even if we ourselves feel secure in our faith – because perhaps we come into that “worship experience” already seriously grounded in God’s Word – what about our family and friends? After all, do we not believe that their spiritual growth is predicated on their knowledge – heart knowledge if you prefer – of the Word of God? (incidently, just the other day I heard from a very theologically astute layman that the only theology classes that he had had were the great hymns… I had thought he must have gone to seminary)
Doesn’t the question ultimately come down to what God has promised? When, where, and how He has given us certainty that He meets and comes to us? This is the main point, right? We can have absolute certainty about the Word of God! For example, when the pastor baptizes, gives the Lord’s Supper, or pronounces absolution, because of the promises that we can find in the Scriptures, we can have certainty that we are “experiencing” God and His presence – even if we don’t really feel like that is the case. The Gospel is even for people who strongly sense that they don’t – and never will – love Jesus and His people quite like they should.
The Lutheran blogger Scott Diekmann quotes Pastor Jon Sollberger shared his experiences while in a church praise band (from here, at the 31 minute mark). Its powerful, and is a story I have heard from many others as well:
“This was a couple lifetimes ago, and I was very much involved in the church where I grew up – that church was all about the show and how it made you feel. And so I was a guitarist and I got into that, and we really did the whole thing where we got everyone going via the music, the beat, the feeling, the great progression of the music. That’s how we equated successful worship. And then I took my act out on the road, I traveled all across the country, I did recordings of this so-called Christian contemporary music, I lived it, I performed it, I produced it, I recorded it, and spent a good decade doing this until I actually found out that I was burnt out on it. …It’s a very successful thing outwardly speaking. I mean, all we had to do was show up, plug in, and play, and we had an instant reaction and enthusiasm from all the people, young and old, both, and it was really something. But then you start to – it becomes normal to us, all the music and the generational feeling that it creates – and we started evaluating our worship experience on how the people were reacting to what we played. I mean we could get ‘em up there with some fast paced high energy music, we could get them to be very very mellow and contemplative with some slower, more heartfelt type of music, and when we didn’t get those reactions we didn’t feel that the Holy Spirit was at work because obviously the people weren’t reacting – there was no “success.” After a while you kind of just get burnt out on this sort of thing and that’s when I kind of quit the whole church thing for quite a while and my wife dragged me, kicking and screaming, into a Lutheran church, and I really saw that there was a difference there. I thought it was a cult. I thought it was spare, Spartan. I didn’t think there was any spiritual energy there. I thought it was way too formal, and I could not wait to get back for the next service. And I didn’t know why obviously, but it was because the Gospel had been not only preached, but presented within a context and in such a manner that nothing else got in the way, not my feelings, not how I was doing, not how well dressed the people up front were or anything like that, or how impressive they were to me, but simply the Gospel – that I was a sinner who had been saved by the grace and merit of Jesus only.”
Diekmann sums this up: “This is a powerful quote, because it contrasts the often un-evangelical emotional roller coaster ride that you’re treated to at many “contemporary” church services with a doctrinally sound proclamation of the Gospel, in which the Word does its work.”
It is instructive to see what the Apostle Peter, who really could have assurance that he had felt the positive effects of God’s presence at the Mount of Transfiguration – a “mountaintop worship experience” if there ever was one – had to say his hearers about the sure and certain experience of hearing God’s very words:
“…. we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…” (2 Peter 1)
Surety and certainty that lasts a lifetime!
Especially for those who remain unconvinced, there is one other matter I must also bring up: we are all to be concerned not to offend those we consider the weaker brother – for the one who feels constrained, or limited in one area or another (perhaps you think this is me – that in spite of my evident concern that God’s people be healthy and vigorous in their emotions towards Him, my concerns are nevertheless overkill, overly scrupulous, or perhaps too intellectual). Further, in a healthy marriage, both partners will limit their freedoms out of love for the other. When one fails to do this, the marriage will inevitably weaken, face strain, and be in danger of breaking apart. I think that this is where we are : some believe that there is an advantage here in using this kind of music that must trump the love and public harmony of the church.