Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Honoring the Spirit

The congregation I was in last weekend was singing this new song:

“Holy Spirit, come invade us now / We are your church, we need your power …”

Eh?

These people believe the Spirit of God is outside of believers, and has to be called on to “invade”? They think the church of God does not actually have the spirit of God already?

Surely not! But why were they singing such nonsense?

What’s strange is that I was not visiting some radical charismatic fringe group. In fact, it was a very staid, modern Baptist church, one I know has excellent theology in almost every other area. So I had to wonder, what were they doing singing something so radically different from what the scripture teaches?

It’s Not Rare

And I’ve heard others elsewhere, like these:
“Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.”
Spirit of the Living God by Daniel Iverson

“I’m lost without you / I’m desperate for you …”
Breathe by Marie Barnett

“Holy Spirit, come fill this place …”
Holy Spirit, Come Fill This Place by CeCe Winans
In the first song, the once-for-ever indwelling of the Spirit is treated not as a fixed reality, but as a kind of recurrent necessity. In the second, the (presumably Christian) singer seems to have lost not only the sealing Spirit but his salvation as well. In the third, the Spirit is said to be somewhere else, and then to come and fill buildings.

I’ve heard all of these sung in very conservative, evangelical places. And very, very frequently, even in the most traditional congregations, I’ve run into the one that says:
“Cast me not away from your presence, O Lord
  Take not your Holy Spirit from me.”
(I’ve got a lot more to say about that song, but I’ve kept it for tomorrow’s post: it’s a particularly problematic one.)

And sometimes the folly and wrongness of our songs rises to epic heights. Can you imagine any Christian sincerely singing the following?
“Oh Lord, we need your Spirit, your Holy Spirit right now
  Oh Lord, give us your Spirit, your Holy Spirit right now
  We can do nothing until you come, dear Lord
  For we are so unworthy to even call on your name
  So please, please, please, Lord, hear our prayer
  And don’t let our coming be in vain.”
— Spirit Fall Down by Luther Barnes
Well, that’s a real “Christian” song. At least, the people who wrote it think they’re Christians. But one wonders how they could be if they have no Holy Spirit, and have to beg like crazy in hope that he won’t just refuse to show up at all.

There’s not a lot of faith in those lyrics, and a really horrendously awful doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Why Do We Do It?

I’m troubled by all that. I think we all should be. And I wonder why we’re not.

After all, music is more than entertainment: it’s teaching. What we sing, we come to believe. Even if when we personally don’t come to believe it, we teach it to our children, to the spiritually weak and to the less-well-informed. We make it seem real and true, and we remind ourselves of it over and over again as we repeat it with the congregation. That’s no light thing.

As someone once said to me, “Nobody ever comes out of the church building humming the sermon.”  

Right.

So what happens when we sing untruths over, and over, and over again, chanting them in chorus with like-minded believers? I think we drill falsehoods into our heads, and into our children’s heads.

If you think that’s making a mountain out of a molehill, okay. I think the scriptures say different. We can disagree on that. But we can both agree that if it’s not going to actually be toxic, there’s no way it’s going to be helpful. All around, it’s a bad idea to go on singing bad doctrine.

Losing The Spirit

“Well,” we might say, “that’s perhaps technically correct — but it’s a little picky, IC. Not all such songs are quite that bad, even if they’re a little off center. Besides, we’re all mature believers. We can read around these kinds of poor word-choices, and plug in the right view of the Holy Spirit. We’re not so foolish.”

Maybe. But what do your children hear? What do new Christians hear? What do the immature and untaught hear? They see you sing with feeling, maybe close your eyes, and maybe even raise your hands. They can feel your sincerity. And what are the words telling them? Awful things. Lies, really. That the Spirit of God is not reliable. He does not indwell or seal believers. He comes and goes. Salvation is not certain. Faith is an experience. Maturity is about emotion or experience. And the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as it is revealed in scripture is simply not true.

How do we dare play fast and loose with this? Now, it may be that scholars debate what the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit actually is, but one thing we do all know for certain is that it’s against the Spirit. That really should concern us, I think. The Lord does not approve when we misrepresent his Spirit.

Getting It Right

So let’s nail this down. What do we all know from scripture about the Spirit? Among other things:
Then we also know that any song theology that does not say these things is blasphemy. That word is not too strong — it’s an insult against the Spirit of God himself. And there is absolutely no excuse for us, as Christians, continuing in doing that, especially once we know about the error.

Let’s Stop … Please

For that reason, I want to encourage every congregation of believers to pay renewed attention to what we sing about the Holy Spirit. No matter how old or cherished a hymn may be, or how new, passionate, popular and common a song may be, the priority has to be getting our theology of the Spirit right.

We must stop singing these awful songs.

They’re not true.
They’re not good.
They’re not honest.
They’re not pure.
They’re not honoring to God.
They’re not safe teaching for the Lord’s people.

And I say that anything that fits those descriptions is unworthy of being sung by the Lord’s people. Ever.

Amen?

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Photo by Dreamcitychurch [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

3 comments :

  1. Let me, respectfully, try to shed a little light on this by presenting a different perspective. In my mind all this (and similar concerns) are explainable if you realize that most people will not even bother to learn to stack a dishwasher correctly (in the most efficient and space saving way). And I do not mean this in a cynical way but have simply learned this fact through observation. You must also realize that for the purpose of your presentations here you probably strive to not fall into that category and belong to that small group of people who aim to keep their ducks in order ;-). Therefore you are essentially fighting entropy in the public sphere, which is a loosing battle. Now, since the Holy Spirit is at least partially responsible for that situation he is probably, just like you, shaking his head and is somewhat resigned but probably not upset. As long as the music is half way decent he might even feel that there is at least an attempt being made at doing the right thing.

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    1. Q: I’m far from entertaining any thought of blaming the Holy Spirit of God for any part of this. I think it’s pretty much down to the fallibility, if not the outright carelessness, of human nature. I’d also say there’s no “right thing” here but to stop doing what we’ve been doing … and to stop right now.

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  2. I am actually not blaming the Holy Spirit but realistically pointing out, as you certainly know IC, that there are always different types and levels of responsibility as in any life situation down to the lowest status in life. So yes, as humans we are (supposed to be) responsible for what we do but that certainly does not mean that God is ultimately not in charge and therefore responsible for the overall picture. Just because he created us as free and responsible beings that can choose to be irresponsible does however not imply that he is guilty of our choices. One could even argue that irresponsibility must occur for us to know what responsibility is.

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