Monday, February 18, 2013

When Worldviews Collide in Worship

by Rob Lundberg

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on the subject of “The Apologist’s Life of Worship.”  In that article I emphasized importances of the life of worship in every believer’s life, and how it incorporates not just the emotions of the heart and the soul and not just the confines of the worship service one attends.  I also shared that there is a need for not just our hearts and souls but also our minds should be invited to worship as well.

This article kind of springboards off of that article but is spawned by something I just recently noticed while attending a worship service not too long ago.[1]  

The Setting.

The setting takes us to the open worship at the beginning of a worship that lasts about 30 minutes or so before the pastor gets up to give the message from the Word of God.  There was a particular morning where the worship leader was leading in a few of the praise songs, and one of those songs is a popular one called, “Breathe,” by Michael W. Smith.  For those of us who are  not familiar with it, it is not a long chorus.  In some worship settings, it can be longer than the composer’s intentions to the point where the repetition can turn almost mantric.  The song’s lyrics are as follows,

this is the air I breathe
this is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

this is my daily bread
this is my daily bread 
Your very word spoken to me

And I, I'm desperate for you
And I, I'm I'm lost without you

This song is one that addresses our desperate need for God’s presence in our life and our relationship.  Not faulting the song, the lyrics are biblical in that they point to Christ as the Bread of Life and the desire and need for the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer.

So, Rob, if you say the lyrics are biblical, what is the problem?  Where is the problem?  

The problem comes when the worship leader changes the words in the first stanza, which happened in this service.  The worship leader took the lyrics from “This is the air I breathe” to addressing God and leading the congregation to sing, “You are the air I breathe.

When this transition happened my daughter looked at me.  I quickly whispered to her that she and I will discuss what she heard on the way home from church.  She had picked it up and her "baloney detector" was going off quite loudly in her heart and mind.

Before I do, please understand that I have already spoken to the leadership about the issue of confusion that could come about during a very highly emotional song of praise. This is why the mind should be invited in to our worship.


What is the Issue?

The issue is potential confusion between the worship leader and those whom he is leading in worship.  The leader might make the lyrical change, understanding it metaphorically.  But it may not be the case with some of the people caught up in the moment of worship and might be weak in their understanding of the biblical worldview.    Let me paint the example for us and then make some comments.  

What is the difference between, “this is the air I breathe” and the change over to, “You are the air I breath?”  Let me share with you first that there are two ways one can look at a statement like this.   A statement contains some kind of comparison can be taken literally or it can be taken metaphorically.

Taken literally the first statement, "this is the air I breathe," is fine.  The change over to the second statement creates a few problems, drawing in a worldview that contradicts a biblical worldview.  That worldview is known as pantheism


What is pantheism

Pantheism is the worldview of the Eastern world religions: Hinduism, Daoism, and some schools of Buddhism.    Simply stated the worldview of pantheism is as follows:  God is all; all is God; God is in all.  Karma and reincarnation are considered non negotiables under a pantheistic worldview.  Unfortunately, a pantheistic worldview kind of thinking is also found in a handful of non Christian cults like Christian Science, the Church of Scientology, the Unity School of Christianity, and the occultic School of Theosophy.


How does this tie into the changed lyrics of “Breathe” when one sings, “You are the air I breath?”  It changes things in a few ways.

1.  It changes the nature of God from the infinite Creator to something that is finite and created.  God created the air, and when we reduce God to something that is created, we are not far from those those create God in another image; which violates the Second Commandment.

2.  It also deifies (makes divine) that which was created.  This is the converse of the previous point.  If God is all; and all is God, and in all, then the flip side to the previous point is that God is brought down to the level of a created being.  The statement, “You are the air I breath” also elevates the air, something that is finite and created, and equates it with “God” (“all is God”).  When that happens, God also becomes a created being, and makes God dependent on someone or something else for His existence.   

To a fault, please note that I am not trying to criticize a worship leader or a church.  My intention is to show that when we sing, we run the risk of getting caught up in the emotions of the song.  That is not to say that singing and getting into the music is bad.   God has created us with emotions and feelings; and worship should incorporate our feelings and emotions.  At the same time the mind should not be abandoned in our worship experience either.   That being said, there is another side to the lyrical “you are the air I breathe” and that is the metaphorical side of a comparison.


Speaking metaphorically. . .

When I had the chance to speak to one of the assistant pastors and one who was a leader in the worship ministry, I approached this issue with “gentleness and respect.”  I summarized the dangers of moving into the worship of a “pantheistic deity” but also offered this side of the argument as well.  That side being that the lyrics, “you are the air I breathe” could be taken as metaphorical.

What is a metaphor?  Some of us might remember our early school days where we were learning poetical comparisons like simile and metaphor.  Both of these terms denote some type of comparison.  

A simile is a comparison that uses “like” or “as” where a metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something important in common.   The car and airline industries give us some examples of metaphors.  For example Nissan has their little quip, “Life is a journey.  Enjoy the ride.”[2]  

The Bible even has metaphors referring to God.  A huge metaphorical example is found in John 4 where we read Jesus’ words,  

Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst again.” (John 4:14). 

Of course we know that the water that Jesus is referring to is His Gospel, which is the knowledge of how to have everlasting life and grow in that gift of eternal life.  Over in John 7:37 we read Jesus’ words "If any anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”   Now obviously we are not going to literally drink Jesus.”   What Jesus is saying here, metaphorically is that he is that “water,” which means that if one wants to no longer thirst spiritually, they need to come to Him for He is the way, and only way to salvation. 

So if the Bible uses metaphors, why can’t we use metaphors when referring to God? Obviously the Bible tells us that God is our “strength and our refuge” (2 Sam. 22:3); and our rock and [our] fortress and [our] deliverer.”  That Psalm goes further to say, “My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).  Is God literally a rock? Is He literally a shield?  Is He literally the horn of my salvation?  In other words, is God a rock, a shield, or a horn?   Or is there an contextual application in that verse that applies those terms in such a way to show that a relationship in knowing God  gives us stability, protection; and He is our Savior?  

So if the Bible uses metaphors, why shouldn’t music leaders directing a congregation in songs of praise use metaphors?  This is “the rub” right here.  There are few good reasons. Allow me to list them here.

  1. Even though air is invisible, and God is invisible, the air is created and God is not.  Even though we know air is present and can sense the presence of God in the moral fibre of our being, in the creation, in His Word and through the gift of sound reasons.  This being said, God is not to be brought to the level of a created “thing” like air.

  2. Following upon this first thought, music is a gift from God and it is used to offer praise up to Him.  Music can enrapture us with emotion and with passion.  The danger is singing something without inviting the mind into that part of our worship, and run the risk of singing or offering up to heaven something that is not biblical.  In my thinking this kind of mindless emotionally charged kind of worship is not worship that will bless the Lord and will not be blessed by the Lord.

  3. Lastly, and as equally important, are the people who are being led in worship.  First off music is not the only form of worship.  Many people in our churches need to understand that worship is more than just music.  It is a part of our worship.  But that music should be leading us to the God of the Bible and not addressing some foreign religion that embraces one foreign deity or a pantheon of deities.[3]
There are many people in the pews today, singing songs that are not grounded in a solid biblical world view.  Some of those songs are played on contemporary Christian radio.  Unfortunately, there are many in the churches across this land who do not embrace a solid biblical worldview, to where singing, “You are the air I breathe” to God, may sound fine.   The problem is that is is far from biblical.  Also, the music leaders today need to check the music and make adjustments so that a congregation of people will not be lead down a path leading to worldview that is foreign to the biblical worldview rooted and grounded in the Word of God.

Conclusion.

Leaders in the Christian church have a commission based responsibility to protect the sheep from  anything that conflicts with the Word of God.  That means that church leaders need to know the Word and understand what it means to have a biblical worldview; so as to avoid the possibilities of  leading their congregations down the path of a conflicting worldviews.  As a response to this, we have looked at one danger of bringing a pantheistic worldview into our worship.

Today more than ever, with some of the new apostate practices and ideologies that trying to gain a foothold on the church and many Christians today, it is vitally important for church leaders, pastors, education leaders, music and worship leaders, evangelists, and behind the scenes apologists need to encourage and protect the flock with biblical truth. Let us be reminded of Paul’s exhortation to Titus where he encourages him and us to be about  “
holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9)  We see this warning also in Acts, 20:29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” 

As our predecessors in the early Church led the saints in worship toward the true and living God, may we hold fast to the truth, just as they did in this age of grace.



Notes.

[1] Please note that I have spoken to one of the staff who oversees the worship part of the ministry of this church.  What I share in this article is some of the fruit that I shared with this dear brother in the faith, which he took as a "good word" and definitely something to pay heed.

[2] Here is a grammar website that shares more on metaphors (http://grammar.about.com/od/qaaboutrhetoric/f/faqmetaphor07.htm).  And you thought that grammar was a bygone English class.  It is something that we cannot resist nor escape, even in biblical interpretation and communication.

[3] Please see my essay on the question of whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  http://rob-lundberg.blogspot.com/2012/10/is-god-of-islam-same-as-judeo-christian.html