Music and Worship

There is no doubting the power of music to stir the emotions, and the Bible encourages us to use music in our worship of God, the Psalms are an obvious example, but when does the use of music cross the line into manipulation?

I was intrigued by an article on The Conversation, titled Pentecostal, Pearl Jam – music brings ecstasy to us all by Mark Jennings. This article compares the ecstatic feelings felt by those at a Pentecostal rally and a Pearl Jam concert.

Mark says:

…these spaces are united in a common use of music as a catalyst of ecstasy. …

First, the power of music to catalyse ecstasy can be thought of as a vertical dimension of the musical realm. Religious people may understand this as an encounter with the divine.

Another interpretation involves what philosopher Michel Foucault calls a “limit experience” – a transcending of the boundaries of the “self” – not into a divine presence, but rather a space of endless possibilities.

Second, I observed a horizontal dimension in these ecstatic spaces. In being lifted out of themselves, participants can be joined to others. Individuals in these group experiences have less self-consciousness and inhibition, and may experience a profound sense of unity where social boundaries surrounding personal space are lowered.

This is something that concerns me about many Pentecostal meetings.  The emphasis on “meeting with God” by reaching an ecstatic state through music does seem to be seeking to produce a counterfeit experience.  This is produced by an extended music session involving the repetition of simple phrases in a rock concert environment.

By contrast, surely we should be transported into ecstasy as we consider what God has done for us sinners through Christ.  This will happen as we study God’s word together, and certainly as we encourage each other with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), but it should be the knowledge of the truth of the content of those songs, not the high produced by the music, that should give us this experience.

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