Contemporary worship is mysticism. There are exceptions, but that is the rule.
Mysticism is the religious system that seeks an unmediated unity between the divine nature and ourselves. You are the plug, God is the socket.
Worship is being plugged in. You know when you are plugged in because you feel it. This, then, is the essential goal of contemporary worship, to serve as a catalyst for the experience of the unmediated presence of God.
Here’s the trouble (at least one of them): mysticism is inherently anti-doctrine. Its not about the mind, but the heart. Mystics are not interested in knowing, but in feeling, or, to use the lingo, “experiencing” God. The mystic’s music is not to teach, but “move”, as in, “That song really moved me. I felt so moved by that worship experience. Etc.”
(Please note that I’m not against “moving” music, I am against music that has its chief goal to move you to experience the immediate presence of the divine, like mystical contemporary worship music.)
Now the nice Lutheran comes bopping along and a contemporary worship guru says, “You guys should sing this song,” and the Lutheran looks over the song searching for false doctrine and, finding none, says, “Fire up the amp.” They couldn’t find any false doctrine because there was no doctrine to begin with. Seeing there’s no false doctrine in the average praise-song is like saying there’s no false doctrine in the fire-hydrant. To be a false teacher you must first teach.
It should be evident that “Is there any false doctrine?” is not a sufficient tool to evaluate the usefulness of a praise song. What’s needed is a way to get our paws on the mystical content of a song, and the tool is this: The Criteria for Discerning the Usefulness of a Praise Song, a.k.a. The Praise-Song Cruncher. (Here’s the printable pdf version to bring with you to your next worship-experience: http://www.hope-aurora.org/docs/praisesongcruncher.pdf )
We’ve been using the Cruncher over at Table-Talk Radio for over a year now, and from the feed-back we get from our five listeners, it’s a favorite. (You can find a list of the songs we’ve crunched and the result here: http://www.tabletalkradio.org/documents/praise%20song%20list.pdf ) Here are the five Cruncher questions:
“Is Jesus mentioned?”
Yes | No If yes, is it in name or concept?
Is the song clear? Does it use sentences (with subject, verb, object) or sentence fragments?
Very clear 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Obscure
3. Mysticism (Subjectivity vs Objectivity)
Is the song about the things that God has done (objective), or about my own emotions and experiences (subjective)? Does the song repeat the same phrases over and over in an hypnotic mantra?
Objective 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Subjective
4. Law and Gospel
Does the song proclaim the law in its sternness and the Gospel in its sweetness? (The Gospel is the promise of the forgiveness of all sins won for us through Jesus’ death on the cross.) Are law and Gospel rightly divided (and not mixed up)? Is the law presented as something that we can do, or does it show us our sins? Is the Gospel conditional (based on my actions, decisions, acceptance)?
Yes No I can’t tell
5. Is there any explicit false teaching?
These five questions, and especially questions two and three help dig up the bones of mysticism.
Last time we fired up the Cruncher it made me nutty. I also unfolded my new technique for dealing with the mystics, based on Will Ferel’s Elf character. You can listen here: The New Wolfmueller Technique for Silencing all the Crazy Praise-Mystic Nonsense about “Seeing God”
What, though, is the big deal about mysticism? (This will be a theme on the World-Wide-Wolfmueller.) Here is the essential problem: Mysticism looks for God and His gifts where they are not: inside you. Mysticism looks for comfort and forgiveness where God has not placed them: inside you. And the result is delusion, either the delusion of pride or despair, “I’ve got God,” or “I’ve lost Him.” Both of these are bad.
Jesus has placed Himself and His love and mercy and forgiveness outside of you, in His Word, in Baptism and in His Meal. There is presence and His promises have comforting certainty, the certainty that the Lord wants us, His children, to have.