Be Filled with…Emotion?

The fact is that qualities like intensity, passion, enthusiasm, exhilaration, or euphoria are never described in Scripture as qualities to pursue or stimulate, they are never used to define the nature of spiritual maturity or the essence of worship, and they are never listed as what the Spirit produces in a believer’s life.

First Corinthians 14 is clear that the central purpose of corporate worship is the disciplined formation of God’s people. All things should be done decently and in order in corporate worship, for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit’s work in worship, therefore, is to bring order and discipline to the worship of God’s people.

With orderly, disciplined formation being the expectation for how the Holy Spirit will work in worship, what role does emotion and music play in worship, and how are they related to the Holy Spirit? This question is particularly relevant since emotion and music are central to the contemporary expectation of how the Holy Spirit works.

Very simply, understanding the ordinary way the Holy Spirit works in worship leads to the conclusion that emotion and singing come as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, not as a cause of the Holy Spirit’s work. This is one of the primary misunderstandings of many contemporary evangelicals today, who expect music to bring the Holy Spirit’s experiential presence as they are filled with emotional rapture.

Calvin Stapert helpfully corrects this thinking with reference to Ephesians 5:18–19 and Colossians 3:16:

“Spirit-filling” does not come as the result of singing. Rather, “Spirit-filling” comes first; singing is the response…Clear as these passages are in declaring that Christian singing is a response to the Word of Christ and to being filled with the Spirit, it is hard to keep from turning the cause and effect around. Music, with its stimulating power, can too easily be seen as the cause and the “Spirit-filling” as the effect.1

“Such a reading of the passages,” Stapert argues, “gives song an undue epicletic function and turns it into a means of beguiling the Holy Spirit.” By “epicletic,” Stapert refers to the expectation that music will “invoke” or call upon the Holy Spirit to appear. Stapert argues that such a “magical epicletic function” characterized pagan worship music, not Christian.2

This is exactly what contemporary Pentecostalized worship expects of music. Historians Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth note how the importance of particular styles of music that quickly stimulate emotion rose to a significance not seen before in Christian worship. They observe, “No longer were these musicians simply known as music ministers or song leaders; they were now worship leaders.” The “worship leader” became the person responsible to “bring the congregational worshipers into a corporate awareness of God’s manifest presence” through the use of specific kinds of music that created an emotional experience considered to be a manifestation of this presence. This charismatic theology of worship raised the matter of musical style to a level of significance that Lim and Ruth describe as “musical sacramentality,” where music is now considered a primary means through which “God’s presence could be encountered in worship.”3 As Lim and Ruth note, by the end of the 1980s, “the sacrament of musical praise had been established.”4

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