By Elizabeth Prata
I will say right off the bat that I am ultra-conservative in my approach to worship and music. I don’t favor large revivalist type events, and I don’t like loud music either in worship or personally in life. I may be a wet blanket, or even boring when it comes to those things, but I like dignity in a Bible teaching and I don’t apologize for that opinion.
In part 1 of my reaction to the Beth Moore Living Proof tour held in Charlotte this weekend, I noted the scene where women from 34 states and Canada streamed in to the Time Warner arena in advance of a 6 hour session of Bible teaching, broken up over two days. In this essay I’ll advance the scene to the start of the conference, the music from the Travis Cottrell band. From Cottrell’s bio: “For the last fourteen years Travis has served as worship leader at Beth Moore’s Living Proof Live conferences. He and his team have been grateful to minister with Mrs. Moore in all 50 states and in several other countries as well.”
It should also be noted that along with the live Beth Moore tour sessions there is an accompanied simulcast where women in churches around the country can also pay to participate via video. Sometimes there are over 500 annexed simulcast locations participating along with the women at the main location. So when I say that 12,000 women packed the arena to hear Beth Moore speak and praise band Travis Cottrell sing, there are also thousands more participating simultaneously all around the US, so that number swells considerably.
As the lights went down other lights flared up. It was a light show that accompanied the first drum beat. And that percussion was LOUD. I’d estimate they were about 115-120 decibels. Pain begins at 125 decibels. Between the green and red lights sweeping the arena, and the beats that made the floors shake, I was already overwhelmed. And I was only one minute into it. All the women were standing and the captions to the songs were crawling across the jumbo-trons, several of which were stationed adjacent to the stage.
|A still of a promotional clip of Living Proof praise singing, Rapid City S. Dakota Nov. 2010.|
|A still of a promotional clip of Living Proof praise singing,Rapid City S. Dakota Nov. 2010.|
I tried to forgive the assault on the senses. I really did. I tried to imagine that they were emulating the verse of the blessed glimpse of heaven were given in Isaiah 6:1-4
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices
the doorposts and thresholds shook
and the temple was filled with smoke.”
The Time Warner Arena doorposts and thresholds shook, and they shook hard. I decided right away that I’d spend Saturday’s musical worship time outside the arena in the lobby. The songs were a mixture of contemporary praise and hymns, but the hymns were blended into the contemporary. So as we were singing a modern song it would blend into an old-fashioned one. I don’t even remember, now which songs were sung, because I was too overcome by the noise and the lights. The session lasted about 20 minutes and it had a mood all its own. The cadence would begin slow and soft, and rise and rise to a climactic moment when those drum beats would shake the house, and then slowly descend back into soft. This method was repeated several times. Rather than be moved by the music, I had a bad emotional and spiritual reaction. I fell to my knees. Crying, I prayed for forgiveness on us all. I really did.
I’m very affected by music. We all are. Nothing jazzes me up like a good ole fashioned singin’. I can sit in a pew and sing the good old hymns all night long and leave feeling terrific. I am not down on singing. It is a fact that music sets your mood and because we can be so moved by it, music can also be used manipulate us. It can bring to mind Godly worship and good thoughts, or it can be so manipulative that it can be its own thing outside of worship, an emotion all in itself, used to manipulate feelings rather than thoughts. It is my opinion that the musical worship at the Beth Moore convention is used for the latter purpose.
I wondered to myself if 12,000 women from 34 states and Canada would still drive 12 hours and spend hundreds of dollars to come to a place where there would be one guy singing The Old Rugged Cross on acoustic guitar, and one woman standing behind a podium speaking only Bible truths. No light show. No concert. No personal testimony of Beth Moore’s life, no jokes about bad hair days, no sweet stories about the husband or the dog, but only hymns and Bible.
These things grow, they get out of hand. I heard one woman near me muse that in ‘the old days’ Travis Cottrell had only one or two accompanists but now he has a whole band and several singers. That’s how it goes. These things only ever get bigger. And somewhere along the way, plain Bible and plain music gets lost in an overwhelming flood of extras, extras that are then used to manipulate and distract.
In the Religious Affections Ministries blog, Scott Aniol wrote, “Emotion, Worship, Revivalism, And Pentecostalism.“
He opened his essay with this: From W. Robert Godfrey, “Worship and the Emotions,” in Give Praise to God, Philip Graham Ryken, et.al. (Phillipsburg: P & R Pub, 2003), 368-9: “When emotions are misused, there is a constant danger of manipulation. It is easy for effective leaders to move people, especially trusting and expectant people, to feel what they want them to feel. Easily the church becomes a theater where feeling and catharsis take the place of true faith.”
Beth Moore is all about catharsis. In order to engender the desired condition; music, lights, sounds, and emotions speed that catharsis. Scott Aniol continued his essay by saying, “Grant Wacker, a sympathetic historian of Pentecostalism, comments on this phenomenon in early Pentecostalism: “And then there was congregational singing, one of the most notable and remarked on features of Pentecostal worship. . . . Music offered leaders a ready means for managing the intensity of the service. They could ratchet up the tempo until worshipers broke into ecstatic praise, or tone it down when things seemed to be getting out of hand. Either way, music gave leaders a tool for regularizing the expression of emotion.”
“What Wacker sees as true of early Pentecostalism is even truer with the Contemporary Christian Music phenomenon. Praise songs, which originated in charismatic circles and spread widely in other Protestant churches, seem often to express rather spontaneous waves of emotion. But their use is carefully planned with an eye to the emotional effect on the worshiper. In such a session of singing one can predict exactly when the hands will be raised and when other emotional responses will be exhibited.”
And unknowingly, he just described a Beth Moore praise concert. It is my opinion that the hollower the Bible teaching is, the louder the music. The less the focus is on God, the more the service needs something to fill it, usually with loud music but sometimes with holy roller behaviors such as ‘holy laughter’, tongues, and other emotional-behavioral expressions. But I think the more the world reels toward ever higher assaults on the senses, the less we need it in worship. The more depraved the world gets, the more we should strive for purity in worship. Of course your definition of purity in worship may be different from mine. The point is, that the louder the world gets, the quieter we should get. The more the world puts on a show, the less we should indulge in clamor. The Bible is getting lost in the world, so let’s put it center stage.
Emotions are part of worship, I know, a valid part. We’re filled with love and joy in contemplating the inexpressible Majesty of our God. It is proper to feel shame and repentance in a worship service when we need His forgiveness. Emotions are good as part of worship but they are not the key to worship. If the emotions displace something else, or cloud the reason of your presence there, then the problems begin.
But my problems were just beginning, because then Beth Moore took the stage.