"It is possible to create 'event dependency' where people feel they cannot enter into worship unless they have an 'anointed' worship leader" (says Graham Kendrick)
The 1960s were a traumatic time for Christianity. After rallying a bit during the austere 1950s (at least in the UK) the mold breaking and icon shattering sixties took their toll on traditional Christianity. Many Western Christians (over)reacted by turning to fundamentalist and/or gnostic versions of the faith; both reactions were intimately bound up with an innate anti-intellectualism (Often expressing itself in Young Earthism, Godbotting, legalism, fideism, and above all epistemic arrogance) and have been the subject of this blog on many an occasion. However, in this post I would like to focus on the gnosticisation of Christianity. Gnosticisation is a kickback against society that takes the form of a retreat into the mysteries of the inner life of soul and spirit, the place where consolation is sought in the warm light of sublime wordless revelations from God. This shift of focus, (which is especially found amongst evangelical Christians) toward unspeakable epiphanies and touches of God has been my study for many years now. In fact I recently commented on the subject in response to an article in Christianity magazine on scholar Dallas Willard. (Willard seems as aware of this gnostic drift toward the esoteric as I am) In fact in the nineties I wrote several articles on evangelical Gnosticism, one of which can be downloaded from here. My current opinion is that this fashionable foray into the deep soul is far more endemic than is extreme fundamentalism which in any case is inclined to confine itself to self-isolating and marginalized Christian sects.*
So, given this background I was gratified to see that another person, namely Christian song writer Graham Kendrick, has also become aware of the contemporary skew toward what I refer to as Christian Gnosticism. Judging from what Kendrick says in the March edition of Christianity Magazine it looks to me as if Kendrick has clearly spotted that there has been a slip and slide in worship events toward a very individualistic striving for the experientially arcane. This endemic gnosticism has clearly shaped Christian spiritual values and influenced what the contemporary Christian scene rates as high spirituality; in short, the mystical, the inscrutable, the fideist and cabalistic are considered to be where it’s at, or at least where it looks to be going.
Below I have quoted parts of Kendrick’s article and from these quotes it is apparent that the gnostic themes of inner blessing, release of the spirit, initiation into inscrutable experiential truth, and anointed enablers have found their place in our churches; all else is inclined to be undervalued and marginalized.
…..in many churches this focus on creating a personal connection with God has come to dominate the style, mood and lyrics of our corporate worship.
…we now view worship primarily as an experience to be had…
…big worship gatherings can actually be a celebration of mass individuality..
..songs rich in content that stretch the mind can seem to get in the way of creating that intimate experience. They are overlooked because they don’t fit the expected mood, ethos or style of experiential worship. (My emphasis - TVR)
It is possible to create “event dependency” where people feel they cannot enter into worship unless they have an “anointed” worship leader. As a worship leader myself, sometimes it’s as though the expectations are being heaped up – it’s as if everyone is expecting me to take them to an amazing level that they could not otherwise access.
A dominant genre of emotional intensity…. In the end that which doesn’t fit the mood of emotional intensity tends not to be included.
If our gatherings always peak in moments of personal blessing, the subliminal message can be that this is why we exist, rather than being blessed to be a blessing to the world we step out into.
The article is certainly recommended reading for worship leaders as it not only gives Kendrick’s perspective on what I myself would identify as the gnosticisation of church, but also provides practical steps that Kendrick thinks we should take to correct the gnostic drift in our worship.
* Footnote: A case of self-isolation that has been the focus of my recent attention is Ken Ham’s organization: The more he becomes aware of his isolation from the mainstream the more his statements become strident and extreme, thus simply reinforcing that isolation. The regenerative logic here is this: “I’m isolated because people aren't getting my message, therefore I must shout louder!”