Several years ago, Ann Voskamp released a book for women essentially explaining to them how they could seek out an “intimate” relationship with God. Consider this excerpt from her book, The Joy of Intimacy. In the last chapter, she writes “I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God.” In her mind, the idea of God’s love for man was erotic and experiential.
This thinking typifies the entire charismatic movement we see today in churches like Bethel, Hillsong, and other more extreme experience-based churches. Their message: learn how to make love to God.
Churches like Bethel have mastered the art of producing an emotional experience and labeling it a move of the Holy Spirit. If you watch any of the worship services of Bethel, it’s filled with ethereal music with chord structures that are scientifically proven to heighten one’s emotional state. It is, in fact, extremely similar to a drug-induced ecstatic experience.
Music theory has made great strides in understanding the progression of chords and its role in projecting emotions to the listener. As one article notes, “A chord by itself doesn’t have a narrative value, but a chord progression does and generates a particular emotional effect.”
The author of the article goes on to explain, based on his understanding of Music Theory, how he chooses a chord structure to project emotion to the audience. “The first thing to do is to choose your basic emotion for the song,” the author writes. “The first chord of the progression will determine how the audience will feel, so be careful when making this decision. In a nutshell, if the basic emotion is sadness, I would go for a minor chord, and if the basic emotion is happiness, I would go for a major chord.”
It’s interesting to note that Hollywood has also mastered this art. Movies are filled with cinematic music to the point that one can almost just listen to the music and know what’s going on in the scene. This epic-style music has a way of garnering your feelings and drawing you emotionally close to the scene almost giving you a sense that you are part of the story. But at least Hollywood doesn’t try to package this up and pass it off as a “worship experience.”
But this is what Bethel Church does. It packages up these emotionally-hyped musical productions and then passes them off as worshiping God. But are your emotional experiences actually an expression of worship? In one sense, yes. It could be self-worship. One way to know for sure is to ask yourself if you’re just as emotionally moved by the preaching of God’s word. After all, God commands us to worship in spirit and in truth. If you’re moved by music but not by the preaching of the word, you’re likely worshiping the experience rather than God.
So what is the point of all of this? Bethel’s approach is to draw one into what they say is a personal, one-on-one experience with God. It is, in essence, a form of “making love” to God. Bethel describes on its website referring to this form of “worship” as the “Bethel Experience,”
In short, The Bethel Experience is the unique, authentic and diverse manner that characterizes our authentic worship of God as a congregation. Since I was a child, there has always been something unique and exciting about being in a worship setting in the sanctuary of The Bethel Church. You would hear music that would be mostly characterized as out of the bounds of the “Black experience” of worship, and yet you would also hear the music of that experience and all in one worship setting. You never knew what to expect in worship… from the music to the message. One thing you did know… you would feel the presence of God in ways you didn’t know you would in that worship. It was never branded (as branding was not an ideal of that day), but now that the same tradition has carried on, we call it The Bethel Experience.
But this “experience” distorts our relationship with God and elevates man’s desires above God’s commands for how to rightly worship him. Should emotion be a part of worship? Of course, emotion can be and certainly is at times a perfectly appropriate response to the Good News of what Christ has done for us on the cross. Further, praise of God for who He is and His goodness is warranted and commanded.
The songs we sing should be joyful expressions of truth reflecting the person and works of the Triune God of Scripture. They should warm our hearts because our hearts know the truth because we’ve been given a new heart. But for Bethel and those who follow their model of worship, their hearts are moved by the music and the chord structure of songs that focus on and affirm them. This is the antithesis of worshiping God in spirit and truth and, instead, is a means of one seeking a way to experience “making love to God”—or their god.