Cessmaticism: The Strange Hybrid of Contemporary Christian Worship

Cessmaticism: The Strange Hybrid of Contemporary Christian Worship

The more these Dionysian-dominant songs are sung, the more they tend to choke out older and classical hymnody. Unless the pastors have a strong sense of what music communicates, they will be led by the same appetitive pull that passion-centred music has on all. They will see how much the congregants enjoy such songs; they will interpret this enjoyment as “connecting meaningfully” with the music, and notice how the visceral response is absent in some of the more Apollonian classic hymns.

We began this series by making the claim that Pentecostalism has quietly (or not so quietly) colonised Protestant worship, even in those churches and groups that explicitly reject Pentecostal theology. We have described the distinctives of Pentecostal worship, not in terms of its views regarding the operation of the charismatic gifts, but in terms of its focus on intensity, spontaneity, and its distinctive “praise-and-worship” theology of worship. It now remains to make the case that these approaches are widely shared and practiced in non-charismatic, or cessationist circles.

In the first place, there is little doubt that what is prized as “intensity” in Pentecostal circles is fairly well accepted as a laudable goal in cessationist evangelical circles. The move towards intensity is seen in many a non-charismatic church’s method of singing one song after another, in rapid succession, only the occasional musician’s deejay vocals over the bridge intro. The practice of singing five, six, or more songs one after the other, apart from causing some of the elderly to just eventually sit down during the songs out of sheer pain and frustration, is closer to the “flow-like” worship of Praise and Worship theology than like a thoughtful response to God’s Word. The choice of songs also appears suspiciously like the Praise and Worship, Five-Stage theology of the charismatics. Beginning with upbeat, thanksgiving songs, reaching a crescendo of triumphalism, and then gliding down into the zone of breathy, ‘deep’ songs of intimacy just before the offering or sermon.

A second mark of the takeover of worship by charismatics is that non-charismatic evangelicals are drawn to rather uncritically embrace the music of charismatic songwriters. Of course, several of the modern hymns written by those in openly charismatic circles (such as Sovereign Grace) or “cautious-but-open” circles qualify as decent or even good hymns, having both theologically sturdy lyrics and readily likeable and singable melodies. There is little wonder that many of our churches sing them, for their lyrics are often without cliches, and their music answers to 21st-century musical sensibilities.
The problem is not the contemporary nature of these songs. It does not matter if a song was written in 221, 1021, or 2021, as long as it is true, good, and beautiful. The problem is not even the charismatic commitments or associations of the songwriters. Enough beautiful hymns were written by people whose theology we do not all share, for example Charles Wesley, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, Paul Gerhardt, or Frederick Faber.

The problem is far more that that on the spectrum of Apollonian to Dionysian sentiment, they probably lean closer to the Dionysian side, at least musically.

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