Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Emotion as Trojan Horse

The following quote comes from Pastor Burnell F. Eckardt’s article in the Michaelmas 2011 issue of Gottesdient titled “Contemporary Worship, the Anabaptists, and the Hindus.”  Before we get to the quote though, I’d like to throw in a quick plug for GottesdienstGottesdienst is an insightful journal, packed with great writing and a variety of topics related to the Lutheran Liturgy.  If you’re a confessional Lutheran, you’ll probably like it.  And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Gottesdienster to read it (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what a Gottesdienster is).  Dare I say you might even enjoy it – Father Eckardt, the Editor-in-Chief, does have a flair for “stimulating” conversation between Gottesdiensters and those of other "liturgical persuasions."  You can subscribe at the Gottesdient website, as well as check out the Gottesdienst Online blog.  Here’s the quote, reprinted with permission:

    Remember the old George Harrison song “My Sweet Lord”? Consider these lyrics:
I really want to know you
Really want to go with you
Really want to show you lord
That it won’t take long, my lord (hallelujah)

My sweet lord (hallelujah)
Hm, my lord (hallelujah)
My sweet lord (hallelujah)
Anything objectionable there?  Of course not, in fact it sounds rather indistinguishable from the kind of thing you might hear from a praise band.  Unless, that is, you happen to know about the background singers’ prayer that comes in later in the song: “hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare, Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo, Maheshwara, Gurur Sakshaat, Parabrahma, Tasmayi Shree, Guruve Namah, Hare Rama, hare krishna…”

    And that, dear friends, comes from the Bhagavad-Gita, a seminal poem that forms the basis of Hinduism.  Repetition of the mantra is said to be the “sublime method for reviving our Krishna consciousness” (  Here’s the explanation of the mantra from
As living spiritual souls we are all originally Krishna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter from time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted by material atmosphere.  In this polluted concept of life, we are all trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities.  This illusion is called maya, or hard struggle for existence for winning over the stringent laws of material nature.  This illusory struggle against the material nature can at once be stopped by revival of our Krishna consciousness.  (
No Christian should have any difficulty recognizing the odious character of that kind of thinking, but how many would recognize it for what it is if it’s left in the background, untranslated, while the banal English lyrics are made the heart of this popular song? In fact, Gospel singer BeBe Winans took this very song and removed the Krishna references and added in their place, “You’re the Mighty One, You’re the Prince of Peace, You’re the First and the Last, You’re the Great I AM, and the Precious Lamb,” as though that would somehow baptize this song for use among Christians.  And for many, that sort of thing works just fine, because it’s all really about the mood anyhow, about making the experiential connection with Jesus.

    And this provides opportunity to address again a central failure of the contemporary worship mentality to understand that the means of grace are not the experiences of the Christian, but the words of the Holy Gospel.

    This gets to the heart of that quotation from the Apology about fanatical men who dream that the Holy Ghost comes to them if they sit and wait for illumination.  “Fanatics” have the theological problem of failing to recognize that the real point of contact that a Christian has with God is only the Word of God, and of replacing that link with personal experience.  And when personal experience, particularly when that experience is tied to emotion, becomes the driving force in determining the legitimacy of one’s views, it can be a very dangerous thing indeed.  The self-control of which the apostle Paul speaks is particularly the control of one’s emotions: the Greek enkrateia (ἐγ + ϰϱάτεια) is derived from krateia: strength.  Self-mastery has to do with keeping oneself constrained; that is, with keeping the emotive drives in check.

    This is not to say that emotion has no place in worship; on the contrary, worship of the noblest kind can be very emotional, since the comfort of the Gospel is bound to have an effect on the depths of one’s soul; and hence it is all the more necessary to take great care to distinguish worship centered in the Gospel itself from worship centered in the emotions.  The latter kind, when called Christian, is nothing more than a Trojan horse in which enters the mischief of a false faith rooted in something other than the Word of God.

    So then, not only is true faith at odds with the natural will (as this column sought to demonstrate in the previous issue), it is also inseparably bound to the Word of God.  Christian faith is dependent upon the Gospel not only at its inception, but for its sustenance.  The Gospel itself must form the heart and nucleus of all Christian worship, and therefore nebulous or simplistic emotional “encounters” cannot be allowed as replacements.  Nor, then, can the kind of music that lends itself so easily to the repetition of Hindu mantras ever become compatible with what is truly Christian.

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