Bethel music says this album, recorded live at Bethel Church, “captures the essence of our worship.” If that’s true, we can learn three things about Bethel:
- They really love spontaneous worship
- They get really excited for what God is going to do.
- Their worship is half about God and half about them.
I wonder what you think when you hear the words ‘spontaneous worship’. At it’s heart is letting a new song rise out of our hearts. Yet it seems so alien, particularly to Presbyterian ears used to sitting down immediately after singing a psalm or hymn.
But we would do well not to dismiss the idea. On a personal note, some of the most powerful worship times I’ve had used spontaneous worship. Indeed I became a Christian during one such meeting. In a wider context, God has given us all different desires and mediums with which we can praise him. The beauty of the church is that we can all worship the same God with our myriad tastes for particular styles.
This is just to say – my Free Church friends might struggle with the concept of a spontaneous album.
I plunged into this album because I was intrigued. I hypothesised that spontaneous worship wouldn’t work in a CD format as much as it does live. The spontaneity comes from the Holy Spirit and is peculiar to that particular moment in space and time. All the CD can do is record the out-workings of that moment, not recreate it. And we shouldn’t try to emulate what the Spirit did in that particular session at the time. But I plunged in anyway, because I wanted to test my hypothesis.
I was half right. On a CD the quieter spontaneity can allow for some prayerfulness.
And the congregants’ excitement about who God is and what He has done is tangible. Just because Presbyterians don’t show our excitement in audible woops, hand raising, amens, hallelujah’s and applause (all audible here) doesn’t make our excitement any less, or Bethel’s any more, valid. But it is infectious, and I have found myself singing some of the lyrics, and my heart being warmed by the Hallelujah’s in Mighty Sound. They’re right: “when we sing it’s a mighty sound.”
Like Bethel, we too can sing “you don’t give your heart in pieces” (Pieces). We can join them and sing that “my hope is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness ” (Cornerstone). Reckless Love has made it onto my worship playlist because it is a great reminder of how much God moved in his pursuit of me. I would caveat that the mixing isn’t quite right on this track, and it took a few listens before I understood what was being sung. (But hey, I still can’t work out what Thom Yorke is singing most of the time)
We can also sing that God heals.
If you know anything about Bethel church, you may know that they have a healing ministry. We who don’t have such a ministry must still acknowledge that we too believe that God heals. We do after-all pray for that He would. All good, then, so long as it is done with the right attitude of boldness and humility.
We can come to God with boldness and confidence, knowing we have a great high priest in Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16), but we must also come knowing that “His ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 56:8-9). God may heal on this Earth, he may not. We come humbly because it is not our doing, but God and God’s alone.
However, I don’t believe Bethel has this balance.
For example, take the album cover.
It’s a confused image. I think they want to say “he’s on his knees, humbled by God” but overall I feel it’s a bit more rock-star than humble.
Next, notice the lyrics in Catch the Wind:
I am strong and full of life
I am steadfast no compromise
I lift myself to the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind
I’m gonna catch the wind
I am bold no fear inside
Spread my wings open my life
Like an eagle whose home is the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind.
I’m gonna catch the wind.
Presumably (no explanation is given) the wind is the Holy Spirit. But the ordering is all wrong here:
By myself I am not strong.
It is Christ who gives life.
The Holy Spirit catches me.
I am fearful but with His help I am bold.
He will lift me up on eagles wings.
Further on in the song, I was a little weirded out. The music goes quiet, and the worship leader sings at us to let “the healing honey of Jesus rain down.”
I’ve never heard Jesus’ healing being described as honey before. I can kind of see it, in that Jesus is sweet, as is honey… and heaven (if I remember rightly) is described as being like honey. She goes on:
“I see it raining honey… The honey of heaven… The healing honey of heaven… Thick thick healing honey… Raining down… “. This is very bizarre imagery, and is presented as truth with no explanation. Perhaps the preceding sermon unpacked it – so it may have been helpful in that moment, because the Holy Spirit may have been working. But on a recording it just sounds odd. That is the danger of having “raw and unfiltered” (Bethel’s words) worship on a disc. Sometimes we need to filter out the unhelpful.
And then the singer makes a bold and frightening claim: “Depression’s gonna go! Panic is gonna go! Heaviness is gonna go!”
She goes on “healing, healing.”
With rising urgency, “healing! Healing!
It was all I could do to not switch the album off. I am testament to the fact that God can heal from depression, if he chooses. It is an uncomfortable truth that for some he may not heal in this life.
But my journey is also testament to the fact that I had assimilated enough of this teaching that it kept my depression going. It lead me to think that It’s my fault I have this! Am I pressing into Jesus? I should be pressing into Jesus more! I must be a bad Christian! God can’t be healing me because I’m not good enough! I must have some sin elsewhere, because he only hears the prayers of the righteous! which just made it worse.
There are some good parts to this album. Listening to some spontaneity reminds me how rigid I can be, and how I sometimes expect I need to worship in particular ways. It helps me be more open to what the Spirit might be saying. Us Presbyterians sometimes need that. Overall I can only recommend two tracks in the album: Reckless Love and Cornerstone. Both have made it on my worship playlist. The rest is either unhelpful, turn worship inward to us rather than God, or scripturally false.