"Is Your Church Worship More Pagan than Christian?"

Todd Pruitt wrote a great article titled, Is Your Church Worship More Pagan than Christian? It begins this way,
There is a great misunderstanding in churches of the purpose of music in Christian worship. Churches routinely advertise their “life-changing” or “dynamic” worship that will “bring you closer to God” or “change your life.” Certain worship CD’s promise that the music will “enable you to enter the presence of God.” ... The problem with the flyer and with many church ads is that these kinds of promises reveal a significant theological error. Music is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. In this schema, music becomes a means of mediation between God and man. But this idea is closer to ecstatic pagan practices than to Christian worship.
Yet in the years since then I have learned some valuable lessons. Chief among them is the realization than an emotional high is no substitute for true spirituality. paperthinhymn
Pruitt continues by explaining the theological errors of churches that use music as a mediator between the people and Jesus. Of course there are further explanations in the article. I recommend it highly. Here are a few more excerpts,
1. God’s Word is marginalized.
In many Churches and Christian gatherings it is not unusual for God’s Word to be shortchanged. Music gives people the elusive “liver quiver” while the Bible is more mundane. Pulpits have shrunk and even disappeared while bands and lighting have grown. But faith does not come from music, dynamic experiences, or supposed encounters with God. Faith is birthed through the proclamation of God’s Word (Rom 10:17).

2. Our assurance is threatened.
If we associate God’s presence with a particular experience or emotion, what happens when we no longer feel it? We search for churches whose praise band, orchestra, or pipe organ produce in us the feelings we are chasing. But the reality of God in our lives depends on the mediation of Christ not on subjective experiences.

3. Musicians are given priestly status.
When music is seen as a means to encounter God, worship leaders and musicians are vested with a priestly role. They become the ones who bring us into the presence of God rather than Jesus Christ who alone has already fulfilled that role. Understandably, when a worship leader or band doesn’t help me experience God they have failed and must be replaced. On the other hand, when we believe that they have successfully moved us into God’s presence they will attain in our minds a status that is far too high for their own good.

4. Division is increased.
If we identify a feeling as an encounter with God, and only a particular kind of music produces that feeling, then we will insist that same music be played regularly in our church or gatherings. As long as everyone else shares our taste then there is no problem. But if others depend upon a different kind of music to produce the feeling that is important to them then division is cultivated. And because we routinely classify particular feelings as encounters with God our demands for what produce those feelings become very rigid. This is why so many churches succumb to offering multiple styles of worship services. By doing so, they unwittingly sanction division and self-centeredness among the people of God.
The pagan music practices to which Mr Pruitt was referring were described in several different ancient writings and modern commentaries.
The cult of Dionysus coming from the northland spread in a great wave of religious enthusiasm over Greece proper, over the island states of the Aegean, and across to the mainland of Asia Minor. At first it met with violent opposition, as the legends of Lycurgus and Pentheus prove. In those early days rarely was the god graciously received as he was, for example, by Icarus in Attica. In spite of opposition, however, the contagious enthusiasm of the wine-god spread with unusual rapidity throughout Greece. In order to restrain Bacchic excesses the city-states of Greece had no other alternative than to adopt the Cult, bring it under state patronage, and by official regulation temper its enthusiasm somewhat. At Delphi Dionysus was associated with Apollo, and there the sacred maidens went mad in the service of the two gods. In Athens he entered into civic partnership with Athena and yearly wedded the Basilinna. At Eleusis he was brought into relation with Demeter and led the march of the candidates along the Sacred Way from Athens. In Teos and Naxos he even became the paramount state deity, the "god of the city" and "protector of the most holy state."

It was as a private cult, rather than as a state religion, however, that the worship of Dionysus made its deepest impression on both Hellenic and Hellenistic life. In the private brotherhoods, the natural emotions aroused by the cult practices were allowed free play and the guaranties offered to initiates were of a very realistic order; hence the appeal of the cult was strong, particularly to the masses and to women generally. At the beginning of Aristophanes' comedy, Lysistrate, impatient with waiting, complains that if the women had been invited to the shrine of Bacchus "there would be no getting along for the crowd of timbrels." Indeed, the prominence of women in the worship of Dionysus is one of the most striking features of the cult. Pagan Regeneration,  A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco Roman World by Harold R. Willoughby, [1929]
Timbrels are an ancient kind of tambourine. The quote meant that if all the women were invited there would be so many clogging the streets with their tambourines, no one would be able to pass by.

The result of pagan cultic worship, especially Dionysian worship, was a frenzied scene at the temple, and a cacophony that permeated the city from on high to down low.

Menander demonstrates women’s role in pagan worship:
'We were offering sacrifice five times a day, and seven serving women were beating cymbals around us while the rest of the women pitched high the chant (olulugia)’ (Fragment 326).

In Daniel 3:4-6, the passage is talking about King Nebuchadnezzar and his command that all peoples worship him. To that end, he had made a statue and commanded all to worship before it. In the commentary on the verses, James Burton Coffman Commentary (1992) expounds,
the Temple of Aphrodite Pan Demos, located atop the Acro Corinthus, encouraged the patronage of their one thousand sacred prostitutes by a cacophonous blast of instrumental music five times a day, signaling that, the prostitutes had changed their clothes and that another feast on the sacrifices had been made ready. In our own times, with the continued degeneration of the whole science of instrumental music into the vulgar rhythms and noisy cacophony of the current era, such later styles of instrumental music are impossible of reconciliation with any conception whatever of holy worship.
Hear hear. We have come full circle from the days of the AccroCorinth temple worshipers' ululations and frenzied dancing, to the same today in many Charismatic and other 'churches'. It wasn't acceptable then and it isn't acceptable now. In 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, Paul said,

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. GotQuestions explains,
The concern of 1 Corinthians 14, and much of the epistle, is order and structure in the church. The Corinthian church was noted for the chaos and lack of order rampant in that assembly (verse 33). It is interesting that no elders or pastors are mentioned in the book, and the prophets who were there were not exercising control (see verses 29, 32, 37). Everyone in the church service was participating with whatever expression they desired, whenever they desired. As a result, those with the gift of tongues were speaking simultaneously, those with a revelation from God were shouting out randomly, and no one was concerned with interpreting what was being said, even if what was said could be heard above the din. The meetings quickly descended into chaos.
The Temple at Corinth and other places in the realm were already hotbeds of female chaos, musical cacophony, and wild dance. Women in the pagan temple were temple prostitutes. Part of their worship used music not only as a call to prostitution but as a method of working themselves up (to madness in many cases) and in a fever pitch, unite with the divine. If music did not have that capability the cult of Dionysius would not have spread so quickly and have been so well-known at Corinth as a synonym for debauchery. Christians must be vigilant about music being used to promote feelings and subjective experiences rather than to explain doctrine and praise the Savior. It all too quickly leads to chaos and worse, as Paul warned and as we see in the pagan cultic worship sessions.

Temple of Athena

Paul urged order in the church and the women to remain submissive. This would be an incredible contrast to what was happening in the immediate culture at the pagan temples, and further give Christianity its distinctive stamp.

So that was a short course in pagan worship and the influence music had on it back in the ancient days. When you read a title like Is Your Church Worship More Pagan than Christian? we can easily see that many of the chaotic, music-inflamed services at many churches, youth conferences, and revivals are indeed exactly like the pagan worship at Corinth, and are exactly what Paul railed against.

The point of the article is that when music is used 'to bring us closer to God', it actually separates us from God by instilling a false worship, the worship of emotional highs and subjective feelings. It often is used as an intermediary, or a vehicle, to foment a feeling of closeness with the divine,when all it is really doing is exhausting us with its constant undulations from high to low and high again.

From a youth who has lived the pagan worship and come out alive- barely:
That instead of developing depth it breeds shallowness, immaturity, and confusion. I’ve learned that worship can become the biggest draw for the church, and that worship nights will steamroll over bible studies and adult Sunday school. That a church oftentimes will pour much more resources, energy, thought and time into making a killer worship service than they will into developing deep, thoughtful, meaty, mature, theologically precise and provoking bible studies.
Don't let that be your church. Music is not worship and it should not substitute for true spiritual depth and relationship with the real intermediary- Jesus Christ.


Further reading

How worship music destroyed me. From bitterness to blessing


  1. I personally think the comments to his article are most telling. To me it appeared that the most scathing criticism came from folks identified by Facebook as "worship leaders", pastors (many of what appears to be very emergent churches) and (surprise!) people in the music industry.

    My little church has a very special name for what other churches would call a "Worship Leader", it's "Pastor". The person who selects the music and leads the singing is very happy to have the title of "pianist"

  2. Great article Elizabeth. Very timely. I have personal experience in this area, as the church we had attended for years acquired a very talented worship band. When that happened, the sermon went from 60plus minutes to 40, so that the band could play for 30 minutes before sermon and 30 minutes after. It felt to me like music became the focal point of the church, and it definitely drew in lots of numbers. It was and still is very sad for me. At the church we have been attending now for the last several months, they are searching for a music minister, and it seems that they have the correct qualifications in mind. We do still sing hymns about 1/2 the time there. I have been deliberating on writing to our pastor and expressing my thoughts on "music being used to promote feelings and subjective experiences rather than to explain doctrine and praise the Savior" as you put it so well, Elizabeth. Just so they know there are sheep who care about it.

  3. I have long had a problem with the term "worship leader" because worship is vertical, not horizontal. I think a worship leader (or a worship team) leads people to believe that worship entails certain actions, postures, etc. It keeps 'worship' focused on what we do, not what we believe and how we express it to God.

    I do not need someone 'leading' me in my worship of God--it is an outflow of my heart, not because someone tells me what I should be saying or doing. In my little church we have song leaders--three men who stand up front to lead the singing. I have no problem with that. But I don't want or need or appreciate someone who tells me when to stand, sit, clap, raise my hands, close my eyes, etc. I will do, or not do, those things as the spirit leads me. Also, I have been told I have a rebellious spirit because I don't simply go along with the crowd. --Linda Dodson


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