Why a Synthesizer Isn’t the Holy Spirit

shutterstock_381348043In recent decades ambient sounds have become omnipresent in church gatherings. Meetings start with a synth swell and every song after that is connected to the next with musical glue. Synth pads play softly behind prayer, Scripture readings, song intros, communion, and in some cases, the preaching. If you don’t have someone who can produce the necessary sounds, no worries. “Worship pads” in every key are available for purchase to smooth out the transitions.

Which raises the question: what’s going on?

Music and God’s Presence

We often see a connection between music and the Holy Spirit’s activity in Scripture. Long before he was king, a young David comforted Saul as he played his lyre (1 Sam. 16:23). Elisha was unable to prophesy until a musician was brought into the room and started playing (2 Kings 3:14-16). The prophets of the Old Testament were regularly accompanied by musical instruments (1 Sam. 10:5; 1 Chron. 25:1). The walls of Jericho fell flat at the sound of trumpets and shouting (Josh. 6:20). In the New Testament, we’re told that being filled with or by the Holy Spirit results in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:18-21).

That partly helps explain why people often sense God’s presence in a greater way in the midst of congregational singing. The sound of Spirit-enabled believers, lifting up their voices to proclaim the greatness of God and the glory of Jesus Christ makes us more aware of God’s goodness, majesty, and nearness.

But while music and the Holy Spirit’s presence can be related, they’re not the same thing. That’s why David’s lyre comforted Saul at one point and on another occasion led him to try to pin David to the wall with his spear (1 Sam. 18:10-11).

Useful vs. Necessary

Music is a means. God is the source. God often uses physical means to do his work. But when we start to view a means of grace as a “need” for worship it can subtly take on the characteristics of a mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). We think certain musical sounds enable us to experience God’s presence. Like the time a leader told me the synth melody I was playing “had healing in it.” Not sure how he reached that conclusion.

Wayne Grudem says one of the Holy Spirit’s “primary purposes in the new covenant age is to manifest the presence of God, to give indications that make the presence of God known.” (Systematic Theology, pg. 641). God might use music as a setting to manifest his presence, but music isn’t required. There is a difference between music being something God uses and something he needs. More often, the Spirit reveals God’s presence through preaching and various spiritual gifts, not simply playing music (1 Cor. 2:3-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-7).

What music does do is affect us emotionally. It can soften our hearts to listen or inspire a sense of expectancy. It can make transitions seem less choppy. It can cover up extraneous noises and set a reverent tone, as organ preludes have been doing for years. But that doesn’t mean God is making us aware of his presence, or worse, that we’re being “led into God’s presence.” In his insightful book, Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Harold Best warns,

“Christian musicians must be particularly cautious. They can create the impression that God is more present when music is being made than when it is not; that worship is more possible with music than without it; and that God might possibly depend on its presence before appearing.” (p. 153)

Everyone knows a synthesizer is not the Holy Spirit. But judging from worship albums, YouTube videos, and comments I’ve heard people make, that point might need to be clarified.

Three Differences

So here are three ways a synthesizer (or piano, B3 organ, electric guitar, cymbal swell, etc.) can be distinguished from the Holy Spirit.

A synthesizer points to emotion. The Holy Spirit points to Christ.
Music is an emotional language. It moves us, with or without words. Music can communicate joy, sadness, awe, celebration, or peace. But the emotions it communicates are “truth-less.” We don’t know their source or their object. Music by itself can’t tell us that God is slow to anger or that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree (Ps. 145:8; 1 Pet. 2:24). The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, was sent to magnify Christ (John 16:14), not just affect our emotions. He does that through illuminating God’s Word to our hearts, distributing spiritual gifts, and opening our eyes to see the glory of Christ (1 Cor. 2:10-13; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; 2 Cor. 3:17-18). A synthesizer can create an atmosphere of peace. The Holy Spirit actually gives peace as he assures us of our forgiveness in Christ, God’s sovereignty in our lives, and his Fatherly care for us.

An ever-present synthesizer can subtly communicate God only works with a musical background. The Holy Spirit gets things done with words alone, or even in silence.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing music between songs or when someone’s speaking, and there can be good reasons for doing so. But repetition teaches. If people typically hear a steady stream of atmospheric pads during your church’s corporate worship, they could assume the Holy Spirit is “less present” when the keyboardist stops playing. They might struggle to engage with God in a more traditional church service, where the songs are “interrupted” by prayer, Scripture reading, confessions, and creeds. Some might even think the Holy Spirit isn’t as active in those churches, or that those people just don’t “get” worship. If you always play music between songs and under speaking, try mixing it up. Occasionally start your meeting with a Scriptural call to worship rather than ambient sounds. End a song and pray or read a Scripture with no background music. People should know that while music can support what’s being read, God’s Word can stand on its own. Likewise, communion is just as meaningful, if not more so, without a synthesizer in the background. 

A synthesizer can connect parts of a meeting. The Holy Spirit connects us to God and to each other.
One of the common reasons for using synth pads is to improve the flow. i.e., smooth out transitions from one song to another. That can be a good thing. But a Sunday meeting isn’t a seamless performance or production. And we aren’t trying to create a musical mood or atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit feels “more comfortable.” As we meet, God is building us into Christ and into each other (Eph. 4:15-16). He is making us into a temple in which his Spirit dwells (Eph. 2:19-22). And he uses all kinds of means to do that – the preaching of God’s Word, singing, the Lord’s supper, greeting, and a variety of spiritual gifts. Music is not what unifies us, the means by which we approach God, nor the means by which God approaches us. All that has been accomplished in Jesus, our perfect Savior and our all-sufficient mediator.

We can thank God for gift of music and the variety of musical means he’s given us to encourage faith-filled, passionate worship in song. Let’s make the most of them. But let’s also make sure our people don’t assign to music a power it was never meant to have.

(Image courtesy of shutterstock.com)


50 Responses to Why a Synthesizer Isn’t the Holy Spirit

  1. Joel Jupp March 12, 2016 at 11:52 PM #

    I agree with so much here (nearly everything), including the call for silence, variety, and Spirit dependence. Those are crucially important points, and I couldn’t agree more.

    In my perspective, some further nuancing might be helpful here. Of course, the Spirit can work through physical means — just as He can work through other means. After all, we are embodied beings and certain sound waves affect us in different ways.

    Too much cowbell would make us laugh. There’s nothing inherently spiritual or anti-spiritual about a cowbell, but culturally, we’ve associated cowbell with humor (e.g., SNL). Likewise, loud kick drum tends to be associated with dancing (or for others, headaches). These associations in themselves are not wrong.

    As far as ambient pads go, in much of Western culture, that particular sound has been associated with contemplation, peace, and spirit. Like the sounds mentioned above, there is nothing moral or amoral about that in itself. In fact, synth sounds are used in contexts outside of worship (such as commercials) to communicate these same ideas.

    For that reason, rather than comparing ambient pads to manipulation, I would compare it to the use of language. If culture uses certain metaphors (whether linguistic or not), then those metaphors can serve as vehicles of communication.

    Again, I think Bob is awesome (a role model and a favorite!), and I agree with so much here. In my view, a bit more nuancing would be helpful, particularly some of the positive uses and/or more emphasis upon the fact that the Spirit not only uses spiritual means, but natural means. The Spirit’s activity is above and beyond our physical processes, of course, but neither is He absent from those processes.

    • Bob Kauflin May 5, 2016 at 11:40 PM #

      Joel, thanks for sharing some helpful thoughts. I agree with the cultural associations we make. In this post I’m particularly going after the thought that our corporate singing is ALWAYS meant to be associated with “contemplation, peace, and spirit.” It’s the overuse of the synth pad and instrumental music in general, over a number of years, that prompted me to post this. I don’t think musicians necessarily use synth pads, or whatever, to manipulate. I do think we can get sloppy or thoughtless about our practices, and that can have unintended consequences. Thanks again for the thoughtful response.

      • Harry WWC May 6, 2016 at 6:23 PM #

        “sloppy or thoughtless” – or perhaps “lazy”?
        SDG, .h

  2. wilmer montiel March 13, 2016 at 12:01 AM #

    Traducer please at spanish

    • Milton March 13, 2016 at 8:43 PM #

      This is just me but i don’t even worship through music (per say) I “worship” aka give God the glory through listening to and enjoying the talent of musicians. But i really don’t listen to Christian or worship music. I listen to rock, metal etc. A lot of it isnt directed at worship but it is sincerely amazing sounding music. I acknowledge that God gave them those gifts to produce that music. I worship (in the more traditional sense) by going on bike rides and enjoying the scenery, which makes me rejoice in God’s goodness in letting us have health and to see his creation. Not every one is the same and thats ok.

      • Bob Kauflin March 13, 2016 at 8:51 PM #

        Milton, thanks for your comment. Good thoughts. I’d just add that the Bible distinguishes between what Christians do when they gather weekly as the church and what every Christian is meant to do as an all of life worshiper. Yes, I can worship God at a good secular concert, thanking Him for the gifts he’s given the performers. But that doesn’t mean Sunday mornings are meant to mirror secular concerts. Or even ride bikes together, as you reference. When the church gathers, our focus is the glory of Christ revealed to us through the gospel and the word of God. Music in that context becomes a servant to those ends, complementing and supporting the Word of Christ (Col. 3:16).

  3. wilmer montiel March 13, 2016 at 12:03 AM #

    Traduscame esta pagina es de importancia para mi

    • Kevin Mason (Mision Evangelica Del Ecuador) April 2, 2016 at 12:05 AM #

      usted puedes copiarlo y pegarlo dentro “translate.google.com” y leerlo. la trduccion no esta perfecto pero tu puedes entenderlo.

  4. Bob Leroe March 14, 2016 at 6:53 AM #

    At my church we play quiet recorded praise music like Fernando Ortega or Our Daily Bread instrumental hymns as people gather. What you’re describing is New Age music. I realize not everyone who likes “Hearts of Space” is New Age, but let’s face it, it’s not Christian in origin.

  5. Greg Lawhorn March 14, 2016 at 8:48 AM #

    FYI, I’ve been a senior pastor for more than 20 years.

    Music IS emotional. In fact, it’s so emotional that it’s really a cheap way to produce a response, just like profanity in a joke.

    I’ve seen a church become so engrossed in the emotion of music (I can’t bring myself to call it worship) that my associate pastor once suggested to me that we NOT have preaching one Sunday, just to shake things up. “Interesting idea,” I said. “What if we have preaching, but no music?” He asked, ‘How can you do church without music?” I said, “How can you do church without the Word?” He never really got it.

    • R. Mark Black March 17, 2016 at 11:35 AM #

      Greg, Those are powerful comments and I know ones from your personal experiences. For me, I believe God gives us many avenues of worship that hopefully and prayerfully merge into only ONE expressway to the Father, Jesus himself. Music, by its own nature, brings out a plethora of emotions and I do believe that it is only a conduit for driving home Gods word in our being. We remember melodies when we forget verses. We associate messages with songs and in those ways God reaches into each of us. I believe that in every church some folks are brought to Jesus by varying methods and no one method is any more important than the other. Ultimately we should all share in glorifying God in worship, word, song and deeds. This will allow for our best goal to be accomplished, that of winning souls to Jesus Christ our Savior!

  6. Eduardo Sánchez March 14, 2016 at 9:39 AM #

    Great article. However, I missed something. The synth pad may be an actual hindrance to the Holy Spirit for a far more pedestrian reason. It could be *distracting*!! So many times I’ve found that it was hard for me to pray when someone leads in prayer (within public worship) and the worship leader thinks that he/she should add some notes in the background. Truly awful. Some people really need to understand that silence is also conducive to worship.

  7. Kyle Huber March 14, 2016 at 12:58 PM #

    Thanks Bob, helpful for thinking and planning. Another reminder how easy it is for us (me) to follow patterns we for some reason have just done – without thinking through how it is biblically inspired and shaped. I am passing this article on.

  8. jimpemberton March 14, 2016 at 1:03 PM #

    Distractions in worship could make a whole book of itself. There are plenty of distractions: babies crying, background music, music too loud, music too soft, poorly EQ’d speech, the lady with the big hat sitting in front of us, hunger, physical discomfort of any kind, lack of sleep, etc. The overuse of a synthesizer to produce an emotional response rather than genuine worship is just another kind of a distraction. Some distractions can be prevented like this. Other distractions must be overcome by self-discipline. I would argue that the latter can be a necessary part of worship. But there is also a blurred line between the preventable and the necessary brought on by the fact that we all have different needs in worship. A corporate gathering can’t meet all needs perfectly, so the practice of self-discipline of each brother and sister in Christ in corporate worship should be the rule. The worship team can’t plan for every possible need. However, toning down the synth is a good start.

  9. Donna March 14, 2016 at 3:37 PM #

    This article is disturbing on several levels. It is shallow and misses the point of why God created music. The highest use of music is to lead us to worship God. Worshipful music sometimes helps in pulling back the invisible curtain to reveal the presence of God. (His presence is already in us. ) Even though some people of God still cannot be moved in their spirit to any joy, happiness, freedom and exuberance, because they are dulled because of the fact that they listen to secular music. Music causes worship in us. We don’t live by our feelings but, worship music done rightly produces healthy emotions God-ward, and secondly to others. Then the emotions would be pure and surely no man would revile against and call it into question. I’ve lived a long time and been in a lot of churches. Many people don’t sing at all. I say encourage the people of God to sing loud, be very happy, shout, holler, wiggle, jump, dance, clap, etc. Don’t squelch it. Let them enjoy their God! We aren’t afraid of emotions in church. Frankly I’d rather see folks happy about God than no emotion at all. I always remember Romans 12 :1,2,3. Offer ourselves as a living sacrifice is our spiritual act of worship. This is 24/7. God gives godly music to help human beings do this. This is a Worship Leader’s very job. Musicians always went before the battles of the Old Testament. “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. “

    • Bob Kauflin March 14, 2016 at 4:56 PM #

      Donna, thanks for taking time to share your thoughts. After reading what you wrote, though, I’m not sure you understood my point. My last paragraph says, “We can thank God for gift of music and the variety of musical means he’s given us to encourage faith-filled, passionate worship in song. Let’s make the most of them. But let’s also make sure our people don’t assign to music a power it was never meant to have.” I’m definitely FOR music! Like you, I want to encourage the people of God to sing loud and be very happy! I would never want to discourage emotions, either, unless they’re rooted in something other than God’s Word and the gospel. My concern/question, is whether or not we can unintentionally set up a new way of coming to God or God coming to us, apart from Jesus Christ and the Spirit, by playing atmospheric sounds. It’s not “music” that causes worship in us. It’s the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). All the other expressions of worship flow from that revelation. And as for the invisible curtain that needs to be pulled back to reveal God’s presence, God makes it clear that through his death and resurrection, Jesus has taken it away (2 Cor. 3:12-18; Heb. 10:19-22). And THAT gives us all the reason we need to rejoice with great exuberance!

  10. Carole M March 14, 2016 at 8:42 PM #

    As a musician I am keenly aware of the ease with which music speaks to everyone. And pardon me because you may not like the term, but in the simplest of terms, music manipulates the emotions. This is why it is the universal language. I am a natural worshipper of God through music. But I will walk out of a service where synthesized music is used as background during preaching, teaching or what have you. At that point, I am being manipulated to get a certain emotional response. This is utterly of the flesh and certainly not of the Holy Spirit, nor the Lord. He does not manipulate us. He doesn’t have to. His Holy Self is so compelling that His sheep simply come to Him and demons flee.

    • Bob Kauflin March 14, 2016 at 10:16 PM #

      Carole, thanks for commenting! Music can “manipulate” the emotions, as you say, but I prefer to say music can “affect” the emotions. We may be saying the same thing. But I would never say that music always does that. AS I mention in the post, David most likely played the same kind of music for Saul, but he responded quite differently. The reasons music affects are complex and deep. The best book that’s helped me sort through this topic, after Scripture, is Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best. I shared more thoughts on music behind speaking in the article I link to in this post. Thanks again for your thoughts.

      • Aaron Doerr May 5, 2016 at 12:57 PM #

        I agree with Bob on this.

        Music is more than a mere manipulator. It isn’t a human ‘trick’. Music is a creation of God to be used for God. Music’s affect on us cognitively and emotionally is by design. God’s design. God made music before he made humans (Job 38:4,7). The way God has fashioned our brains to respond to music is fascinating. It affects our cerebellum, which searches for pattern and repetition, it creates deep synapse connection to the amygdala and hypocampus which control emotion and memory. It appeals to our rationality, memory and our emotion. God designed our brains to respond to music with the intent of using this response joined with scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself and the Glory of Christ to us.

        From this perspective, I differ slightly from Bob’s statement that music by itself is ‘truth-less’. I agree that it does not give us specific revelation about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but it does communicate the truth of general revelation ala Romans 1:21. It communicates resolve, order, harmony and pattern that reveal God’s ‘eternal power and divine nature by what has been made so that [we] are without excuse’. Some of the most secular people in the world still acknowledge the existence of something they can’t explain when the listen to great music. Music evangelizes the existence of God.

        The Bible commands us to utilize music, which He created, to communicate the Truth of His Gospel. God Himself writes a song in Deuteronomony 31:19 to the Israelites as a means of reminding them of His deliverance and as way to convict them when they wander. The Gospel doesn’t depend on music and neither does the Holy Spirit (which I think is what Bob is saying in the article). But God certainly commands us to use it. Colossians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 5:15-20 tell us that God intends music and song to be used to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly and to be filled with the Spirit.

        My takeaway from Bob’s thoughtful article is to carefully reevaluate the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of our worship liturgies. It is so easy to begin to ‘worship and serve created things, rather the the Creator, who is forever praised, Amen.’ I certainly don’t want to be worshiping my shimmer pad! However, I believe God is pleased when I faithfully and humbly submit my shimmer pad to the Glory of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and the worship of the Father. This may mean using it more or shutting it down entirely. When Jesus is our mediating worship leader (Heb 2:10-12), these decisions can become acts of worship themselves rather than preference debates.

        Thanks, Bob for thoughtful piece.

        • Bob Kauflin May 5, 2016 at 3:18 PM #

          Great clarifications, Aaron. I’d still maintain that the distinction between music being general revelation and specific revelation is an important one. All created things to some degree communicate the reality of God’s eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20). But when it comes to music, the listener is free to determine specifically what those sounds mean. And that interpretation differs depending on a number of factors including upbringing, personal experiences, cultural norms, and heart attitudes. So I might be communicating truth, but what truth? I don’t know.

          It’s undeniable that God uses music in our corporate worship to affect our hearts and magnify his glory. I like the way you put it: “I believe God is pleased when I faithfully and humbly submit my shimmer pad to the Glory of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and the worship of the Father. This may mean using it more or shutting it down entirely. When Jesus is our mediating worship leader (Heb 2:10-12), these decisions can become acts of worship themselves rather than preference debates.” Amen.

        • David C. Lachman August 1, 2016 at 1:39 AM #

          I think I’d find you more convincing if you could give me any (ANY!) examples of those who have shut down their shimmer pads entirely.

  11. Joshua Eddolls March 15, 2016 at 12:48 AM #

    I do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit’s Presence in the worship atmosphere. I do think everyone likes to overcomplicate how we worship God. Should it be hymns? Ambient contemporary? God created each and every one of us different. We all have that unique way we connect with God. Psalm 33:2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Bottom line God created music to help us in our response to Him. Not that you can’t experience the empowerment of the holy spirit without song, but He did create it to be a way that we can worship him. In my perspective, everyone is going to be different. “distractions” in the worship service are going to be different for everyone. Focusing too much on that “How we should do it” is going to get us caught up in stupid arguments. Rather, regardless whether we use a synthesizer or a piano, the concept is the same. God is God, the Holy Spirit can work in music, He can work through the Word, He can work through the radio in the car, He can work through another person. Let’s stop overcomplicating worship. Worship is simple, It’s our actions and intentions, every single day, every single hour, whether we are honoring God or not. Worship with a synthesizer can be more sincere than a session sung out of a hymnal or the other way around. God looks at the heart, not the music. Botton line. Stop overcomplicating it please people.

    • Bob Kauflin March 15, 2016 at 7:38 AM #

      Joshua, thanks for your comment. You’re right, Biblical worship is simple. Jesus told the Samaritan woman we are to worship God in Spirit and truth, meaning in the power of the Spirit and through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. That means when we think we’re “improving” worship by what we add, or think that something we do is “necessary” to worship God, we’re overcomplicating it. If worship were dependent on our perspectives and personalities, then we could approach God any way we’d like. But the Isaraelites, Nadab and Abihu, and Uzzah all found out God cares deeply about the way we worship him (Ex. 32; Lev. 10; 2 Sam. 6). God is the one who decides what is acceptable worship. When we subtly persuade people that we can produce a “worship atmosphere” that causes the Holy Spirit to manifest God’s presence, it’s not only unhelpful, it’s unbiblical.

    • Jed Hartzler September 2, 2016 at 12:09 AM #

      Love this brother. You are right on. I am with you 100%.

  12. Marguerite Harrell March 15, 2016 at 6:13 PM #

    Lately, I am having problem hearing the Scripture Reading and prayer time due to that Synthesizer music going on. I am deaf and wear my two hearing aids. I do need to hear whoever is speaking clearly without frustration. We should not be having that music noise in the background during that times. Yes, I do frown on that. But then again, the music guy that we have is more of the performer kind of music guy. Yes, I do get painful tinnitus /earaches/headaches from his kind of music during Worship service time. I have to stay out of that room until the Scripture reading and sermon time. Lately, he started during that. Why and Why this had to be done that way? When we do have someone’s else leading music, and I don’t have problem with someone’s else.

  13. Strange Geranium March 17, 2016 at 3:30 AM #

    This problem is easily solved.
    Recover from your addiction to the belief in the supernatural and superstition.
    Evolve instead, into a sensible, pragmatic, intelligent and loving member of the human race who does not need to believe in magical incantation prayers and ritual to be allowed to enjoy life freely.
    Permit yourself to be free of religion and free of the fear of death.
    Think of all the other wonderful things you could do for yourself, your family and your community, each Sunday or Saturday morning if your were not desperately trying to keep the Sabbath ritual to gain entry into an imaginary club of the elite.
    WHY would you even want to go to heaven anyway.
    Think about it pragmatically for a moment.
    Who will actually be there with you?
    If I am wrong and the holy father actually is as forgiving and loving as the New Testament would have you believe, forgetting all the terrorism he committed in the old testament, there may be a few things people have not considered.
    Heaven would be full of all types of believers from the last few thousand years, from the early Jews and Muslims, to the current Christians.
    How will the early Christians who stoned to death people for incredibly lightweight crimes, deal with contemporary era Christians who, work on Sundays, wear clothes of a different thread, eat whatever they want, use modern technology and are gay.
    Heaven will be nothing more than another warzone.
    All the rapists and murderers that were assured a place in heaven purely for asking for forgiveness and believing in Jesus will be there too.
    Everybody will have their own idea and their own sect and in short, the place will be hell.
    If you think the Middle east is a warzone wait until you get into heaven.
    Not to mention that all the really groovy sensible people, all the artists and musicians and philosphers etc will not be there either. Where they will be, will seem like peace on earth compared to the hell you will find in heaven.
    Leave your dedication to an imaginary, genocidal, psychopathic, uncompassionate, dishonest, megalomaniac of the Old Testament and his all loving zombie sock puppet son of the New Testament, far behind you.
    FREE yourself from an afterlife in hell, and stop going to church.
    You will never have to hear a synthesizer pad between hymns on Sunday morning again.

    • Bob Kauflin March 17, 2016 at 1:24 PM #

      Strange Geranium, thanks for stopping by. I think it would benefit you much more if you didn’t concern yourself with commenting on relatively unimportant posts like mine and tried to understand what the Bible really says! Your knowledge of the Bible is woefully misinformed, and I can understand why you’d reject a god like the one you’re describing. I’d be happy to recommend some people in your area you could talk to, if you were interested. In the mean time, you might check out The Reason for God by Tim Keller or I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norm Geisler. I pray you’d come to know the gracious and holy God who made you for his glory, and to whom we owe everything.

      • Aaron Doerr May 5, 2016 at 1:21 PM #

        Skeletons in God’s Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler is also a wonderful read, Strange. It addresses many of the caricatures of the god you describe that are not connected to the God of the Bible. I wholeheartedly agree that the god your describe and the heaven you describe sound irrational and horrible.

        They are both, however quite different from the God and heaven the Bible describes. For instance, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Pascal, Bach, Jon Foreman, MLK, Cory Henry, are all quite groovy, and all have publicly declared their belief in Jesus as the one who will get them to heaven. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with them for eternity. Bach, Jon and Cory knocking out new songs together, while Tolkien and Lewis tell mind-blowing epic stories stories and Pascal pulls off math equation mic drops on the biggest chalkboard you’ve ever seen. Sign me up.

  14. Strange Geranium March 17, 2016 at 3:37 AM #

    Oxytocin is the reason people think they feel god when they are singing in congregation.
    it is a scientifically observed fact that levels of oxytocin, the love hormone, the cuddle hormone,
    sky rocket in participants who sing together in large congregations or small.
    So mot only is this hormone released when we touch or hug another being, but also when we sing together or do things together.
    It certainly can explain phenomena such as sensing Gods spirit in music or in large groups of people. A pragmatic and sensible person may see this connection.

    • Bob Kauflin March 17, 2016 at 1:28 PM #

      What you say is quite true! But I’m not sure how a chemical response in people negates the activity of God’s Spirit, just as physical laws of the universe don’t negate there being a wise Creator who spoke all things into being and continues to interact with his creation.

      • Strange Geranium June 18, 2016 at 2:44 AM #

        Quite simply, it is the fact that, when people sing in congregation, or pray in congregation, they often claim to feel God’s spirit, when what they are actually feeling, is the release of Oxytocin en masse.
        In other words, it is not a supernatural spirit that has overcome them, it is a hormone.

        • Bob Kauflin June 18, 2016 at 11:33 AM #

          Strange Geranium, thanks for the comment. Two thoughts. First, just because there’s a physical explanation for what is happening doesn’t mean God isn’t behind it. Second, just because we can point to a physical explanation doesn’t mean God isn’t doing more than what can be explained physically. The release of oxytocin in the body explains why all people, Christians or not, find encouragement and unity in singing together. But it doesn’t explain the powerful and unifying effect of remembering and proclaiming together the good news that Jesus Christ died in our place to purchase our forgiveness and reconcile us to God.

  15. Jailo Mwale March 17, 2016 at 4:59 AM #

    This article has helped me to align my thoughts and actions i have made in the church. As rightly observed, music in the church has taken the role of true worship which is supposed to be driven by the Spirit of God. On many occasions i have asked the key board player not to play the music whilst probably am praying or when the church is praying. Music has become more like the oil that drives our worship. This has resulted in idolizing the musicians in the church. As much as we need the musical instruments in the church, the church need to have a refined understanding on true worship in the church.

    • R. Mark Black March 17, 2016 at 11:45 AM #

      WOW. “idolizing musicians in the church”? Could there be at the same time “idolizing a minister in the church as well”? Maybe there is a conflict of idolatry? Maybe the end result of saving folks has been completely lost at your church in lieu of competing self interests. Doesn’t sound Biblical to me and I believe prayer is in need here. I will keep you and your church in my prayers.

  16. Skip (Vanilla Puddin') July 13, 2016 at 6:12 PM #

    I’m un-downloading the pads in every key I put into Ableton. One of them made everone look to see whose phone was going off while our pastor was reading a scripture because it had some arpegiation under it. That pad actually interrupted the Spirit. But He was OK.


  17. Jed Hartzler September 1, 2016 at 11:59 PM #

    I agree with basically all of this. But let’s not just attack the synth. God doesn’t require ANYTHING to manifest his presence, short of us wanting Him to be present. He doesn’t “need” a pastor to preach, or a pianist to play, or kids to sing. However, look at it biologically and see what music does to our brain through different frequencies and what light does to us in the same format. Music can bring about emotions we otherwise wouldn’t allow ourselves to feel. Lights can change our mood (dreary rainy day vs sunny day). And that’s why God gave us this awesome gift of music. It’s one more way we can worship Him. Sure it’s not “needed”, but shouldn’t we use everything we can to give glory to God? Including a synth? All it really does anyway is maintain an uninterrupted worship set so that we don’t have time to think about the dead air that just happened between songs lol and, I love when people use it during a sermon. It can get us emotionally involved in the sermon and elevate certain portions to bring a greater impact.

    I could go on for pages about this topic as I think people continually “demonize” aspects of worship music sets (for lack of a better term there). Let’s just enjoy music and worship through it, the God who gave it. And stop worrying about why a synth isn’t the Holy Spirit.

    • Bob Kauflin September 2, 2016 at 8:37 AM #

      Jed, thanks for your thoughts. Let me see if I can be clearer. When what is “optional and helpful” in worshiping God becomes “necessary” to worship God, we’ve created an idol. The Israelites in Ex. 32 were worshiping God sincerely, but thought they needed a golden calf to worship him. The reason I write posts like this is because idolatry is subtle, pervasive, and ultimately destructive. I’ve seen and talked to too many people to think this isn’t an issue, despite the protests to the contrary. I’m not sure you read what I wrote carefully. I didn’t say that we should do away with synths, not was I trying to demonize them. In the post I say that this could equally be applied to a “piano, B3 organ, electric guitar, cymbal swell, etc.”

      But worship isn’t ours to do with as we please. We worship God because he has given us the gift of glorying in and finding our satisfaction in Him alone. God is the primary actor in worship, not us. We are simply responding to his gifts of grace. When the means by which we worship him become essential to our relationship with him, they actually start to move us away from him. Hope that’s helpful.

      • Aaron Carter October 11, 2016 at 12:08 AM #

        Thanks for this. This kind of goes in line with what God has been working with me on. I did a workshop last week, and a pastor said to me, “…We just need a musician”. I knew what they meant. But you put it well. We idolize certain sounds; certain ways of doing things. Therefore we are always creating “Formation” (Something else I just heard- Glenn Packiam https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-churchleaders-podcast/id988990685?mt=2 ) that worship and the presence of God does not equate to music or a certain sound.

  18. Rodney Carter March 29, 2018 at 1:53 PM #

    If instrumental music is going to used as a form of entertainment, or an addition to what God desires in worship to him, thus a form of idolatry it would be best to leave it out, period!

    Acts 17:24-25

  19. AnCoats October 5, 2023 at 4:47 AM #

    Guitars are not the Holy Spirit either, so will you be doing a similar blog post??

    • Bob Kauflin October 10, 2023 at 8:21 PM #

      I trust that guitarists will be able to glean from what I wrote about synths and apply it appropriately! And actually, I do mention guitars under the “Three Differences” heading.


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