Prayer Stations, Dark Sanctuaries, and Multi-Sensory “Worship”

by  Roger Oakland  

Stimulating images that provide spiritual experiences are an essential element of the emerging church. While many are bewildered as to why their churches are darkening their sanctuaries and setting up prayer stations with candles, incense, and icons, promoters of the emerging church movement say they know exactly what they are doing. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Fellowship once explained:

Everything in the service needs to preach–architecture, lighting, songs, prayers, fellowship, the smell–it all preaches. All five senses must be engaged to experience God.1

Often, Christians who have been attending church all their lives find the changes their pastors are implementing disconcerting, as they see the trend away from Bible teaching to multi-sensory stimulation. Dan Kimball quotes an older gentleman who had expressed his concerns about the implementation of an emerging style of mystical worship:

Dan, why did you use incense? I am not sure I like walking over to those prayer stations with all those props; can’t we just pray from our seats? Why aren’t you just preaching just the Bible? I wasn’t too comfortable when you had those times of silence, and it’s a little too dark in there for me.2

The comment by this gentleman in his seventies is typical of the comments I hear from many. But comments like this not only come from the elderly; many younger people are saying the same things. Both young and old are becoming concerned as they see multi-sensory mystical worship replace the preaching and teaching of the Word.

Nevertheless, Kimball and many others are convinced they are on the right path based on their view that emerging generations desire a multi-sensory worship experience. For example, in a chapter of Kimball’s book titled “Creating a Sacred Space for Vintage Worship” Kimball states:

[A]esthetics is not an end in itself. But in our culture, which is becoming more multi-sensory and less respectful of God, we have a responsibility to pay attention to the design of the space where we assemble regularly. In the emerging culture, darkness represents spirituality. We see this in Buddhist temples, as well as Catholic and Orthodox churches. Darkness communicates that something serious is happening.3

Kimball further states:

How ironic that returning to a raw and ancient form of worship is now seen as new and even cutting edge. We are simply going back to a vintage form of worship which has been around for as long as the church has been in existence.4

Of course, that is not really true. There is no evidence in the Bible that the disciples or the early church turned to a “raw” form of worship, especially one that needed darkness to help them feel more spiritual. If the early believers were in darkness, it would have been because they were meeting in secret to avoid arrest. To insinuate they were thinking about multi-sensory practices is an insult to their courage and devotion to God. Nowhere in Scripture is there even a hint of this. (from Faith Undone, pp. 65-67)

Notes:

1. “The National Reevaluation Forum: The Story of the Gathering,”(Youth Leader Networks – NEXT Special Edition, 1999, click here),pp. 3-8, citing Mark Driscoll, “Themes of the Emerging Church.”
2. Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church, p. 127.
3. Ibid., p. 136.
4. Ibid., p. 169.

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