Last week’s post on masturbatory worship certainly received the response I was anticipating. Many of you said it hit the mark, and that the term “masturbatory,” while perhaps shocking for some, was unavoidably appropriate. Others took my point, but suggested that I try to not be so “vulgar,” “crude,” or “offensive.” Which is interesting, since the word in and of itself is none of those things, and my post did not delve into discussion of a sexual nature. Yet other readers, mostly of the “white female 55+” category, were not only shocked, but seemed confused about the actual definition of the word, thinking there was actual sexual activity going on at these “worship” events.
I did notice a comment from someone who said that I probably wouldn’t like the worship at her church, and shared a video of her favorite moment ever in worship. Here is a clip of that moment.
Needless to say, this person was right. I didn’t like this one bit, but that’s not really relevant to our discussion about worship in the church.
This took place at Bethel Church, the mega-McCongregation in Redding, California. Bethel’s music ministry has grown into a self-promoting record label and publishing company, winning a bunch of awards, selling a ton of its recordings, and making piles of money in the process.
Anyway, the lead singer in the video is Steffany Frizzell Gretzinger, 34, one of the artists in the Bethel Music collective. She and her band have been singing the ubiquitous Bethel hit record “Reckless Love” for about 15 minutes. Steffany and her posse have worked the crowd into a frenzy with their blend of hyperactivity and aggressive amplification. The crowd is riding the emotional high, which they interpret as the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of this video, Stef finishes what is supposed to be the last of many, many consecutive repetitions, and begins staggering around in some sort of euphoric state. Longtime Bethel Senior Pastor Bill Johnson gets back up and invokes “another shout of praise” from the band and crowd. They, of course, oblige, because that’s what blind followers do. After they bask in their afterglow of their emotional high, Pastor Billy turns around and draws attention back to Stef up on the stage. After cackling into the mic, she unleashes a spontaneous series of vaguely pitched orgasmic screams. “YOUR LOVE IS RELENTLESS!” she says. The crowd, like any worked-up gathering at any pop music venue would do, screams and squeals with delight.
Head on over to YouTube, take a look at any video of a live performance by Beyonce or Miley Cyrus or whoever, and you’ll see eerily similar behavior. The cheers, the looks of delight, the rhythmic gyrations, the raised hands, everything.
This isn’t the Spirit, it’s the guitar riffs, vocal runs, and the kick drum.
Bethel believers, and believers anywhere that gives you this sort of experience, you’re being played.
People of God, this is the very definition of masturbatory worship. There is no actual Word or Sacrament going on here, there is no liturgy, there is no mission. This is self-gratifying pseudo-worship that only comes from within. It is designed to be an experience that meets MY needs, grants MY desires, and gives ME good feelings on MY own timetable and according to MY own agenda.
They might as well hang signs at the door, “Enter for Emotional High, Depart to Withdraw.”
If you’re looking for a masturbatory worship experience, you can go to Bethel or another mega-McCongregation that “worships” like this.
If you’re looking for more music from Steffany Gretzinger, she released a new album last year, and Bethel Music would love to sell it to you.
But if you’re looking for worship that edifies and strengthens Christ’s church to live out its calling in an ugly world, if you’re looking for Word and Sacrament, you better look somewhere else.