Evangelical Worship Edition.
August 22, 2017. Today we’ll be taking a look at “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship which currently sits at #3 on 20TheCountdownMagazine.
Elevation Worship is the house band for Elevation Church where Steven Furtick presides. There are lots of problems with Elevation Church and with Steven’s preaching (additional info: here, here, and here). We’ll be focusing on the merits of this song that was clearly written for Elevation’s worship sets but finds itself on our CCM charts.
I have to admit, I was surprised by this song. Its lyrics are better than I expected. The Gospel of Forgiveness bought by the Blood of Jesus is in the chorus of this song. What is lacking is a clear understanding of what needed to be forgiven, so the Law is muddled. I’ll do my best to acknowledge the good and share my concerns in the lyric such that someone who has never heard of Elevation or Stephen Furtick can examine the lyric for themselves. I do not recommend anyone attending Elevation church, nor supporting that organization by buying their music.
Elevation Worship Video
The video is very polished. I thought it was just going to be another “House Band rock concert” video, but they brought in clips from their mass baptisms that were very compelling. I wish I could say that this demonstrates a proper understanding of Baptism, but Elevation was caught fabricating/manipulating “spontaneous baptism” events. There is also the extremely troubling fellowship between Furtick and T.D. Jakes, who is a non-trinitarian. Why is that relevant here? We are commanded to make disciples baptizing them into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If you reject the doctrine of the Trinity, you’re practicing a different baptism. Now, the song keeps mentioning the Altar, the video focuses more on baptism. I’m not going to complain too much here since the evangelical “altar call” at the house band concert would really be just coming up to the stage… and that would expose the “Finney altar call” for the spectacle it is. After we read through the lyrics, I want to come back to this video’s focus on baptism.
Lyrics (via YouTube)
Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling
O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ
Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling
Oh what a Savior
Isn’t he wonderful
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen
Bow down before him
For he is Lord of all
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen
Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you’ve found
As I said in the intro, I was very surprised to have found the chorus of this song so good. Let’s start there for now because there is a clarity here I just don’t see in most of the songs on the CCM chart.
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ
Here we have a central message of the Gospel. I so wish the song made use of the verses to finish proclaiming the Gospel. Sadly, it doesn’t, which leaves this excellent line in the chorus floating without an anchor point. Forgiveness for what? This is where the song falls flat, by softening the Law and emotionalizing it.
Verse 1. Are you hurting and broken within overwhelmed by the weight of your sin. Sin is our problem. Our flesh, our very being is sinful. In fact, we were dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1). The opening lines of this verse focus on the “hurting” and “broken within” and “overwhelmed by the weight” of sin. This is already taking the mystical turn of spiritualizing everything. Sure, the word “sin” is in there, but what is being described points more to an emotional awareness of guilt, or the emotional effect of guilt/shame. The next line takes it a step further with, Have you come to the end of yourself. This is a truism you won’t find in Scripture, it points to the whole “let go and let God” type of sentiment. Have you tried everything else, but to no avail? Well, try this! Do you thirst for a drink from the well. This is one of those lines that gets thrown out there to really grab those who are familiar with some scripture. Now, because I want each of you to be more familiar with scripture so that you can think of Scripture rather than this song, let’s look at what this line is alluding to.
John 4:7-14 (ESV) A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This is a Gospel passage. The problem is that the person who needs to hear the Gospel doesn’t intuitively know what it means to “thirst for a drink from the well”. We aren’t intuitively aware of the Gospel. Just as this Samaritan woman didn’t understand at first, we today don’t understand the depth of our need nor do we get the Gospel. So, a line like this might lead someone to think, “it’s scriptural”, though the song isn’t actually conveying a complete thought.
Verse 2. Okay, so we’ve come from the chorus that speaks of the Forgiveness bought by Christ’s Blood, and the next line we get is, Leave behind your regrets and mistakes. Here we have a muddled Law, a muted problem of sin. It leaves the impression that the point of Forgiveness is for “regrets and mistakes”. These are some of the symptoms of sin, but they are not the actual problem of sin. The third line has the same sort of emotionalizing of the problem of sin with, Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy. Trade sorrows for joy, though I would argue that Biblically speaking, Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not merely some emotion. In our modern context, I don’t think we’ve maintained such distinctions in language. It’s romantic mysticism, a feel-good sentiment floating in the verse. Now, to anchor this sentiment into a Biblical promise, we need to look past this temporal life and into the New Heaven and the New Earth after the Resurrection.
Revelation 21:1-5 (ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
But we aren’t finished with this verse. This next line makes my blood boil. From the ashes, a new life is born. Can we please stop pulling language from the Phoenix mythos? I mean, this is in your “worship” set, for crying out loud. Stop with the Greek mythology. Just stop it.
Verse 3. Random tidbits of truth here, I suppose. I really like Sing Alleluia, Christ is risen, though, that is very good. By this time in the song, the point isn’t so much the lyric but the swell in the trance-like musical euphoria building toward a spiritual climax. This verse can be repeated like a second chorus as the audience sways back and forth at the leading of the singer, emotions stirred up into a frenzy, arms swaying to the rhythm of the song… because this is the “experience” that somehow translates to “worship”. At least, that is what these bands are led to believe. They are ushering in the Spirit, they are bringing heaven down to earth. At least, that is what the stated goal of this “worship” album is:
On this spiritual soundtrack, Elevation Worship attempt to prove that heaven is indeed a place on earth…(ref: iTunes)
This is purely emotional manipulation by very highly skilled musicians, some of whom might genuinely believe that this emotionalism is “true worship”.
Bridge. There’s no basis in the song for understanding what it means to Bear your cross as you wait for the crown. Let’s look at some Scriptures for a better understanding of what might be going on here.
Matthew 16:24-27 (ESV) Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
James 1:2-12 (ESV) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
1 Peter 5:1-11 (ESV) So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
To deny ourselves is to resist temptation, to humble ourselves, and to confess that we are powerless, desperately in need of a Savior this and every day here on this Earth. No room for temporal triumphalism here. The Apostles didn’t preach such temporal victory, they preached Christ’s return for His Church, for the crown of Life in the Resurrection in Christ Jesus.
What Altar? I find it curious when these mega churches sing about ‘coming to the altar’. Their altar is a stage, where they perform their rock concerts and TED talks. In historical, orthodox, Christian churches, the altar is where the elements of Communion are kept. Long before Charles Finney and his “New Measures” (which were horrible) and his awful “altar call” nonsense… the Church understood the idea of coming to the altar as a call to Communion, where Christ served His Church His Body and His Blood.
Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV) Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
This song isn’t referring to an actual altar, there isn’t even a representation of an altar in the Elevation Auditorium/Concert hall. It’s purely mystical, purely emotional, completely spiritualized and as such there is no solid meaning to the idea of coming to the altar in this song. I encourage you to consider how Scripture talks of Communion in 1 Cor 11. We need to divorce ourselves from the notion of the “altar call” where we “make a decision for Christ”… primarily since Scripture nowhere talks like that. Instead, we should consider what it is we are receiving in Communion. That may be tough for those of you in churches that don’t go up to the front to receive communion, but it’s at least a Scriptural basis for the idea of “coming to the altar”.
Baptism. A common doctrinal error regarding Baptism is viewing Baptism through the lens of the Law rather than as a gift of the Gospel. Baptism is something Christ does for us, not something we do for Him. For non-Lutherans, I know that’s an odd way to speak of Baptism without first spiritualizing it, but in some way, I think the editors of this music video recognize that there is something special going on in Baptism. While the song makes an appeal to come to the altar, they don’t have a clue how to demonstrate that or represent that in any meaningful way, so they look to Baptism. This is so close to being a good thing… so close. Yes, Baptism is God’s work and it comes with a Promise.
Acts 2:36-39 (ESV) Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
The song does have problems, particularly in its emotionalizing of sin such that the emphasis is on the effect of sin rather than sin itself. We are guilty of sin, regardless of whether or not we “feel it”, it is fact. The Law points out our sin and we’ve all fallen short. The song does have essential elements of the Gospel, that Christ shed His blood for our Forgiveness and that He has Risen from the grave. With a lot of work, this song can be a reminder of the Gospel for those hearing it playing on CCM radio.
Please don’t go to Elevation Church, don’t sit under Steven Furtick’s teaching, don’t buy this “worship album”. This song isn’t the reason I don’t recommend that organization. I’ve listened to several sermons, read through several controversies, and he’s aligned himself with heretics such as T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer. Pray for Steven Furtick and avoid him. If you have friends who think highly of Elevation church, don’t try to win the argument with this song review. You’ll need to address the false teaching and Furtick’s mishandling of Scripture (additional info: here, here, and here).
Jude 24-25 (ESV) Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,