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Vain Repetition
© 1997 by Kevin Swanson

Some new worship methods are very similar to the techniques used by hypnotists or eastern mystics

Directly before the news at 7:00 am during my morning commute I tune the radio to a Christian station and listen to one or two contemporary Christian songs. Last week the radio aired a mantra of 4-5 notes which repeated the same words at least ten times in a row. This in itself was not so amazing. I almost had to pull over when the announcer called it his favorite song and stated that his church had used the song in worship time last Sunday, and everybody was just so blessed by it.

This called back memories of a documentary I saw once of a crowd engaged in Transcendental Meditation, swaying back and forth, uttering the same phrase over and over again. The protagonists utter a word or short phrase (often Biblical names or phrases such as "Jesus" or "Hallelujah") over and over again in order to initiate a mind-altering trance. The physical, emotional, and mental changes elicited by such manipulations are incredible, similar to the effects of hypnosis.

Some new "worship" methods popularly used in many of our evangelical churches are very similar to the techniques used by hypnotists or eastern mystics. It is the worship of vain repetition, "the vain repetition of the heathen", in Jesus' words.

The number of times something is repeated is important particularly in the context of worship, at least according to Jesus. Hypnosis, generated through repetition of sights or sounds, has no part in true Biblical worship. Hypnosis permits the mind to disengage to some extent. But Biblical worship requires the full engagement of the mind. We are to worship in spirit and TRUTH. Christianity is a religion in which the mind must be fully conscious and fully engaged. We are to love the Lord with "all our mind." We are called to the "renewing of our minds" and to "think soberly." (Romans 12:2, 3).

Our worship and praise must come forth from a lucid mind that is not clouded by hypnosis, unbiblical notions, gibberish that nobody understands, or over-simplified, meaningless, trite, or sentimental phrases. Scripture is dogmatic on this point:

I Cor. 14:15,16. "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say Amen at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say." (NKJV)

Many modern day choruses are good and profitable. But there are too many that rely on the cheap and illegitimate methods of "vain repetition" to "heighten the worship experience" to the delight of the uninstructed and to the displeasure of a God who does not accept vain repetition in His worship. Some even use bits and pieces of the Psalms in their repetitive compositions.

Biblical examples of repetition are clear. The Psalms use a repeated phrase in the form of a chorus. (Eg. "His mercy endures forever."), but only between verses with varied phrases and thoughts. Sometimes, although rarely, the Scriptures repeat a phrase or a word, but no more than 3 times in a row. (Eg. "Holy, holy, holy.)

May our worship be worship that pleases the God whom we worship rather than worship that titillates the uninstructed and the pleasure-seekers.

Reprinted from Mayflower Chronicles, June 1997

Last updated: 12 April 2006
Updated by: Matt Bynum