Let me make a qualification before I attempt to dissect this. I learned to play guitar by plunking away at Tomlin songs. I cut my teeth as a worship leader by playing his tunes. Musically speaking, I was very much “mentored” by him. So, I do have respect and appreciation for much of what he has done, and how he continues to contribute greatly to the church. “How Great is Our God” is sung worldwide by millions of Christians and this is something to be grateful for.
That said, I’ve had growing concerns for many years as to the direction which “pop worship” has been going. This latest music video is a perfect example of the embodiment of some of those concerns. Apart from employing already overused “modern worship” clichés (i.e., “my chains are broken”), the song itself has little to quibble about. It is the imagery and the subtle theological implications behind that imagery that are of concern to me. In this song, Resurrection Power, we see a young man drive out into a field, enter a baptismal, and––even as you inwardly beg for him not to do it––he then baptizes himself.
This music video is the embodiment of modern evangelicalism’s dangerous swerve into individualistic piety. I want to emphasize that true evangelical faith must be experienced by the individual, but not in isolation. The imagery in this video––of a solitary man baptizing himself––is appalling, for a few reasons. I’d like to lay out three reasons why this should be concerning to us.
First, it presents to us a notion of baptism that is theologically problematic. The baptism that the video presents is troubling in that the fellow comes alone, administers the sacrament alone, and leaves alone.
First, we see an undue emphasis on internal piety. The man in the video is presented as taking some spiritual journey alone. We can’t know the state of a heart, of course, which is why the doctrine of the objectivity of the external covenant sign of baptism is so vital. I don’t know whether someone’s spiritual journey is sincere or feigned, what I can know is, “Were you baptized?”
Baptism is not primarily about the internal condition of our heart, it is primarily about Christ, the covenant head of the body of believers. Modern evangelicalism needs to be wary of making inward piety of such great importance that accountability and objective union with the broader congregation (through the sign of baptism) becomes of little importance.
The lyrics state that the “old has passed away.” So far so good (cf. Rom. 6:6). But the footage inaccurately portrays what “the old” which is passing away actually is. Baptism is a visible word that points to the fact that the individual is no longer covenantally tied––because of Adam––to the kingdom of this world. Rather a person being baptized is now covenantally united with Christ and brought into the Kingdom of God, i.e. the church.
The Bad Juju of Autonomy
Which leads to the second problem I see in this music video. It paints the Christian as autonomous. But when we are baptized we are not simply making a statement about ourselves, but we are now visibly joined with the congregation of saints, and thus made accountable to the authority of the Word, and to the elders which the Word commissions to keep watch over our souls. The baptism that the video presents is troubling in that the fellow comes alone, administers the sacrament alone, and leaves alone.
Accountability to the human authority which the Word of God establishes for the believer is entirely absent. The only thing we see is an individualistic choice to seek some spiritual experience. But when we are baptized we are bound to the obligations of the covenant of grace. Baptism is not about my autonomous journey of spiritual self-discovery. Rather it speaks of my conveyance out of the kingdom of satan and into the kingdom of Christ.
The individualistic religion that is presented in this video is not Christian, it is pagan. Colossians 1:13 (ESV) makes it clear, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Christ is the head of His church, He has given His church elders to rule, guide, feed and rebuke the sheep. Normalizing autonomous spirituality is divorcing the member from the body and thus from the authority which God has put in place to oversee His flock.
Branches in Isolation Are for the Burn Pile
Finally, this overemphasis on individualism is a subtle departure from the apostolic faith. The Apostles’ Creed reminds us that we believe “in the communion of the saints.” We are one body, many members. We are not isolated cells on a spreadsheet of God’s roll-book. We are branches on a vine. The only branches in isolation are the ones cut off from the vine. It is a real sorrow that a song called Resurrection Power merely portrays an isolated individual expressing an autonomous spirituality, rather than what Christ’s resurrection––and thusly our baptism––truly proclaims.
Christ was the first-fruits from the dead, and His resurrection was to be the commencement of a great harvest. Christianity doesn’t mean we lose individuality, but that our individuality is folded into a great host of individuals who all comprise the universal church. It is neither communism nor individualism. The symbolism presented in this video is really at odds with the lyrics. The music video portrays a lonely baptism. Whereas, when we see baptisms in the New Testament they are overwhelmingly congregational.
Curmudgeoning is a Spiritual Gift
Now, all this is not me being a cantankerous old worry wort. It is a real concern that I’ve had for years that our modern worship music is slowly weaning us away from the faith which the Scriptures proclaim to us. It is imagery like what is found in this music video that reinforces a faulty understanding of what it means to be a baptized believer.
Being a Christian is not as much about who I am and what my spiritual journey has been. Baptism is all about Him and what He has done. The Gospel teaches us to lose sight of our merit, our experience, our inward feelings, and to obey the call to repent and believe in the objective work of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The Gospel imagery presented in this video is quite lonely, whereas, the Gospel, if anything, moves us from isolation to communion. Communion with Christ, yes. But also His body, our fellow saints.