Charismatics & Emergents Follow Jeroboam on the Divine Presence

In 1 Kings 12:28, Jeroboam effectually eliminated the sanctuary from interpreting the divine presence by setting up major worship centers in Dan and Bethel. The result was that the divine presence was reduced to nature. The Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation in the Eucharist essentially reduces the divine presence to nature. Perhaps more surprising to some is that the Reformers also assumed transubstantiation as their interpretation of the divine presence in preaching. In this newsletter, we will briefly examine how Charismatics and adherents of the Emerging Church view the divine presence.

Divine Presence Mediated Through Music

Music occupies a central role in Pentecostal and Charismatic worship, and this is indicated by the amount of time it occupies in the worship service. Worship services in the Emerging church also include large amounts of time dedicated to music; however, Emerging worship services also include the Eucharist, art, and drama in their services. Thus, the divine presence that was formerly mediated through the Eucharist and preaching is now inextricably linked with music itself.

Music, the Real Presence, and Transubstantiation

Liturgical scholar John Witvliet states that our strongest sacramental language is not reserved for what happens at the pulpit, the baptismal font, or the communion table but rather what comes from our drums and synthesizers.[1] Witvliet also points out the irony of worship leaders “who mock supposedly simplistic theories of sacramental realism at the Lord’s Supper” while at the same time they seek out liturgical/music leaders who can “make God present through music.” He concludes, “No medieval sacramental theologian could have said it more strongly. Dare we call this “‘musical-transubstantiation.’”[2] By referring to the divine presence as musical transubstantiation Witvliet makes no effort at all to extricate himself from the Roman Catholic interpretation of the divine presence.

Transubstantiation Dominates Christianity

Thus, in spite of the differences that exist among Emerging, Emergent, Charismatic, and Pentecostal Christians, they all describe the strong link between music and the divine presence as the real presence, sacramental, the sacramentalization of music, and musical transubstantiation. This means that the Roman Catholic interpretation of the divine presence has never really been challenged in Christian worship but uncritically accepted as the only view of the divine presence. The consequences of this for the divine presence, as well as for all worship are really problematic and devastating. In future newsletters we will explore the results of the transubstantiation view, and we will challenge it by going to the Bible to see what Scripture reveals about the divine presence.


[1]John D. Witvliet, “Beyond Style: Rethinking the Role of Music in Worship,” in The Conviction of Things Not Seen: Worship and Ministry in the 21st Centurgy, ed. Todd E. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002), 71.  

[2]Ibid., “At Play in the Lord’s House: Why Worship Matters,” Books and Culture 4, no. 6 (November/December 1998): 23.

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