“Can everyone who has a cell phone take it out and raise it in the air?” The MC asked. “Now, everyone who has a phone, make sure that you turn it off.” Ten minutes later I laughed, but no one could hear me. Even if every cell phone in the room was on, no one would hear them ringing.  The praise music was that loud.

The overriding theme in worship at youth retreats I have helped lead is that the louder the music, the better the worship. Now this view presupposes several things: first, that worship is only or primarily singing and not praying, pouring over God’s Word, telling people about God, or stuyding the lives, teachings, and wisdom of bygone saints. Second, this view seems to presuppose that God is honored more by a destructive decibal level than the hearts of those singing and the choice of lyrics in the songs. Now I would like to proceed carefully, because the best way to be rid of a fly is not to pound it against the wall with a sledgehammer, but to swat it with a rolled up newspaper or magazine; if I come down too hard, I find my critique of this peripheral issue doing more harm than good, all the while missing the fly.  If I miss the “fly” with the newspaper, it still stands as little more than a minor nuisance, but a nuisance nonetheless.

Hearing is one of those God-given faculties that, like the ability to run or speak, the gift of a wife or a child or a godly mother and father, is not given to all, but is a grace from God. It is unique and helpful to us as is seeing or tasing or smelling or touching. Now my contention is this- when the music gets too loud, I can neither hear the person next to me, nor in front of me, nor even myself.  Damage is done, permanent damage is done, to my hearing.  I, for the choice of several minutes of worship, have lessened the worship I can do later by listening to the hand of the Creator in the song of a carol of a bird or the lullaby of a cricket or the roar of a waterfall (all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me -Ps 42).

The other struggle I have is that when the music gets so loud, I stop thinking about singing to God and start focusing more on the singer. I can hear nothing else, and the intensity of the beat points back to the musician, and in my experience, away from God.  And does playing the music so loud that one can hear nothing else cause us to be more reflective of the words, or mindlessly repeat them as they have been burned into our brains. Would we do this with another sense?  Would it be advisable that, upon making a worship video, the graphics editor would intensify the light source of the media to watch, thereby burning our retinas?  And one may, it seems, counter that God did this very thing to Paul, focusing his eyes on Christ whom he was persecuting. Paul we are told, possibly as a result of this, struggled with very real problems with his eyes, but he never forgot how God changed his life one day to Damascus. Yet I would respond this that it was God who blinded Paul, and man did not work as an agent in that act  (excepting the prayers likey lifted up on Paul’s behalf); and secondly, Paul did not want this ailment, and we are told that many would have given their eyes to him (Gal 4:15).

Finally, there is a carnality at work in this that leads away from maturity in Christ, but back towards more experience with spiritual excesses.  Music and TV at home are turned to levels that keep people from talking in regular voices.  Music in cars is blasted to recreate that worship feeling so that people, feet away from each other, can be worlds away emotionally and otherwise.  Though there are many other factors at play, I have found the previous two to be true. 

I maintain that raising the volume to levels similar to those of industrial machinery does damage and creates a tolerance for such noise that will detract from other worship and carry over to other environments, hampering dialogue and relationships.