The Passion Movement
The Passion movement, founded by Louis Giglio in 1995, according to its website, desires ‘to see spiritual awakening come to the college campuses of the nation and the world’. The Passion team is based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and operates under the direction of a Board ‘that is committed to spreading the fame of Jesus Christ to the 16+million college students of the nation and countless others around the globe’.
The purpose of this article is to examine the ministry of Passion, a movement that purports to be committed to the fame of Jesus Christ. We shall see much that must be a cause of grave concern among Christians. Scripture warns us not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits. ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world’ (1 John 4.1). And while the Passion movement is massively popular among young people, those who are committed to the truth of the Christian faith need to thoughtfully consider the reasoning presented below.
Passion’s appeal to young people
According to its website, ‘Passion exists to glorify God by uniting students in worship, prayer and justice for spiritual awakening in this generation. From its start in 1995, the Passion Movement has had a singular mission—calling students from campuses across the nation and around the world to live for what matters most. For us, what matters most is the name and renown of Jesus Christ. We believe in this generation and are watching God use them to change the climate of faith around the globe. Since the first gathering in 1997, Passion has had the privilege of encountering millions of students and 18-25 year olds, a sea of young people whose lives have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their voice is getting louder as they rise, united as a generation, bringing hope and light to the world.’
Since 2007, Passion’s ‘Do Something Now’ initiative has powerfully joined the expression of worship with social justice as students have given over $8 million to dozens of partner organizations throughout the world. We are told, ‘Passion is more than music. More than events. Passion is a generation living for His name. The wave is growing into a global awakening. Join the movement.’
It is reported that 60,000 young people from all over the world gathered together on New Year’s day 2013 in the Georgia Dome, Atlanta City, USA, for the four day Passion Conference, advertised as a gathering for 18-25 year-olds and their leaders. Passion proclaimed itself as the Jesus generation united for his fame. The conference had a long line-up of celebrity performers. Speakers included Louie Giglio, Francis Chan, Beth Moore, Judah Smith and John Piper. Worship was led by Chris Tomlin, Lecrae, Christy Nockels, Kristian Stanfill, David Crowder, Jesus Culture, and more. As he surveyed the energized crowd in the Dome, Louie Giglio said: ‘It’s no longer a dream, but reality. And I can tell you that you are much louder tonight than the crowd watching football here last night!’ One of the aims of the 2013 conference was to gather funds to combat human trafficking worldwide. Passion has now expanded into a global movement, with annual conferences in Atlanta and tours to towns and cities across the USA and worldwide.
An important feature of the Passion movement is its music ministry. In this article we examine the Passion style of worship, and contrast it with the biblical view of worship as taught in Scripture.
Genuine worship of the true God is in Spirit and in Truth. When our Lord Jesus engaged a Samaritan woman in conversation, he said to her: ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4.21-24).
Worshipping God in spirit means worship from a sincere heart that is devoted to the holiness of God’s character. Worshipping God in truth means worship with the mind that is fully engaged in meditating upon and praising the glorious attributes of God’s holy character, and to thank him for his gracious plan of salvation from sin through the Cross of Christ. Such worship is done in accordance with biblical principles and is expressed in words. True worshippers, like King David, give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name and worship the Him in the beauty of holiness (1 Chronicles 16. 29). So God’s people worship Him in the beauty of holiness, with reverence and awe, from a pure heart. Hebrews 12:28-29 says: ‘Let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.’ True worship produces deep, sincere, awesome respect, love, admiration and a godly fear for our Creator. In showing reverence and respect to God, true worshippers do not make light of things that are serious. Genuine worshippers are not casual in their approach to worship; they are not sloppy in the way they dress when engaged in public worship, nor are they careless in their use of language.
Passion worship is very different from the biblical understanding of worship described above, for it is based in a culture of rock music and psychedelic lighting that produces a spirit of revelry. The reason Passion worship cannot follow biblical principles is because it has emerged from the ethos of the worldly clubbing scene that emerged in the 1960s, when it was discovered that the hallucinatory trip induced by LSD could be enhanced by swirls of intense psychedelic light. And so strobe lights were introduced into night clubs, accompanied by fast-beating, loud rock music, to heighten the sensory stimulation of the club scene. The pleasure experienced by young people at events that became known as raves was greatly enhanced by psychedelic lighting. Rave culture arose in one of the most permissive and revolutionary periods of the twentieth century.
According to an article in Wikipedia: Psychedelic music derived from the Ancient Greek word for ‘psyche’ or soul, ‘covers a range of popular music styles and genres, which are inspired by or influenced by psychedelic culture and which attempt to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. It emerged during the mid-1960s among folk rock and blues rock bands in the United States and Britain.’
An article in Buzzle magazine explains rave culture: ‘Darkness accentuated by vibrant strobe lighting, powerful hypnotic audio beats ringing in one’s ears, standing-room only crowd dancing away the night, no club rules or regulations… this scenario may seem totally alien to anyone but a raver. The rave culture is one of the most controversial and misunderstood youth cultures in history. For most, loud raucous music, an excuse to peddle and abuse drugs freely and young people indulging in everything and anything without a care, is the real meaning of the term rave culture.’ [http://www.buzzle.com/articles/timeline-of-the-rave-scene.html]
In like manner, the Passion conference is built on the foundation of rock music and psychedelic lighting. Passion worship takes place in a darkened auditorium with flashing strobe lights piercing the darkness, to the thundering beat of rap music that arouses the young crowd into a state of ecstatic revelry, with wild arm waving and rhythmic body movements. Combined with the raucous inane lyrics of the Christian rock artist, the mesmerizing music and flashing lights are designed to arouse sensuality. The whole psychedelic event prepares the way for drugs, sex, rebellion, and godlessness.
Passion’s worship experience is generated by the skilful use of psychedelic strobe lighting in a very darkened auditorium packed with young people who are eagerly anticipating an ecstatic rave experience. The rhythmic rock music produces a mass of whirling bodies and waving arms. Added to the mix is the name Jesus, and the young people are led to believe that they are worshipping the God of the Bible. But they have been deceived—what we see at Passion is counterfeit worship. And the terrible truth is that most of the young people at Passion actual believe that they can worship God in this way. We must conclude that the spirit of Passion is not the Spirit of God.
Judah Smith’s Blasphemy at Passion 2013
The embedded Youtube video shows Pastor Judah Smith take the name of God in vain during his address to the Passion conference. Casually dressed and with a hand in his pocket, Judah Smith in a loud voice blurted out ‘Oh my God’ many times. Some in the audience found his vulgar blasphemy amusing.
One person who attended Passion 2013 even tried to defend Smith’s blasphemy with the following comment on the website of Worldview Weekend Radio: ‘As much as I agree, using the Lord’s name in vain is clearly wrong, the problem at hand is the fact that this video and message board exist. Are we so worried as Christians that we point out and make a huge deal, during an amazing message that I personally sat through at Passion, about a few OMGs? The problem that exists in so many traditional churches is the worry of sin. We focus so much and what scripture tell us to stay away from, we are missing what scripture tells us to strive for. Let me break some news to all, WE ALL SIN. Sin is not the issue. The issue is do we, as Gods beloved people, choose His name above any other? Are we pursuing his face and furthering his kingdom in our days here on Earth. Judah would agree with me in this next statement, so I’m sure whoever made this video wouldn’t agree, but are we really spending our free time chastising a man who has done so much for the Kingdom, rather than making sure we and our loved ones, and hopefully any neighbor, are striving for what does matter. And that’s a relationship with Jesus. Why is this not a post of Judah’s entire message, and the comment board a discussion about the majesty, sovereignty, and grace of a God who loves us enough to care for us individually? I was shocked someone would take the time to worry about a few OMGs.’
It is of deep concern that this way of thinking is being cultivated by the Passion movement.
Another comment on the same website made a connection between Passion’s rave culture and the blasphemy of Judah Smith. ‘I think we’ll be hearing this more and more as the “pop culture” takes over the church. Here’s what A.W. Tozer said in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, written in 1961: ‘It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity… The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her.’ What’s missing today is the reverence for, and awe of, an Almighty and Holy God Whose love and blessings we do not deserve, but who deserves our unending praise and worship. Anyone who recognizes the Holiness of Almighty God would not desecrate His Name.
The bizarre witness of Jesus Culture
The Jesus Culture movement, an international Christian youth ministry based at the Bethel Church of Redding, California, was invited to perform at Passion 2013, thereby exposing young people to its weird, extreme charismatic signs and wonders ministry. Worship leaders are Kim Walker-Smith, Melissa How and Chris Quilala. It holds conferences for young people and operates a record label, Jesus Culture Music, which, according to the website, ‘exists to ignite revival in the nations of the earth… We long for Jesus to be exalted in the nations and for His manifest presence to invade this world. Although we aspire for people to sing great worship songs, we are primarily committed to see them come into His presence through worship… to encounter His extravagant love and raw power.’ http://www.jesusculture.com/about
Worship leader Kim Walker-Smith claims to have had a vision of Jesus, in which she was physically cuddled in his arms as he told her how much he loved her. Here is a transcript of her encounter with Jesus:
‘So, I had this encounter, all the sudden I see Jesus standing in front of me and He’s reaching for me like this (gestures)—like He wants me to come to Him. And, I was terrified. I—I felt like I couldn’t go to where He was. I felt—I felt ashamed, I felt scared, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be close to Him. I couldn’t even look Him in the face. And Jesus (laughs) is completely irresistible. I always say [that] there are three things [in my life] that are completely irresistible to me. One is, of course, Jesus. Number two is my husband. And number three is chocolate (laughs, audience laughs); completely irresistible.
Anyways, (pause) so, irresistible, I go to Jesus, I fall in His arms. And as I’m lying in His arms, I’m still feeling kind of afraid to really even look at Him. All the sudden this thought comes into my mind, and I know this is not my thought. I would never, ever, ever in a million, trillion years think this; and I think, “I need to ask Him two questions.” I need to ask Him, “How much do You love me; and what were You thinking when You created me?” And as this thought comes into my mind, I’m thinking, “No way! I am not asking those questions.” Now, here’s what you need to know about me, and why I’m so afraid to ask those questions.’ But she plucks up the courage and asks Jesus how much he loves her
‘So Jesus, His arms are like stretching out forever and ever, and I’m looking and looking and I can’t see the ends. I can’t see where it’s ending; and he starts laughing, and he goes, “I love you this much ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” And He’s laughing hysterically. (audience laughs) And then, I start laughing. I’m cracking up. I’m—I’m suddenly like—I’m—I’m becoming like so full of joy; and I’m just like, “What?! You love me that much?!” I can’t even see the ends—it’s going on forever and ever and ever. Oh my goodness, I can’t—“You love me that much?”’
See the whole video here:
There is no doubt that Jesus Culture, with its bizarre signs and wonders that anoints young people in a ‘tunnel of fire’, is promoting a false version of the Christian faith. Why then does Passion give them a platform? By doing so Passion has not only endorsed this ministry, but has become a partaker of their false teaching.
The keynote address at Passion 2013 was delivered by Dr John Piper. With his vast reputation as a five point Calvinist, and sound Bible preacher, he was the man entrusted to preach a 42 minute sermon to the massive audience of young people. Following a high octane performance by Christian rapper Lecrae and friends, and a lively performance by Christian rock singer Chris Tomin, Piper took the stage to deliver his message from the book of Revelation. Remarkably, Piper’s address to the massive crowd took place in the dark, except for a spotlight focused on the preacher. Why no light? Because the mystical, ecstatic atmosphere of Passion, which has been so carefully cultivated by darkness and beat music, with piercing strobe lights, would be shattered as the young audience were brought to their senses. But Passion does not want that; it wants young people who are held captive under the intoxicating spell of the clubbing atmosphere. It is, of course, very difficult for the Gospel of Truth to be effectively preached in such an atmosphere. Here we should remember what our Lord said about those who love darkness: ‘And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God’ (John 3.19-21)
Piper’s performance raises many questions about the legitimacy of his ministry. By his presence he has condoned the worldly music scene and false worship of the Passion movement in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of young people. But we already know that Piper is a fan of Lecrae and the rap scene.
Why the darkness? A Bible preacher, who is preaching God’s Word, would surely want the congregation to be able to refer to the biblical text. But not Piper! He is perfectly happy to preach in the dark, and by doing so he conforms to the ethos and spirit of the Passion conference which is all about worldly music and psychedelic lighting. The danger of Piper is that he is using his reputation to influence many young people into following a counterfeit version of the Christian faith. He is making the depraved Passion culture appear acceptable to young Christians. He is making worldly music and entertainment acceptable in the Church.
A biblical response
So how should we evaluate the Passion movement? As with all spiritual questions, we need to start with Scripture, which commands believers to test everything, and to abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Every teaching must be tested against Scripture to establish its truthfulness, and whether it is edifying to the body of Christ. Believers are instructed to test, prove and examine everything—and everything includes doctrine and conduct. In the context of the Passion movement, it means testing the music, the doctrine, the dress, the lyrics, the fashion trends and ecstatic conduct associated with Passion that taken together make up the culture of the Passion movement.
To help believers test all things, God has given them the spiritual gift of discernment. Mature Christian believers, who study the Scriptures and seek to live by them, ‘have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil’ (Hebrews 5.15). Discernment means doing the necessary investigation to distinguish between right and wrong, between the clean and unclean, between the holy and the profane, and to recognize the genuine from the fake.
Spiritual matters are to be spiritually discerned. To be faithful to God, and to live a godly life, all true believers, who have the mind of Christ, must use spiritual discernment, to approve excellent things and to avoid sin (Philippians 1.9-11).
Discerning the spirit Passion
All the evidence before our eyes shouts out from the rooftops—the Passion movement is promoting a false version of the Christian faith. It has carefully cultivated a worldly clubbing culture that feeds the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life. It is a culture that is profoundly hostile to the things of God. The spirit behind Passion worship is a spirit that inevitably leads genuine believers into worldliness and spiritual adultery. Our God-given spirit of discernment tells us that behind Passion is a mindset that is indifferent to the holiness of God; it is a mindset that puts no difference between the holy and the profane. We must not bring strange fire into the House of God.
Charles Wesley in his day was very aware of the dangers of fleshly musical enjoyment marring spiritual worship. He wrote:
Still let us on our guard be found,
And watch against the power of sound,
With sacred jealousy;
Lest haply sense should damp our zeal,
And music’s charms bewitch and steal
Our hearts away from Thee.
Today our churches need to guard ‘against the power of sound’, for a deliberate arousal of the senses through music actually dampens true spiritual zeal. The music of the Passion movement is propagating counterfeit worship in the name of Jesus. Such worship is tantamount to idolatry and spiritual adultery. Young people need to be warned of the grave spiritual danger of being taken captive by the spirit of Passion, for they are being diverted far from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. True believers must use their discernment to distinguish between true worship and false. Can a movement based in psychedelic rock music, that condones blasphemy, that promotes the weird teachings of Jesus Culture, be of God? Of course not. So genuine young believers, who love Christ, need to flee Passion and all it stands for.
‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’ (1 John 2.15-17).
You can learn more about Dr Tim Keller, Pastor Mark Driscoll and Pastor John Piper in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from The Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop or from Amazon More on John Piper and his Christian Hedonism at The Real John Piper website