WORSHIP GONE WILD
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Scripture: Eph. 5:18-20; Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Peter 2:21; 1 John 4:1-8
Are emotions involved in worship? Yes, at least they can be. Can we trust our emotions in worship? No, nor can we trust them regarding anything else for that matter. Emotions are subjective, God's ways are not. Our emotions can deceive us, God's Word will not. We must rely on the truth of His Word.
If we confuse worshiping God with our emotions, consciously or subconsciously, then our relationship with God is going to constantly be in flux. When we feel down, we are going to question our relationship with God. When we feel up, we are going to feel great in our relationship. The result is you and I measuring our relationship with God by highs and lows instead of by His promises. I don't want to live my life on that kind of unreliable roller coaster.
It saddens me to see people in the church being taken advantage of and manipulated through their emotions. Sometimes it's deliberate and sometimes it sort of sneaks in through the back door. When one tries to point out the areas where a congregation or movement has gone to such extremes they are no longer acting biblical in their worship, the offenders then lift passages out of context forcing them to apply today.
When one criticizes the sloppy, unbiblical worship two things usually happen. First, the offending parties claim the accusers of being too intellectual; second, Ephesians 5:18-20 is offered as explanation, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (ESV).
They quote this passage and go on to say all of those who get filled with the Spirit do appear drunk since the passage equates the two. However, the passage doesn't equate the two, it is actually CONTRASTING the two (being drunk and being filled with the Spirit. They shouldn't be mistaken for the same thing, they should be recognized as being opposites. In other words, "Don't get drunk and act like a fool, be calm, controlled and orderly." In fact, lest you think I'm making this up, the passage continues on to describe what a Spirit filled person should act like. It says there will be singing psalms and hymns and people will always be giving thanks. That doesn't sound like being drunk to me.
John MacArthur says it well, "The 'Holy Spirit' found in the vast majority of charismatic teaching and practice bears no resemblance to the Spirit of God as revealed in Scripture... The true Spirit of God does not cause His people to bark like dogs or laugh like hyenas; He does not knock them backward to the ground in an unconscious stupor; He does not incite them to worship in chaotic and uncontrollable ways" (Strange Fire, pp.xii-xiii).
A Bad Imitation:
I do not mean to lump all Charismatics together in the group, but it is the theological camp they claim for themselves. Most people mixed up in these types of groups are just hurt, confused, and simply don't know any better. Even if they participate in some of the foolish activities, I think it's just a kind of "psychological relaxation" that's taking place. It's easier to turn off our thoughts than it is to keep the vocabulary (prayer) portion of our brain constantly engaged. Relaxing from thought and freeing your mind releases endorphins causing comfort throughout the body which can provoke relaxation and certain feelings or emotions, another reason not to trust our emotions.
Before you dismiss my thoughts, ask yourself why all of the practices found in this extreme form of worship are also found in pagan worship. You can find most of these in cults, among witch doctors, and in Mormonism. I think, in part, it's because the enemy wants us to pervert the real thing and divert our focus.
One of the main claims of these eccentric teachings is that the people in these groups are in on some sort of secret spiritual power that aides them in sanctification and this secret power is not available to all believers. These people claim to have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, an act completely separate from salvation, which brings with it power to obey, live holy, and speak in some strange language. It is also the means, they say, by which they are able to display the fruits of the Spirit. You would think if this were true their leaders would be known worldwide for their holiness instead of their sin, scandals, extravagant lifestyles, faulty doctrine, and extreme financial exploits.*
More flagrant blasphemy can be seen in many locations online. YouTube is a great place to go searching for cheap and disgraceful imitations of the Holy Spirit. One can watch video after video of garbage that passes for worship by many in the church today. I have personally watched people laying side by side on their backs with their eyes closed while half are bawling and half of are laughing like hyenas; entire congregations doing the "Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey;" people gathered in churches "tokin' the Spirit" (acting as if they are smoking invisible pot and actually, they claim, to be "inhaling" the Holy Spirit and getting "high"); kids riding the "Holy Spirit pogo-stick" (repeatedly jumping up and down in the same place for extended periods of time); waves of people falling over as a coat is thrown in their direction; and even a woman writhing in the aisle mimicking childbirth.
Sadly, it is not just video evidence and harmless activities that occur. Physical abuse even takes place in the name of Holy Spirit activity. Kenneth Hagin, one of the grandfathers of all of this garbage, even claims to have punched a woman in the stomach in order to heal her because "God told him to." Rodney Howard-Browne (aka the "Holy Ghost Bartender"), once slapped a deaf man across the face so hard he fell to the ground. One time Mr. Brown also kicked a gentleman in the head as a means to heal him. It's the norm for Benny Hinn to knock people over in his services. He uses his breath, coat, and pushes, he knocks people backward and often times with considerable force. Although an elderly woman was trampled to death at one of his gatherings, he still carries out his antics at his crusades. And it is all done in the name of the Holy Spirit (and by His power they claim).**
Discernment and False Teachers:
We are taught throughout the New Testament to beware of false teachers and their doctrine. These warnings were not just for the church during New Testament times, they are for us today. Jesus Himself warns in Matt. 7:15, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (ESV). Paul gives a similar warning in Acts 20:29-30, "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (ESV). Peter also said to guard against "false teachers... who will secretly bring in destructive heresies" into the church" (2 Peter 2:21, ESV). Again, these "destructive heresies" include so-called unbiblical acts of worship.
The Apostle John provides a strategy for us in 1 John 4:1-8 in order to learn how to distinguish a true work of the Spirit from heretical ones This was penned long ago, but the principles have no expiration date. The first verse of this passage says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (ESV). In these words we have another warning from Scripture. In fact, we have so many warnings in Scripture regarding false teachers and spirits you'd think we'd be more careful than buying into such absurd teachings and actions.
We are instructed by John to "test the spirits," and directly after that he gives an outline for discovering the motive behind any teaching. Instead of going by our emotions and what is the newest, most popular fad, we need to test all things with Scripture. Only that which stands up to scrutiny can be accepted. Anything that falls short has to be rejected and exposed.
We might frame these tests from 1 John 4:2-8 in the form of five questions: (1) "Does the work exalt Christ?" - not man, not actions, not emotions, but Christ; (2) "Does it oppose worldliness?" - oppose it, not copy it nor embrace it;(3) "Does it point people to the Scripture?" - not other people, not actions, not emotions; (4) "Does it elevate truth?"; (5) "Does it produce love for God and others?"***
Conclusion (1 John 4:2-8):
Let's close with 1 John 4:2-8, "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (ESV).
*See MacArthur's "Strange Fire," "Charismatic Chaos," Hanegraaff's "Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century," "Counterfeit Revival."
**Kennith Hagin, "Understanding the Anointing"; Rodney Howard Browne, "Flowing in the Holy Ghost, rev. ed;" "Elderly Woman Killed by Person 'Slain in the Spirit' Falling on Her," National & International Religion Report, September 21, 1987, p.4.
***MacArthur, "Strange Fire," p.39.