The Hidden Idolatry in Charismatic Worship Feeding the "Worship Experience" Beast

Prophets of Baal

Prophets of Baal Worship Their God – J.J. Tissot

I have been a Charismatic believer for forty-two years. I was a weekly “worship leader” in Charismatic, “prophetic and apostolic” environments for thirty-five of those years. I get the picture as someone who has been on the inside for a very long time. I thoroughly understand the history, theology, values, beliefs, and practices behind Charismatic praise and worship expression. I also have had serious concerns and uneasiness about the theology and practice for a very long time. 

Trends and practices in much Charismatic praise and worship have disturbing similarities to:

  • a Hitler youth rally (of which I have written here).
  • the practices of the worshippers of Moloch (Molech).
  • the prophets of Baal.

Moloch

Scripture records King Ahaz as offering his children to Moloch. The people followed his lead. The idol Moloch was shaped as a hollow bronze oven with outstretched arms. A fire was kindled in the idol until it was red-hot. When it reached temperature, the Israelites placed their children in the outstretched red-hot arms to be burned alive. The ritual was so disturbing to the remnants of human conscience that the worshippers did not want to hear the screams of their children being roasted.

 

Charismatic worship

Israel offers their children in Moloch worship

Charismatic Worship

Israel offers their “worship” to Moloch

So, part of their “worship experience” was to do their “worship music” for as long and loud as possible to drown out the cries of their children as to not bother their conscience and “ruin the experience.” They could enjoy their “worship experience” and ignore the ethics of what they were doing to the most vulnerable in their midst–even their own children. I am embarrassed to admit how many Charismatic worship services I have participated in, and led, with an indifferent conscience toward the “less-thans” in both the community and the world. It was all about providing the weekly Jesus-buzz for the paying attendees.

Baal

Charismatic worship

Baal’s Prophets Offer Their Worship

I have seen tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars and man-hours, spent on providing attendees a “worship experience.” I have watched and participated in meetings where hours of sweat, energy, shouting, and any number of other antics are encouraged to produce what is believed to be an experience in “the presence of God.” A friend of mine once coined: “The only thing missing is the knives to cut ourselves. I wish I was a cutlery salesman, I would get rich.” It is a most tragic phenomenon that presents God as a remote deity who has to be conditioned by our singing, antics, and metaphorical cutting, to “manifest” Himself in some way.

      This goes on week after week while the poor, the afflicted, the destitute, the refugee, the war-ravaged, the sex-trafficked, etc., are left resourceless (or pawned off to the government to deal with such things). This should cause us some self-reflection of just what it is we are giving our time, talents, and treasure to sustain.

So What to Do?

I have no problem with passionate and expressive forms of worship and liturgy–if properly contextualized in understanding. An emotionally hyped, “pep-rally-for-Jesus” every week is not worship in any sort of Christ-centered, kingdom context. I believe the entire worship cottage industry needs deconstruction and a new covenant theology and praxis overhaul. I have written on these things in detail here.

In many places, the so-called worship experience has become nothing other than the institutionalization, perpetuation, and sanctification of passive spiritual narcissism and co-dependent behaviors. Worship without ethical output, worship without an awareness of our connectivity as humans–not only touching God, but also touching one another–is in reality, no worship at all.

This is because the world—humanity—is God’s concern. Humanity is on, and in, His heart. You cannot say you have “touched the heart of God” via your preferred spiritual disciplines and worship expression, and remain indifferent toward the plight of those around you in the human community. That would be like saying you can swim in an ocean of ink and not come out blue! No, if you spiritually make contact in a bona fide “God-environment,” you will come out permeated with proof of where you have been and with Whom you have communed.

Communities that touch God with their vibrant and expressive spiritual worship and touch their neighbor (broadly defined) with their acts of service, whose budgets are not inflated and skewed toward buildings, salaries, and maintenance of the worship experience, are to be highly commended.

Those communities that consume 80-90% of the budget maintaining the “worship experience” for attendees and who throw a measly tithe (or often less, it is 7% on average in American churches) “over the wall,” need to do a reassessment of their commitment to the values of Jesus Christ.

Some might say, “Well, what about ministering unto the Lord? Doesn’t ministering to Him take priority? Don’t we do that in song and ‘soaking’ in His presence and offering Him the worship due Him?” It’s all in the definition of worship. I chose Jesus’ definition over the novel theologies and practices cooked up in the 1948 Latter Rain Movement, the Charismatic Movement of the 60s and 70s, and the so-called Apostolic-Prophetic Movement of the last twenty-five years.[i]

We worship Him,  (i.e. – declare His worth: worship=literally, Old English, worth-ship) by treating others as we would Him. How we treat others IS ministering unto the Lord. It IS worship. Singing for hours trying to create at an atmosphere with our own psychological, sensory, and spiritual needs at the center, is not.

Jesus said:

When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.

There it is–Plain. SimpleNot complicated.

Paul made it clear: being a living sacrifice is our reasonable worship, not deafening and lengthy song services, as if volume and time were spiritually significant in a metaphysical way. No, for followers of Christ, spiritual substance is found in being the living sacrifice for the world, the One Loaf body of a kingdom of priests who lay down their lives in service. The problem is, there is normally no endorphin rush in the latter.

_______________________________

[i] For those who are not familiar with these terms and the history behind them, they are explained here.

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15 comments on “The Hidden Idolatry in Charismatic Worship Feeding the "Worship Experience" Beast

  1. Thank you my brother. Your thoughts and summary statements ring true north to me. I believe God heard me the first time I sing a verse and I don’t have to sing the words over and over 8-10 times, each time louder than the one before.

  2. Stephen, I’ve read your book on worship. I feel that readers of this blog would do well to check it out. I believe you have a balanced word on worship; it’s not just another hype when we come together.

  3. Stephen

    Like you I’ve spent the vast majority of my 37 years as a Christian in the Charismatic / Pentecostal movement. I share some of your generic concerns expressed in the article – I’ve not read your book – about some extremes I’ve witnessed, but I must admit to finding some of your parallels just as excessive as the errors you seek to highlight. The Moloch comment is bizarre to say the least – what about “lift up holy hands?” Yes the music can be loud at times but to draw the conclusion that this is to drown out the cries of the children is rather far-fetched – rarely have I seen parents allow charismatic music to avoid their responsibilities to their children.

    • Chris, you have missed the point of this article. It has nothing to do with forms of worship (lift up holy hands) and has nothing to do with parents avoiding responsibilities for their children. It is called a limited metaphor. It is about spiritual narcissism. It has eluded you.

  4. Hello again Steve,

    As you well know, for most of my spiritual life in Christ I had many doses of teaching and even severe bashing against charismatic and pentecostal theology and practice …

    Unfortunately the Stone-Campbell Movement and other similarly cessational-based denominations use similar ‘worship services’ to their charismatic and pentecostal rivals. So, I believe there’s much hypocrisy in this area in my background as well.

    As you know, the typical Sunday morning sermon and worship ritual that repeats itself every Sunday … after Sunday … after Sunday … ad infinitum … has etched an ingrained spirit of ritualistic behaviour in so many believers. In fact, I was badly affected by this as well … until I ‘woke up’ one day a few years ago and saw with spiritual eyes the flaw I was a part of …

    Love in Christ,

    Philip from the Netherlands

  5. Steve – I remember a few years ago when I read your first blog post about the dangers of extreme charismatic worship. I didn’t receive it very well because I was still captivated and enthralled by it. Since then, I have come to see the truth of what you are saying. I was not ready to receive it back then, but over the past few years I have come to rely less and less on the “endorphin rush” that kept me coming back over and over. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good, healthy, vibrant praise and worship celebration – it just means I am not addicted any-more. Love your thoughts about how real worship and service to God is to serve and love one another. Do we need to spend time soaking, meditating, worshiping – absolutely! But if it doesn’t work out into a changed life, and loving others more – it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

    • Spot on. I enjoy a hot worship service also! I am just not addicted to it, I don’t require it for spiritual well being, and I do not subscribe spiritual significance to my participation in it. Free people sing. It is our privilege.

  6. Thank-you for this article, Stephen!
    For so long I’ve not been able to “get into” this loud kind of worship, to the point of taking ear plugs with me to conferences. I felt it was more distracting than anything, and then watching people get whipped up into a soulish frenzy at times was disturbing.
    How many times have I questioned,”what’s wrong with me?”, because i just cant enter into worship in that atmosphere…

  7. Hello Stephen I can buy your books in Spanish, I live in Peru Lima. Translation of Raul’s comment for you. Think he’s like to see them translated into Spanish so he can read them more easily.
    Lynn

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