I am thankful for forty years of charismatic heritage. I have experienced the best and the worst that universe can offer. If, like Paul, I had to show off my “supernatural credentials,” or my resume of “supernatural experiences,” I could hold my own. I choose to boast of something, er, Someone else. Today, the lust for manifestations, and self-centered, insecurity driven, need for a “touch” from His presence, etc., are leading more and more believers (especially naïve younger believers) into New Age, Gnostic, occult, and other pagan practices and “spiritual techniques” in the name of “being open to the Spirit.”
One of the sublime understatements of scripture is: He has put eternity in their hearts.[i] Humanity is created for the spiritual and eternal. The human heart yearns for “home” there. The human spirit yearns for more than what the futility of paganism, humanism, or insipid, dead, orthodox, Christian, religiosity can deliver. The desire for supernatural experience (relationship with the divine in a generic sense) is God-given to all humanity, not just the redeemed. Of course we know that for the believer, home is better than mere eternity. It’s the heart and bosom of the Father.
It is, therefore, easily understandable how the hungry seeker-of-God could be so easily misled by teachings and practices of spiritual technique that appear to satisfy this need for supernatural relational reality. The issue is not to crush the passion for experience but rather to teach, shepherd, and steward it, and provide a healthy context and expression.
Every plant requires soil suitable to its nature. If the “supernatural reality” seedling is to bring forth good fruit, the soil must be right. Modern praise and worship and “how to access the supernatural seminars” are not the soil. The soil is the reality of Him in resurrection and the experiential reality of His cross. Praise and worship and spiritual techniques do not take us into the Father’s heart. We are already there. Jesus brought us with Him when He rose from the dead and ascended on high. He sent His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship to let us know . . . it’s done. You’re home. Praise and worship is like the rain on the soil. It has value as a contributing element, but it is not the soil of relational access to God.
Altered States of Consciousness
Modern praise and worship is often used a a primary vehicle to attempt to engage people with the dimension of the supernatural or of a subjective experience of His presence, in an altered state of dimensional existence or awareness. Too often, this is a form of mental passivity: mind turned off. When passive in that way, people’s ability to say “no” or to disagree, has been psychically neutered. The implication is “the presence” has been so wonderful, and I am disagreeing, so I must be ruining it, and the presence is lifting so, I swallow anything that comes from the pulpit that seems to facilitate the lingering “presence” I might be feeling. This happens all the time.
Also, when worship/music physically exhausts people to make them fatigue under the preaching of Christ from the scriptures, a very clear value statement is being made regarding what’s important and what isn’t. If people are amped-up during “worship,” but can’t focus or stay awake during the ministry from the scripture, a line has been crossed. This happens all the time.
The use of repetitive phrases set to music is also a mind-control technique. My wife was once in a meeting of one of the world’s most famous international prophetic ministries and the worship service consisted of two hours of chanting one word on a single chord: come, come, come, come, come. Yes, two hours. Whenever any song leader just endlessly exhorts folks to repeat simple phrases set to simple music over, and over, and over, under the guise of free praise or song of the Lord, a line has been crossed into psychic manipulation.
Expectations and Conditioning
God in His Person is the object of praise and worship or any supernatural experience. One of the resulting benefits of healthy praise and worship and supernatural experiences is we get to bask in His Person and His gracious benefits. Sometimes that includes experiencing and enjoying some really exceptional and unusual, supernatural things. That’s all good.
The problem is if we are not careful, we end up desiring the benefits, rather than the Person who is the source of the benefits. Some call it seeking the Hand rather than seeking the Face. I don’t necessarily like the metaphor, but I agree with what it is driving at. God often uses so-called “dry seasons” to help wean us from expectations that are ultimately not good for us. It is all part of the growth process . . . leaving childish things.
We so easily mistake supernatural manifestations of God’s goodness as the fruit of our efforts, rather than His unmerited favor. If we think God does D, E, or F because we did A, B, or C we become the initiators, and God the responder. The Creator-Creature role is reversed, which is one of the definitions of idolatry. God’s love is free. He doesn’t have to be conditioned to be good to us. We sing because He is always God, not to get Him to release His goodness.
If meeting people’s experiential needs is the primary purpose of corporate praise and worship,[ii] or a “calling down heaven” sort of meeting, it’s a very natural human response to be disappointed when those needs are not met. It’s inevitable. Frustrated self-desire eventually will manifest, and untold difficulties will be on its heel. For example:
Let’s say in gathering #1, there’s an unusual manifestational sense of God’s presence, and He, by His Spirit, does exceptional supernatural things, in, for, and through His body. If not shepherded carefully, and taught correctly, what is going to be the expectation in subsequent gathering #2? At least the same, if not more . . . going to “higher levels and deeper into the Spirit.”
Let’s say gathering #2 is nothing like #1, and perhaps even dull by comparison, and it is time for gathering #3. What psychological pressure exists to “make #1 happen again?” It’s considerable.
We can call it following hard after God,[v] or whatever we choose, but we are naïve to think there are not pressures in play. It takes an exceptionally strong individual to not artificially manipulate a meeting, and sit down after several months worth of “lousy meetings” and be absolutely fine within him/herself.
So, imagine several more weeks go by and nothing exceptional has been happening since gathering #1. The worship leader now exhorts and admonishes the congregation to sing more, or shout louder, or jump higher, or step in the river, or let go and let God, or one thousand other charismatic shibboleths. The congregation is promised that if they just comply, it will indicate their sincerity, and God will surely respond by releasing the heavenly goodies.
Now, rather than responding to and enjoying what was a unique “God-thing” in gathering #1, we cross a line where we, the worshiper, based on our efforts, try to get God to come and meet our expectations on our terms.
Now the cycle frequently gets worse. Because self-effort is sin and God cannot respond to sin, He must actively resist all self-effort in praise and worship so-offered. All effort outside of faith in Christ is forever condemned. Jesus linked His manifest presence to faith-obedience, not singing, praise or worship, and certainly not the sin of self-effort of “supernatural how-to techniques,” so, because of a “manifestational withdrawal” by God, there is a sense of dryness and a perceived “lack of anointing” in the meeting. (Whether there is or isn’t a lack is another conversation for another day.).
What do we do? We try even harder. What began in gathering #6 as exhortations” to “step into the river,” by gathering #10 or #20 becomes more coercive. Subtle threats start to creep in, such as not being pleasing to God, not wholehearted and so forth. So, now the congregation has been put into introspective self-awareness and even more striving in praise and worship, or “how to” supernatural seminars and the cycle continues.
If the pattern of dry meetings goes on for an extended period, judgment and criticism start to creep in. The praise team, the worship leader, and the church leadership all start coming under fire: “maybe there’s sin in their lives,” “they’ve lost the anointing,” “they played a fast song when they should have played a slow song and the Holy Spirit is grieved and is withdrawing His manifest presence from us” . . . and all sorts of nonsense like these begins.
Ultimately, since our needs for experiencing the supernatural are not being met, we eventually take our family and our money to a different church where they “meet my need of supernatural experience” on a more regular basis. This happens all the time. And now, we are really getting to where the rubber meets the road—money. When the money starts to go out the door, we devolve into something worse than striving and straining worship: we fake it. We have to. We have to “deliver the goods” in order to keep rears in the seats and the cash flowing. We retreat into more subjectivity and a subculture and language of denial until unreality takes over. The emperor has no clothes, but no one has the permission, or the courage to state the obvious.
This being an unacceptable situation to our soul and drive for self-realization in experiencing the supernatural, we call things anointed that are not, because we have to. The culture requires it. We speak of God’s presence when there is none. We talk of life when there is death. We have utterly lost our way. We have now fully devolved into an inauthentic culture of falsehood while maintaining, sometimes very dogmatically, the outward forms of Davidic worship and other forms of alleged methods and techniques of the supernatural.
There seems to be either indifference or inability to differentiate these things in the ragged remnants of the charismatic branch of the ekklesia. The remedy is simple, and true: keep Christ and His cross (incarnation, death, burial resurrection, ascension, glorification, spirit-outpouring and indwelling) at the center of all that we say and do. When unusual things happen, we check them against this centrality, enjoy the ones that match, reject the ones that don’t. All “experiences,” to be legitimate for believers must have an “object,” and that objective is the knowing of Christ and His cross. When our self-perceived need for “experiencing the supernatural,” for the sake of the experience itself, becomes the center-piece and end-game, we are occultists, not Christians.
Parts of this blog are excerpts from our book: Praise, Worship and the Presence of the Lord: A Better Way to Worship, available at www.stevecrosby.com#www.badchurchexperience.com
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[i] Ecc. 3:11.
[i1] I am not arguing against secondary benefits. They are going to happen and are to be enjoyed to the fullest!
Well said. You think that you’ve heard it all, but there are those who remember when! They try to go back and do another #1 and try to make people believe it’s really a # 1. They forget there are people out there that have rehearsed the # 1 show so many times that it has become a stench in one’s nostrils.
Your right..keeping Christ and his cross,burial,resurrection,ascension,enthronement,and Indwelling is the main thing..then whatever comes after that..so be it.
Dear Stephen, I was about to unsubscribe when I saw the title, and thought: “Oh, Stephen, what else is wrong? Don’t you have anything edifying to share, something to build-up and not tear down? Why always so dramatic and negative?”
Then I decided I would read it, because I am curious and didn’t want to discard before knowing what it was you had to say. I must say: WELL DONE, STEPHEN!
God is NOT an opening act. And we should be careful NOT to “summon” the Holy Spirit as if He was a familiar Spirit. I remember during the early days of the Renewal (aka TO Blessing), we just needed to show up and worship. I don’t know why it suddenly waned, but I know many started publishing books and CDs and traveling to “spread the fire.” This may have contributed in a global “packaging” of the event God graced us with, and grieved the Spirit. Why we believe we SHOULD always experience this is quite natural, but in reality, if we meet God more within four walls than outside, I think we have a problem that’s caused by leaders who don’t know how to follow…
I have yet to be aware of fully “occult” practices in worship happening on a large scale, but I do believe in reverence, and for the Arts to inspire that, and to magnify (magnifying glass) our collective expression. I think it’s a matter of also being in an infancy regarding spiritual matters, like we are missing a chunk of maturity, but then again, it depends what we deems spiritual.
The early disciples had pretty much covered the known world with the Gospel within 70 years of Yeshua’s ascension and Pentecost. What’s holding us back, what should we be about? What goal does Yeshua have for His Body which we are not seeing? Having or being better “churches” ain’t it. There must be something more… I’m pretty sure believers living under dictatorships don’t have much of an issue figuring this one out. So what’s our task? I would like to hear about that, and I think if we knew, we’d be less likely to drift…
p.s. (Darn, you’re safe THIS time, bro… ;O) )
Hi Andre, if you have been where I have been, and seen what I have seen in forty years, you would know that this piece is both mild and positive. I have gone easy. I have seen and experienced everything from necromancy to astral projection and MUCH MORE in “churches” being propagated as being “open to the Spirit.” Those are occult practices. They are not rare. And I am not talking about one or two isolated groups . . . wide spread. I see the trend getting worse, and not better. Had a conversation with someone two days ago, who confessed after decades of being in Charismatic churches that she was utterly deceived, was fully demonized, had MPD (multiple personality disorder) was under medication for it. When she had an encounter with Christ who realigned her to himself and his cross, when she repented for lusting for supernatural experiences, she was instantly healed and delivered. I literally talked with her two days ago. She is as sound of mind as you or I (I suppose that is debatable). Her testimony was how her hunger for God led her to embrace occultic teachings being espoused by the group she was with, in the “charismatic church” world. Andre things are much worse out there than one might want to believe.
I will stop being “negative” when others stop being crazy and damaging the people Christ gave his life for. 🙂 How’s that for a deal? 🙂
So it’s true, then. I never thought believers would let themselves be so utterly deceived. And I have been in a lot of those meetings, however not as a leader like you probably have. So yo probably heard and saw more than I did!
I’ve been out of churches for many years, except a little local Evangelical Free church in the area. I got a taste for theology 4 years back, and this little church was the safest I could find that didn’t have extravagantly off-the-wall warmed-up packaged “supernatural” madness. But this, what you are describing, is freaky.
I am happy for the lady you mention (scary and scarry stuff…), and I hope she will find a way to safely share more of her testimony when and if she is ever ready for it. It could prove beneficial to many.
I apologize if I have been too blunt, sometimes looking for balance gets you on the floor nonetheless. Balance isn’t what it’s about – truth and reality is.
p.s. could you delete my double-post below?
No need for apology Andre, and you NEVER have to worry about being blunt with me! LOL. Just trying to give you a “perspective’ for what comes across my metaphorical desk and why I write with the intensity I do. If you saw the carnage and pain that I do, you would understand how reserved and temperate I am actually being. I will delete the double post. Don;t know where that came from.
Thank you, Stephen. I’m sure there are extreme cases that would be warning posts on the road. I would appreciate hearing more if you can share, as I am aware of the worship experience, how we can experience the presence and manifestation of the Holy Spirit in us, and in those around, and the unity that comes from worshiping out of abandonment.
The Holy Spirit can speak to an assembly, in various ways. I’ve been in worship settings where we stayed with the same chord progression for a long time because there was “life” on it. It’s not something I can easily explain, but I’ve been there. The race to “package” what we did to reproduce it again and again, that is like flies in the ointment.
We do need to remain vigilant because of how easy it can be for “successful” groups to select to operate on the basis of marketing practices, which create confusing trends when measured to Scripture. Some things are better left to spontaneity, although some experiences will inspire to look for more.
One can also see how many youth and young adult have so much passion for holiness, intercession, social justice, the poor, evangelism and missions. All these are on the rise, infused with miraculous signs and wonder, and also the fruit of our modern-day mass gatherings and worship times, in ways that were not as common before. This I am grateful for, and it gives me hope that the other stuff that comes in as mixture will always be there to some degree.
If we could find a way to teach and model things without killing passion and bringing discouragement, I think we should. Otherwise, it’s good to draw attention to error, but let’s also bring the truth we see and focus on its strength to overcome error and immaturity.
So the “baby/bath water” principle still applies, imho…
Regards and blessings,
Indeed, Andre, baby and bathwater applies and that’s why I have written a whole book on the subject, available at http://www.stevecrosby.com. This piece, as was stated, was just an excerpt. I can assure you the baby has not been thrown out as a read of the book referenced in the piece would indicate. But this piece was already pushing the limits of what anyone would read in a blog. There is not way to unpack it all. Hence, there’s the book.
Andre, if there is a way I can private message you? I just got some amazing feedback from someone I have never met, that you might find interesting in the light of our conversation.
You certainly can: email me at: email@example.com
If you want to be entertained by clowns, you go to a circus. If you enjoy clever deception, you buy tickets to a magic show. If you want both, you visit a religious institution that specializes in charismania. Doing so offers groupie validation and the opportunity to feel spiritual while requiring nothing of you other than a blank mind and empty spirit.
Those who would be like Jesus, embrace the cross in their daily walk and hang out with others that do the same. Any gatherings that spring out of such relationships will exalt Jesus Christ only and provide no platform for pseudo spiritual acrobatics. Yet opportunity to live supernaturally is abundant. There is ready access to supernatural experience if one is willing to count the cost. Loving the unlovely is supernatural. It takes supernatural grace to lay aside one’s own needs to serve another. Being crapped on by a person you’re helping to grow into a disciple of Christ and still treating them as the object of Father’s unsurpassed love and affection involves supernatural love. Thinking kindly of those who specialize in charismania requires one to supernaturally see them as he does.
I got to thinking that actually “Charismania” isn’t a specific group or denomination. It is an attitude that can be found in the practice or manifestation of ALL the charismatic gifts. Having your body shake or be weighed down by the Presence of the Holy Spirit isn’t something new, nor demonic. It’s what people do with these as they try to make them a condition or sign of redemption. Whether it’s whatever gift or focus, it’s wrong.
And the same attitude prevails in high-octane orthodox groups. Their charismania is toward some limited vision of Scripture, and following leaders who provoke them to judge and discriminate other members of the Body who have different gifts and focus, different callings. For some of them, anything that is not TULIP is below them and suspicious. Others find that new ways of doing/being church is what is “in.” Others travel to poor countries, or dilapidated inner-cities to serve among the poor and the rejected. But if we don’t learn to love or have love, it won’t matter a smidgen.
We all have fallen to pride and judgment. Many of us have been in charismatic meeting where we could discern something wrong going on. Insulting one another because of immaturity, sin, distortion or deviation from Scripture will never be a better argument against spiritual gifts. Or in favor of non-charismata. Loving ONE ANOTHER in the Church, is the ONLY path to learn to really love the world as Jesus directs us to. I am reminded of 2Peter 1:5-9.
“5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”
Yes, let’s be discerning, on all levels… my .02…