I remember my first visit to the Church. I had been invited many, many times. And then, as an early 20’s man who had lived a fairly dysfunctional life, I wasn’t religious at all. Really, I caved and went to get the person who persistently invited me to shut up. And yet – as someone who had always believed in God even in my absence of knowing Him there had always been an internal draw. Or at least, an internal fear of ‘hell’.
So on a Sunday night, I succumbed, threw on the best clothes I had, which really were just tattered fabrics, and went to the church. I was immediately uncomfortable. Freaked out. A little scared. What did I just walk into? People were walking around moaning and ‘speaking in tongues’. When the service started, it only got worse. Jumping. Shouting. This lady spinning in circles in her pew hooping and hollering. At one point, this old man was running around the sanctuary and when he passed the front of the church he would head-dive for the floor and roll like a rock back on to his feet and take off again. I just wanted to leave.
*Disclaimer: I am recounting things to express my experiences and hyper-emotionalism in the Charismatic and Oneness Pentecostal church system. I am not disparaging those who partake of emotional worship, as from this recounting, you’ll see that I did also. This post is to express that the emotionalism is real, influenceable and perhaps, called in to question.
So I remember saying to myself as the Sunday night service progressed – these people are Crazy! I had purposefully sat on the edge of the pew in the middle aisle so that I would have an easy way out. And, I used it – the bathroom was my respite from the noise. Of course, I felt obligated to return and be reintroduced to the shockwave of violent red-faced screaming. And yet – everyone there only responded more, and more energetically, the louder the preacher got.
It was a long time before I went back. But over the course of about 6 months – I got dragged back. Promises of finding a girl. A better life. Blessings. Wealth. Promises that God would give me those raises and bonuses if I gave him my life. It was attractive for a young man that at times contemplated no longer living. I seemed to have no reason to live, but if there could be a reason out there…
It took some time to pick up the emotionalism, to feel comfortable expressing it, to be one of the herd. It started slowly, but there was no doubt that when the music was pumping, and you were in the middle of a prayer circle, your emotions were running wild. At first, I would raise my hands and clap. Clapping to the beat of a song was the most normative thing, though that is so rare in churches that are not hyper-emotionalized, I realize now. And even that became a performance to see how hard and fast you could pop those hands together.
But slowly, it progressed. In these churches, you would be prayed for, and dragged up to the altar to be prayed for. And the prayer warriors would gather around you in circles and swarms, each stretching their hands into the mix of other arms, hoping that if they could just touch you and pray it would ‘pray you through’. And in this hype of prayer, your hands would be raised, arms held up for you even after hours of prayer when you could hardly hold them up on your own.
Shouting, screaming, voices in your ears yelling ‘Come on pray through!’ or ‘Come on, speak in tongues!’ Spittle would be hitting your cheeks and by the way – halitosis is real! You close your eyes to block out the faces and distractions and eventually, something happens. To some this comes quick, others it takes time. But, eventually, you lose yourself. Being rocked back and forth by the force and pushing of those praying for you was melodic and hypnotizing.
There were prayer sessions, in those first ‘praying through’ times, that I would lose myself, and when I opened my eyes I would be in a completely different location in the sanctuary. Hugs, shoulder slaps, handshakes, good job man, keep going, God’s got something for you.
And once you have lost yourself these external influences are almost hypnotic and can literally control your mind. ‘come on, say Jesus over and over’ and you’d obey without hardly knowing it. ‘Come on shout it out!’ and you would start shouting. Those holding your hands up would be jumping up and down and you in time would start jumping up and down in rhythm with those around you.
And finally, in that state of hypnotic emotionalism, you could close your eyes, ignore those around you and jump, shout, roll, run, spin, scream, stomp, fall, convulse, kick, and as they would say, really pray through.
In fact, it is this praying through that seems to be the pinnacle of the Christian Conversion. This is seen as when one really surrenders to God. When you have truly received His Spirit (letting go) and normally when one starts speaking in tongues.
But as I recount this story of emotionalism – and don’t take my word for it, just Google or YouTube this stuff (Pentecostal Worship) – many, myself included are tempted to say, ‘Where is that in Scripture?’ When did the Apostles roll around kicking and screaming, or, as the man in the background of this GIF does – flop and roll backward in apparent ecstasy in God? When did we come to say this is the Spirit of God inspiring this behavior? And how do we defend it when in truth, there is actually no Biblical support?
Ironically, the definition of Herd Mentality shows that to the mind involved, we need no support for our behavior or emotions. I feel it, therefore it is!
Herd mentality, mob mentality and pack mentality, also lesser known as gang mentality, describes how people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors on a largely emotional, rather than rational, basis. Source: Wikipedia
On the outside, looking at the GIF posted above, we would largely believe it/they were crazy. And I do too, (now that I’ve been out of it for 2.5 years) but when you are the one in the middle of it, you don’t think that way. It becomes normative. It becomes your identity. It actually becomes you. I know men and women who the more hoarse their voice came Monday morning, the more Holy Ghost they thought that had received Sunday night. They would wear that at work as if it was a badge of Honor and believe it was their ‘witness’ to the power of God in their church – that by the way, other spiritually ‘dead’ churches didn’t have.
Being Led by Emotionalism
You know – the pendulum can swing the other direction, and I think we should say, God Forbid! I attended churches as a child where little ole ladies with hair buns a mile high would pinch you for making a squeak during the sermon and I attended congregations (Church of Christ [not Mormons]) that swore off musical instruments, believing that they followed the New Testament model in doing so. Instruments were too ‘worldly’ and ’emotional’. They became, however, staugy and dried up. Flavorless and stale. The salt that lost its savor.
The truth is – we are emotional creatures – God made us that way. We respond to life with emotion. It is emotions that help steer us. Fear, anger, Joy, and Love. We know certain music can stir our emotions. It’s known that when women watch a good Romance, you better have a box of tissues nearby – they become overcome with emotion.
Is that wrong? God forbid! But emotion can overwhelm the other senses and our intellect. It can make us behave in ways that we shouldn’t. Someone can be ‘overcome by Jealousy and harm another’. And, in the absence of emotion, harm another because a person (clinically a psychopath) with no emotion cannot feel empathy.
One scene in an old 1995 movie, First Knight, starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery comes to me, where near the beginning of the film Lancelot (Gere) beats the obstacle course called the Gauntlet. No man had every beat it before and the King (Connery) asks him, “So how did you do it? No man has ever done that before?” And Lancelot’s answer could be applicable here. He said,
“Perhaps fear made some men go back when instead they should have gone forward.”
So we are left to finding a balance. Recently (and no Connie – I’m not talking about you!) the discussion surround Speaking in Tongues came up (again) and each time it does you invariably have people who say, ‘I know what I felt and you can’t tell me it wasn’t real!’. When aligning their experience to Scripture, there is no comparison, and in fact, no support or acceptance of the experience. And yet, it was an emotional experience and thus, in the words of my old mentor;
“What you believe in your heart (with emotion) becomes reality, whether or not it really is.”
In the world of the Charismatic church (which I no longer can align to, but I pray for) emotion and experience trump historical Scripture as progressive and new age revelation. That these experiences (such as gold dust falling from the sky) are just new ways in which God is manifesting himself to us. They don’t need to align to Scripture or need a supporting example, as they are NEW. But under that model, Simon the Sorcerer would have excelled and need not ask the Apostles to buy their power. He could do any make-believe illusion and call it a progressive revelation/power.
As recent as a week ago a pastor friend was telling me he wishes more people in his church would worship with more emotion. Not to the degree we exposed above – but the normal emotional responses to God such as we see in Scripture – raising your hands up to God. Singing, and shouting, with the voice of Triumph. Standing before Him in reverence. And this can include at times, tears of joy and awe. During song service, the pastor can say, “Let’s stand and worship together.” and 80% of the congregation remains seated.
Is that to say you MUST stand up? God forbid! What if you can’t? What if you are embarrassed? What if – like me, you came from hyper-emotionalism and are afraid to express yourself again? To this day, when I sit in church and my emotions are piqued by the verse, the harmony, the message of the song, the words of the speaker – I can choke it down, close it off, hands in my pocket. Why? I’m afraid to let go again. Why? Because last time I did it was nuts!
Sarcasm aside, I hope that in setting myself free from this fear, I can help set someone else free. You ARE an emotional creature. Your emotions ARE good, and right, and real, and purposeful and to be accepted! You ARE to worship God in your emotions, just as you would love your spouse with emotion, and love your children with emotion.
Frankly – there are times that I as a father sit on the couch and watch my children play, and I tear up. I am so overcome with adoration and love for my children, I can’t help it. Sometimes the connection and closeness I feel with my daughters when I read them books makes my voice crack as I’m reading. And I get that same response in worship to God, even when I’m alone, singing in the car, with no one to hear me.
David danced before the Lord, and we are told to Worship in the Beauty of Holiness. (which friends, is not a dress standard) We pray we lift our hands, we cry, and we smile, we sing, and sometimes, we may shout a hallelujah! And like all things in God – moderation is our measuring stick. If, as I experienced, we ‘lose ourselves’ and are out of control of our members, our emotionalism has gone too far. If we are dead to the world and can fee nothing, we have swung too far the other way.
We feel God. We know we cannot see him. No man can and live. But like the air molecules that we breathe, that move trees and lift airplanes into the sky, we feel their impact upon us. We are human, and we feel! We must feel the moving presence of God, in balance. Not to Charismatic chaos and not to dry bones in the valley. But to adoration and sensible worship of God!