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.”
Christian Lust for the Supernatural
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.
[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!
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