Emotions:
Are emotions involved in worship? Yes, they are, or at least they often can be. Can we trust our emotions in worship? No, we cannot, 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 cannot rely on our emotions when we come before God with our praise and worship. Instead, we must rely on the truth of His Word.

If we confuse worshiping and praising 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 happy, or upbeat, we are going to feel great in our relationship with God. This results in you and I measuring our relationship with the One True God by our highs and lows instead of by His promises. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live my life on that kind of unreliable roller coaster.

Within many modern day worship services it saddens me to see that people are being taken advantage of and manipulated through their emotions. Sometimes it’s deliberate and sometimes it sort of sneaks in through the back door and before you know it manipulating the congregation during worship has become the norm. And when one tries to point out the areas where a congregation, denomination, or an entire movement have gone to such extremes they are no longer biblical in their worship, the offenders will then lift passages and incidents out of their biblical context and force them to apply today, even when they don’t.

When one criticizes the messy, unbiblical, sloppy worship two things usually happen in verbal retaliation. The first is the offending parties claim the accusers of being too intellectual and only using their brain, and second, one passage above all comes to the forefront to explain away their behavior. I’ve briefly stated above that it is actually recognized that emotions are involved in worship, it’s just that we should not trust them or be led by them, so at this point let’s look at the guilty parties second reaction, their “go to” passage. That passage is Ephesians 5:18-20, “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 then go on to say that all of those who get filled with the Spirit must appear to be drunk since the passage equates the two. However, the passage doesn’t equate the two at all. This passage is not evidence that worshiping should cause us to laugh hysterically, cry uncontrollably, fall to the floor (commonly known as being slain), flail around, yell and scream, rock back and forth, grunt, bark, reach for glory clouds, or any other disrespectful and unbiblical behavior.

Ephesians 5:18-20 is actually CONTRASTING the two (being drunk and being filled with the Spirit) not comparing them. They shouldn’t be mistaken for the same thing, they should be recognized as being opposite in actions. In other words, “Don’t get drunk and act like a fool, instead, be calm and controlled as if you are filled with the Spirit.” In fact, lest you think I’m making this up, the passage continues on to describe what a Spirit filled person would act like. It says there will be singing psalms and hymns and people will always be giving thanks. Now, 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 real Holy Spirit is not an electrifying current of ecstatic energy, a mind-numbing babbler of irrational speech, or a cosmic genie who indiscriminately grants self-centered wishes for health and wealth. The true Spirit of God does not cause His people to bark like dogs or laugh like hyenas; He doesn’t 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:
In no way do I lump all Pentecostals and/or Charismatics together in the group I’m addressing in this article, but it is the theological camp they claim for themselves. For the most part I think the people mixed up in these types of groups, at least the laity, are just hurt, confused, and simply don’t know any better. Even if they participate in some of the foolish activities, I think for the most part 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 can release endorphins causing a comfort throughout the body which can provoke relaxation and certain feelings or emotions, another reason not to trust our emotions. One must use caution here though. It is extremely inadvisable to let your mind go to these places because the Bible speaks against such “emptying of the mind” activities. In addition, the jury is still out on what kind of doors one may be opening up for what kind of things when practicing the “emptying of their mind.”

Before you dismiss my thoughts as merely superstitious, ask yourself why all of the practices found in this extreme and sloppy worship we are discussing, such as spasmodic gestures, hysterical and uncontrollable laughing, extreme weeping, babbling tongues, collapsing to the floor, etc., are all activities found in pagan worship as well. You can find most of these in fringe cults, among witch doctors in Africa and other countries, the occult, and even Mormonism. I think, at least in part, it’s because the Enemy is trying to get us to pervert the real thing. Another reason, I believe, is to cause those experiencing such behavior to think they are actually superior in spiritual things and therefore get them to refuse to listen to correction or concern.

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, they say, 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 what they claim were true their leaders would be known worldwide for their holiness and Christ-like behavior 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 the garbage that passes for worship by so many in the church today. I have personally watched people laying side by side on their backs with their eyes closed and half of them are bawling and half of them are laughing hysterically, entire congregations doing the “Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey,” people gathered in churches “tokin’ the Spirit” (which is acting as if they are smoking invisible pot and actually, they claim, to be “inhaling” the Holy Spirit and getting “high”), kids of varying ages 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 that abounds and it is not just seemingly harmless activities that occur. Physical abuse has even taken 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.” A clown, by the name of 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. Whether by his breath, his coat, or his pushing, he knocks people backward and often times with considerable force. Although an elderly woman was trampled and killed at one of his gatherings, he continues to carry out his antics at his crusades. And all of this is done in the name of the Holy Spirit and by His power, so they claim.**

Discernment and False Teachers:
We are taught all throughout the New Testament to beware of false teachers and their doctrine. Their doctrine would include their actions when gathered in fellowship. These warnings are not just for the church during New Testament times, they are for every believer including us today. Jesus Christ Himself warns in Matthew 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 acts of worship that they will introduce.

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 Holy Spirit from heretical, false doctrines, movements, and phony prophets. 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 far 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. This passage is particularly known for the fact that Jonathan Edwards carefully studied it and used it’s principles for the Great Awakening. I think it is good for us to do the same today. Instead of going by our emotions and what is the newest and most popular fad, we need to test all things according to Scripture. And 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 the true 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 Scriptures?” – to Scripture, not 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 this article with the actual words from our passage above. There is never a better way to finish a discussion on any topic than the use of Scripture. 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: John F. MacArthur’s, “Strange Fire” and “Charismatic Chaos.” Hank Hanegraaff’s, “Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century” and “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.
***Portions quoted in this paragraph are from MacArthur, John F., “Strange Fire,” p.39.

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