Thursday, 26 February 2009

Pentecostal Subversive Slavery

Pentecostal worship has entered our church buildings in the name of freedom; freedom to express ones' self, freedom to dance, raise hands, close eyes, sing songs over and over, speak in tongues etc. In my opinion, it has done the opposite to liberating those in the pew. I really don't like it personally, and I am sure that it reflects an unbiblical pietism.

Fundamental to Pentecostal/charismatic worship is the idea that we attend church to 'experience God', and this (it seems to me) primarily through the singing of modern worship songs. As one sings, he/she is drawn into the presence of God. There are some who can really sense 'it'. People react to this presence in different ways depending on the church context. If the church is at the more conservative end of the wackometer, you might see some hands raised, eyes closed, dancing, face beaming, etc. Across at the other end of the spectrum, anything goes, from shaking like a malfunctioning washing machine to 'manifesting' some strange prophetic sign.

I'm not too interested in the wackier end of the spectrum. Their craziness is self-authenticating. It's the supposed Reformed/conservatives I've got a beef with. First, the idea of experiencing the presence of God as the reason to attend church is nonsense. It's unbiblical and mental (British for mad). We attend church to hear God's word. 'Church' merely means gathering, and has its roots in the Israelites 'gathering' round Sinai to hear God's word. We, like the OT saints, gather round a mountain to hear God speak. Except this mountain isn't one of smoking fury and terror. We gather round Zion, not Sinai (Hebrews 12:22-24). We gather round this joyful and happy mountain, and really do meet with Christ, angels and the departed saints. Our church then is an overlap of the ages. We meet the new eschatological age while still in the body of our flesh. The only 'experience' we seek, is the Holy Spirit, bridging the two eschatological ages for us and feeding us with the risen Christ by word/sacrament.

If that's the case, then what is happening when people sway with their eyes closed, tremble, cry, etc? Nothing. Nothing spiritual anyway. Maybe they downed half a bottle of vodka, or perhaps more likely, they've learned to react this way. And this type of behaviour is poisonous. It feeds the whole 'me and God in a personal relationship and stuff you if you don't like my behaviour' ethic. It feeds the pietist, experience focused Christianity that neglects the need for word/sacrament ministry. It induces feelings of insecurity in good saints, who while looking at the 'spiritual experiences' of others in worship, believe that there is something deficient in their own experience because they are not 'feeling it' or 'getting it'.

The upshot of this is that it creates a two-class Christianity; those who can 'feel' God's presence (while we repeatedly sing crap hymns) and those who don't. Those who are 'free' to behave like individualistic, selfish buffoons and those who are emotionally retarded and need to be freed. If I see another Christian service on TV with wacky dancing, I'm going to punch MYSELF in the face. (BTW next time you see someone dance in church, ask them why they don't strip to their underpants too).

Listen, as Chuck D so famously said, "Don't believe the hype!" Just because you don't feel comfortable with Pentecostal worship, this doesn't mean you're a Spirit quenching, conservative meanie. Perhaps it is because you are jealous to worship in spirit and truth that you do things decently and in order? Perhaps it is because you are jealous for AUTHENTIC experience, that you don't want to pimp your bodily members out to every form of charismatic craziness? Perhaps it is because you, in your gut but not in your conscious, know that the Regulative Principle for Worship is a pretty good idea?


Neil McAllister said...

"The only 'experience' we seek, is the Holy Spirit, bridging the two eschatological ages for us and feeding us with the risen Christ by word/sacrament." - and at times being fed with the risen Christ will produce an emotional response which it would be as wrong to suppress as it would be to fake it.

Our faith, while rational, must not be purely cerebral. If we have come to a "joyful and happy mountain" then that joy, when felt, will be expressed. We have no qualms about celebrating other sources of joy in our lives, and so too with what should be the greatest source of joy in our lives. To glibly place the source of people's actions on alcohol is exactly the same as the crowd did at Pentecost. While we should not be "blown here and there by every wind of teaching" and should "test the spirits" we should also not limit our understanding of God's working to what we can understand or have personally experienced.

And as for "modern worship songs", the ones that I find draw the greatest emotional response are the old ones:

"My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought... is nailed to his cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord! PRAISE THE LORD, O MY SOUL!"

"On such love my soul still ponder,
love so great, so rich so free,
say, while lost in holy wonder,
why, O Lord, such love to me?"

Anyway, good to read your thoughts and I have really appreciated some of your recent posts - particularly "Procrastination and Imputation". Thanks.

Nick Mackison said...

Hi Neil. Good to hear from you. My comment on alcohol was tongue in cheek. At least those on the day of Pentecost were speaking in miraculous tongues. A lot of the craziness I see around me doesn't resemble true spirituality. It's just weird.

Furthermore, you're right to stress that we shouldn't suppress all true feeling. But if you read me carefully, you'll notice I wasn't advocating a "purely cerebral" faith (as you noted, I did talk of a happy mountain). I was talking in the context of manipulation and learned behaviour that apes a true work of the Spirit.

I'm not denying that the Spirit can and does do some things beyond the normal. Nevertheless, I'm arguing that what I see around in conservative/charismatic churches generally isn't spiritual. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Good to hear from you!

Nick Mackison said...

PS, much of what passes for biblical spirituality isn't new. The Reformers observed an almost identical approach to piety in the anabaptist movement and rejected it as counterfeit/heretical, etc. Read Recovering the Reformed Confession if you have time.


steve said...


I know you conceive yourself as on something of a trajectory toward Reformed confessionalism, but, FWIW, methinks you're more arrived than traveling.

For my part, I have no problem with certain gestures (like raised hands) in stated worship...just so long as everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. Sorry, though, would-be revivalists, it's hard to get everyone to begin to weep or otherwise generally outburst and stop at the same time.

Now, on to add you to the Outhouse blogroll.

Nick Mackison said...

Sweet. I've always wanted my name on a toilet wall. ;)