Distortion of True Spirituality
Two evangelical or fundamentalist churches could be nearly identical in their doctrinal statements but still be quite different, as much distinct in their view of spirituality as are the disparate understandings of “belief in Christ” terminology for a Mormon and a conservative evangelical. Yes, I believe there’s that much noncomformity. This undiscriminating approach to spirituality, I believe, may be the most damaging, though ignored, situation in the church today. One finds its reality in varying degrees of subjective experience, while the other looks to an objective faith, yet both, again, with the same theological creed. The similarity of the latter provides cover for the contrast of the former, the diversity explained as a matter of preference or taste.
Church members, professing believers, wish for an authentic spiritual experience in their church attendance. They judge authenticity by excitement and emotion, even enthusiasm, which might manifest itself in several varied ways. It’s not that feelings would be their chief criteria if they were asked to mark a box on a checklist. These same people don’t believe they are being guided by their feelings or that their emotions are being swayed by external factors to produce a false sense of spirituality. Their feelings, however, are what are telling them that their experience is authentic, especially in their “worship.”
Scripture shows that true spirituality is judged by God’s Word, by the truth. The two types of churches I’m talking about would both agree with that. However, that is not how the individuals often judge whether spirituality has been attained. They might ascertain the spiritual condition by means of release of emotion, shouting, tears, swaying, giddiness, head bobbing, jumping, toe-tapping, or hand waving, all possible indications of something happening in the realm of genuine spirituality. It also might show up with signs of power, that is, hands raised or movement toward the front at an invitation. What might not be considered is that all or some of these spiritual barometers might be caused or initiated by human manipulation of some kind, either through the rhythm of the music, the rise and fall of someone’s voice, a story, the lighting, clapping, or by the suggestion of the speaker to a wanting audience. The shared experience of the crowd further validates the authenticity. Something good must have happened.
Certain symptoms of legitimacy accompany the concoction of fraudulent spirituality—tightly closed eyes, head tilted heavenward, certain hushed tones, or the Clintonesque biting of the bottom lip. This is assembly line authenticity, Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can realism. A trembling, purposefully scratchy voice, cries out a plaintiff wail with all the gusto that fake authenticity can muster.
The shared emotions of a church galvanize the people like some chant in the pregame ritual of a football team. This does have a sort of power. Many may think of this as heavenly power as they undergo its effects, persuaded that they must have connected with God. They may even mistake it for love between one another because of the shared warmth. It has the power to succeed at attracting or keeping people who wish for something more or different than faith. Churches not aligning themselves with these ways feel a pressure to use the same methods of provocation.
Many who choreograph these types of experiences, that replace true spirituality with the fake, know what they are doing. They know what certain rhythms do. They want the lighting in the building and the cadence of the speaking and the chords and the speed of the music to have their effect on a crowd. They manufacture the feelings with fleshly means and then call it spirituality. Some of the purveyors of these schemes are modern Calvinists, who, while trumpeting the sovereignty of God and bewailing the new measures of Arminianism, whip their own brand of religious ecstacy.
The faux spirituality conforms to a perverted view of Divine immanence, God’s relatedness, stemming from a post-enlightenment evacuation of Divine transcendence. The new emphasis on God’s immanence corresponds to a cultural shift in focus from God to man. Sin is less a concern in its offense of God as its psychological implications for men. The spirit engendered in a church service has the power to overcome a broken relationship or downcast countenance, providing the desired therapy.
Church music, and even all music, reflects the new view of spirituality. Man’s taste has become preeminent in musical composition and performance, both style and words. I believe the music has had a more detiorating effect on the perversion of spirituality than even the substance of the lyrics in church hymnody. Professing Christians have watered down the doctrinal content of hymns, but that has followed the use of popular tunes, which are popular because they lure where luring occurs—the flesh. Man’s flesh isn’t drawn away by his spirit, but by his flesh, and enticed.
Not only have churches been fooled in this particular false spirituality, but also an imposter in the realm of something perhaps even more wicked, that is, mysticism, a secret spirituality found in eastern religions and felt in the their music and worship. They produce natural, whispery, repetitious sounds that our culture has now accepted as something in touch with God. It sometimes takes on the calmness of the surface of a mountain lake or the lapping of the waves on the seashore. The connection isn’t with the God, Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, but the god of this world, who is also the god of pantheism. These rhythms and sounds are now incorporated into modern worship music, again fooling people with a counterfeit spirituality.
In the 1960s, the Jesus movement portrayed itself as authentic Christianity, tapping into the counter-culture sweeping the United States and then the world. The emotions and even rebellion young people felt in their relations to traditional family and government structure and authority was revealed through their music. These feelings were real. The music itself became, to them, an expression of their inner yearnings. The people involved put on no airs—in their dress, with their hair, with their physical touch. They didn’t hold back, just let it hang loose, elucidating the kind of liberty they felt in Christ. They also talked “like so sincere.” The Jesus people took that music and incorporated it into Christian worship. The music itself became associated with authenticity and genuine spirituality. Other forms were stilted, repressive, and against the feeling of the movement. The music not only reflected the emotions, but produced or proliferated them. They were accepted as evidence of spirituality. This movement has bridged the gap for all forms of the world’s music as true expressions of man’s relationship with God.
Not every church takes the tactics to their furthest end. Don’t think that because someone is worse than you that you get a pass on these techniques and this warping of true spirituality. Many churches have stirred up their own unique stew of varied strengths and styles.
This attack on the meaning of spirituality is an attack on the truth. There is true spirituality defined by Scripture. Genuine spirituality is sanctified by God’s Word, not by people’s feelings.
I think that what we have here is equal to the perversion of false doctrine. We have dumbed down or altered spirituality and then many other theological concepts necessary for true worship and obedience to God, including love and the nature of God Himself. God does not receive the affection of which He is worthy. And many men through this deceit are further tangled in a web of pseudo-spirituality from which for many there is no escape.