John 4:24 – For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (NLT)
Some time ago, my husband and I began what I am calling our “Unchurching Odyssey.” In typical Christian circles, “the unchurched” is a politically correct term to use instead of “the lost” or the “unsaved.”
My usage of the term when referring to our Christianity is actually a spin on a particular style of homeschooling, called “unschooling,” used to describe a departure from the institutional way of doing things; essentially becoming free-form or organic in lifestyle and practice.
We’ve grown weary of the institutional church. Let me be clear, I am not picking on any one particular church; we are not pointing fingers or laying blame; it’s the entire system that bothers us. It’s not working for us, and it’s not working for a lot of folks, hence the popularity of such books like So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman.
One of my reasons (and believe me this is just one of them, there are more!) for being discouraged by the institutional church system is the artificial behavior that springs from putting on our Sunday Best – the smiles, the forced greeting time, and, in many “Spirit filled” churches, the manifestations of the “spirit” that are, in reality, nothing more than fleshly posturing to prove to the others that you “have it” and “are filled.”
The opposite of this, the “ying for the yang” so to speak, is the forced restraint found in non-charismatic churches. “Do not raise your hands in praise during worship, that’s fake and looks Pentecostal. Do not move your body or allow your emotions to show, that doesn’t impress anyone…” and so on.
All my Christian life, I have been searching for “reality.” Meaning genuine, not artificial. I memorized scripture and listened to good Christian music essentially to prove to my elders that I was becoming spirit filled. I watched them on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings and listened to their King James-esque eloquent prayers that rolled effortlessly off their tongues in flowery beauty and I wanted to be like them. I did not want to stumble for the correct words to pray, I wanted to know what to pray and how to pray it and how to be “the perfect Christian.”
My first experience with a Pentecostal assembly was horrifying, to be honest. Up till that point, I had been attending a very old-fashioned, quiet Baptist church – the most raucous that church got was when a hellfire and brimstone guest speaker named Dr. Ernie Childs came and yelled at us all, telling us how awful and pitiful our attempts were at pleasing God. He came equipped with pamphlets he authored to teach us how to lawfully live out a Good Christian Life.
Anyway, I am somewhat reserved in nature when out in public unless I am extremely comfortable with my companions and surroundings (such as when I am bowling). So the laid-back atmosphere of the Baptist church was appealing to me. I was amazed at the behavior during the Pentecostal service – such fervor! A lady in front of me, who practiced head covering with a little crocheted doily, was jumping up and down, up and down, up and down – I can still see the doily flapping. I was not drawn into a deeper knowledge of God; I was distracted by the doily. People were yelling, some guy stood up with a “word” that everyone was ga-ga over, and I later compared it to reading a fortune cookie or reading the horoscope. You could make it apply if you tried hard enough. I didn’t think God’s word worked that way.
There were people moaning, and mumbling, and doing what I later learned to be “speaking in tongues.” Only it sounded a lot like babbling, and a lot of repetition. Baptists generally don’t believe in the gifting of tongues – certainly not as manifested in many churches today. I never really bought the theology that tongues were not for today – can’t find anything in scripture to support that. But I also can’t find anything in scripture to support what is being manifest as tongues in most Charismatic churches either. In fact, quite the opposite.
Charismatic friends have shared with me that they (or others they knew) were coached by elders to “Just babble nonsense to loosen yourself up, until the Spirit comes” or “Try these practice phrases until your language is manifest.” I just don’t see that in scripture. It came upon them from the Spirit and they spoke in tongues (and were understood by the listeners) without any coaching ahead of time or warm up babbling.
This forced behavior has been encouraged for years by preachers and teachers in churches, and it’s a tough habit to break. It even shows up in home fellowships. The other night I was “told” by the pastor to speak in tongues. “Everyone speak in tongues – I feel led to say that.” Really? And once again add me to the ranks of people who “don’t” and aren’t “up to snuff.”
So, someone there began to babble “Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma” occasionally broken up with an “Oh Lord!” or “Jesus!”. It was extremely disconcerting, distracting, and disheartening. How many people have been harmed spiritually by this junk? Either harmed by being forced to be dishonest…(pretending and faking tonuges, so as to fit in) or by feeling inadequate and not good enough because they’re too honest to play along and pretend to speak in tongues?
If it is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit it is going to happen without our theatrics or demands on one another. It is going to be genuine and it will be AWESOME. But we can’t FORCE it on each other or ourselves.
By carrying on like this we totally dilute the reality of it when it does happen. God is not a dog and pony show that we can control for our entertainment (oh wait, we want to call it “edification”).
YES, tongues is but ONE spiritual gift. Discernment is another. Above all, worshiping in spirit and in TRUTH is the most important aspect of worship. I do not want to partake of phoniness, and I do not want to be around it — no matter how sincere the parties involved may be.
I have spent years trying to prove to myself that I was a REAL Christian, that I was a REAL believer that I was a REAL child of God. I did not want anything FAKE or “put on” for Sunday morning. Or Saturday night, or in the sanctuary, or in the living room.
Experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit is awesome enough without having to enhance it with fake experiences to “loosen up” or to obey some command…