Searching for Spiritual Truth & Reality

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…

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10 thoughts on “Searching for Spiritual Truth & Reality

  1. Excellent. My journey into the emergent conversation is based on similar frustrations, although mine has been more with legalism than the Charismatic format. I am also “unchurching” at the moment. Fellowship with friends and individual study is more edifying than sermons, handshaking, and condemnation.

  2. Glenn Rice says:

    Having spent many official days of “worship” in the great religious institutions, I can honestly say that the vast majority of these various sects of Christianity so-called are far more concerned with manipulating and controlling the parishioners than they are with teaching them to live in God’s power, or to allow them to help each other live out their faith. I have seen extreme cases of supposed men of God telling congregants that if they did not follow the leading they were providing, those lowly pew dwellers would not even be saved.

    To be succinct, any religious leader in a paid position is automatically corrupted to one degree or another, for he has become something altogether different than what the bible describes as a spiritual gift. The spiritual gift of a shepherd has nothing in common with a modern day Pastor or Priest.

    Having said that, I can only agree that a person operating within a group, requiring the gatherers to do what he or she prompts, is engaging in the same manipulation that ordinary pulpiteers do in their personal earthly corporate kingdoms week after week.

    Red flags are flying at full mast for me as well with the little group, and I am extremely cautious about any further involvement.

    Good article.

  3. I agree with Glenn. Manipulation, many times in the form of an altar call produces mass guilt, mass hysteria, or perhaps even mass hypnosis. It all became clear to me after taking a sociology class. The same thing happens at a rock concert when a well liked song is performed, except people raise lighted cell phones (in the old days, lighters) instead of hands. We have allowed Christianity to be reduced to a case of the warm fuzzies, puppet politics, and a bizarre sado-masochistic themed verbal beating in order to feel good thing. And we PAY someone to do this. Prostitution without an orgasm. Sounds like a raw deal to me.

  4. Wow, totally agree %100 with you on such topics! It’s so hard to find people who notice these insincere theatrics going on in the Church in general. I had to write a short paper back in high school (I went to a Christian school) about what I thought the perfect form of worship was. And it’s simple… to worship in spirit AND in TRUTH just like Scripture says.
    My conclusion for the paper pretty much summed up everything you wrote here. I am just happy to have found your blog because I don’t know a lot of people who would agree with this.
    By the way, I get what you’re saying about the lady in front of you jumping up and down repetitively and then getting distracted by it instead of being encouraged to worship in truth. I had the same situation for every single chapel at my Christian school.
    Anyway, my family no longer goes to church because of frustration with the Christian church.

  5. Zema Chambers says:

    So what do we with do with the Eph 4:10-16? I understand and have experienced some of previous writers’ responses. It almost feels like we’re “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. I actually know pastors who are sick of the whole show too. If you name Jesus as Lord (I know we can go ’round and ’round about the exact steps), you are “in the Beloved” and are a member of “the church”. How do you spur others to godly acts? How do you become part of that Eph. 4 group who takes teaching and begins to build the whole body up in love? I’m not after an arguement; I’m more after how you put the Word into action from this perspective.

  6. What do we do with it? We live it, daily, as we go about our daily lives. We gather together in fellowship, we exhort one another, encourage one another and pray for one another. The church meets when two or three gather in his name and break bread together, break open the word together, lift their voices in praise together. The church meets when one believer reaches out to another in love. We can live it when we’re not being manipulated and ruled by the “order of service.”

  7. I strongly recommend that you read the book I referenced – “So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore.” It is VERY good – and it is not what you may think. It’s not a work meant to make people leave the church. It actually is intended to make church better. A friend of mine read the book and loved it, and remained in his church because he has a ministry there – his ministry is to the people who are hurting, who need someone to talk to while everyone else is “watching the show” or who need someone to pray with them or advise them. I’m still searching for my calling/ministry – but I know that for right now, it is definitely not within the walls of a traditional church.

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