Heidelcast 23: Ecstasy is Not Christianity

Concern about dead formalism or ritualism is legitimate but we should not think that because a religious service is emotionally or psychologically satisfying or that because one has a certain kind of ecstasy that one has escaped dead formalism. There is a solution for dead formalism and that solution might not be what you think it is.

11 comments

  1. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)

    * $50,000 in Ecstasy seized in traffic stop – Feb. 3, 2010

    Ha! Got to love the “Possibly related posts” WordPress feature. I don’t *think* that’s the kind of Ecstasy you’re talking about in this Heidelcast 😉

  2. Really good stuff. As one who grew up Southern Baptist (which has strong pietistic leanings) I heard “The worship was great today!” all the time. Invariably it meant, “I really felt something.” What a departure from biblical spirituality and worship.

  3. BTW, you might be interested in this: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123805954

    The Unification Church is taking a cue from evangelicals: “So In Jin Moon did what the evangelicals do: She used music and technology to spark spiritual experiences. She says it is working.

    “Some have called it ‘electricity running through my body, feeling of warmth — just feeling as if they’re engulfed in love,'” she says. “For those kids who come and have that conversion experience, then their belief system becomes theirs.”

    “Since In Jin took over, weekly attendance has nearly doubled.”

  4. Here is a quote from the first chapter of Jonathan Edward’s Religious Affections,
    a major leader of the “So Called First Great Awakening” : )

    1. Love to Christ. Whom having not seen, ye love. The world was ready to wonder, what strange principle it was, that influenced them to expose themselves to so great sufferings, to forsake the things that were seen, and renounce all that was dear and pleasant, which was the object of sense. They seemed to the men of the world as if they were beside themselves, and to act as though they hated themselves; there was nothing in their view, that could induce them thus to suffer, or to support them under and carry them through such trials. But although there was nothing that the world saw, or that the Christians themselves ever saw with their bodily eyes, that thus influenced and supported them, yet they had a supernatural principle of love to something unseen; they loved Jesus Christ, for they saw him spiritually, whom the world saw not, and whom they themselves had never seen with bodily eyes.

    2. Joy in Christ. Though their outward sufferings were very grievous, yet their inward spiritual joys were greater than their sufferings; and these supported them, and enabled them to suffer with cheerfulness.
    There are two things which the apostle takes notice of in the text concerning this joy.

    1. The manner in which it rises, the way in which Christ, though unseen, is the foundation of it, viz. by faith; which is the evidence of things not seen; In whom, though now ye see him not, yet BELIEVING, ye rejoice.

    2. The nature of this joy; unspeakable, and full of glory. Unspeakable in the kind of it; very different from worldly joys, and carnal delights; of a vastly more pure, sublime, and heavenly nature, being something supernatural, and truly divine, and so ineffably excellent! the sublimity and exquisite sweetness of which, there were no words to set forth. Unspeakable also in degree; it having pleased God to give them this holy joy with a liberal hand, in their state of persecution.
    Their joy was full of glory. Although the joy was unspeakable, and no words were sufficient to describe it; yet something might be said of it, and no words more fit to represent its excellency than these, that it was full of glory; or, as it is in the original, glorified joy. In rejoicing with this joy, their minds were filled, as it were, with a glorious brightness, and their natures exalted and perfected. It was a most worthy, noble rejoicing, that did not corrupt and debase the mind, as many carnal joys do; but did greatly beautify and dignify it. It was a prelibation of the joy of heaven, that raised their minds to a degree of heavenly blessedness; it filled their minds with the light of God’s glory, and made themselves to shine with some communication of that glory.

    Hence the proposition or doctrine, that I would raise from these words is this, true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.

    • Yes, indeed but to what end? Have you read RRC where I interact with JE on this? Who measures these RAs? Hasn’t JE tipped us down the subjectivist (QIRE) slope? The question is not whether affections but how and what role do they play in the Christian life?

  5. Scott,

    Barb and I just listened over dinner… many amens! You nail it, while at the same time acknowledging the problem that birthed QUIRE… dead formalism, which led to experiential pietism. The antidote? Repentance and faith… trust and thankful obedience in Christ alone. The feeding of the sheep through word and sacrament.

    In no way do you denigrate true religious experience. The questions are… On what shall we depend? To whom shall we run? What are the means of grace? True means of grace require not one whit of human striving or merit. As one who pursued the mystical, experiential path for a number of years… when boiled down it is nothing other than works-righteousness. It is a subtle shifting of focus that misleads believers. We then are back in the book of Galatians, needing to be sobered by the Apostle Paul. Thanks brother.

    Jack

  6. As usual, excellent, an excellent Heidelcast. Glad you out there.

    Doing some touring of the TBN-Pentecostal-phenomenon. Oy vey!

    Tangentially to several other issues in this televised and globalized phenomenon, taking a tour through John Nevin on Finney’s “Anxious Bench”…the EMO-bench (emotionalism) which made no small contribution to revivalism, incompetent doctrine, worship and piety. “Quackery,” a forceful word used by Nevin, in his work…free and downloadable at:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=33IWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA48&dq=nevin+anxious+bench&output=text#c_top

    Nevin warms to his topic this way:

    “Quackery consists in pretension to an inward virtue or power, which is not possessed in fact, on the ground of a mere show of the strength which such power or virtue is supposed to include. The self-styled physician, who without any knowledge of the human frame, undertakes to cure diseases by a sovereign panacea, in the shape of fluid, powder, or pill, is a quack ; and there is no doubt abundance of quackery in the medical profession, under more professional forms, where practice is conducted without any true professional insight and power. Such practice may at times seem eminently successful, and yet it is quackery notwithstanding. The same false show of power may, of course, come into view in every department of life. It makes up in fact a large part of the action and business of the world. Quack lawyers, quack statesmen, quack scholars, quack teachers, quack gentlemen, quacks in a word of every name and shape, meet us plentifully in every direction. We need not be surprised then to find the evil fully at home also in the sphere of religion. Indeed it might seem to be more at home here, than any where else. Here especially the heart of man, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” has shown itself most ingenious in all ages, in substituting the shadow for the reality, the form for the substance, the outward for the inward. The religion of the world has always been, for the most part, arrant quackery. Paganism can exist under no other form. The mummery of Rome, as aping powers of a higher order, is the most stupendous system of quackery the world has ever witnessed. But quackery in the Church, is not confined of course to Rome. Christianity, in its very nature, must ever act on the corrupt nature of man as a powerful stimulus to the evil. No system embraces such powers, inward, deep and everlasting. These, man would fain appropriate and make his own, in an external way, without relinquishing himself, and entering soul and body that sphere of the Spirit, in which alone they can be understood and felt. So Simon Magus dreamed of purchasing the gift of God, and clothing himself with it in the way of outward possession. He was a quack; the prototype and prince of evangelical quacks. The second shows us the whole Christian world brilliantly illuminated with rival systems of quackery, under the name of Gnosticism, which for a time seemed to darken the sun of truth itself by their false but powerful glare. Afterwards, under a less idealistic garb, the evil fairly enthroned itself in the Church. The Reformation was the resurrection of the Truth once more, in its genuine and original life. Luther was no quack. But Protestantism itself soon had its quacks again, in plentiful profusion, and has them all the world over at the present day. Christianity, as of old, serves to call the false spirit continually into action. Some whole sects stand only in the element of quackery. And among all sects, it is easy to find the same element to some extent actively at work; sometimes under one form, and sometimes under another ; but always exalting, the outward at the cost of the inward, and promising in the power of the flesh what can never be accomplished except in the power of the spirit.”

    “Quack, Quack” and I don’t mean ducks.

  7. Thank you for your insights. This is a subject that I have been trying to untangle for several years. It is easy when you are not involved in a more emotionally-driven church (such as a charismatic church) to objectively analyze whether the overall thrust of the organization is Scriptural. From the inside things are a little more nuanced. If God appears to be working through changed lives or supernatural manifestations, such as “prophecies” that specifically come true, and if the members appear to have a Christian walk, then do not these factors seem to indicate that God in some ways accepts the theological direction of the church? How much of the emotional aspect of the worship is simply cultural? And is neither here nor there. Do we all not know at least one person who is an emotionally oriented Christian, so-to-speak, who we feel is as “Christian” are ourselves? Are they all misled?

    • Hi Janet,

      Good questions. I’ve been such (emotionally charged, charismatic, and pentecostal) settings so I have an idea of what you’re describing. What I’ve learned is that what is passed off or claimed as Apostolic isn’t. The claim only works because people either downplay what happened to or through the Apostles or they exaggerate what happens to us now or they re-describe what are ordinary phenomena to make them seem apostolic or extraordinary.

      I don’t doubt that God “works” through everything. I’m not being facetious but let me use a stark example: if a tree falls on someone, God ordained it to happen. It’s a very difficult providence and we naturally wonder why that would be but we cannot doubt God’s perfect wisdom and justice. Still, God works through that episode. Perhaps someone comes to faith because of it or some other remarkable thing happens because of it. The fact that God, in his providence, works through something isn’t a good test of how we should behave. We couldn’t justify not trimming the tree because God worked through it so it was well that it fell down. If, relative to human responsibility, it was the case that the tree should have been trimmed then the property owner is liable. The point here is that we cannot try to interpret providence. We don’t know why God does what he does except to say that he glorifies himself.

      Our business (Deut 29:29) is not to try to outguess God but to do as he says. The question then is not what we think God is or isn’t doing (which is a highly subjective judgment) but rather what God has said. Has he said that we should seek ecstatic experiences or define worship as ecstasy?

      As I tried to point out in the broadcast, our conception of what counts as “worship” (when defined as ecstasy) is really the product of about 200 years of Anabaptist influence on American religion. it’s not Apostolic or Biblical at all.

      I was around for the “Kansas City Prophets” episode (I was pastoring a church in KC, MO then) and I saw the highly subjective way that “prophecies” can be interpreted in order to be said to be “fulfilled.” The vague character of such “prophecies” has also been noted for a while. I saw people quoting “prophecies” from a given time and place as if they were God’s Word. That’s a truly serious mistake. God isn’t adding to his Word. The Spirit is not giving new revelations. The Spirit reveals Christ. The Spirit illumines his Word, but he is not giving new revelations. I realize that it’s exciting to think that one is part of an ongoing pattern of revelation but it denigrates Scripture (sola scriptura) and leads Christians away from Christ and his finished work, away from the completed and perfect Word of God. That’s not edifying, however exciting it may be.

      Most of the emotionally-charged worship that people credit as Apostolic is really just an expression of culture and generic human religious impulse. There’s nothing wrong with emotion per se but the historical truth is that what people call “tongues” today, for example, has occurred throughout history is most world religions. There is a Muslim somewhere right now doing what people call “tongues.” Does that make him an Apostolic Christian? No, not at all! Rolling on the floor (i.e., being slain in the Spirit) has nothing to do with faith, hope, and love, but it has everything to do with the QIRE or the need for ecstasy.

      Sure, people are confused about these things. That doesn’t mean that a Christian who is so confused isn’t a Christian. This is an area where a good number of American and British and European and African Christians need to grow up. I was there. I understand the power of these experiences. I understand the power of defining the faith via emotion but it’s a cul-de-sac. It has not much to do with Scripture and Christlikeness nor is it how God wants to be worshiped.

      We need to meditate on Deut 29:29. The hidden things belong to God. The revealed things belong to us and to our children. We need to give ourselves over to what God has given to us in his Word — not to those things he hasn’t given but that we think he should have done.

      Thanks for listening.

  8. Dr. Clark:

    The research continues on my end. You gracious and kind response above is noted and pastoral. Well done.

    On the other hand, here’s my developing conclusion. It may be viewed by some as unkind, ungracious and unpastoral. Here it is.

    Pentecostals and charismatics, thinking themselves “Spirit-filled, are the reverse with respect to “tongues,” inter alia. Tactically, I confine the following comment to Pentecostal and charismatic leaders. They, the leaders, are opposing, resisting and rebelling against to the Triune God. They are rebellious, obstinate, and blind. They are to be identified as such, marked, noted and stiffly rebuked where opportunity is afforded…as rebels.

    It’s a hardline I take. It is “what it is.” They are “rebels.”

    Any in those contexts need to immediately stand down and remove themselves from the rebelliousness.

    The research goes on.

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