Should We Embrace Emotion in Worship?

I don’t really remember seeing anyone even raise their hands in worship until middle school. It wasn’t until I graduated out of Vacation Bible School and moved into the teen tent at camp one summer that I finally saw emotion exhibited in the church. As the teen tent began to sing, I was confused to see people raise their hands and belt out notes as loud as they could.

What were they doing? And why were they doing it? I eventually joined with them to find out and was quickly overwhelmed with both emotion and embarrassment. Breaking this emotional wall was so powerful that I then began to engage in all the other things people were doing: raising my hands, closing my eyes, kneeling, clapping along, even getting a little bit of a dance on. That summer became what was probably the first mountaintop experience of my life.

The fire in me grew as new retreats and giant conferences brought about new mountaintop experiences. I wasn’t entirely sure what the Holy Spirit felt like, but it seemed like I was feeling him when I expressed my love for him physically—and I loved it.

But then one day, a pastor questioned a bunch of us about what it was we were really feeling. Was it really God we were coming in contact with or were we just being swept up in emotion? This question, along with some other drama in my life, ruined me for years. As the question sank in I soon found that I couldn’t even raise my hands in worship anymore. I couldn’t focus on God because I was too busy analyzing myself. Am I just just trying to look spiritual to everyone else when I do this? Am I really experiencing God or are these tingles just my body responding to these acts? Is it wrong to have emotion in worship? Is it wrong to react physically like I’ve been doing?

I was ruined. I started overanalyzing every single emotion that came my way in worship. My joy turned into confusion and anxiety.

I was battling the enlightenment period. Everything became intellectual, scientific and rational. My engagement with the Holy Spirit was left to science. Soon I didn’t care if it really had just been my body reacting to physical movement in worship—I wanted my joy back! I wanted to be able to lead others in worship from the stage without wondering if I was authentic or not the whole time.

John Wesley had a similar fight back in his time. As people heard about the odd outdoor services he held and the things that happened in them, they decided to go check it out. They were in for quite a surprise, because these Methodists were being pushed to the ground by God and convulsing around on the floor.

Just as these kinds of acts of the Spirit offend people now, so it did back then. Many outsiders didn’t believe God had anything to do with any of this and that these Methodists were crazy or psychotic. But even some of these outsiders were eventually convinced. Wesley writes in his journal:

We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came: among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘“strong cries and tears.” He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.

A few days later, a Quaker in attendance at one of Wesley’s meetings, was growing angry with the craziness he saw going on around him. Wesley describes him as, “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” God personally settled the debate for this Quaker by knocking him down to the ground like he had done to so many others in Wesley’s ministry.

Wesley could have easily been accused of stirring up people’s emotions just as people still accuse the church of doing today. But that wasn’t what was going on. He was bringing people into the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit and letting God do whatever he wanted with them.

At my time of struggling with emotion in worship, I didn’t know any of Wesley’s experiences. I didn’t know the debate between emotion and spirituality had been around for so long. And I also didn’t know what to do.

So eventually, I just turned my brain off. And it worked! Yes, surely there had been times in worship where I was responding to emotion—but surely there had been times where I was also responding to God. I decided that  the ambiguity was okay. Having emotions and being the way God made me was much better than trying to analyze it all and live life as an unemotional Vulcan. It was incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to find joy when I was in a state of constantly questioning my emotions, so I stopped. Finding myself mostly free from this torment, I was able to engage in worship again.

Sometimes I respond to emotion, sometimes I respond to God. Sometimes God will give me emotion to respond to and sometimes I’ll be caught up in the way I was made. And I’m okay with that. I’ve learned to discern these experiences, not by overanalyzing them, but by allowing them to come. Joy and other emotions can hardly be analyzed. They must be felt. For what are emotions if they aren’t felt?

This is an adapted excerpt from my new book, “A Taste of Jesus.” Grab the Kindle version for $10 or a physical copy for $20.

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Spirit Christology

Introduction

The doctrine of Christology seems to have been overlooked in most of the church today, which is somewhat odd considering the fact that the Christian faith is based off of the story of Jesus Christ and who He is. For this reason, one might think the church would search to have a greater understanding of the character of Jesus, but throughout the years most Christians have simply accepted the fact that Jesus is both God and man and have not looked to find a greater depth to this duality.

This is probably due to the fear that an imbalance on either side of Jesus’ two-dimensional being would bring about heresy. After all, if we focus too much on Jesus’ humanity, He may seem no different than you and therefore could not bring us salvation. On the other side of the spectrum, if we focus on Jesus solely as God, we lose the very humanity that Jesus limited Himself to and may potentially believe His teachings as impossible.

Since this doctrine bends and breaks on an overemphasis of either side, we will look at it through the trusted lenses of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Together, these aspects make what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is a method that will help us balance our understanding on this doctrine. Again, since our entire faith is based off of Jesus, it is important to make sure we address this issue delicately.

Scripture

There are very many verses in the Bible that emphasize the fact that Jesus took the form of man (Ph. 2:7), which is a bit startling to some since most Christians tend to focus on Jesus as God. But if we really pay attention, we will actually find these verses all over the place. We just tend to miss them simply because they are so human in nature.

For example, we know that Jesus (though He was immaculately conceived), had parents (Mt. 1-2; Lk. 1-2) whom He obeyed (Lk. 2:51). We also know that He had siblings (Mt. 12:46-47, 13:55; Mk 3:31-32, 6:3) and friends (Jn. 2:2). And though we do not know much about His childhood, we do know that He grew and that He learned (Lk. 2:40). And like any kid, He even made His parents nervous by running off (Lk. 2:42-50).

Jesus, in His humanity, also took part in society by working a job (Mk. 6:3) and paying taxes (Mk. 12:13-17). On top of that, He also celebrated holidays and went to the synagogue (Lk. 2:41). He even saw a side of society that most western Christians today would never expect to see, when He was arrested and taken to court (Mt. 26; Mk. 14; Lk. 22).

All of these things are proof that Jesus was habitually and customarily human, but there are still more attributes to Christ that let us see His humanity even more. Emotions, for example, greatly showed the mortality of Jesus. We can see in Scripture that He experienced the happiness of love (Mk. 10:21; Jn. 11:26), and that He also got angry (Jn. 2:13-16; Mk. 11:15-17), frustrated (Mk. 4:40; 9:19), and troubled in soul (Jn. 12:27) and spirit (Jn. 13:21). He even endured times of great sadness and cried (Jn. 11:33-35). The emotional pain of Christ grew even deeper towards His crucifixion. He was incredibly overwhelmed about His coming death (Mt. 26:38; Heb. 5:7), mocked and insulted (Mk. 15:16-20, 29-32), and in every Gospel He was rejected, denied, betrayed, and abandoned—He even felt abandoned by God (Mk.15:34)! Outside of all these things, He was, like all humans, tempted (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:13).

And incase the humanity of Jesus is still not clear through these attributes, we should also mention that Jesus was connected to His physical body just as any other man or woman. He endured times of weariness (Jn. 4:6) and slept (Mk. 4:38) and was both thirsty (Jn. 4:7; 19:28) and hungry (Mt. 4:2) and ate food (Jn. 21:9, 13). And in the end, His mortality was especially shown by the fact that He bled (Lk. 22:44; Jn. 19:34) and died (Lk. 23:46).

I bring all of these things up because I believe that if we are truly going to understand the Christology of Jesus, we need to fully wrap our minds around the humanity that the Messiah restrained Himself to. But if we leave our study of Christ at what we have come to learn so far, we will be left with not just an incomplete picture of Jesus, but a blasphemous one. For while Jesus did “empty Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men,” (Ph. 2:7) He still “existed in the form of God” (Ph. 2:6).

This is a riddle to the human mind. How can one person be both God and man? Due to our confusion we are much more apt to just focus on one aspect of God rather than both, but again, doing so leaves our understanding of Christ incomplete. Whether we can fully comprehend it or not, Jesus is both the Son of God and man (Mt. 16:13-17). But considering how much time we have spent on the humanity of Jesus, let us make sure we fully understand that this does not make Him any less God.

We mentioned earlier that Jesus was immaculately conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18, 20; Lk. 1:34-35) as prophesied in the Old Testament (Is. 7:13-14). It should also be noted that Jesus existed even before His birth here on earth (Jn. 1:1), which makes His divinity all the more clear. These are obviously not human attributes.

The authority that Jesus moved in was not that of any human either. He made wild statements that would easily anger anyone who did not believe that He was the Messiah. But since He was the Messiah, He was given authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:5-7), grant eternal life (Jn. 11:25-26), and speak with the authority of God like He did all throughout the gospels in general. It was also Christ who asked God to send us the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16; 15:26; 16:7; Ac. 2:33).

Outside of these aspects, the end of Jesus’ life was just as divine as the start of it, because He managed to live a sinless life (1 Jn. 3:5; Heb. 4:15; 9:14), which we humans know to be impossible in our fallen state. Not only did He keep this sinless status up to the time of His death, but He also denied death itself and was resurrected (Mt. 28:7; Mk. 16:6; Lk. 24:6; Jn 20:9; Ro. 1:4; Ro. 6:9; Ph. 3:10; 1 Pt. 1:3). And incase resurrection was not enough to make His divinity clear, He then went on to ascend into Heaven (Lk. 24:51; Ac. 1:9; 2:32-33).

Tradition

We Christians also hold to a confusing doctrine that affirms the fact that Jesus was God. This doctrine, of course, is none other than that of the Trinity—the belief that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God in three persons. While there may not actually be a verse in the Bible that mentions the Trinity, there are plenty of verses that point towards this belief and believers have affirmed it true for centuries upon centuries. And with so many verses including Jesus as a part of the Trinity (Mt. 28:19; 2 Co. 13:14; 1 Co. 12:4-6; Ga. 4:6; Ep. 2:20-22; 2 Ts. 2:13-14; Ti. 3:4-6; 1 Pt. 1:2), we can only conclude that Jesus was in fact God. Therefore, we worship Jesus just as believers and heavenly creatures did in the Bible (Mt. 2:2; Jn. 9:38; Lk 24:52 Rv. 5:12-13; 19:10; Phil. 2:9-11; Hb. 1:6).

While very few evangelicals would disagree with the doctrine of the Trinity, there are present day arguments as to how much divinity Jesus had. This debate is fairly recent, as it had not really been thought over too much in the past. On one side of the issue, you have the classical view, which most Christians have grown up believing. Gregory A. Boyd sums up this view quite nicely in his book Across the Spectrum:

Though it took nearly four centuries to iron out the details (at Chalcedon), the orthodox church has always interpreted Scripture as teaching that Jesus Christ was and is fully God as well as fully human. For most theologians and laypeople throughout history, this meant that Jesus exercised the full range of divine and human attributes. Though theologians have worked this out in many different ways, most have affirmed that Jesus was at one and the same time omnipresent (as God) yet spatially located (as human), omnipotent (as God) yet limited in power (as human), and omniscient (as God) yet limited in knowledge (as human). Jesus is one person, not two, but he has two natures, not one. The church has always admitted that this teaching constitutes a profound mystery, but it has always denied that it constitutes a contradiction (Kindle, 1568-1584).

Despite the obvious contradiction that Boyd points out, this still tends to be the belief of most people today. Most seem too afraid to make an argument that Jesus could be any different because it would almost seem to lessen His divinity, which could put someone in a potential position to say that Jesus was not God. Instead, people tend to stick to traditional beliefs and not challenge their confusion on the subject. Others have simply been taught this way since they were born and have never really seen a need to question it. After all, our belief in the Trinity is just as confusing and in the end, it seems as though we just need to accept parts of Christianity on faith.

On the other end of the Christological debate is the kenotic view. This understanding of Christ has different levels of belief, but it essentially finds its basis in Philippians 2:5-8. The Greek word “kenosis” is used in this passage and it means emptied. Within context, it basically states that Jesus “emptied Himself.” Now it does become a question as to what exactly Jesus emptied Himself of, but the kenotic understanding does seem to have good Biblical grounding in this passage. Lucien J. Richard even makes this emptying sound Godly rather than blasphemous when pointing out, “What is called emptying is really fulfilling, kenosis is actually plerosis which means that the human limitations of Jesus are seen as a positive expression of his divinity rather than a curtailment of it” (104).

At its worst, the kenotic belief has potential to become a product of the Enlightenment and turn Jesus into a completely normal man whose miracles can be explained away rationally and metaphorically. After all, if one believes that Jesus relinquished His status as God in order to become human, then Jesus would not be able to do miracles, right?

Well there is yet another Christological belief known as Spirit Christology that says differently. Those who take this approach to Scripture would agree with the kenotic idea that Jesus laid down His divinity to become fully human, but would add in a focus on the Holy Spirit. In this understanding, Jesus operated completely at the will of the Spirit, which He was filled with (Mt. 3:16; Lk. 3:22). Jürgen Moltmann explains it this way:

The continuing presence of the Spirit in Jesus is the true beginning of the kingdom of God, and of the new creation in history. That is why in this power Jesus drives out demons, heals the sick and restores spoiled creation. This presence of the Spirit is the authority behind his proclamation. The spirit gives it the power of conviction, and the Spirit causes the proclamation to be accepted in faith… The divine Spirit who indwells Jesus, initiates and makes possible the relationship of the Father to the Son, and of the Son to the Father (92).

These are three of the main understandings of Christology. There are many other theories that land in between each of these, but it seems that altogether, most Christians have not looked beyond the contradictory classical view. For this reason, many Christians have perhaps held more tightly to tradition on this doctrine than they have on others.

Reason

At first glance, the Christological doctrine seems rather difficult to sort out reasonably—especially if we hold to the classical debate. After all, if our best explanation of Christ’s duality is that He can operate out of His humanity or divinity at any given time, we are more or less left with a doctrine of randomness rather than a methodical or reasonable doctrine.

The kenotic doctrine on the other hand, has more of an appeal to reason. Though the kenotic doctrine may have potential to go too far, at its core it is quite reasonable. It maintains the essential Christian belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully man and proves it logically. But if Jesus’ miracles just become metaphors, then I believe we have abused Scripture.

That is to say that the entire Bible is a book of miracles and phenomena and for that reason it is not illogical or unreasonable to expect such supernatural miracles from Jesus. After all, some of the craziest things in the Bible happened before His time on earth. Also, the very thought of God is a supernatural one, so why should we reasonably think that a supernatural God is restrained to the natural world which He built? And so instead of spending hours upon hours of time in attempts to disprove miracles, how about we at least consider the idea that miracles are a reasonable part of the Christian faith.

If we are willing to accept this, then we should find the most reasonable explanation of who Christ is in the understanding of Spirit Christology. If God has emptied Himself so that He may become human and we believe miracles to be reasonable, then we are left with the question as to how Jesus performed them, which is answered very well by the fact that He was filled with the Holy Spirit.

After all, typically when you saw mention of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, something very odd or supernatural would happen. Whether it caused mass numbers of people to prophesy (Num. 11:25; 1 Sam. 19:20-21), strip down (1 Sam. 19:23-24), or have supernatural strength (Judges 14:6), the Holy Spirit had always been doing odd things.

Experience

So let us say for a moment that we now see Spirit Christology as rational. Well here is a question then: why is the Spirit not doing the kinds of miracles Jesus did, today? After all, if every Christian has the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17), then why can we not do such miracles?

If you are asking these questions, then you are probably coming out of the same background that most evangelical Christians have come out of. The experience you have had so far has taught you that God does miracles on very rare occasions and that they are usually performed at the hands of doctors (hands which are, of course, “guided by the Spirit”). This is more of an enlightened way of thinking and those who live this way have typically not been taught that they have any power to exercise through the Holy Spirit. I myself lived in these shoes for almost my entire life thus far.

But over the past few years I have come to find in my own experience that there are believers out there who live in the power that God has given them. I have seen these people exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit—the same gifts that Jesus Himself exercised! I have seen people healed and watched many different supernatural phenomena happen. I have also heard prophecy, words of knowledge, and people speak in tongues. I’ve even experienced some of these gifts first hand.

Many do not have such an experience and have therefore found little reason to believe that the Spirit has any supernatural power in a believer’s life. However, if you begin to search for these things and actually find them, you will be faced with the decision as to what to do with it. And if you do come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is at work and doing supernatural things in the world, you may find your Christological understanding of Jesus to be much more important than it once was, as His power becomes your own.

My Christological Understanding

Due to the experiences I have had with the supernatural, I am especially interested in Christology. After all, the gifts I’ve seen fellow Christians practice seem an awful lot like those that Jesus practiced. But obviously, I know that my fellow Christians are not the Messiah, nor are they God incarnate. So then how are they moving in the same power as Jesus? What is the connection?

Though I have probably made it fairly clear as to what I believe, let me come right out and say it: I believe in Spirit Christology. In other words, I believe that the supernatural power that Jesus operated in, originated from the Holy Spirit that rested upon Him (Mt. 3:16; Mk. 1:10; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:32), and not from His divinity since He emptied Himself of it in order to become fully human (Ph. 2:7). This Spirit that Jesus has is the same Helper that Jesus sent to His disciples (Jn. 14:16, 26; 16:7). Or, “In the language of [Matthias] Scheeben and Pius XII, the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son anoints the human soul of Christ with the ointment of divinity… In other words, it is the overflow of the Spirit in Christ… that is the predicate for the gift of the Spirit to believers” (Colle, 77).

This is also the same Spirit that Paul attributes supernatural gifts to, such as words of knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues and their interpretation (1 Cor. 12:4-11). So already we see that the Holy Spirit is capable of doing the things that Jesus did.

If we look, we will see that Jesus used words of knowledge quite often. What I mean by “words of knowledge,” is that Jesus knew things that He could not have known in His humanity. Nathanael, for example, became a disciple simply because Jesus was able to identify him by name and point out that he had been sitting under a tree earlier (Jn. 1:47-50). Jesus had never met Nathanael before this time and so we realize that He knew these things supernaturally. He did something similar with the woman at the well. Though having just met her, he explained to her that she had gone through five husbands and that the man she was currently with was not her husband (Jn. 4:16-18).

After Jesus pointed this out, the woman perceived Him to be a prophet (Jn. 4:19). Not too many verses later Jesus is already prophesying about what the future of what worshipping God would look like (Jn. 4:21-23). And that’s just one example of Jesus prophesying. He prophesies time and time again while teaching. He even prophesies about His return (Lk. 21:25-36), which is foresight so significantly far into the future that we still wait to see it two thousand years later.

Jesus was also quite familiar with miracles. Early on in His ministry, He turned water into wine (Jn. 2:3-11). Later He walked on water (Mk. 6:48-50) and on more than one occasion, He multiplied small amounts of bread and fish so that giant crowds could share it together (Mk. 6:41-44; 8:6-9). Many would probably draw the line here and say that these miracles were things that only Jesus could do because He was God. However, I believe that when Paul refers to miracles, He is speaking of crazy phenomena such as these things. In today’s mindset we tend to think of miracles as people getting healed, and while such a thing is a miracle, Paul mentions healing separately from miracles when listing the gifts of the Spirit. Furthermore, if we want to assign the miracles Jesus did to God-side of Jesus, than we would also be pressured to say that Elijah was part God. After all, that prophet caused a bowl of flour and a jar of oil to be supernaturally filled (1 Ki. 17:14-16) time and time again, just as Jesus had done with the fish and bread.

We might also think that things like resurrection can only come from Jesus because He is God. But then if we look at Elijah’s life again, we can see that the prophet prayed for resurrection and saw a little boy come back to life (1 Ki. 17:17-24). We know that the Holy Spirit is capable of doing such things because of the gifts Paul ascribes to Him and so we see here the work of God through His Spirit. We also see another case of resurrection when a dead man fell on to Elisha’s bones (2 Ki. 13:21). Now this is a very curious passage, but if we attribute the Holy Spirit with the power of healing and resurrection, and combine this with the fact that Jesus often touched those whom He healed, we can see the Holy Spirit even at work in Elisha’s bones.

We could go on and on about all of the supernatural things that Jesus did, but I believe that in the end we can attribute much of His supernatural abilities to His cooperation with the Holy Spirit. After all, if He allowed Himself to do these things out of His dual nature, why then did He need to fast for forty days (Mt. 4:2) and pray until He sweat drops of blood (Lk. 22:44)? Surely He didn’t do these things for the sole purpose of setting an example of what Christianity should look like (granted, that may have been part of it).

So if we believe all of this, then the question becomes: how was Jesus any different from the potential any Christian today could achieve through the power of the Spirit? The fact that this question alone could almost derail our faith shows that we have connected Jesus’ dual nature all to closely with His supernatural ways. The fact that we too can do these miracles by the power of the Spirit does not make Jesus any less God, because there is nothing we could ever do to live an entirely sinless life or to take away the sins of the world. These two characteristics of Jesus are entirely God. There are also many other attributes that made Jesus God, as mentioned much earlier in this paper.

Spirit Christology is not simple. It takes a lot of discussion and sorting through to truly understand. It causes us to ask a lot of hard questions and at times find some difficult answers. But perhaps the reason it’s so hard to comprehend is because of the amount of faith it takes to believe. After all, if Jesus was able to do the things He did because the Holy Spirit was upon Him, and we as Christians have that same Spirit, then that means that we should be able to mirror Jesus in impossible ways, right? Sometimes that takes more faith than we are willing to possess and for that reason, we write simpler doctrine that does not make us uncomfortable.

Works Cited

Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. Kindle.

Del, Colle Ralph. Christ and the Spirit: Spirit-christology in Trinitarian Perspective. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. Print.

Richard, Lucien. A Kenotic Christology: in the Humanity of Jesus the Christ, the Compassion of Our God. Washington, D.C.: University of America, 1982. Print.

The Importance of Experience

Out of the four components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, experience would probably have to be the hardest source of theology to sort out. This is simply because every single person in the entire world has their own experience. We have one Scripture, debates about tradition, opinionated reasoning, but a million experiences, each unique in their own way. And on top of that, we continually endure new experiences, which changes our outlook on life and could potentially remove us from those whom our ideology was once compatible with.

This is not to downplay the importance of experience whatsoever. In fact, we have no choice but to approach life through our own experiences. It’s impossible to read Scripture without incorporating our own life into it or even to be truly affected by Scripture without experiencing it. Tradition continues over time typically because it gave someone some sort of experience, and we can hardly reason about anything without incorporating our own experiences into our debate. It is not only essential to use experience in our faith, but it’s impossible to do otherwise despite what some might say.

This is where the problem comes in. The hundreds of different experiences we have can cause us to disagree with the legitimacy of the experiences of others. If we are not open to at least considering their experiences (no matter how insane or unique they may sound), we will most likely find ourselves creating God in the image of our own experience and the experiences of those who have lived a life similar to our own.

Actually, due to the fact that America seems to be processing individualistic Christianity, we may rarely even find ourselves looking to agree with others on experience anymore. “Why do we need them anyway?” we ask ignorantly. “After all, God looks and acts exactly like me.”

Though we won’t say this out loud, it is how many of us think. But when we allow ourselves to experience God more fully rather than judge experiences from a distance, we may find ourselves changing in opinion. Darren Wilson, for example, had this opinion of God before he discovered that God still did miracles today: “There was one thing I was pretty sure of: no matter what God did, He was very, very normal. And He always made perfect sense.”

The issue of experience is especially seen in the fight between evangelicals and charismatics. At the extreme of evangelicalism, we write experience off as emotionalism or enthusiasm. Therefore, if we’re caught crying or reacting to a worship service in any way, we’re told that we are doing so because the music is really good or the message was well written—not because we’re experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, many evangelicals write charismatics off as insane.

Emotions are high in charismatic circles and their experiences of God are weird, confusing, and at times, naturally impossible. If they shake on the floor under the power of God, evangelicals write them off as insane. If they cast a demon out of a Christian and evangelicals call them heretics. If they see sick people get healed, evangelicals will even resort to calling them demonic.

So what do we do with all of this? Is it possible for us to experience an evangelical-charismatic lifestyle or do we have to choose one or the other? Well, it is in my opinion (and experience) that we can indeed live in a blend of the two. In fact, I’d even say that Christianity at its maximum potential is found between the lines of the two and not on one side or the other.

The problem with charismatics is that because of their experiences, they are not very reasonable people. And let’s face it, if you grew up in a church where people were prophesying, healing the sick, doing miracles, speaking in tongues, (which are all gifts of the Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) you probably wouldn’t care too much about trying to be reasonable. After all, this kind of phenomena denies the natural world and is fairly difficult to explain rationally. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to explain, but difficult. I myself have experienced (or at least seen) these gifts take place in church services and because of this, I affirm them to be true. I would even take a step further and affirm sightings I haven’t seen, such as manna appearing in Bibles, gemstones popping up on the floor, rain pouring down inside of churches, and even gold teeth appearing in people’s mouths.

And it even gets crazier! So crazy that I hardly even want to mention these phenomena, because it makes me look completely insane for considering their validity! But, these sightings have been documented throughout time and visited in John Crowder’s book, The Ecstasy of Loving God. In his book, Crowder mentions past and current phenomena that have taken place within Christian circles. These phenomena include levitation, glowing faces, trances, invisibility, walking through walls, sleep-preaching, prolonged fasting, and much more.

Do I know why God does all of these things? No, I don’t. But I don’t always need a firm reason to believe in signs and wonders because I believe in a supernatural God who can do supernatural things. That is not to say that I don’t search for understanding in these things, but rather that I am capable of believing despite my inability to fully understand.

I do, however, need to borrow the reason and even a little bit of the skepticism that evangelicals have. Since charismatics have been so exposed to God’s signs and wonders, they have at times become emotionalists and enthusiasts. This is not always the case, but at times charismatics do on occasion push themselves so hard to feel a move of God that they eventually find themselves either faking it or fooling themselves into thinking that they are experiencing Him. This is why a little bit of skepticism is good to have so that you can discern what is and isn’t of God.

It also becomes dangerous when you live off of experience alone, which both charismatics and evangelicals are capable of doing. In charismatic circles, if you ignore Scripture, reason, and tradition and focus primarily on experience (which has been known to happen), you will find yourself not only preaching weak messages, but even bordering blasphemy at times. God has given us more than just experience to live off of in our faith, and denying other components will put us in situations where the gospel becomes misrepresented and misunderstood. That is not to say that experience is blasphemous in and of itself, but rather that it has potential to get to that point if it is given an overemphasis. That’s why it comes fourth in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It is given a chance to be screened by Scripture, reason, and tradition so that we can see its legitimacy.

But as I said, evangelicals are capable of doing this as well. In their own reasonable, unemotional way, they can deny charismatic experience and go so far as to attribute Satan with the phenomena that takes place in charismatic churches. Now this is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is identified by Jesus as the unforgivable sin (Mt. 12:22-32; Mk 3:20-29). This turns that accusation into a much bigger deal than evangelicals have made it out to be.

If the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind (Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27), then surely we need to learn how to combine evangelicalism with the charismatic movement. Evangelicals tend to need a little more heart and soul and charismatics tend to need a bit more mind. Now I realize I’m stereotyping a bit here, so I would like to say that there are churches and speakers out there who have learned to blend the two together quite nicely. But for the most part, many of our churches still have a long way to go.

For most of my life I have lived without even knowing what a Pentecostal was and so I know quite well how most evangelicals feel when first discovering the charismatic movement. We ask questions. How do we know these things are from God? Do we have these gifts? Is this just a bunch of hype or is there really something to this? These questions are good to ask so long as we actually search for understanding, but unfortunately, most Christians don’t pursue the questions due to fear, confusion or disbelief.

Altogether the aspect of experience is a difficult one to grasp, but I think that if we’re going to move in the power of Jesus and true Christianity, it is essential that we seek to have experiences in which God empowers and rejuvenates us. Whether we find that experience in the quiet of our room or in the loudness of a conference, we should seek for it with a heart to get closer to God. No matter what side of the experience spectrum we fall on, we all, as Christians, desire some kind of experience with God, don’t we? This is why it seems foolish to me when people advise others not to seek an experience with God.

After all, the Bible is full of stories in which God gives Himself to His people so that they may experience Him. When we refuse the experience of His nearness, we become like Israel who begged Moses to speak instead of God, because they feared that they would die if God spoke (Ex. 20:18-19). While we certainly would be afraid of God making His appearance to us in the same way that He did to Israel, I think many today are dying so much to experience God’s presence and hear His voice that they would be willing to hear Him speak—especially those who have been told not to be emotional, but believe that there has to be something more to this thing we call Christianity.

The experiences of God found in charismatic circles is for everyone, but unfortunately many reject it. This isn’t new at all. In fact, with every revival there has been phenomena and those who rejected it. Author Howard A. Snyder points out that even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed in “healing, miracles, prophecy (in the sense of foretelling), discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues” (95). But since many Christians (even Methodists today) lack experience with these gifts, they create doctrines and scientific reasoning as to why these gifts aren’t experiences of God, even though the phenomena Snyder listed above are all Biblical.

We all seek experiences of God. Whether it’s to know Him better with our soul, our heart, our strength, or with our mind, we as Christians look to experience God in some way. I believe, however, that we will find God most clearly when we seek Him in all of these ways and not in just the aspects we are most comfortable with.

Works Cited

Crowder, John. The Ecstasy of Loving God: Trances, Raptures, and the Supernatural Pleasures of Jesus Christ. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Pub., 2009. Print.

Finger of God. Dir. Darren Wilson. Perf. Darren Wilson. Wunderlust Productions. DVD.

Snyder, Howard A. The Radical Wesley & Patterns for Church Renewal. DownersGrove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980. Print.

John Wesley and the Power of the Spirit

Very few people today are aware that John Wesley was a charismatic who experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in very real and very tangible ways. Most Methodists today are so unaware of this that if they ever experienced the Spirit in the same ways as Wesley did, they would write the experience off as emotion, science, or even as demonic before they ever considered the idea that God was interacting with them. But for Wesley, the Holy Spirit’s power was found not only in experience, but in almost everything related to the Christian faith.

Howard A. Snyder explains that “Wesley’s understanding of the church and Christian experience can be described as charismatic because of the place of the Holy Spirit in his theology and because of his openness to the gifts of the Spirit” (The Divided Flame 57). One will find this statement to be true just by reading Wesley’s journals. He references the Holy Spirit time and time again. Wesley walks so closely with the Spirit, that it seems he cannot be separated from God’s charismatic ways of presenting Himself.

Sadly, many Christians today are offended by the same kind of charismatic works the Holy Spirit did in Wesley’s time. This offense is not in any way new. There were very many people during Wesley’s time that were also offended by the Holy Spirit.

That is not to say that the Holy Spirit’s power in and of itself was offensive, but rather that those who did not believe or understand it were offended by it. That is part of the reason Wesley had a hard time with his opponents. They were people of reason who thought the “power of the Spirit” at these Methodist meetings was actually the power of emotion and in some instances, insanity. Wesley writes about one such situation in his journal:

We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came, among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘strong cries and tears’. He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God (52-3).

This story is enough to baffle many Christians today, but even Wesley himself had experienced similar emotion and physical expression. One particular morning, he found himself in solitude when he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Wesley tried to put this experience into words by writing it down in his journal:

The love of God was shed abroad in my heart, and a flame kindled there, with pains so violent, yet so very ravishing, that my body was almost torn asunder. I loved. The Spirit cried strong in my heart. I sweated. I trembled. I fainted. I sung. I joined my voice with those that excel in strength (26).

This is hardly the weirdest thing that Wesley had seen the Spirit do in His lifetime. Even though he recognized these simple physical expressions (shaking, crying, sweating, fainting, trembling, and singing) to be caused by the Holy Spirit, he had seen in Scripture and in his own life that the Spirit was capable of doing much, much more.

One of the popular acts of the Holy Spirit seen among charismatic meetings today is known as being “slain in the Spirit.” Those who are familiar with this work recognize it when individuals fall to the ground. Once there, they typically enter either a calm state of bliss, or their body is sent into convulsions. Many understand this to be the work of the Spirit, while many others claim it to be the work of insanity. But if we look to Wesley to find an answer, we would see that he believed this to be the power of God.

In fact, in one particular situation, a Quaker was attending one of Wesley’s meetings and was growing angry with the supposed work of the Spirit going on around him. Wesley describes him as “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” God personally settled the debate for this Quaker by slaying Him. When he finally arose from the ground, he stated, “Now I know, thou art a prophet of the Lord” (53). This is an obvious change in mindset for this Quaker, who only moments ago was angry at what he thought to be fraud. God, however, showed him otherwise.

This is not the only time something like this has happened in Wesley’s life. In a similar situation Wesley watched some people convulse more violently than he had ever seen. Wesley prayed that God would not “suffer those who were weak to be offended,” but despite his prayers, one woman was very angry. But then, Wesley documents her having “dropped down, in as violent an agony as the rest,” despite her disposition towards the act. Altogether, at least 26 people endured these violent convulsions during one service on June 15, 1739.

And this is not the only time Wesley references this act of the Spirit. On April 21, of the same year, Wesley documented a man trembling violently and then sinking down to the ground (50). In another situation a “three persons almost at once sunk down as dead” (57). And then, on a wider scale, the Spirit performed this same type of work on New Year’s Day, 1739. It was approximately three in the morning and John and Charles Wesley were in prayer with about sixty other men. Wesley wrote that “the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground” (29).

On April 26, Wesley felt the Spirit urge him to say something he had not planned on saying during one of his sermons. Wesley, certain that this was of the Spirit, obeyed and as a result saw the power of God come on different individuals.

I was sensibly led, without any previous design, to declare strongly and explicitly that God ‘willeth all men to be thus saved’ and to pray that if this were not the truth of God, he would not suffer the blind to go out of the way; but if it were, he would bear witness to his Word. Immediately one and another and another sunk to the earth: they dropped on every side as thunderstruck (51).

Stories similar to these are documented all over Wesley’s journal, as are other works of the Spirit. But as these stories continued, so did the criticism. Many people still did not feel that these supernatural events were of God and so they rejected them completely.

But despite their rejection, John Wesley saw both spiritual and emotional healing come from people’s experience with God as they fell to the ground and convulsed. Many times they would rise to their feet with a true understanding of God’s forgiveness of their sins. Wesley also was privileged to see actual physical healing happen. Wesley, it seems, “was convinced that the Great Physician is committed to the ultimate healing of both body and soul, and that some degree of physical recovery is available even in this life—if we allow it to begin” (Maddox 147).

In one such case of physical healing, a woman by the name of Ann Calcut “had been speechless for sometime.” Wesley and some others began to pray for this woman and just about as soon as they had started, her speech returned to her. She was apparently healed of some other problems too, since Wesley speaks of a fever leaving her and that “in a few days she arose and walked, glorifying God” (258).

In another story, a middle-aged woman was “restored to a sound mind.” Many were able to testify that only a few days earlier she was “really distracted, and as such tied down in her bed” (100). But Wesley believed the power of the Spirit to be greater than the pain and sickness of the world, and so he prayed for this woman regardless of what many saw as a dead end. God heard the prayers of Wesley and others and He restored the woman to health.

Even Wesley himself had experienced physical healing! On May 10, 1741, Wesley had become quite sick. He had pain in his head as well as his back, a fever, and a cough that was so great that he could hardly speak. But then a miracle happened to Wesley as he “called on Jesus aloud.” As he spoke, his pain disappeared, his fever left, and his strength returned. And on top of that, he felt no weakness or pain for many weeks after (194).

But perhaps one of the craziest healing miracles Wesley ever saw was at the deathbed of Mr. Meyrick, on December 20, 1742. A doctor had told Wesley that this man was not expected to make it through the night. This word was confirmed when Wesley arrived at Mr. Meyrick’s side:

I went to him, but his pulse was gone. He had been speechless and senseless for some time. A few of us immediately joined in prayer. (I relate the naked fact.) Before we had done his sense and his speech returned (306).

Wesley was obviously impressed by the finger of God upon this situation as he then wrote in his journal, “Now he that will account for this by natural causes has my free leave. But I choose to say, This is the power of God” (306). It was a miracle! God had answered prayers and raised the dead! But this was not the end of the story. Five days later, on Christmas, Mr. Meyrick was expected once again to not make it to the morning. And so, on December 25, Wesley recorded in his journal the continuation of a miracle.

I went up and found them all crying about him, his legs being cold and (as it seemed) dead already. We all kneeled down and called upon God with strong cries and tears. He opened his eyes and called for me. And from that hour he continued to recover his strength, till he was restored to perfect health. (306)

Another work of the Spirit that many Christians today either caution against or do not believe in is that of dreams and visions. But, just as Wesley believed in the Spirit’s power to heal, slay, or simply bring a person to tears, so did he believe in the supernatural power of dreams and visions. We are able to read his opinion on this matter in his journal. There he includes a summary of the letters he wrote to an opponent who had advised him against believing in dreams and visions.

What I have to say touching visions or dreams is this: I know several persons in whom this great change [being free of sin to do the will of God] was wrought, in a dream, or during a strong representation to the eye of their mind, of Christ either on the cross or in glory. This is the fact; let any judge of it as they please (59).

Towards the end of his response to his opponent, Wesley grows stronger in his opinion of the existence of this work of the Spirit:

…God does now, as aforetime, give remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost, even to us and to our children; yea, and that always suddenly, as far as I have known, and often in dreams or in the visions of God. If it be not so, I am found a false witness before God. For these things I do, and by his grace will testify (60).

As we have seen already, the Holy Spirit made Himself known to John Wesley in many ways. But what we have not yet talked about is Wesley’s involvement with the Spirit in liberating demoniacs. Christians have read in their Bible’s about the Spirit’s power to do such a thing, yet many today have not seen anything like it (outside of Hollywood’s representation). But Wesley saw it in his own life many times.

One man, by the name of John Haydon, was reported to have been reading a sermon, when “he changed colour, fell off his chair, and began screaming terribly and beating himself against the ground.” Wesley arrived at the scene only to be accused by the demon as “a deceiver of the people.” The demon pretended to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in hopes to turn people against Wesley, but Wesley fought back. He and all the others there began to pray. Soon, Haydon’s “pangs ceased and both his body and soul were set at liberty” (55).

Sometimes these demonic deliverances did not take too long. For example, it only took about fifteen minutes to deliver one particular woman from “the pangs of death” (94). But other deliverances lasted much longer, such as Wesley’s encounter with the young woman from Kingswood. He describes in his journal not only the physical manifestation of these demons, but he also records what the demons spoke to him (109).

I found her on the bed, two or three persons holding her. It was a terrible sight. Anguish, horror, and despair, above all description, appeared in her pale face. The thousand distortions of her whole body showed how the dogs of hell were gnawing her heart. The shrieks intermixed were scare to be endured. But her stony eyes could not weep. She screamed out, as soon as words could find their way, ‘I am damned, damned; lost forever. Six days ago you might have helped me. But it is past. I am the devil’s now. I have given myself to him. His I am. Him I must serve. With him I must got to hell. I will be his. I will serve him. I will go with him to hell. I cannot be saved. I will not be saved. I must, I will, I will be damned.’ She then began praying the devil (109).

Wesley and the others with him began to sing a hymn that was popular at that time, which was written by John’s brother, Charles. “Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!” they sang, which caused the demoniac to immediately sink down. But then, the demon manifested again, this time even more intensely. Charles joined John in prayer around 9:00 and together they prayed past 11:00. Over two hours were spent on this exorcism alone. These are only two examples of deliverances that John Wesley took part in, but he documented many others in his journals as well.

Perhaps we can even find the Spirit’s work in Wesley’s shift of emotions. Author John White seems to understand these moments to be divine in nature as he reflects on Wesley’s famous experience at Aldersgate, where his heart was strangely warmed.. “Wesley has been accused, and perhaps rightly, of too great a concern with his subjective states. But were those feelings of warmth, of trust and of assurance merely the psychological result of the reading, or were they the results of divine illumination, imparted by the Holy Spirit at that very moment?” (53).

It seems that from day-to-day, Wesley took part in God’s supernatural ways. The Holy Spirit worked through him constantly, whether it was through an exorcism, through a message, through a healing, or through many of the other miracles the Spirit performed. The power of the Spirit was a constant in Wesley’s life. But it is important to note that just because Wesley was charismatic, does not mean that he lived without reason. Snyder points this out in his book The Radical Wesley:

Wesley was a man of reason in an age of rationalism; yet he was roundly charged with enthusiasm or fanaticism because of his stress on experience and his openness to the expression of emotion… He was always clear as to the priority of Scripture, especially from 1738 on, and his experiential emphasis was guarded from pure subjectivism not only by his respect for Scripture but also by his emphasis on the witness of the Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit testifying to and confirming the Word in present experience (71).

If we decide to ignore all of the supernatural encounters found in Wesley’s life or even if we choose to write them off as insanity or mere coincidence, we will find ourselves admiring an incomplete and fictional John Wesley. This revivalist, so it seems, was quite charismatic in his approach to church, because he allowed the Holy Spirit room to work through him not just in the natural, but the supernatural as well. And if Wesley had not done so, it is possible that many would not have been touched by God in the way that they had been.

Works Cited

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville,Tenn.: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

Snyder, Howard A., and Daniel V. Runyon. The Divided Flame: Wesleyans and Charismatic Renewal. Grand Rapids, Mich.: F. Asbury, 1986. Print.

Snyder, Howard A. The Radical Wesley & Patterns for Church Renewal. DownersGrove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1980. Print.

Wesley, John, William Reginald Ward, and Richard P. Heitzenrater. The Works of John Wesley. Vol. 19. Nashville: Abingdon, 1990. Print.

White, John. When the Spirit Comes with Power: Signs & Wonders among God’s People. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988. Print.

Emo Worship

I don’t believe that songs should be based upon emotions, however I can’t help feel that if we are truly worshipping God there would be some kind of emotion there. After all, isn’t worship a form of love and love a form of emotion?

 

I struggled a long time with this. When I was in eighth grade or so I went to an “Acquire the Fire,“ and that event totally brought me to an understanding of what physical worship was. I remember the radical emotion that came with the moment I finally joined my hands in the air with the other youth in the auditorium as well as what it felt like to fall to my knees. The emotion was real, radical, and I believe Godly. I think if the Bride of Christ is going to connect with it’s spouse there would be something more there.

 

My youth group came back from this event knowing what worship looked like and I remember somewhere down this road having the emotion stolen from me. Whether it was because people told me that I was prideful through my worship or if it was people questioning if it was right to feel anything during worship or even a combination of the two, I don’t know. But it seemed like all of the sudden people started putting rules on worship. It quickly became hard to find that state of worship I had known before because I had to question everything I did.

 

And the worst part is, a lot of it stuck with me.

 

It becomes hard to raise a hand when you have to question it. It’s even harder to fall to your knees if there’s no emotion. It just doesn’t feel like worship when rules come into play.

 

I know a lot of people get upset about this whole “emotional“ and “me“ side of worship to contemporary music, but I propose the idea that things really haven’t changed much. I don’t think people mean to be “me“ centered in their music, I think they write their music because of the relationship they have with God. And since God is also Love it only makes sense that emotion is connected. The Psalmists themselves seemed to write in an emotional and relational way. Just check out the beginning to Psalm 4:

—————————————————————————

 1 Answer me when I call to you, 

       O my righteous God. 

       Give me relief from my distress; 

       be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

 

 2 How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? 
      
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? 
      
Selah

 

 3 Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; 
      
the LORD will hear when I call to him.

—————————————————————————

The first verse here is all “me“ centered. 

 

Answer me. Relieve me. Be merciful. Hear me.

 

The third verse here is also somewhat “me“ centered as it implies that the Psalmist is godly, hence God will hear him. Now yes, Psalm 4 also praises God quite a bit, but I think that we do the same thing in contemporary worship music. We relate ourselves into the music because we are in fact emotional beings, designed for an emotional God. 

 

Even some of our favorite hymns like Amazing Grace are me centered. That song for instance is about God but at the same time it’s about us. It’s a relational connection.

 

I almost dare say that anything less than emotion lacks in worship. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that it’s not worship. I just feel that it lacks in real, authentic, genuine worship. Almost like it’s not real you know? If you just got into a new relationship with another person, you don’t dare tell them you love them unless you really mean it. In the same way I feel that we should watch what we’re singing. If we do really mean it there should once again be some emotion there. I imagine apathetic worship stinks to the high heavens. No one wants to hear a fake “I love you.”

 

Now to clarify, I don’t think that emotions should run our worship, nor should “me“ centered songs—that is not what I have been trying to get at here. We can totally get caught up with ourselves if we’re not careful. But I think if we go around telling people that their emotions are false and that their worship is fake we will see apathetic worship begin to emerge from their spirit as they struggle to wonder if their worshipping has been for themselves when perhaps they’ve been the ones who have been right all along. 

 

I’ve been in leadership in music for a long time now and so I’ve carried the burden of judging everything I do during a worship service with it. It hasn’t been easy. To be honest, sometimes I feel as though I’d give anything to know less. But may we carry this burden together and lead others more effectively to a place of God-based, relational and emotional worship—not because we’re obsessed with ourselves, but because we are entirely in love with Jesus Christ.