Ecstasy, Lusts & Lies
Part 3: RELIGIOUS EXCITEMENTS
The Sights, Sounds, and Spectacles of Spurious Spirituality
Ecstasy and Idolatry
On Mars Hill, the Apostle Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers: "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device" (Emphasis mine, Acts 17:29). The word "device" is interesting. The word was formed from the preposition en, meaning in, and a noun thumos, meaning "strong feeling, passion." Literally, we should not liken God to be a graven image carved "in passion by man." Evidently, as evidenced by the Exodus Israelites, Paul viewed that passion is integral to both idolatry and immorality. People feel strongly about their gods. All of which brings us to evaluate the relationship of religious excitements to genuine Christian spirituality.
Excitements can be manufactured. There are mechanisms that can be used to trigger states of self-transcendence. For example, drugs, drumming, and dancing can deliver participants out-of-themselves. These deliverances masquerade to be genuine encounters with the divine. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), a British expatriate who spent his adult life living in Los Angeles, and was obsessed by interests in psychedelics, mysticism, the paranormal, and the occult, once remarked of the power possessed by mechanical means of arousal. He wrote:
. . . all we can safely predict is that, if exposed long enough to the tom-toms and the singing, every one of our philosophers would end by capering and howling with the savages.
As a manner of evangelistic speaking, the philosophers would be "converted"! Theologian Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) observed that,
Blinded men are ever prone to imagine that they have religious feelings, because they have sensuous, animal feelings, in accidental juxtaposition with religious places, words, or sights.
Frequently, I hear persons announce that they are "really passionate" about this or that. What they mean is that they feel quite strongly about a particular issue, subject, or belief. Increasingly, Christians are determining the rightness or wrongness of their belief based upon how passionate it makes them feel. Bypassing revelation and reason, they feel their way to faith. Theirs is a religious epistemology by experience (The word epistemology concerns how we know what we know, and why we believe what we believe.). I think of the person who declared, "I refuse to believe in a God I cannot feel!" As Dabney observed, "People are ever prone to think that they are feeling religiously because they have feelings . . . about religion."
So the pan-evangelical movement has and is continuing to develop spirituality, not based upon the clear teaching of the Word of God, but rather upon manufactured sights, sounds, signs, and sensations that generate religious feelings within them. Theirs has become a faith based upon desires, not doctrine.
The New Testament has much to say about desires and lusts (Greek, epithumia). True, they have their good side. Paul desired to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), and to again see the believers at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:17). But desires also possess a dark side. Often they can lead us spiritually astray. Thus the New Testament employs the word to mean "evil desire" as frequently translated by the word "lust."
Lusts and Lies
Because of the underlying sin nature that is constitutional to our being, our feelings can be and most often are, self-centered, self-indulgent, and self-serving. Perhaps more than any other aspect of our personality, we bend our experiences to be about "us." We indulge that which titillates and pleasures us, but shun activities and ideas which prove painful. After categorizing emotions into four groups of individual emotions--personal taste, remorse, fear or hope, and sympathy--that can be aroused by external stimuli, Dabney comments regarding personal taste:
Now it is most obvious that the movements of taste . . . carry no moral imperative whatever. They have no more power to reform the will than strains of music or odors of flowers. Yet how many souls are deluded into supposing that they love God, duty, and gospel-truth, because these aesthetic sensibilities are stimulated in connection with such topics [i.e., by sights, sounds, smells, and spectacles of spirituality]!
So the New Testament calls such emotional wants "lusts"--"deceitful lusts" (Ephesians 4:22); "foolish and hurtful lusts" (1 Timothy 6:9); "youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22); "worldly lusts" (Titus 2:12); "fleshly lusts" (1 Peter 2:11); "ungodly lusts" (Jude 18); and so on.
Regarding the relationship of lustful excitements to spirituality, Paul warned Timothy, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; (or "lusts," Greek, epithumia) and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
To Tickle the Fickle
Several features of Paul's warning need to be noted. First, the apostle predicted that professing Christians will not endure healthy teaching. Like addicts, they will revel in the unhealthy teachings which make them feel good, the teachings of false teachers who by "speaking out arrogant words . . . entice by fleshly desires (Greek, epithumia), by sensuality (Greek, aselgeiais, 2 Peter 2:18). Note that Peter equates fleshly desires to sensuality.
Second, false teachings find entry for reason of the comfort level they induce in a person's psyche (Compare 2 Timothy 3:6-7.). False teaching resonates within them because it meets needs immediate to them. Regarding the desire to have "their ears tickled," John MacArthur states, "They have an itch to be entertained by teachings that will produce pleasant sensations and leave them with good feelings about themselves." Of such apostates another observes,
They have closed their ears to all that contradicts their own inner emotions, feelings and urges. There is, for them, no fixed point of reference by which to judge truth or error. Their only standard of measure is their own subjective feelings at any given moment. 
Third, given their insatiable desire, they will stockpile -- "they will accumulate for themselves" -- false teachings in their spiritual refrigerators and pantries. Pseudo-believers hunger after heresies, and pay top dollar for what they want to hear (See 2 Peter 2:1-3.).
Fifth, they will turn away from the truth. These spiritual sophisticates will turn their noses up at the preaching of God's Word, and in so doing snub both the Son and the Scriptures (See John 14:6, and 17:17.).
And finally, they will turn aside to myths (fables and fictions). They will forsake "the faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). They will exchange the clear teaching of the Word for an imaginary world of make-believe. Fiction will replace he faith, and stories the Scriptures.
Lusts are the addictive perversion of love. Insatiable, they inevitably leave us unfulfilled and craving more when we indulge them. These addictive feelings are deceptive in spiritual matters.
This indulging of fleshly lusts accounts for why so many churches engage in what Paul Proctor labels evangetainment. Worship is about them, not Him. He writes that, "today's church no longer believes that Jesus is enough--that the Living Word of God can't really compete in a sensory-driven world and that the Holy Spirit needs our help." Thus he continues, "It's not even enough to 'tickle our ears' anymore. Now we need our eyes tickled, our noses tickled, our taste buds tickled and our funny bones tickled . . ." (See 2 Timothy 4:3.).
After questioning whether the rousing revivalism of his day had any impact upon the lives of those involved in it, R.L. Dabney noted that it made,
[N]o difference; they are still excited and 'happified' in meetings; they sing and shout, and sway to and fro with religious feelings. Thus these worthless, sympathetic passions are trusted in as the sure signatures of the Spirit's work.
So how is it that the contemporary church has come to be in such a sensate state?
To be continued. . .
"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." (Romans 6:12-13)
3. W.E. Vine, "Device," An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984) 297. Granted, the word "device" (Greek, enthumesis) is translated as possessing a mentalist meaning (i.e., "thought," NASB; "imagination," NRSV, NAB; "skill," NIV; and "devising," NKJV). But the diverse translations indicate it's not certain how to handle the word. Like the word "desire" (Greek, epithumia), "device" (Greek, enthumesis) is emotional at its base ("wrath," Greek, thumos). Obviously, idolatry can be a passionate experience.
4. "Aldous Huxley on Self-Transcendence," The Psychedelic Library (http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:3ltfJaOmgK4J:www.psychedelic-library.org/loudun.htm+aldous+huxley,+%22tom-toms%22&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us). The quote is taken from the Huxley's book, The Devils of Loudon (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953), the Epilog of which is reproduced in its entirety on this site. Peter Webster summarizes that Huxley "writes here about self-transcendence and the various methods used in its pursuit."
The caution to believing souls is obvious: Self-transcendence is a state of soul that can be mechanically induced, and in their cravings for anything supernatural, many churches employ drumming music to induce corporate states of self-transcendence which the worshipping experientialists receive as a "sign" of real spirituality. All the while however, the self-transcendent ecstasy is but a selfish man-centered experience masquerading itself as the authentic thing.
On the other hand, genuine spirituality of soul in the Bible is characterized by a deep, abiding, and piercing conviction over sin which is not only self-transcendent--the contrite heart understands the being of God's absolute holiness--but also self-immanent--the convicted become acutely conscious of the sin resident within them. As Isaiah the prophets declared, "Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5; Compare Paul's self-confessed state of soul in Romans 7:18-25.). But this is a pierced state of soul drumming music is designed to dull and blunt. After all, church worship is all about "getting all excited" and having "fun," isn't it?
5. In this regard, we note how Rick Warren once remarked that, "A song can touch people in a way a sermon can't. Music can bypass intellectual barriers and take the message straight to the heart. It is a potent tool for evangelism." See "Match the music to the people you want to reach: Three thoughts about music in worship," Pastors.com, Rick Warren's MinistryToolBox, Issue #190, January 19, 2005.
6. Robert L. Dabney, "Instrumental Music in Public Worship," Discussions, Volume V, Edited by J.H. Varner (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1999) 332. As a point of historical note, Dabney's wife was first cousin to the wife of Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863).
7. Robert L. Dabney, "Spurious Religious Excitements," Discussions, Volume III (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1996) 459.
8. Vine, "DESIRE," Expository Dictionary, 289.
9. Robert L. Dabney, "Spurious Religious Excitements," 459.
10. John MacArthur, Author and General Editor, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997) 1880.
11. John Kitchen, The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors (The Woodlands, Texas: Kress Christian Publications, 2009) 436.
12. In this regard, we must note the popularity of the bestselling religious allegory, The Shack.
13. Paul Proctor, "America is not Prepared for What’s Coming," NewsWithViews.com, February 24, 2009 (http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor174.htm).
14. Robert L. Dabney, "Spurious Religious Excitements," 469.