Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Contempogelical"

Pr. Cwirla, a Lutheran, has posted a cogent critique of "happy-clappy worship" on his blog. While the Orthodox can't agree with everything Pr. Cwirla writes in this post, still he makes what I think are some excellent points. So do the commentators, in their replies to the post; read them, too, to get a better balanced perspective. Here is a small excerpt from the post.

Contemporary, Evangelical worship, what I call “Contempogelical” worship, is revival worship, the revival tent come to the stadium, turning the church into a concert venue. The intent is to manipulate the audience (aka congregation) into a certain mood, whether praise frenzy or prayerful somberness. Participation is individualistic - waving hands, rhythmic dancing, simplistic refrains. The focal point is the lead singer of the “praise band”, usually a drop-dead gorgeous female (aka Praise Babe) with a lilting soprano voice wearing a look of virginal innocence combined with a teasing come hither seductiveness. The songs fall into either of two categories - power chord praise songs that extol God in His majesty and glory or pop-ballad love songs, extolling Jesus as lover and friend. Guys put up with the latter category only because they think the Praise Babe is singing to them.

Revival always has a strong sexual component to it. During the “great religious awakenings” of 19th century America, it was noted with some degree of alarm that unwed pregnancies increased dramatically after the revival left town. The predatory boys knew to hang out at the fringes of the revival meetings knowing that the girls were ripe for the picking. It doesn’t take a libido-driven imagination to catch the same sexual undercurrent in a lot of contempogelical worship.


I just wish Rev. Cwirla wouldn't make the word "Greeks" synonymous with "enemies".

:-)

11 comments:

JTKlopcic said...

What else would you expect from churches steeped in "bridal mysticism"?

Emotional worship can serve to move people to spiritual action. It had that effect on me -- I got a spiritual "kick in the pants" that I needed to take my salvation more seriously. But it quickly becomes an addiction. Rather than attending to the stony soil of one's heart, one goes back to the "praise service" for another hit. But it's never enough.

Churches founded on this principle are especially vulnerable. They need to be able to supply hit after hit, in an ever increasing dose. Falling into a predictable routine makes the emotionalism lose its luster. So, they need to church out a constant stream of new music and slogans and messages and programs and rituals so everyone can get his fix and not realize that his life in Christ is still only an inch deep.

The psychological manipulation disguised as "the Holy Spirit" is probably the worst aspect. Question it, and people assume you are blaspheming against the Spirit. I've even heard some prominent leaders tell me that the Holy Spirit has favorite songs. Why? Because when the music team starts playing them, people get emotional and easily manipulated.

In the end, Evangelical churches become emotional dispensaries, just as many Liturgical churches devolve into sacramental dispensaries. It's all part of the burgeoning mess that is consumer Christianity. I was alluding to this in my brief review of the movie OCTROB.

Lord, save us.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Rather than attending to the stony soil of one's heart, one goes back to the "praise service" for another hit.

But aren't those the same thing in their minds? I mean, don't they confuse getting the hit with tending to their hearts? Far as I can tell, that seems to be one of the problems.

These people do clean up their acts. They do see change for the better. They lay off the booze or drugs, reconcile with their spouses, become involved in worthwhile social projects, become model citizens, etc. And they do receive strength to continue in their often difficult or dysfunctional lives.

Trouble is, we need not to continue with those lives but to repent of them, in toto, and receive an entirely new, different life - Christ's own.

Let's say two people "get religion" at the same time. One begins going to contemporary services, singing, swaying, and glowing. It's emotionalism, so not lacking in tears. It's entertainment, too, and it's me-centered. The other starts attending Divine Liturgy, weeping tears of repentance throughout. It's emotional but not emotionalism. It certainly isn't entertainment to weep your heart out, and it's all about getting rid of "me" as I had known me and struggling toward the point of being able to say, "I live, yet not I, but Christ..."

A broken spirit, a contrite heart, has a true glow, one that doesn't have to be hyped up, one that doesn't result from emotional manipulation. One that doesn't need to be fed that "constant stream of new music and slogans and messages and programs and rituals".

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yup, psychological manipulation is disguised as the Holy Spirit -- and the emotional hit is disguised as a blessing. As in, "Wednesday night services get my batteries recharged in the middle of the week." Or as in, "What a big blessing I received tonight!"

JTKlopcic said...

"Rather than attending to the stony soil of one's heart, one goes back to the "praise service" for another hit."

But aren't those the same thing in their minds? I mean, don't they confuse getting the hit with tending to their hearts? Far as I can tell, that seems to be one of the problems.


I think that both the true repentance and the counterfeit begin at the same place: repentance in Jesus Christ, with an attendant emotional release. The trouble begins when someone, perhaps under poor spiritual direction, mistakes the emotion as being the repentance and not just a gift of God to ease the journey. Then the spiritual life begins to turn in on itself, seeking more emotion rather than the hard work of ascesis.

So, just when the bigger stones just below the surface are ready to be removed, the person instead sees smooth soil, ready for planting. And the spiritual crop they will plant will come up great, though it will have no roots -- the soil is too shallow. I have done this too many times to count.

Unfortunately, instead of getting guidance and encouragement in the arduous toil of tilling the soil, the person gets demand after demand from the instant-fix church to produce more fruit. And the only fruit they know how to produce is more emotion. And so the cycle continues, until they break or give up.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Wow. There's nothing like hearing it from someone who has been there, done that.

Thanks for helping me understand. Not that I have never fallen into the same trap; I have! But it seems long ago and in a different world, different mind-set I now can't really remember very well. Like waking up from a dream, and all you can remember of it is the broad outline.

Tony-Allen said...

HA HA! There's a youth church in Virginia Beach that reminds me EXACTLY of that description by Pr. Cwirla. It's all the same songs over and over again, people getting into it, and then the preacher getting them all riled up with a weird stream of consciousness that David Lynch couldn't figure out. There was also a lead female singer who was a young girl. She was very attractive and dressed rather immodestly, would make rather provocative gestures, thus, much like was suggested in the article (although I feel guilty posting this, knowing the writer of this blog is a woman and mother!), I found myself rather distracted by her. Probably one of many reasons I never went back.

There's a video online called "The Many Faces of Benny Hinn" that features dozens of documentaries and videos exposing the title preacher. In the first documentary, filmed by an HBO crew, they bring up an excellent point about Hinn's services that I think rings true for many modernized Christian services, and JTKlopcic hit the nail on the head: it's all about emotions. You get a group of people together in a big crowd, you have them do repetitive acts as a single group, then you center their attention around a personality. The majority of cases they'll get riled up.

This is why people seem to respond so well in person to people like Benny Hinn, Joel Olsteen, and Todd Bentley, while a casual viewer at home seeing bits and pieces realize what's wrong and wonder just why the heck people would fall for this. Then there are situations like when I went to Rock Church (described in my blog) and realized just what was going have. Having studied this kind of preaching, I realized the guy was getting the crowd riled up, and I seemed to be the only realizing it. It was frightening. I knew what a moderate German in the 1930's felt like.

But, as JTKlopcic also said, any religious service can go wrong, but there can be just as many that are good, be they Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Evangelical or Charismatic. I once went to a Baptist friend's church in Chesapeake, and I had no complaints. The preacher had a good head on his shoulders, everyone in there was there to simply worship and glorify God...and I say more power to them all.

JTKlopcic said...

Wow. There's nothing like hearing it from someone who has been there, done that.

Thanks for helping me understand. Not that I have never fallen into the same trap; I have! But it seems long ago and in a different world, different mind-set I now can't really remember very well. Like waking up from a dream, and all you can remember of it is the broad outline.


Thankfully, it is all rapidly becoming a distant memory, although sometimes it all comes jolting back. You see, I was not just a participant, but a perpetrator. Lord, have mercy.

Robert said...

But don't you folks think this can happen in a liturgical setting as well? Sans the emotionalism and manipulation of course, that needs to be made clear.

How can I truly say I am not addicted to the liturgy at the Orthodox Church? Coming in for my fix, Sunday to Sunday. Sometimes I am wondering if I use it as an escape and avoidance mechanism. The other wordliness of it all. The paradigm is constant and safe.

Perhaps I am wrong, or it is just my weakness. Or perhaps it is a problem with religion, per se?

Tony-Allen said...

Both JTKlopcic and I have admitted that liturgy could have similar problems.

The problem, however, is not in religion, but in the individual themselves.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

We do also have genuine need of our services. The difference, as far as I can see, is that the Divine Liturgy does not cater to our passions, nor indulge our fleshly desires (although we can pervert it to do that). We are nourishing soul and body.

It can be highly emotional, but it is not emotionalism, and that's a huge difference.
We aren't pursuing pleasure, but purification, sanctification, maturity in love.

Robert said...

Thank you both for the kind response. Yes, I believe both of you are right. I certainly don't feel manipulated, and there is not pressure to perform or anything like that. I am just soul searching at this point, and don't want anything to stand in the way of my pursuit of honesty. We are commanded not to put anything before God, and this includes religion. This appears at first hand to be pretty clear cut (true religion is the worship of God), but not that simple in real life. Well, in my life at this stage. Thanks all.