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by Robert M. Smith

Chapter 15 - The Ecstasy Game


Chapter 15 - The Ecstasy Game

by Robert M. Smith

I have examined the delusional influence of spiritual academia in another chapter; in this chapter I shall deal with what may be considered its polar opposite. From the far right we shall now venture to the far left. And since we have a lot to examine and consider let us get right into it without delay.

If you have seen any news reports over the last several years you will have most certainly come across stories from the Middle East where radical Islamists have committed heinous crimes against humanity. Muslim extremists have been responsible for the ongoing slaughter of thousands upon thousands of civilians, including fellow Muslims, all in the name of Allah. We witness these accounts and deplore the perpetrators of this excessiveness. Detecting their absolute disrespect for human life and disdain for any who do not think as they do, their blood-lust is usually quite apparent to any rational man. Nothing on earth can validate or justify their wanton slaughter. As such they remain a universal example to all mankind of the dangers and addictiveness of extremism.

What leads to extremism? Sometimes it is simply a predisposition against the status quo … a rebellious attitude. We’ve seen this in ourselves and others during our teenage years, and from time to time we find that some people have never really left those years and those attitudes behind no matter how old they have become. At other times extremism is the culmination of a search for identity, a chance to stand out from the crowd, the opportunity to show that one is special in some way. Yet again, some extremists have a strong desire to superimpose themselves and their ideals on every person that does not measure up to their standard … as such it is a terribly domineering existence. And not to be forgotten, there are some who have naively followed after extremist philosophies pronounced and promoted by other strong-willed and self-assured despots. Though I am painting a picture of what many would perceive as Islamic radicalism, extremism comes in many forms – most of which are wrapped in high-energy, volatility, impulsiveness and emotion. There is no way to “sugar-coat” it and I have no intention of trying. I want to uncover the ecstasy game and revealing it as a form of extremism is the first step among many that we shall take.

If I were alone on this issue, it would not matter much. But when a Spirit-led teacher from among the early twentieth century Pentecostal movement indicates the same thing, people should sit up and take notice. Oswald Chambers was adamant about the perils of ecstatic extremism and taught much on the subject: “The security of the position into which God brings His saints is such that the life is maintained without ecstasy. There is no place for ecstasy and manifestations in a normal, healthy spiritual life. The emotions that are beyond the control of the will are a sign that there is something not in the secure position, something undisciplined, untrained.”[1] What’s more, he also stated, “An ecstasied man is one whose state of mind is marked by mental alienation from his surroundings, and his very consciousness is altered into excessive joy. These states are open gateways for God or for the devil. If they are worked up by thrills of our own seeking, they are of the devil; but when they come unsought in faithful performance of duties, they are the gateway into direct communication with God. Ecstasy is not a state in which to live; keep your ecstatic times dark. You have no business to show the depths to anyone but yourself and God.”[2]

I truly believe that Oswald Chambers saw the difficulties of spiritual extremism brewing even in the early 1900’s for he continually preached and taught against it. I am afraid that now, almost 100 years later, his premonitions have come to pass and in the throes of what has been deemed a positive spiritual movement new age philosophies have ridden into our evangelical midst on its coattails. One of our first tasks is to see that the desire for ecstasies, health, wealth, signs and wonders coincides with a worldly new age attitude that I call “the Clairol syndrome”. If you have seen either the television advertisement or any magazine insert you will know what I am getting at; it’s the “I’m worth it” mentality or the error of entitlement. This posture before a holy God is self-evidently wrong. One should immediately see the stark contrast between it and any Biblical example of reverence and worship. Job, upon meeting God, took his own self-worth and placed it where it belongs: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6 NKJV). The Apostle John did the same: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” (Rev 1:17 NKJV). Need I go on to mention the reactions of others who met God? People like Elijah (1 Kings 19:13), Daniel (Dan 8:18; 10:9 & 11), Isaiah (Isa 6:5), Jeremiah (Jer 3:25), Ezekiel (Ezek 1:28; 3:23), the woman with the issue of blood (Mk 5:33; Lk 8:47), and the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:6). Periods of intense brokenness and shame overwhelm the person who meets with God. Ecstasy may be defined as the desire to celebrate over our victory in Christ but, in charismatic circles, it is attempted without a prior commitment to “brokenness”. Without this key element of worship it is as if we were being asked to jump to “light speed” from a standing start … it is simply not going to happen in truth. It can be simulated and a façade can be forced out of people but what worth is that in the light of spiritual reality? By starting at the wrong point in our Christian life and in our ecclesiastical involvement with erroneous expectations [a predisposition toward signs and wonders] we shall always end up at the wrong destination. This is not rocket science and it is not Biblically unfounded either. “Christ’s rebukes to the seven churches were either doctrinal, moral, or both. Never once did He hint that they needed more signs and wonders.”[3] And A.W. Tozer takes this even a step further: “We have tried to secure spiritual pleasures by working upon fleshly emotions and whipping up synthetic feeling by means wholly carnal. And the total effect has been evil.”[4]

Why does Tozer use the term “evil” here? Isn’t it rather harsh and, dare I say, politically incorrect? Well, he is right on all counts for several reasons and they are abundantly clear to the honest man or woman. First of all there is the aspect of everyone wanting “their own thing” to be sanctioned by God … so that when I come to God for salvation He will allow me to drag those things that I love into His sanctuary. Here is an exceptionally good example of what I am writing about: on Feb 18, 2008 I saw a young woman interviewed on a Christian show [100 Huntley Street]. She was an organizer of large celebrational Christian events. Many people were gathered on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa … many different nationalities, including aboriginal people. The natives – according to the testimony of this gal – were worshipping the Lord with “reckless abandon” while a clip was shown of them doing traditional native dances. They were doing “their thing” but have obviously never been told through Scripture how wrong “their thing” had been. Taking a “rain dance” or any other dance that has been done to assuage the “rain god” or any other “spirit” and changing its intended goal does not suddenly make it right before God. That would be the equivalent of taking Baal worship and bringing it into the temple in Jerusalem and calling it “true worship.” This is no small point of contention, it strikes at the very heart of God! God has already told us how He wants to be worshipped … and this is not it! This may fall in line with the politically correct doctrine of “tolerance” but it has nothing whatsoever to do with God – Who is currently, in this country, deemed politically incorrect.

We are called to be honest and brave enough to join Christ “outside the camp” because He has nothing to do with this pathetic “free-for-all” that is designed to appease everyone … everyone but Him that is. We are called by the Holy Spirit to “turn from idols” – that is everything that had been cherished in my life prior to the entrance of Christ – and to turn to Christ who will make everything in my life new. I, therefore, do not bring the same old trash into my service and worship of God … I am to be transformed … the old things are supposed to have “passed away”. But they don’t pass away in a life that wants not to honour God but rather wants to honour self under the guise of honouring God. From this basic human desire comes all manner of deceit and spiritual waywardness for pride and self-absorption are at its core. Everyone longs to feel special, unique, emotionally high and extraordinary … that his/her life has deep meaning. There is nothing wrong with those things … that is, until they become the obsession of one’s life and a substitute for God. That boundary line gets crossed far too frequently in our attention-seeking culture.

Secondly, Tozer was right with his terminology because of another fundamentally Biblical perspective. When God gave the Law to the children of Israel (Ex 20:1-5) He warned them that they were to have no other gods. He described Himself as a “jealous God”. He is jealous in that He will not share His glory with another (Isa 42:8; 48:11) And even we are “called” by His Name, not for our own glory, but for His (Isa 43:7). Now, having said that, there are far too many believers, in far too many cases, seeking glory for themselves by the things that they do in what has been loosely deemed “worship” … and before God that is a matter of spiritual theft! Just as Israel was continually robbing God in “tithes and offerings” [worship] during the days of Malachi (Mal 3:8-9) there are people who commit the same eternal crime today with polluted offerings. When attracting attention to one’s self, that individual is trying to rob God of glory! And there are consequences for such audacity. I truly believe, for I have seen it take place, that a form of spiritual dementia is apportioned to those who persist in making a side-show out of the worship that is meant for God alone. Like Elymas (Acts 13:8-11) there are many who are consequently blinded to Biblical truth – truth that is so plain and clear to a true child of God – and also to the practicality found in a true Christian life because of an intense and selfish desire to obtain recognition. They then go groping about in search of any “fix” to compensate for their personal spiritual vacuity. It takes over lives, repelling all but other exhibitionists, besmirching the Gospel of Christ with radicalism and, with cheap theatrics, attempting to convince that an “awakening” is taking place instead of, with the guidance of the real Holy Spirit, seeing a conviction of sin that must be dealt with. These things are most certainly a warning to all of us to abstain from flippancy, irreverence and distortion in the sight of Holy God.

For far too long followers of Christ have refrained from taking a stand on this issue out of a fear of offending those who are caught up in it: “that would be too judgmental” we think. But the fact of the matter is that an experience-obsessive religion will always lead astray. To cite Chambers once more, he verifies that under experience-oriented circumstances the spiritual direction of faith is not toward God: “Wherever spiritual impulse has been allowed to have its way it has led the soul astray. We must check all impulses by this test – Does this glorify Jesus, or does it only glorify ourselves? Does it bring to our remembrance something Jesus said, that is, does it connect itself with the Word of God, or is it beginning to turn us aside and make us seek great things for ourselves? That is where the snare comes. Nowadays, people seem to have an idea that these ecstatic, visionary, excitable, lunatic moments glorify God; they do not, they give an opportunity to the devil. The one thing Jesus Christ did when He came in contact with lunacy was to heal it, and the greatest work of the devil is that he is producing lunacy in the name of God all over the world in the spiritual realm, making people who did not know God go off on tangents. What did Jesus say? ‘… so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect’ (RV). Beware of being carried off into any kind of spiritual ecstasy either in private or in public.”[5] Itching ears that long for self-affirmation and self-aggrandizement are attuned to the antithesis of the true Gospel which happens to be death to self that Christ may live in us. We are not dealing with simply a different colour or a different flavour of Christianity here, we are facing a mutilation of it and it must be exposed for what it really is.

Thirdly, in the Old Testament, in the books of the Law, God gave specific instructions about how He was to be worshipped by the children of Israel. There were specific directions for sacrificing a lamb, a goat, a bull, a dove as well as specific directions for presenting grain offerings. One could easily conjecture that if an offering was presented in just any old way – or in a way that was pleasing to the worshipper but not according to the expectations of God – it would have been rejected. Why would any Christian therefore think that he/she can now approach God and honour Him through any self-perceived means? Where is the honour of God in distorting one’s face, in jogging on the spot, in rolling on the floor, in barking like a dog, crowing like a rooster, tapping someone on the shoulder with a woman’s right leg, in bopping someone on the head with a hand towel? [As an aside, I have often wondered how dehumanization – the deregulation of human faculties downward to those of some lower species like a dog, a chicken, a rooster – is in any conceivable way God-honouring. Does it not appear to serve the devil more so since he, as an affront to God, has always attempted to demean and disfigure God’s creation? Know you not that you are worth more than many sparrows, dogs or barnyard fowl?] These things are actual events that have taken place and have been considered a part of “worship”. Child’s play at best and an abomination at worst when compared to true spiritual worship of a Holy God! And Paul, through the Holy Spirit, tells us to “grow up” … to quit acting and thinking like children (1 Cor 13:11).

Furthermore, Paul tells the Corinthian church, and us by extension, not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6) … a plain and simple guide to true spiritual life instead of carrying on to the spiritual catastrophe we see evidenced in Matt 7 where Jesus must say “I never knew you!” (Matt 7:21-23) There were a lot of things happening in the lives of those represented in Matthew 7; they were into some fancy happenings … and even in the Name of the Lord. But somehow it wasn’t done for Christ and it was certainly not done under His authority for these people had no relationship with Him. As it turns out, all of the prophesying, all of the exorcising of demons and all of the mighty works amount to absolutely nothing in God’s sight. And it should be noted that Jesus used the same terminology in addressing these people that Tozer has used: He called them “evildoers” (RSV).

Fourthly, Mr Tozer is accurate in his assessment because along with the special experiences desired comes the accompanying desire for God’s personal and special blessings in the form of materialism. This follows self-centeredness like night follows day; there is a tremendous emphasis placed upon the prosperity of the believer. In this atmosphere a distinct spirit of “lotto fever” ensures that there is a greater propensity for accepting Christ in order to obtain wealth than to obtain salvation. And those that don’t have it yet are encouraged to take up that “reckless abandon” even more, so that they will acquire it. With this comes another fallacy about faith … if you don’t have health and wealth, you don’t have enough faith. There is seldom any acknowledgment of having faith so that we may become more Christ-like. There is seldom any recognition, any biblical discernment, that the question is not how much faith we have but in Whom we have placed our faith. And the reason for this is simple: the faith that is encouraged is narcissistic, it is turned inward toward the believer not outward toward Christ and that is why there is always a question of “how much faith” one has. In matters of faith, when quality gets displaced by quantity a real Christian knows he is in deep trouble! He ought to perceive that his gaze is inward and therefore deadly insofar as spirituality is concerned, as Os Guinness indicates: “By merely looking inward or calling on subjective criteria, it is impossible to distinguish false spirituality from true spirituality, the genuine from the counterfeit. The fact is that religious phenomena such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues can have one of three sources – psychological, demonic or divine. The appeal is wider than the legitimacy. But in a day of countless religious experience, few ask where the phenomena come from. Experience itself is self-authenticating, and the result is perverse confusion. We are now in an era in which the counterfeit flourishes alongside the genuine and the spiritistic passes for the spiritual.”[6]

There are only 7 references to the word “feel” in the entire Bible - compared to 229 references to the word “faith” - 5 of them refer to the sense of touch (eg Gen 27:12 & 21); the other two pertain to the emotion of “feeling”. And the fascinating thing about them is that both of those occurrences have negative connotations. Deut 4:19 [And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the LORD your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.] and Zech 11:4-6 [Thus says the LORD my God, “Feed the flock for slaughter, whose owners slaughter them and feel no guilt; those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the LORD, for I am rich’; and their shepherds do not pity them. For I will no longer pity the inhabitants of the land,” says the LORD. “But indeed I will give everyone into his neighbor’s hand and into the hand of his king. They shall attack the land, and I will not deliver them from their hand.”] These reveal the dark side of “feelings” as God sees them. Feelings easily lead astray as seen in Deut 4:19 and they lead to callousness as seen in Zech 11:4-6. They distance people from God more often than they align people to God when they become the number one priority. That being the case, it is biblically inappropriate and exceedingly dangerous to establish a faith upon the quicksand of emotional instability. The book of Galatians teaches us that a different gospel is to be accursed, and there are many different gospels out there at the moment - not among the cults but rather in “Christian” circles! They are not all valid and our imperative is to discern between the spirits (1 Jn 4:6) … we are indeed expected to “judge”.

Getting high on Jesus may sound good to our drug-cultured world but unless it is fully established on the authority and truth of the Word of God it remains no better than getting high on any other substance. You can rev yourself up for a spiritual encounter but that too is no better than revving up for a football game. To be totally “other worldly”, like warriors of old chanting and working themselves into a lather to go out to battle, does not make it a spiritually positive experience. In fact it is entirely a negative spiritual experience. Utilizing no discernment over ecstasies leaves one with an “anything goes” philosophy; and when “anything goes”, everything goes: God vacates the premises instead of occupying them.

This produces a spiritual relativism where a congregant tries to find his/her niche within the collective – doing his/her “thing” as “worship” – which cannot be “judged” or criticized by anyone else. That would be deemed “questioning the Holy Spirit”. And a sort of sanctified version of Judges 17:6 [In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.] begins to dominate the proceedings. From this tolerance of what is considered “spiritual behaviour” comes an equivalent tolerance of moral behaviour and a subsequent expulsion of Scriptural guidance, for if every person’s form of “worship” is acceptable – no matter how absurd or extreme – there must, of necessity, be no absolutes, and that includes Biblical absolutes. Anyone caught emphasizing the authority of Scripture within such an atmosphere is immediately labeled a “legalist” and summarily dismissed so that the ecstasy game might continue unabated. And as long as it continues under these criteria, whatever else it may be, it will not be the Christianity of the Scriptures.

Before concluding with two overwhelming portions of Scripture I would like to include what I believe is a powerful indictment delivered by Erwin Lutzer. In his book Who are you to judge? he has uncovered the poverty of applying phenomena to the Gospel. Through the folly of self-aggrandizement our Lord and the message of salvation has been reduced to distasteful eccentricity: “[Peter] Fenwick writes: ‘Just as people want to hear from God without the difficult work of studying the Bible, so they want to have spiritual maturity without the difficult work of prayer, Bible study, learning to witness, and the like.

But are there not instances of people being ‘slain in the spirit’ in past revivals? Accounts that have come down to us from the days of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley are often used to justify the present phenomena seen so often on television. Yes, there are reports of ‘manifestations’ of various kinds but keep in mind (1) many who ‘fell’ did so under deep conviction of sin and (2) the revivalists not only discouraged the practice, but believed that these occurrences often detracted from the gospel message itself. And (3) these manifestations did not happen because people were touched by an evangelist who gave them a jolt of spiritual power. Finally, (4) never were these manifestations put on public display to encourage others to have the same experience.

Today’s super-apostles claim to do in a manner of minutes what older preachers told us could only come about by daily brokenness and submission to God, usually through suffering. Today we are told we can have power just by being touched by a super-charged apostle.”[7]

The Apostle Paul, in 1 Cor 1:22-23, gives the full extent of the Gospel and of the Christian life, complete with a warning of the extremism to be had on both the right and the left: “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,” (NKJV).

His use of the word “but” clearly indicates that he does not equate either intellectualism or religious phenomena with the true measure of the message – Christ crucified. The intellectual extremist in right field has been dealt with in a previous chapter so I shall deal with the experience-oriented extremist in left field, here. God is indeed the God of the miraculous … we ought to know that and count on that. But we must, simultaneously, understand where the miraculous fits into the Christian life … and then keep it there.

Contrary to the popular charismatic opinion of the day, God has never emphasized the miracle over the message in all of history. And I particularly love the way our Lord Jesus Christ made sure this was comprehended by His disciples and us by extension. In the Apostle John’s gospel narrative the beloved apostle wrote a truly extraordinary thing about the attitude of Jesus when faced with certain people of ecstatic persuasion. These verses can be easily skipped over but they do indeed say it all in regard to God’s perspective on the ecstasy game with its inordinate attraction to spiritual experiences and phenomena:

“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit [“trust” in the Amplified, the RSV, the ASV and “entrust” in the NIV] Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (Jn 2:23-25 NKJV)

Unlike us, Jesus is not duped by any pseudo-acceptance. He is looking for faith in a man; faith that is directed toward Him as Saviour and Lord. The Bible tells us what faith is [“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Heb 11:1 NKJV] … and a “sign” is most definitely something seen. Jesus did not trust Himself to those who secured their trust to “signs”, even the signs He did, because that is not true biblical faith. These verses are completely compatible with the rest of Scripture as it superimposes the message of the Gospel over any and all correspondent manifestations. Barring all else ever said on the subject, this is sufficient evidence to avoid aligning myself with something that Jesus does not trust. He, knowing all men, is my best Guide … and following Him in this matter, regardless of my own personal aspirations, is the indubitable essential of my Christian life.

If the ecstasy game continues, I can assure you by the authority of the Word of God, that its practitioners will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you; depart from Me”. If this game is dealt a blow with the Sword (Heb 4:12; Rev 1:16), those who come out from under its dominion will hear from the lips of Christ, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. What will it be in your life?

[1] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 701

[2] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 883

[3] Erwin W. Lutzer, Who are you to judge?, Moody Press, Chicago, 2002, Page 120

[4] A. W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer – Volume 2, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill, PA, Page 53

[5] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 594

[6] Os Guinness, The dust of death, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1973, Page 297

[7] Erwin W. Lutzer, Who are you to judge?, Moody Press, Chicago, 2002, Pages 101-102

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