Latest News

Jesus. (Period) 8: When the Church is in Love with Falling in Love

The 1991 movie Point Break coined the phrase “adrenaline junkie.” You’ve known one. Maybe you are one. An adrenaline junkie is someone who engages in somewhat dangerous activities so they can get the adrenaline rush that comes along with it.

You don’t have to be a surfer or a bank robber to get the rush. Some get it through always being in crisis, packing their schedule so they’re forever in a rush, having conflicts with people in their lives, or waiting until the last minute to get a homework assignment or work project done.

Then you have tech junkies. They get their rush by watching for the next tech improvement. They have to be connected to the current technology and are constantly thinking and talking about what is just around the corner. Whether it’s the internet speed, gaming consoles, smart phones or smart TV’s, the tech junkie knows where to find it. Maybe you know one. Maybe you are one.

We live in a world of junkies. I want to add one to the list. Worship Junkies. For the worship junkie, every Sunday has to be a high. The pastor has to be a mix of comedian, theologian, and self-help guru. Worship teams have to amp up their amps and lead the church to a new level of experience: new songs and new styles. And if ever the current church loses its luster, the worship junkie is quick to find the next shiny model somewhere else.

The worship junkie is consumed by worship music. They could drop the teaching, drop the Supper, drop baptism and be completely happy. The worship could go on for hours and it would never be enough. And the worship junkie believes there are special songs that can usher you into the presence of God.

One ad for a conference made such promises: “Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.”[1]

Maybe you’ve known a worship junkie. Maybe you are one. If you are, blame our church culture in America. It’s taught you to be one. It’s taught you to expect higher and higher experiences. And if you don’t experience that experience, you are led to believe it is either the fault of the worship team or preacher, or there is something at odds in you.

When that happens, you can be left to feel judged and condemned. Worship junkies are nothing new. Their ancestry goes all the way back to 1st century Colossae.

Paul is writing this church that is new and needing to get its grounding in Christ. The problem he’s facing is there are others teaching something different than what he is teaching. They are telling the people in the church there are other ways to reach new heights.

Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ. Let no one condemn you by delighting in ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm. Such people are inflated by empty notions of their unspiritual mind.  — Colossians 2:16-18

The false teachers were telling the people they had to observe certain laws in order to be close to God. The practices they were putting on people involved what to eat and what not to eat, what to drink and what not to drink, what they could touch or not touch. These were most likely taken from Jewish dietary laws which were boundary markers of who was “in” and who was “out.”

They were also teaching observance of religious rituals in the calendar year, also carried over from the Jewish practices. The Gentile converts were not fully “in” until they adopted these practices. And these practices promised to give them a fuller experience of God.

Along with dietary laws and calendar observances, they were also teaching some sort of asceticism—most likely fasting—that would lead them to an exalted angel-like worship experience. If you could tap into the right form of self-denial you would enter right into heaven itself and there have a revelation of some sort.[2] They could go to a higher level of spirituality than they had ever been.

This group was sending judgment and condemnation to the rest of the church. The false teachers were, by their teaching and “puffed up” arrogance, making the others in the church feel unacceptable to God.

They had Jesus. But they were being told they needed more.

Have you ever felt that way? I have. Here’s a confession: I have been a worship junkie. And not just with music in the church. I have been a junkie looking for the silver bullet that will move my own spiritual experience as well as the church’s experience to higher levels.

As a result, I would salivate over every new book I could find. I would go to seminars and then webinars when they came along. Everywhere I looked there were teachers and every one was telling me there was something else to be tried to give me an experience.

Especially there were the worship encounters. I’d see people looking as if they were being transported to another dimension—beam me up Scotty-like—and wonder why that was not happening to me. I’d hear worship leaders talk about how the set of songs would usher us into the presence of God.

Being the Bible student that I am, I’d think to myself, “But I thought I was already in the presence of God? Do they mean these songs will help us be more aware of being in God’s presence? I can live with that. But how do songs usher us into the presence of God?” By the time my mind had gone through its mental gymnastics the song set was over.

I often felt judged. Sometimes condemned. Until I began to understand what Paul was writing to the church in Colossae. He flat out says to not let anyone judge or condemn you in these matters (2:16,18). I had to start applying that to my own life in Christ. Then I examined why it is we are always looking for that new “experience.”

Scot McKnight helped when he wrote about the “courtly love” of the medieval ages. Here’s what happened: Married men would basically have an emotional affair with either another married woman or a single woman. This “courtly love” would not be physical. It would remain at the emotional level.

Strangely, the man would prefer the feelings he got from being apart from his “courtly love” over actually being with her. “Courtly love” was more about being intoxicated with love, enjoying the feelings of fantasy more than the faithfulness of fidelity. In other words, the essence of courtly love was to fall in love with falling in love.

The church today might be guilty of courtly love. McKnight has said, “Some folks love church, and what they mean by ‘loving church’ is that they love the experience they get when they go to church.”[3]

“Courtly love” happens in our Christian life when we have more of a religion of excitement than we have an excitement of religion. That’s not how Paul and the other Apostles approached bringing people who were far from God close to him. They would never have planned out a time of worship where songs were selected to help people “feel” a certain way. They would never have thought of creating a certain mood with lighting and staging.

Want to know how they believed people would encounter Christ?

I thought you might. Paul explicitly taught that “…faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (Romans 10:17). Watch Paul’s missionary travels and strategy and it was based on teaching new ideas to combat bad ideas. We see that happening in Colossians—(remember the word stoichea?)—as he counters the false teaching with teaching about Christ.

And Paul does love songs. Go back and read Colossians 1:15-20. But notice how he says they are utilized within the church: “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). The singing in a church gathering should help the “word of Christ” dwell in us.

Should there never then be a “feeling” that we feel when in worship? I think there will be feelings from time to time. But the “feeling” is not what we are to seek. Christ is the object of what we seek.

Our relationship with him is much like our relationships on earth, especially those grounded in love. Not every day is some mountain top experience. If you think it is, just ask your spouse or a good friend if every day with you causes fireworks to go off in the sky.

See what I mean? Some days we have we have great feelings in relationships. But most are more average. Quiet. Steady. Just there. Most days have to do with us juggling the demands of this life and learning in the midst of this life how to live it as Jesus would live it if he were in our shoes.

That is worship according to Paul. In Romans 10 he shares with the church in Rome words similar to his ideas in Colossians: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

Jesus’ greatest act of worship was enduring the cross. Ever wonder how he felt during that ordeal? No euphoric feelings for sure. But worship? Yes.

Our true worship is all of our life and how it is offered to God on a daily basis. That’s the problem with living sacrifices, though, they keep wanting to crawl off the altar! And sometimes we crawl off and go looking for something more than what we already have. We conform to this age that tells us there is more.

If we believe that we will leave our first love and find a courtly love. We will fall in love with falling in love. Instead we are to love Christ. We are in him and he is in us. Fully. “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by him…” (Colossians 2:9-10).

So don’t be judged. Don’t be condemned. Enjoy good feelings and don’t feel guilty when they come. But don’t fall in love with them. Just like the latest tech toy or rush from an adventure, feelings can come and go. But Jesus—he has come to you and he will stay.

[1] https://www.christianity.com/church/worship-and-hymns/is-your-church-worship-more-pagan-than-christian.html

[2] See McKnight, Colossians, 277.

[3] http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2009/may-online-only/scot-mcknight-spiritual-eroticism.html