Inviting a friend to Church proved to be a risk if Mrs. Mary sat stationed on the front row. In her flower print dress and one of three colored reading glasses, she was a regular part of our Sunday morning experience. She was a sweet grandmother whose soft, wrinkled hand would magically produce butterscotch candies from her giant, clutter-filled purse. Every kid knew how she would gladly dispense her little treats if one politely greeted her before the service began. Unfortunately, the candy-giving queen of the front row could also be a little weird. Well, to tell the truth, she was completely weird. Usually, about midway through the song set, she would let out an eerie cry and then fall to the floor, flailing about as if she had been stung by a bee or, maybe more accurately, several bees. Then, after a minute or more of her predictable yet erratic episode, she would collapse into her usual spot on the pew. After the service ended, she’d often credit her theatrics to “the movin’ of God’s Spirit.”
Years later, as I recall those little episodes of Mrs. Mary, I have found many in Evangelical circles who can identify with a similarly disturbing experience. As a result, phrases such as “feeling God move” or “the sensing of the Holy Spirit” have been repudiated as mere emotional outbursts. In our modern-day theology, many have abandoned the reality of God engaging His people. Have we thrown out the proverbial baby (of God’s power) with the bathwater (of sensationalism)?
As the modern Church has evolved into trendy café-style lobbies with a hip-hop genre of worship, it seems the traditional expectation of God meeting with His people in a powerful way has been replaced with techniques to entertain and attract congregants. However, with all our changes, it seems we have also left behind an essential element of God’s power colliding with the human soul- Sinners are no longer being made saints.
As politically aligned conservatives are enamored with the popularity of following Jesus, few have experienced a transformation in their life. Sinners are motivated to be their better selves, and the awareness of God’s power is an uncommon discussion. In this new “woke” culture, the Church has been hushed to sleep with the soothing songs of cultural relevance and social evolution. The push to be an all-inclusive faith has led to the exclusion of God’s power. Even our worship of God has devolved from deep doctrines of the faith to shallow statements of self-affirmation.
But this is nothing new. Even Church history tends to repeat itself. In the first century, the plagues of heresy worked to diminish the life-giving doctrine of supernatural transformation. The Church, which began as a disciple-making force, found itself diseased with the teachings of those who used Christendom to perpetuate their social agendas. Does this sound uncomfortably familiar? By the end of the first century, the popularity of Christianity led many to adopt the identity of being a Christian while having little knowledge or experience with Jesus. By the time Irenaeus, the Bishop of Smyrna, took up his pen to write his classic book, Heresies (180 AD), gnostics had effectively twisted the gospel’s message. It became a sales pitch of intellectual fulfillment, sexual pleasure, personal success, and other sensual gratifications. As the Church spanned continents and faced a myriad of cultures and ideologies, the Church Fathers adopted creeds and songs to infuse the core elements of the faith into the hearts and minds of believers. For example, the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicaean Creed became long-standing traditions by which many learned about the faith.
Today, it seems we are plagued by the similar maladies of diluted theology and a self-worshipping faith in almost every faction of the Church. This realization came into focus as I attended a recent meeting. My good friend, Pastor Jim, invited me to his Church for a weekend event. On the first night, when the time of worship seemed a little prolonged, I scanned the room to find almost everyone fully engaged in authentic, Heaven-provoking worship. Then the guest speaker, Pastor Kim Owens, presented her message. The audience listened with nail-biting attention as she provoked a nearly tangible expectation for Jesus to enter the room. Her urgency and drive ignited a passion for God to come close to us. That night’s events drew me back to my childhood faith. Thinking beyond the silly memories of Mrs. Mary, I can recall significant moments in which I could literally feel the power of God surging through the room. I remember the miracles of the sick being healed, demons being cast out, and sinners surrendering to Jesus.
Following the weekend of meetings at Pastor Jim’s Church, I thought, “that weird old Mrs. Mary might have been on to something.” Though I don’t advocate her erratic dancing and shouts, I know there was much more happening in our little church building during her outbursts. Maybe she was being changed? Perhaps the change she was experiencing was a little more than I could understand? Could it be that the power she encountered is the very life our generation needs to experience? Today, as I counsel with panic-stricken, abused, and social media-addicted “Christians,” my mind trails back to moments of power that transformed my own life.
We need the power of God to change the nature of broken men and women. I know that seems obvious, but hear me out. To hear of lives radically transformed by God’s power is becoming an uncommon occurrence. Instead, drug addicts are referred to extended treatment centers while many sincere Christians live shackled by hidden sins. Growing the kingdom of God has been reduced to offering an emotionally affirming Sunday morning experience. Holiness has been relegated to an excessiveness of legalism. As a result, there is a tremendous deficit of God’s power in the Church. Lives are not being changed. Worship services remain as merely powerful productions of light, sound, and skill.
Can we return to the time when many could enter the Church with their perversions, addictions, and confusion? Can the Church offer deliverance by effectively teaching God’s Word? The oppressed need to find freedom in the sounds of worship and the moving of the Holy Spirit. We need believers who can live with the power and hope of the gospel. What is that hope? Jesus can change lives. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation…”. (Romans 1:16). The life-inspiring part of the gospel is how the Holy Spirit can transform every believer from who they were before they believed into the identity of God’s child at the moment they believe. This transformation is the hope to which the Church must return.