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Emotionalism and the Church


Today there is a plethora (surplus) of churches, movements, meetings and televised events that promote Christianity, employing various forms of emotional exhibition as worship.  One only needs to surf through the various Christian-oriented programs on cable television or visit any number of charismatic-based churches to discover ministers who are given to grandiose and repetitive displays of emotional rhetoric and gyrations.  At times it is difficult for even the most ardent listener or viewer to follow the train-of-thought being presented so as to understand the message.  In such presentations the communication of the message is further clouded by the passionate and animated assistance of the audience, as they sway and wave and shout affirmations back to the minister and to each other.


At best what is purported (professed) to be true worship or evangelical effort is normally seen as confusion and disorder by both the lost and saved alike, unless of course he or she has been nurtured and programmed in such a system of expression.  At worst it is an effort at self-aggrandizement (self-exaltation), which does little to point the world (mankind) to the certain, orderly and coherent plan of salvation which is faith alone in Christ alone.


Emotionalism within this context refers to irrational emotionalism, which may be defined as the loud, clamoring and repetitive expressions of feeling that have no basis in orderly behavior and that are without scriptural foundation, purpose and direction; and are designed, either consciously or subconsciously, for self-aggrandizement, self-gratification and self-recognition. 


This study is not an indictment on legitimate emotion within and as a part of the Christian faith.  Man was made in the “image of God,” which along with the ability to make decisions based on logical or illogical intellectual progressions, incorporates, along with various animals in the created order, the ability to experience and express emotions (feelings).  Such feelings are joy, happiness, love, peace, sadness and various forms of irritation or anger.  Such feelings may be expressed in various ways, by the silent resident glow within or the exuberant, boastful and animated display without.


The Bible recognizes not only the fact of emotion, but it also identifies times when outward displays of emotion may be made—but never in an erratic manner or for personal promotion (Psalms 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4).  A person who has come to God’s eternal state by faith alone in Christ alone has much to be joyful about, much to be happy about and much to be merry about.  Additionally, a flood of peace and love cascades over the new-born child of God.  He is exposed to emotions far beyond anything he had ever experienced as a person without salvation.  There is nothing wrong with such Biblical emotions.  Yet it easy to fall into the trap of allowing such emotions undue vent and to exalt them as the total Christian experience.  This is a trap fostered by the “sin nature” that remains resident within the Christian’s flesh (body) and which is cultivated by his Adversary, Satan himself.


Although the ability to experience emotions is God-given, the choice by man to express such emotions may at time be counter to God’s plan and purpose.  Such may have been the case in the early (local) church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14).   During its worship service there were several in the congregation that were demonstrating their "spirituality" by speaking in various languages in a competitive manner.  This led Paul to admonish them.  He explained that this only leads to confusion and that visiting unbelievers would think they were crazy (14:23).  He then proceeded from verse 26 on to tell them that the service should be conducted in an orderly manner, because "God is not a God of disorder but of peace" (vs. 33).  It was not what they were saying that was wrong; it was how they were saying it.  Instead of everyone clamoring at the same time, he advised them to take their turns.  He concluded his admonition on this subject with verse 40, "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."


What is important for the new-born, as well as the mature, Christian to keep in mind is that Satan would have all believers focus on the outward appearances of man to the neglect and detriment of his inner state.  This is a condition and a theme covered in various passages throughout God’s Word.


For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)


But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.  And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:3-8)


Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27, 28)


And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

(Luke 16:15)


Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. (John 7:24)


For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart.

(2 Corinthians 5:12)


For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4)


Emotionalism—the outward expression of feelings as distinguished from cognizant volition (faith based on the sure knowledge of the Word of God)—primarily calls attention to self.  Because of this, it is easy for Satan to gain a foothold within the mental attitude of a believer.  He does this by fanning the flame of the believer’s pride, which is the one sin that expands into all other sins, both mental and physical.


It is interesting to note that a thorough reading of the New Testament reveals little evidence, if any, of emotionalism in the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  On the other hand there does appear to be ample sound, orderly and rational presentations of God’s Word to both the lost and saved alike.  In fact, a detailed study of the entire text of God’s Word leads one to conclude that it is a rational, logical and orderly presentation.  It is not given to repetitious, gasping and flamboyant display. 


When one seriously studies the life of Christ and His frequent interactions with both great and small, one is impressed with His emphasis on Scripture, reasoning and order.  There is little indication, with few exceptions (His anger at the money-changers in the temple, His tears at the grave of Lazarus and His crying over Jerusalem at His “Triumphal Entry” into it), that He was a person given to emotionalism.  One has to be hard-pressed to visualize Jesus Christ “ranting and raving,” repeating ad infinitum certain “catch phrases” and succumbing to contortions and multiple gyrations as He presented His various messages to the multitudes.  This kind of behavior simply does not correlate with the image of Christ that the Bible clearly reveals.  And God’s Word would have each believer to be like Christ.  In fact the Bible teaches that the correct spiritual life is one whereby Christ through the Holy Spirit lives through each believer.


And the one principle that is recognized over and over again throughout God’s Word that will make the filling of (control by) the Holy Spirit possible in the believer is the same principle that allowed the believer to become a child of God.  It is the Principle of Faith that alone brings the new-birth, and it is the Principle of Faith that alone will allow God’s Spirit to exercise full control in and through the life of the believer.


It is more understandable and apparently easier to simply give in to emotionalism and all such outward displays, which many believers often associate with spirituality.  This writer recalls how he once convinced himself and attempted to convince others of his spirituality, for example:


  1. By his profuse use of spiritual salutations and other spiritual jargon.
  2. By his purposeful and continuous display of his Bible with its tattered pages containing abundant underlined and highlighted texts and copious side-notes.
  3. By his persistence in adopting numerous “convictions” (taboos), many without sound scriptural basis, of which he boasted to others.
  4. By his self-promotional antics in the pulpit.
  5. By his self-promotional visual and verbal discharges as part of the congregation.
  6. By overindulgence in correcting other believers who had mildly different doctrinal views.
  7. By embellishing and glamorizing his personal testimony.
  8. By his constant mental-attitude of spiritual superiority.


The reader should not in the least conclude from this study that individuals and groups who are given to loud and gyrating expression of faith, as is evidenced in many Pentecostal and charismatic assemblies around the world, are unsaved.  Just as in any local Christian church, even those given to a sedate and more dignified manner of worship, there will be those who are saved and those who, for lack of a better expression, are just “playing church.”  But the reader may rightly understand that this writer believes that there is very little, if any, scriptural grounds for conducting any Gospel service in a manner that draws attention to the worshippers rather than to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on Calvary and other sound doctrine within God’s Word.


Should the reader attempt to use 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise . . . .,” to support erratic and clamorous behavior in worship services, he would be missing the point of the passage (vs. 26-31) entirely.  Here Paul is speaking about the "wisdom of man," which is salvation by works, being confounded (or shamed) by the "wisdom of God," which is faith alone in Christ alone.  "Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Had not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached [not "how" was preached] to save those who believe. . . . but we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” (vss. 20-25).  Paul goes on to further develop this theme through verse 31.  The verse is primarily speaking about the contents of the message, not how the message is presented.  The Gospel message will always be foolishness to the world (and all its false "wisdom"), and the world will always be confounded by it.


 Be still, and know that I am God . . . . (Psalms 46:10)


For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly [self-controlled], righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)




Nothing within this topical study is designed to discourage a person’s praise of God and Christ in a worship service (Psalms 107:32; 111:1).  The issue is how to offer such praise without undue attention to oneself.