"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).
Self-indulgence in Public Worship
By Fred O. Blakely
Fostered by the current resurgence of neo- (not to say pseudo-) Pentecostalism, personal abandon is being encouraged in the public worship services of the church. Whatever you feel like doing in self-expression, just let yourself go, is the exhortation by some. The more unrestrained you become, the more you manifest the Presence of the Spirit, and so glorify the God whom we have assembled to worship.
On the basis of this view of worship, almost anything is permissible and encouraged. A good beginning is that of boisterous clapping of hands-when the music is fast--(some add footstomping), accompanied by the raising of hands. From this, others proceed to bodily swaying, dancing in the aisles, and some to rolling on the floor. The idea is, Whatever the "Spirit"' moves you to do, do it with gusto, entirely without regard to the others present; for in this way you effectively exhibit God's Presence in you, and, according to the false notion, edify the church. It is insisted, in fact, that a sure evidence of "Holy Ghost baptism" is the liberation of a person for such unrestrained capering.
Now, of course, this "full-gospel" idea of worship (as it is self-styled) has its attempt at scriptural justification. There was King David who "uncovered himself" and "danced before the Lord with all his might" (II Sam. 6:14, 201. Surely, most would stop short of advocating this in the assembly. And much is said in Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms about handclapping and handraising in worship. The foot-stomping, bodily swaying, and rolling, with the other variations of self-expression, appear to be wholly founded on present-day urges.
The vital point consistently ignored is that, under the new covenant when we are presumed to have advanced in grace and the knowledge of God, there is nothing said about such bodily performances in the assembly of the saints. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" is the situation with which we now are fully confronted (Jn. 4:24). The Mount Zion to which we by faith have come cannot be "touched" (Heb. 12:18); it is perceived by faith, and the God and His Son who dwell there are worshiped by faith, in the spirit, not "with men's hands" and bodies (Acts 17:24-25). That we are to discerningly sing together the praises of God is made abundantly clear. But beyond this and the practice of prayer and prophecy (preaching), we have no new-covenant authorization or precedent. Another factor disregarded by the persons who insist on making a physical show is that their performances actually interfere with such spiritual worship, rather than enhance it.
Far from being authorized and encouraged by Scripture, uninhibited self-indulgence in the public worship is really condemned. This censure occurs in, of all places, the 14th chapter of First Corinthians, the citadel of pseudo-Pentecostalism. In the first century, when certain brethren actually had the gift of "diversities of tongues" (ch. 12:10, 28), the Apostle pointed out the selfish element associated with its employment in the assembly, and imposed restrictions upon such use because of that. "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort," he observed. On the other hand, "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself," he went on to say (ch. 14:3-4). Clearly, Paul did not condone such self-gratification in the assembly, particularly if it militated against the general edification of the group. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good," is the rule which he invoked (ch. 12:7, RSV), not for individual satisfaction alone.
We thus conclude that the whole concept of individual freedom and unrestrained self-expression in public worship is both unscriptural and anti-scriptural in the era of regeneration. The practice of such is not an evidence of some special enduement by God ·s Spirit, but of ingrained selfishness which will assert self, be the consequences to others as they may. The trouble with those who insist on venting their feelings in the assembly as they desire, without regard to group decorum and the general good, is they have confused public worship with private devotion. In the group, "the spirits of the Prophets,·· and everyone else, are to be subject to them. This is because "God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (ch. 14:32-33).
If people want to whoop it up before the Lord in their private worship, they may do so as seems good to them, insofar as we are concerned. But in our public meetings, let us seek to stay within the boundaries which have been laid out for us under the new covenant. After all, as saith the Spirit, "the body is not one member, but many·• (ch. 12_:14). That is a vital consideration the self-expressionists appear prone to ignore.
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).