This was first posted on April 19, 2010.
Christianity Today has an article about research that has been done that shows that taking certain hallucinogenic drugs can provide an experience that is similar or identical to religious experiences. Aside from jokes about staying home and just popping a pill to get a church experience, there are a couple of important implications of these findings.
Many churches work hard to provide a "worship experience" for their members and any visitors that may be attracted. The leaders strive to create an atmosphere that draws people into a sacred encounter with God. Things such as music, lighting, candles, incense, and structures can all be used to evoke a sense of awe and sacredness. My son, Josh is an architect and firmly believes that church buildings should be designed with that end in mind.
Some people go from conference to conference, from worship concert to worship concert. They continually look for a bigger, more meaningful experience. I can understand the feeling. I remember a few years ago I was at a conference where the music and singing was great, and I felt very let down during the service the next day at the church we were at. I think some of the excesses seen in some of the charismatic meetings led by Bentley and others is fueled by this desire for a bigger and better worship experience.
I have no problem with churches doing the best they can to create an atmosphere that helps people worship God. I enjoy a good band and good time singing. I'm one who likes low lighting, candles, incense, etc. I value times of silence, and times of call and response. I believe communities of faith should gather together for times of corporate worship.
What we need to be careful of is the danger of letting the "worship experience" become the the main thing. Whether it's in a Sunday morning church service, or a Saturday night concert put on by a renowned worship leader, some folks make it the center of their faith. It becomes all about the experience. Somehow the rest of life seems to just not be as important.
If our faith is nothing but times of "experiencing God" in between the normal events of life, then we really have nothing to offer those who do not know Jesus. There are many other religions that offer mystical, ecstatic experiences, including those that ingest mushrooms or other substances. If all we have is a way to have another experience, then we are really no different than anyone else. I know, we are experiencing the true God, while others aren't. Telling someone that we gather to worship the only true God isn't likely to convince them that what they worship isn't God.
When we place too much emphasis on the event, we do folks a disservice. When we neglect to teach them what it means to follow Jesus in the day-to-day, and give opportunities to live that out by interacting with each other through the week, we fall short. When we limit "discipleship" to a Sunday school class, or a small group, we fail.
Jesus didn't establish the Church as a place we go to, or as an event we attend. The Church is something we are 24-7. Discipleship is something that happens as we interact with our brothers and sisters in the trenches of daily life. Worship is what happens when we undertake every activity with the objective of loving and glorifying God. We show we follow the King of Kings by our love for each other and for those around us.
If the Holy Spirit leads us into a mystical experience with God, we can rejoice. That is not the thing we should be chasing after, and that is not going to be the case with most of us.
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