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    “See to it no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

    « Why Not Beth Moore? | The Full Good News »

    Emotional Manipulation in the Church

    "And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

    I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)


    "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).


    "Paul was careful to avoid verbal trickery and insisted upon reliance on the power of God to win people over (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)" (p. 1797 of NIV Archeological Study Bible, "Rhetoric Box")


    Modern churches (like ancient ones) often employ emotional "trickery", appealing to the senses. In older churches the buildings are often grandiose with beautiful architecture, colorful stained-glass windows (or other artwork) that invite meditation, intimidating pipe organs, impressive choirs, candles and/or incense, a ritualistic routine, and perhaps larger-than-life spiritual leaders, all of which induce a sense of hushed awe, holiness, ritual, beauty, piety, and something bigger than ourselves.


    Modern churches focus on comfort (soft chairs, coffee houses), convenience (multiple gathering times, in-church bookstores, nurseries), and a fun learning environment (catchy songs, colorful lights, "hip" and humorous spiritual leaders). 


    Our natural selves assume what looks, smells, feels, and sounds good "must" be good. We are attracted to the appealing and repulsed by the unappealing. Therefore, when we strive to make our church buildings and services appeal to the senses, we are appealing and appeasing our sin nature. 


    Please don't misunderstand me. In and of themselves, none of the aforementioned things from either end of the spectrum are "bad". It is when they are used to try and elicit a particular emotion or outcome from others that we have strayed into emotional trickery. In other words it isn't so much what we do, as why we do it.


    It is our Biblical role to be hospitable, welcoming, encouraging, and comforting. It is not our role to attempt to make people stay (this actually shows desperation) by appealing to their wants and needs. We profess the Holy Spirit's power, but we do not live like we believe it. 


    When Paul went on his missionary journies, he merely spoke and debated Christianity with anyone who would listen. Sometimes they stayed but did not become Christians, sometimes they left, sometimes they tried to kill him, and sometimes they stayed and did become Christians. Paul invited others, but nowhere did Paul try to entice others to listen to the Good News. 


    We need to imitate Paul so that our message and our preaching are not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that our hearers' faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power. It is our job to live Biblically, loving the Lord with all we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). God converts and changes hearts, not us.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    A lot to think about here. On the one hand, I agree completely. We should let the truth speak for itself. Sometimes hearing the truth and being in the Presence of God causes an emotional reaction. Sometimes it doesn't. Churches shouldn't try to force people into feeling. It should come naturally if it comes at all. Emotions have more to do with a person's personality than their spirituality.

    On the other hand, the church is there to lead people to Christ and into worship. If someone is seeking a church, or seeking Christ, they are most likely going to be more open to visiting a church that has a nice and comfortable outward appearance with a more polished, professional worship service. This isn't always the case, but judging by the attendance records of churches that emphasize this sort of thing, it does seem to be a prominent concern to many people.

    I think the issue here may be a mature view versus a less mature view. A mature Christian would say that the outward appearance doesn't matter. A seeker, or a less mature Christian, still considers those things to be very important. They might not be willing to hear the truth of the message without the "sugar coating" so to speak. The question is, If we use the outward appearance to bring people in, how do we then move toward convincing them that the outward "stuff" doesn't really matter? Or, are we "sugar coating" things so much that when people see past the hype, they realize that we've been giving them too much "sugar" and not enough truth to really stand on?

    It's a tough one. I'd be interested to hear the author's thoughts here.

    February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRev. Stephen R. Wilson

    Hi Stephen, great to hear from you! I will answer your question with another question-what is the purpose of (the) church?

    What we are used to, is thinking of the church as a place for all people to come and hear the Good News, worship as a group, learn more about God, and serve others. From a Biblical standpoint it seems the first churches were more focused on fellowship (encouraging, building up, sharing with, and exhorting one another), corporate worship, and teaching Scripture. The first churches were gatherings of Christians, for Christians. Then they went out/back to their day jobs as “missionaries”, preaching to unbelievers.

    The focus has shifted so fellowship is cut to a 30 minute coffee break between Sunday school and worship service, retreats in which the most genuine fellowship occurs if you happen to carpool (because the rest of the time is taken up in learning—and I’m not bashing that by any means), or the little snippets of time in between all the hundreds of other church activities that keep people so busy.

    So yes, I would say that sugar-coating, while it is enticing at first, will eventually become addictive and rot teeth, not to mention all the other diseases it could cause. I do think it is ultimately misleading, though I know the desire is to see people saved. Now we’ve puttered into the realm of pragmatism, which is when the end justifies the means. We know from Scripture, God cares more about the inside/heart of a person (“the means”) than the outside appearance (“the end”). If we feel obliged to sugar-coat things (which Jesus never did), to what are we really winning them to?

    P.S. I apologize for my lack of Biblical references here, but many of my points are also made in other posts in which I give my references.

    February 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterA Christian

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