April 12, 2013

Satan Loves to Swing the Pendulum

by Mike Riccardi

Edwards PortraitIn the 1730s and 40s, New England and others of the colonies were in the midst of that great dispensation of God’s grace that we call The Great Awakening. Through the itinerant preaching of George Whitefield and the theological ministry of Jonathan Edwards, large numbers were coming under the conviction of sin and turning to God in repentance and faith in Christ.

Yet in the thick of these revivals many of those who professed Christ would be so caught up with themselves emotionally that the display of “affections” became to be the marker of spiritual maturity. If you were powerfully affected by the truth of spiritual things, you could be assured that your state before God was acceptable.

In response to this, others began to become suspicious of such displays of religious affections, recognizing that they can be easily fabricated and resembled mere “swoonings.” The pendulum had swung, and the trend became to deny the importance of affections altogether, and rather emphasized reason and judgment only.

Listen to what Edwards observes about the nature of sin and the strategy of Satan amidst this trouble:

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Because many who, in the late extraordinary season, appeared to have great religious affections, did not manifest a right temper of mind, and [did] run into many errors, in the heat of their zeal; and because the high affections of many seem to be so soon come to nothing, and some who seemed to be mightily raised and swallowed with joy and zeal for a while, seem to have returned like the dog to his vomit: hence religious affections in general are grown out of credit with great numbers, as though true religion did not at all consist in them.

Thus we easily and naturally run from one extreme to another. A little while ago we were in the other extreme; there was a prevalent disposition to look upon all high religious affections as eminent exercises of true grace, without much inquiry into the nature and source of those affections, and the manner in which they arose. If persons did but appear to be indeed very much moved and raised, so as to be full of religious talk, and express themselves with great warmth and earnestness, and to be filled, or to be very full, as the phrases were; it was too much the manner, without further examination, to conclude such persons were full of the Spirit of God, and had eminent experience of his gracious influences. This was the extreme which was prevailing three or four years ago.

Religious AffectionsBut of late, instead of esteeming and admiring all religious affections, without distinction, it is much more prevalent to reject and discard all without distinction. Herein appears the subtlety of Satan. While he saw that affections were much in vogue, knowing the greater part were not versed in such things, and had not had much experience of great religious affections, enabling them to judge well, and to distinguish between true and false; then he knew he could best play his game, by sowing tares amongst the wheat, and mingling false affections with the works of God’s Spirit. He knew this to be a likely way to delude and eternally ruin many souls, and greatly to wound religion in the saints, and entangle them in a dreadful wilderness, and by and by to bring all religion into disrepute.

But now, when the ill consequences of these false affections appear, and it is become very apparent, that some of those emotions which made a glaring show, and were by many greatly admired, were in reality nothing; the devil sees it to be for his interest to go another way to work, and to endeavour to his utmost to propagate and establish a persuasion, that all affections and sensible emotions of the mind in religion, are nothing at all to be regarded, but are rather to be avoided, and carefully guarded against, as things of a pernicious tendency. This he knows is the way to bring all religion to a mere lifeless formality, and effectually to shut out the power of godliness and every thing spiritual. For although to true religion there must indeed be something else besides affection; yet true religion consists so much in the affections, that there can be no true religion without them. He who has no religious affection, is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection.

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We can learn from this. First, more generally, in our devotion to correct error, we all need to guard against overcorrection — against swinging the pendulum so far in the other direction that we miss the biblical target and fall into the opposite error. Satan is delighted at this, because no one is more impervious to correction than when he believes he is valiantly correcting another’s error. And so we go about our business thinking we’ve been discerning, all the while sinning in the other direction. I’m not one who hails “balance” as the supreme Christian virtue, as if the Hegelian synthesis is the test of orthodoxy. (I think my friend Dan Phillips strikes a masterful…heh…balance regarding that here.)  Sometimes the via media leads to destruction. But having said that, I think this is a point we need to heed.

PendulumSecond, as we get more specific, we should recognize that we can apply this in a multitude of ways. But I think there’s a particularly valuable lesson for us regarding the subject Edwards himself was speaking about. Those of us who would place ourselves in the noncharismatic camp desire to correct the excessive emotionalism and lack of intellectualism that characterizes much of that movement. We recognize that neither the Holy Spirit Himself nor the Word that He’s inspired is anti-intellectual. The mind is not to be bypassed in favor of spirituality; rather the mind is to be engaged in service of spirituality (or as Edwards would put it: in the service of holy affections).

But we need to guard against running to the opposite error of an anti-emotional intellectualism — a stoicism that makes us suspicious of all display of affections. We need to remember that the glories of Christ and of His salvation are such worthy and compelling realities, that it is sin to be unmoved and unaffected by them. Those whose hearts have been quickened to perceive the loveliness of divine things must be affected by those things, and thus they will feel deeply. And while different people express such affection in different ways, we should not immediately write off the more external expressions of affection as a shallow, overzealous emotionalism. Not every worshiper who raises his hands and smiles while singing should be accused of “going charismatic.” Not every preacher who raises his voice or is emotionally moved in the pulpit is a histrionic, manipulative huckster, or tossed to and fro by his uncontrollable passions. To fall into this error would be to aid the enemy in “bring[ing] all religion to a mere lifeless formality, and effectively to shut out the power of godliness and everything spiritual.” Let us remember that “although to true religion there must indeed be something else besides affection, yet true religion consists so much in the affections that there can be no true religion without them.”

Though our love for the truth might exasperate us in the face of error, let us not show a lack of faith in the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of His Word by seeking to overcorrect that error, and so give the enemy a foothold. Let us always aim for the biblical center — the bull’s eye of God’s Word. If we hit that target, we can’t miss anywhere else.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Melissa Collins

    Excellent. In the last year the Lord has done a mighty work in my life, causing me to completely rely on Him every single day – asking for my provision for just today, as He has promised to give me my daily bread but I must ask for it. He wants to be in communion with me, in relationship daily. This daily relationship has brought me to tears many a day – and the emotion comes from a deeply grateful heart for the fulfilling of His promise to me. When one is filled with His Holy Spirit, it is overwhelming at times. Thanks for this writing today!

  • kevin2184

    Great post, Mike.

  • Daryl Little

    Mike, as a former charismatic I found this to be quite helpful. I need to remind myself that personality plays a huge role in this. I don’t have a “showy” personality, so I don’t look as affected as others, but I do need to learn to give room for others to be who they are.

    That said, when emotional reactions begin to look like a football game…I think there’s a problem. It does seem to me that the we should be a little more restrained in public than in private, out of consideration for others.

    • I’m totally with you, Daryl. It’s important to mention that people can be very affected and be worshiping deeply without anyone even knowing it, because worship is fundamentally a matter of the heart. But if we’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, so deep down in our “hearts” that we scowl and look down upon anyone who doesn’t scowl, the pendulum has swung.

      And “Amen” about the football game. That’s the other side of the pendulum’s swing. We’ve got to remember that while corporate worship should be a glad celebration, that appropriate atmosphere of gravity should never be absent. It’s a serious thing we do to come into the presence of God as the assembly of His people.

      So, I’ve retreated to Piper again. 🙂 We need gravity and gladness.

      Thanks brother.

  • “…no one is more impervious to correction than when he believes he is valiantly correcting another’s error.” Yikes. Thank you for the reminder Mike.

  • Michael Delahunt

    This is one of my favorite articles I’ve read on Cripplegate. I love the line, ” Let us always aim for the biblical center — the bull’s eye of God’s Word. If we hit that target, we can’t miss anywhere else.” This must be trumpeted from the pulpits of all true churches.

  • Suzanne T

    Yes! balance! Excellent, excellent word, Mike.

    We (I) definately need more balance in our (my!) thinking, notably when it comes to discerning the ‘right/true from the almost right/true’. I need a constant *check* when it comes to my ninja discerninment skills. (ahem) Seriously though, there’s a tendancy to be on the lookout everywhere-all-the-time and we end up seeing “error” all over, and that gets in the way of grace. God has been smoothing those rough edges in me, preventing me from ruining relationships, and/or just thinking wrongly about others..so thankful for His grace!

    I have to say, I absolutely love seeing my pastor (along with a handful of others in my church) raising hands in genuine, exuberant worship during the music week after week, I find that such a beautiful display!

    • Yup. Dan’s post on balance that I linked above is really exceptional. Here’s what I think is the best part, which coincides with what you’re saying:

      If I never deal with error in preaching, specifically and clearly, I am failing. If I never warn against, expose, and rebuke false teaching, I am failing. So on the one hand and very clearly, anyone who tries for an exclusively positive ministry is being unfaithful to the pastoral “call.”

      But on the other, if all one ever does is rant and rail and warn and moan about False Teachers, if in effect They loom larger in the pulpit than the cross and the Gospel and the grace of God — and the blessed persons of the Trinity — then one has equally erred. A ministry of denunciation is no less unbalanced than a ministry of marshmallow evanjellybeanicalism. Both fail God and God’s people.

  • I have lost count of the amount of times I have seen this with friends who adopted the doctrines of grace and subsequently began to look down their noses at those who do things like raising their hands in worship or were outwardly expressive or emotional in worship. Thanks for the reminder about being balanced, brother 🙂

  • truthunites

    “Not every worshiper who raises his hands and smiles while singing should be accused of “going charismatic.” Not every preacher who raises his voice or is emotionally moved in the pulpit is a histrionic, manipulative huckster, or tossed to and fro by his uncontrollable passions.”
    As someone who gently leans softly cessationist I’m appreciative of both Piper and Grudem. Sounds like you should be a speaker at the “Strange Fire” conference later this year.

  • John_D_11

    MIke, good post, I understand and agree with the main point, however, if I may sidtrack the discussion I think I could have done without some of the Satan talk, certainly in the title. I think we too often give Satan more credit and more noble attributes than he deserves, like omniscience, and “delight.” I don’t think Satan thinks about us that much. He is consumed with thoughts of himself. This is where books like Screwtape Letters error. If Satan was that strategic about how to deceive and ensnare others, he’d be more Christian than most Christians in how much he thought about others. I”m a Spirit-filled Christian and can hardly get my mind off myself, so I don’t know how the devil could be so others minded? I”m pretty sure he’s more impulsive, reactive, sloppy, abusive, angry, and shoot from the hip white-trash type guy. Remember those false teachers who were writing about open theism about 10 years ago? I think that’s more what Satan’s like.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, John. Unfortunately, I don’t share it.

      I’m not a guy who likes to find Satan under every rock, and I abhor the soveriegnty that many professing Christians seem to afford him. Nevertheless, I think your view is quite a good illustration of what the substance of the post is warning against, swinging the pendulum to an imagined impotence and indolence of Satan.

      Your reasoning seems mostly to be your opinion and extrapolations of your own view of man as a sinful creature. But that seems not to do justice to texts like Ephesians 2:2, 2 Timothy 2:26, 1 Peter 5:8, and 1 John 5:19.

      But, I suppose all that is for another post on another day. Thanks for dropping by and chiming in!

      • John_D_11

        “I think your view is quite a good illustration of what the substance of the post is warning against” Well, that is not at all how I meant to come across, but re-reading your post, and comments like “we all need to guard against overcorrection” and “no one is more impervious to correction than when he believes he is valiantly correcting another’s error” I can definitely see how I might have came across this way, and apologize, and as much as I’d like to further discuss the Satan bit, I agree it’s for another post another day (I acknowledged I was sidetracking btw).

        But could your title not have been “We Sinners Love to Swing the Pendulum?” I think your title DOES ascribe some sovereignty to Satan, as the one holding the pendulum and rocking it, that sounds pretty powerful, more than the four verses you cited allow (even 1 Jn 5:19, the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, is talking about unbelievers, believers are exempt from this Satannic rule per v.18). Your post was barely even about Satan. It was about “guarding against the opposite error of an anti-emotional intellectualism, a stoicism that makes us suspicious of all displays of affection.” I think a boiled down version of that statement would have made a much better title. In fact, I probably would have read the whole post quite different had it been retitled, and that pendulum picture removed. That pendulum picture is your illustration of the church. Is Satan really holding the pendulum, picking up and dropping those little balls on each end of the “affections” spectrum, and “delighted” as he watches the church swing back and forth? I rather picture God holding the pendulum in his loving hands, disappointed watching sinners duke it out, and Satan waiting below in the dirt, licking his chops hoping one of the balls on the end will loosen and pop off so he can devour it, like scraps fallen off a table.

        Regarding your main point, I loved it, and I want you to know, I have a special, remote mountain top near my home I like to go, plug in my earbuds, crank my favorite worship songs, and let my affections for God loose at the top of my lungs with no one to hear my awful voice but God and the wind. My body language at that private place might be a distraction in church, which is why I do it in private. I learned this practice from my youth pastor, who was more “stoic/intellectual” in public so as not to be a distraction, but loved to belt out with his full affections in private, in the car, or where ever.

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