John F MacArthurIn the sermon by John MacArthur — ‘A Certain Cure for Hypocrisy, Part 3’ — which I used as commentary for my post on Luke 12:8-12, the well-known and much admired American pastor warns us about enthusiasm in church.

MacArthur cites 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 (emphases mine):

1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur unpacks this for us, describing what St Paul would have seen among the members of his congregation in Corinth:

The Corinthian church, of course, is a chaotic assembly of people. They had managed to import into church life just about everything that was bad from their pre-Christian days. They were so in steeped in paganism that it found its way into the church, as we well know. Perhaps the worst way was through the use of ecstatic experience. What occurred in pagan mystery religions, in pagan cultic religions in the ancient Roman and Greek world was these kinds of esoteric things that were called enthusiasmos(?), and ekstasias(?), the Greek words, ecstasy and enthusiasm. The idea was to get yourself in some kind of euphoric state, to elevate yourself through the…through gluttony and the combination of drunkenness and sexual orgies conducted with temple priests. You literally got yourself in a worked up state of physical euphoria and all of this believing that somehow in this kind of condition you would commune with God. And so they were high on these kind of ecstatic and esoteric mystical experiences. And when they came into the church, they found a place where they could sort of attach these things they were so much a part of their life. And the place they found to attach them was in the exercise of spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit had given to the church certain spiritual gifts, abilities for people to minister to each other. But they had perverted that by bringing into the category of spiritual gifts these esoteric experiences. And they were so bizarre that in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians Paul writes this, “Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware, or ignorant. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray.” It’s a technical term describing their ekstasias, their ecstasies, “To the dumb idols however you were led.” You went whichever way the dumb idol took you, whichever way, in a sense, the demon took you that impersonated the dumb idol. You were in demonic religion and you abandoned yourself to these things like the whirling dervishes and you just flipped out and let demons take you anywhere they wanted to take you and you thought this was how you communed with God. You were just being led away by these dumb idols any ole direction.

And that’s exactly what they brought into the church in the name of speaking in tongues, in the name of communing with God, in the name of some ecstatic union with God they were doing these very things that came out of paganism. And so in verse 3 he shows how severe it was. “Therefore I make known to you…listen to me…no one speaking by the Spirit of God says Jesus is accursed.” What? What are you saying? “No one by the Spirit of God says Jesus is accursed.” What’s he saying? You have people standing up cursing Jesus. That is not by the Spirit of God. But they were allowing for it because it was supposedly a supernatural manifestation. Somebody saying Jesus is anathema in a church? No one saying that would be led by the Spirit of God.

And on the other hand, look at the latter part of verse 3, “No one could ever say Jesus is…what?…is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” That is a very important statement. No one will ever be able to confess Jesus as Lord except by the work of the Holy Spirit. And so I say again, you can’t get to God except through Christ and you can’t get to Christ except through the Holy Spirit. And it’s not the Holy Spirit in a vacuum, it’s the Holy Spirit working internally from the hearing of the external Word which the Spirit has authored. This is absolutely foundational, absolutely foundational. A full true confession of Jesus Christ as Lord is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit through exposure to the written revelation, the external Scripture which He authored and accompanied by the internal hard work by which He regenerates, illuminates and sanctifies.

St Paul warned the Corinthians — ex-pagans — against importing enthusiasm and emotional ecstasy into their worship. He clearly condemned excitement and enthusiasm, which serve man’s carnal desire to be transported or lifted from this world.

Those desires do not serve God and might well detract from doing so as such church members become more interested in how they feel rather than contemplating God through His Son.

As St Paul said, some Corinthians got so carried away in their euphoria that they said Jesus Christ was ‘accursed’.

MacArthur cites 1 John 4:1-6 as good advice for Christians to follow (also see my Forbidden Bible Verses post):

Test the Spirits

 1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

These passages explain why Christian worship was largely solemn until the holiness and pentecostal movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, enthusiasm and ecstasy have been imported into the oldest denominations along with liturgical dancing, charismatic experiences, praise bands, dramatic testimonies, ‘healing’ services and the like.

We would do well to avoid worldly worship practices which tickle our itching ears and leave us with a sense of having been entertained instead of kneeling in awe of the living God and appreciation of the ultimate sacrifice by His Son Jesus Christ.