Some Christian denominations attract members by offering a “feel-good religious experience,” complete with an upbeat message, live Christian rock music, encouragement to indulge in fits of emotion, and requiring little in the way of commitments. But is an emotionally charged “religious experience” truly the worship God wants?
God created mankind with emotional capacity, but like everything He created for us, we are instructed in His word to control it and use it according to His laws of love. The word emotionalism generally refers to the tendency to display excessive and uncontrolled emotions. Uncontrolled emotions can lead to sins of hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, and envy (Galatians 5:19–21). This is why one of the fruits of God’s spirit is self-control (v. 23).
There is certainly nothing wrong with expressing our emotions in a controlled and considerate way. But there is a right way and there are wrong ways to worship God. We must worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24). There is such a thing as futile worship, as evidenced by the words of Jesus Himself when He said, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Vain worship is giving lip service to God but ignoring His instructions.
Jesus Christ preached repentance, as did John the Baptist, the Twelve Apostles, and the Apostle Paul (Matthew 3:1–2; 4:17; 9:13, Mark 2:17, Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21, 2 Peter 3:9). The true Gospel message can make a person uncomfortable through the realization that changes in behavior are necessary. The Gospel is not a message of feel-good stories meant to evoke sentimental feelings or merely stroke the ego. Nor is it a release of emotions in response to moving lyrics from songs with Christian themes. Worshipping God is not waving arms and getting “lost in an emotional moment.”
Much of these “religious feelings” are not true spiritual communion with God. They are simply the result of emotional manipulation, and people are easily manipulated by their emotions. Just look at the crowds roused into frenzied riots by angry chants and slogans. That is what happened when Paul went to Ephesus to teach and baptize. Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines to the pagan goddess Diana, riled the crowd to a frenzy so that “all with one voice cried out for about two hours, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’” (Acts 19:34).
Similarly, when Jesus was arrested and tried by the chief priests, elders, and scribes, Pilate recognized that they did it because they envied Jesus (Mark 15:10). As the emotions of the crowd were stoked, they all cried repeatedly, “Crucify Him!” (vv. 13–14).
Worship should not be a matter of wanting someone to entertain us. That is equivalent to saying that we want “smooth words and flattering speech,” which is used to “deceive the hearts of the simple.” Such deception is perpetrated by those who “do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly” (Romans 16:18).
The true Gospel includes the call to repentance from sinful behaviors, as was preached by Christ and His apostles. It included the exhortation to submit to God’s instructions and obey Christ’s commands—to take correction and adhere to sound doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16), changing behavior for the better.
Jesus gave His Church His true Gospel and called for repentance from sin. Worship of God must be done in spirit and truth, or it will be futile. For more on this important topic, you can order or read online the free study guides Do You Believe the True Gospel? and What Is a True Christian?