Theology Thursday: Religious Addiction


Some readers of this blog might remember that I founded and moderated an e-mail loop for “recovering ex-Charismatics” who were in search of solid footing, both doctrinally and in their experience of Christian living. Most of us had no idea what to believe or where to find help, other than in God’s infallible and unchanging Word, the bible. But since we had no idea how to use that resource, nor how to interpret scripture, people joined ExCharisma to share their journey back to solid ground, stability, and hope. Now hosted at the-highway.com, ExCharisma continues that mission from the safety and accountability of a great Reformation resource.

Just as in the days before the Protestant Reformation, the gospel of Christ has once again become obscured behind corruption, superstition, biblical illiteracy, and even religious addiction. And just as Reformation was desperately needed 500 years ago, so equally today. There has always been a remnant of “the faith once delivered” (Jude 3 – note that Jude didn’t write “discovered” or uncovered,” but DELIVERED. Literally handed down to us), but it took the Reformation to restore it to the visible Church at large. 500 years later, we need a new Reformation.

From the archives of the old e-mail loop (and hopefully one day to find it’s way into a book), here are the testimonies of a few of the participants, talking about the addictive and superstitious bondage inherent to Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement:

Religious Addiction In Our Own Words

People who have been addicted to drugs describe their experience in terms that seem to compare quite strikingly with Pentecostalism. And the description of them is totally opposite of what a relationship with Jesus is really like:

When a person is using drugs recreationally for the very first time, he only needs a small dose of the drug to get the “high” he seeks. But as he becomes addicted, it takes greater and greater dosages of the stuff to achieve the same high he got in the beginning with only a small dose. A drug addict must get more and more of the drug each time; and he finds at a certain point that he’s no longer taking the drug to make him feel good, but to keep from feeling bad! A biblical relationship with Christ is a completely different experience. Subscribers to this e-group describe their own experience below in exploring this concept of “religious addiction.”

Robin:

First please understand that I despise, detest, abhor, hate, and vehemently oppose any comparison of Christ with drugs in the form of the old Jesus-People theme, “Try Jesus, He’ll make you high, man!” But for purposes of contrasting religious addiction to real Christian discipleship, I must use this analogy. My first “dose” of Jesus – my initial encounter with Him when I was reborn and His Spirit came to dwell within my heart – was a big, huge “dose” of Him. The biggest, most radical “dose” of Jesus I ever had was the day He found me and changed my heart. Today, the tiniest little peek at His face is all it takes to make my heart sing with the same joy and abandon it did on the day I was converted. Just a few minutes in His word and I’m “high” on the wonder of His grace and glory. It takes only the tiniest “dose” of Him from His word, or from the Lord’s Supper, or a sermon, etc to send my soul into orbit, worshipping Him with the same abandon and delight I felt as a child, when I received that first huge, mega-“dose.” It’s the opposite of addiction because the slightest “dose” is as effective as the first “big dose,” and I don’t find myself running to Him to keep from feeling bad, but to thank Him for His goodness and mercy to a sinner like me.A whole new world had just opened up and I was on the threshold of this fantastic invisible realm to explore, with potential for greater and greater things. Praying in tongues became a “Merit Badge for Advanced Christianity” which I wore quite proudly, but only for a short time. Because pretty soon it took a lot more than just tongues-speaking to make me feel “in tune with God” and “in the center of His will.” Before long I was pursuing more and more “deeper-life” experiences, exploring and experimenting with “greater gifts” and secret, intuitive knowledge, and false “intimacy with God” – all apart from the simplest disciplines of the Christian faith (bible study, biblical prayer, stewardship, fellowship, and service). With a few years of my first “dose” of “Holy Ghost power,” I found that I was seeking more and more of Him in order to keep myself from feeling bad rather than for the benefit of others or even to please God. I had become addicted to religion. And when God delivered me from it I went through withdrawal pangs every bit as real and as painful as those experienced by chemical addicts when the drug is withdrawn.

Look how big the “dosages” have become for those addicted to Pentecostalism for many years. It went from speaking in tongues to “singing in the Spirit,” and from there to “falling under the power,” and from there to “holy laughter,” and now the “doses” are huge! Examples of this run the gamut from “gold dust” and Divine Dentistry to Benny Hinn’s predictions of “greater things to come,” such as the dead being raised merely by sitting their bodies in front of a television and tuning it to TBN. Greater and greater “experiences,” bigger and bolder predictions, higher and higher emotion, more and more hype.

But full hospitals and empty bank accounts (unless you’re a televangelist) persist in churches full of religious addicts who believe what they want to believe because it keeps them from feeling bad about their true situation, spiritually, morally, physically, medically, financially, etc. During my years as a Charismatic, I helped to spread a message which I knew deep down was not even effective in my own life. I assumed that something was wrong with me, not the message, so I continued to recruit and seduce others into religious addiction. I became a “drug dealer” of sorts, resorting even to trickery and manipulation without shame because it was “for the cause of Christ.”

And like most addicts, it took a series of tragedies and losses to bring me to a point of honesty and acceptance of reality. And once freed from my religious addiction, I re-discovered the innocence and joy and purity and stability of an honest relationship with my Lord, strengthened by the simple disciplines of bible study, prayer, stewardship, fellowship, and service.

Kathi:

This is too true! I, too, can’t stand the comparisons of a relationship with Jesus to “high on Jesus” & I’ve never experienced a drug addiction. But I agree with what you’ve written. And I see two other parallels between addictions & religion: First, it totally appeals to the flesh, and second, it creates a “reality” that isn’t reality at all. My brother was a cocaine addict before coming to the Lord. My husband discipled him the first year while he lived in our home. He said he loved the way he felt on drugs because it covered how really bad he felt about himself and he didn’t have to deal with who he really was (new “reality”). And when he was high on drugs, his personality changed. He had an unnatural boldness and confidence, and he would act like he was someone important (appeal to the flesh.) Charismatic “religion” does exactly the same thing – appeals to the flesh by making us think we’ve got something really important, and it changes reality so we don’t have to deal with situations & with who we really are before a Holy God.

Also, I’ve heard that its no fun to be around people using drugs unless you’re using them yourself. Otherwise, you just won’t fit in – especially since you’re back in the real “reality.” I’ve seen the same thing at church. I remember once, an elder in the church started praying really loudly – actually yelling and crying. (He learned this from watching Carter Conlon on a video.) Within 2 weeks, whole groups were praying that way – yelling and crying and wailing all over the church. Now in reality, it was very uncomfortable to walk into a church where groups of people were yelling. But people began to do it just so they could fit in, because, after all, if you didn’t pray that way, you obviously didn’t pray with any anointing. And who wanted to get caught looking like they didn’t have any anointing! So the whole “culture” of prayer changed in the church Suddenly what was actually ridiculous (is God hard of hearing?) became the normal way to pray in that church. And us “normal” people who just didn’t buy it – well, we didn’t fit in. Sigh…….such foolishness.

Dave:

This might explain why the PentaMatic movement is so popular among ex-addicts. I do not mean it out of contempt for those who have drug addictions, but I mean it as a condemnation of the American evangelical tactics used since the 1800’s (Iain Murray documents the frontier revivals under the Methodists with all sorts of ecstatic and emotional extremes). It has now evolved into a substitution for chemically induced emotional high, a new form of escapism. Combined with our sinful desire to ascend into God’s presence, we have a paganism disguised as the gospel.

Revivalism and marketing have come together to “market” Jesus. Dr Michael Horton refers to it as the consumer orientation of the church. At my Pentecostal church, we used to love hearing a gospel tune, “when you’ve tried everything and everything’s failed, try Jesus”.

At the same church a musician (trumpet player) talked about a better high through Christ, his ecstatic experiences through the Holy Ghost, referring to God as the “Most High.” Carmen, a famous performer on TBN and a Word Faith proponent, had a best-selling album with DC Talk, “Addicted to Jesus” (as well as another best-seller,” Who’s in the House, it’s JC”). Not one DJ or CCM Video host even questioned the absurd, blasphemous concepts of this “superstar”.

Robin is right, the need for greater stimulation and ecstatic experiences continues. The (now defunct) discernment.org site details the parallels with occultic behavior, which often utilizes chemicals (ie, peyote).

Often , court-mandated probation includes supervision of a religious halfway house and affiliated church for a fixed term. The legalism and the disillusionment of the “religious high” took its toll, with some going back to jail for leaving, and others living a secret life of deception and criminal activity.

As we know, it is dangerous, deceptive and leads to abuse. God is gracious enough to deliver us, and we will continue to pray for those who are caught in this.

Mary:

Always looking for that next spiritual high, to be in the worship service of all worship services. Then to hit reality during the week that I was still the jerk I was before going to the last service. Some of that is changing now, I’m not quite a jerk as I was before. I am no longer waiting for that word of knowledge, word of wisdom or prophetic unction to speak. I am no longer watching for the way the Holy Spirit is going to manifest Himself to the congregation. I am no longer fighting powers, principalities, demons, evil spirits, rulers of darkness in order to make a way for people and God to be in each others presence. I am no longer wondering what is the prophetic theme for the service. Such as what color to wear, what color of ribbons to put on a tambourine, what color banners to bring along.

My life has gotten a little simpler and more intense for the truth of the bible. I now dress out of respect for the Lord on Sundays. The tambourine is in the hands of another person who had a cute picture of a lamb painted on it. The banners are being waved by someone else. And the only thing I wonder about on Sundays is do I have enough notepad paper and ink in my pen.

I remember prayer meetings where everyone was walking the floor, yelling at Satan, and yelling at God at the same time. Then coming together at the end to hold hands and thank God in a very humble manner. I never could figure out the purpose for the yelling and moaning and walking fast. So when I was asked to take over the prayer meeting by the Pastor I slowly brought the people back to a place of sitting and listening to one another’s prayers so there could be agreement and understanding. Because how were we able to thank God for His wonderful deeds if we could not hear what the petitions and supplications were. After 7 years of leading Saturday night prayer I closed the meeting for reasons I mentioned to the Pastor. The next time there was a corporate prayer meeting the instructions were given to pray whichever way you were “led” by the Spirit to pray. I finally figured that God and the devil must be deaf because people went back to yelling at them. And I sat in the midst of two lanes of traffic of people walking past me. I don’t know, I must not have been in tune with the Spirit that evening.

I not only observed these things when I was there, but I participated in them with all my heart. I was a good leader and follower in all the Charismatic and Third Wave Movement. It goes along with being addicted to something and my addiction happened to be to the supernatural and being “a part of.” When I was going through a real dark time before leaving that church, I drew a picture of my heart how it seemed to be at that time to me. I came face to face with sin. As Kathi mentioned, a person using drugs or other forms of addiction uses them to alter reality. I had been able to use the teachings of Hagin, Copeland, Meyers, Joyner, Deere, etc. to alter the reality of life. There was a sense of control, power and even excitement I hadn’t had for a long time. But the more I practiced the techniques taught by these people and others, the deeper I got into confusion.

It had gotten so bad I thought I was developing multiple personalities, or at least a form of the disorder. Because the teachings were not measuring up to the reality I was actually experiencing. I had prayed for people’s healing, laid hands on them, bound, rebuked and commanded the sickness to leave, and they all DIED. The windfall of prosperity was not a part of my life. Participated in a “deliverance” with the Pastor and saw no deliverance take place. “Calling those things that be not as though they were” wasn’t occurring either. I could not understand why the word of God was not working for me. I was supposed to be able to heal, deliver and set people free “in the name of Jesus” but it wasn’t happening. That was thing, then there was “the prophetic.” We all can prophesy, I was told. So I set out to develop this. Many around me said I was prophetic, yet I was not seeing the angels in the service, nor the gold dust on a persons hand, nor the glory cloud moving in front of the church; I was not dreaming dreams or having visions. I was being told I was a part of “the prophetic,” yet reality was telling me something different. My mind was getting split into two realms, trying hard with spiritual reasoning to stay connected and be a part of the move of God and two dealing with doubt, condemnation and rejection.

God our heavenly Father in His great wisdom saw it necessary for me to go through all this. My mind has since settled down after leaving that church and being with other Christians who have stayed with the study of the written word of God. The Lord has taken me to a place of safety where I can mend and grow strong. Part of the mending has been to write as I have openly with out the fear of criticism. Thank you all for your support.

How About You?

The “Charismatic experience” hooked us in a way that was not liberating and empowering like it promised to be. Instead the pursuit of higher and higher “experiences in the Spirit” became an addiction for us, enslaving our emotions, turning us into great actors and poor liars, and all too often, just like chemical addicts, it takes real-life tragedies to make us even aware of what we have become. Reality was re-defined, normal God-given perception and reason were perverted to support our quest for “more, Lord… more!” This bondage can be broken, just as Jesus said, by the application of God’s word. “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” He said. And it is the never-changing word of God found in the never-changing Scriptures alone that can be the foundation upon which we build our lives (Eph 2:20), not the constantly-changing, ever-elusive and never-certain “winds” of Pentecostalism. Those of us who have fled to Jesus from the uncertainty and confusion and fear of our addiction to Pentecostalism urge you to come back with us to “the faith once delivered,” the sure, certain, confident quiet assurance one can find only in the Scriptures, enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit.

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