What is the role of emotions within the Church?Posted: 2011-08-24
It goes without saying that I am not an overly emotional person. Now, I am not as emotionally inept as Mr. Spock from the old Star Trek series. I do feel things, and I am known to emotionally react at times. Rather, my weakness lies in the expression of emotions, as well as the ability to handle other people’s expressions of emotion. I do not make a habit of pursuing emotional experiences, and I am heavily suspicious of anyone who attempts to manipulate me via my emotions.
Because of this, I am having a little bit of trouble figuring out how to approach emotion within the Church. I am by nature emotionally constipated, and many churches are by nature heavily emotional. I often feel (though I may be quite wrong) that many churches handle emotion in improper ways. How do I reconcile this without doing something or holding a way of thinking that may harm my relationship with the Church at large and with God?
I may sound like I’m ranting below. That is not my intention. I am not against any of the things I mention; I am merely voicing my own personal perceptions of them. I want to know how those of you who read this (especially the pastors among you) feel about what I say.
Not too long ago, (due to a situation which I will not detail in order to avoid embarrassing other individuals) my siblings and I left the third church in which we have become heavily involved within the last three years. Over the time spent at those churches, I have made some observations in regard to how emotion is currently handled within a church setting.
- The first thing that I noticed is that it seems as though emotion is heavily used to manipulate people into a “spiritual” response. How many of you have sat through an altar call where the pastor’s voice is cracking and tears are running down his face while the band is playing a sweet, minor-key worship song to which you cannot help but respond? Altar calls always make me grumpy, because I am blocked from viewing them as anything more than emotional manipulation trying to masquerade as the calling of the Spirit. This is only how I am perceiving altar calls; I would love to hear some of my pastor friends give me their thoughts on why they do altar calls, and where emotions play a part in them. I would love to take part in altar calls, but I’m not going to do it unless I am sure that I am responding spiritually, and not just because “Like a Rose” sounds pretty.
- Another place that emotion is used a lot in the Church is in worship music. I am thoroughly convinced that every worship song written after 2005 or so was written in a special key that makes people melancholy and open to suggestion. (For some reason, this same “hypnotic” musical key also causes a yawn reflex within me. Odd.) Over the last three years, I have struggled heavily with how to handle worship music. I don’t sing well, and when I do participate in worship through song I end up spending all of my focus and energy just trying to stay on tune. Putting that aside, it is impossible for me to either put anything into or take anything away from the spiritual act of worship that is supposed to come with the music. (I hypothesize that a suspicion of emotional manipulation within worship music is what causes that). As a result, if I sing, I am only doing it to make others think that I am worshipping, when I am not. That feels dishonest both before man and God, so I usually don’t. Again, this is just my perception. If any pastors or other smart people have any thoughts on where emotions play a part in worship music, please chime in. It’s the same as with the altar calls. I want to participate, but I don’t want to do it if I’m just responding to emotions.
- Where I really struggle with most is the role of emotion is in the daily spiritual life of a Christian. Where does emotion play a part in our interaction with the spiritual realm? Does it have any role? Despite the Church’s current obsession with emotional manipulation, it seems to me that it doesn’t really like emotions. How many times have you heard the phrase “Love is not an emotion” or “Joy is not an emotion” while you were at Sunday School? I hypothesize that you can argue that any virtue or good activity mentioned within the Scriptures is not an emotion, since the Christian virtues and fruits of the Spirit are meant to transcend emotions. But what does a person who has achieved all of the virtues and fruits of the Spirit look like? Does emotion play a role in their spiritual life? Or is it (as the Church tells you) just something that is a stumbling block for the virtues and fruits of the Spirit to transcend?
Okay, that’s it. I think I am setting some sort of a record for longest use of bullet points within a text.
I do believe that God created the emotions. Therefore, He has a purpose for them. I don’t believe that He creates things just so we can use them to manipulate others, nor does He create things for us to ignore them. I think that emotions play a role in the Church and in the life of the believer. I’m just having trouble figuring out what it is.
I welcome feedback and thoughts so I can make sense of this. 🙂