Have you ever witnessed a worship service at Bethel Church? The air is electric, the music booms, the chords resonate with your soul. It’s a sensory experience that can cause you to feel like you’ve reached the height of existence. It would be easy to be swept up in the raw emotion of the music and be engulfed in an atmosphere that feels almost otherworldly as if you’ve ascended to a new plane of consciousness—like you’ve made a deep spiritual connection with God Himself, one that transcends mere words.
However, this is a deception, and it’s precisely what makes Bethel and similar churches so seductive and dangerous.
Before I became a true, born-again believer, I was heavily involved in the rave scene. What I see taking place at Bethel services is absolutely no different than what goes on at raves. The atmosphere is the same, and the music and drug-induced trance-like emotional state that one achieves during such an experience are very similar to what we see at these hyper-charismatic churches like Bethel. The lights are dim, which draws attention away from the corporate aspect of worship and creates a feeling of heightened awareness and interconnectedness with the universe and its creator.
This feeling of “becoming one with God and nature” is real—it’s a real feeling and a seemingly real experience. It’s an experience I had often at these rave parties, and before I was truly born again, knowing the real God and who He is, I clearly believed I was accessing the creator of the universe.
Likewise, those who participate in charismatic worship or attend services at churches like Bethel Church experience these same intense emotions and attribute them to encounters with the Holy Spirit. They describe the Holy Spirit as inducing extreme emotional responses, altered states of consciousness, and feelings of connection with a higher power. And these emotional states often manifest in what appears to be outrageous behavior—such as tongues and violent shaking—from those on the outside observing. This is often the body’s natural response to an intense outpouring of dopamine in the brain and it’s channeled through the traditions of the charismatic religious movement. For many of these individuals, these experiences form the foundation of their faith and serve as proof of their salvation or being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
But again, this is nothing more than a deceitful tactic from Satan himself who desires to draw people away from the saving grace of the gospel and into the seductive atmosphere of deceit and slumber. So long as he can make people think they’ve had an experience with God, and they enjoy the experiences, they have no need to turn away from it. What most of these hyper-charismatics at churches like Bethel have in common is a lack of understanding of the true gospel. They may have bits and pieces of the gospel—enough to deceive them, but not enough to save them. They may know that Jesus died on the cross for sins, but most have not seen the need to repent and believe.
Instead of trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross for their salvation, they often trust in these seductive emotional experiences, yet have not been truly born again, and do not respond to the gospel in faith and worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). It is not the true God—the God who hates sin and punishes sinners eternally for transgressing Him, but chooses to save sinners by offering His son as a sacrifice and substitute—that they seek after daily. Rather, it is these emotional experiences, like an addiction to a drug-induced state of being, that these hyper-charismatics seek after.
These experiences are like the golden calf the Israelites built and worshiped during their Exodus from Egypt while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God. The Israelites believed they were connecting with God by experiencing worship in a way that is not prescribed in Scripture, but rather an experience that is formed and crafted by the hands of men. It was an experience that seemed real, but in reality, it was a bunch of dead men worshiping a dead idol. It is the same for these emotionally-driven musical worship experiences at Bethel Church—it is idolatry. It is Hell deceiving the blind. It is death.
Unfortunately, many Evangelical churches, even ones that do have the gospel right, still try to mimic this experience in their own worship services by creating a similar atmosphere, playing emotionally-charged music, and seducing worshipers into having an emotional experience leading them to believe they are experiencing God. The reality is, though, that these churches are just recreating the deception of Hell itself during their worship services and it is these experiences that cause them to believe their church is alive and vibrant.
Again, it may seem that way, but it’s really just an empty shell of death and destruction. Jesus said that unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. The Bible never speaks of a music-induced emotional experience as being born-again, but instead, Jesus said, being born of water and of spirit (John 3:5), or to be washed and regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), a renewed mind (Romans 12:2), a heart of stone replaced by a new heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), all granted to us in faith and repentance from God Himself through the hearing of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And if the work of the Trinity in salvation isn’t alone enough to bring the dry bones of a dead church back to life, then neither will your music, your ecstatic experiences, and your emotional experiences.