Manipulation or Ministry - Part II
In Part One I identified 10 of 15 characteristics of manipulation in the name of ministry. Here in Part Two I conclude our study.
11. A leader is manipulative when he/she compensates for the lack of anointing by using natural skills or tactics to arouse or inspire or excite an audience. For example, when the Lord does not appear to be bringing laughter, it is manipulative to tell jokes or laugh infectiously in hope of inducing the same in everyone else.
12. A leader is being manipulative when he/she does things that make others feel indebted. People have been manipulated when they find themselves saying: "He did this for us; so we feel obligated to do likewise for him."
13. A person has been manipulated when he/she lacks the freedom to make decisions without feeling they are missing God's best. For example, when people are told not to biblically analyze or evaluate a phenomenon but simply receive it, on the supposition that the mind is the enemy or obstacle to intimacy with God, they are being manipulated.
14. It is manipulative when a leader tells or suggests to people how they are supposed to feel. Not wanting to "miss God," they are tempted to fabricate or artificially produce such feelings, or perhaps imitate those who they are convinced are receiving a genuine "touch" from God. If none of this works, they frequently leave feeling isolated, unloved, and sub-Christian.
Somewhat related to this is the temptation to identify by "discernment" what God is doing before anyone else can hear, see, or feel any spiritual activity. For example, in a meeting that otherwise seems to be uneventful, a leader may say: "I sense that God is imparting a spirit of travail," or "I sense that the joy of the Lord is being poured out." Such pronouncements may predispose people to acquiesce to the slightest tinge of either sadness or laughter on the assumption that: "It must be God. Didn't the minister say so?" All of this is often an attempt to "jump-start" an otherwise dead meeting. It may also be highly manipulative.
I use the word may because, on the other hand, God occasionally speaks prophetically to a leader about what He is doing for the purpose of giving direction and meaning to what the naked eye and the natural mind alone cannot see. So once again we are faced with the struggle to differentiate between divine guidance and human control.
15. A leader or minister is being manipulative when he puts people in a position where the only way they can disagree with him is by challenging his integrity. In such situations, you may well believe that the leader is an honest and sincere person who has no desire to be deliberately deceitful. You, in turn, have no desire to question his character or to pass judgments on his motives, especially in a public setting. But the words or actions he uses to communicate his position are phrased or presented in such a way that to disagree with him is tantamount to calling him a liar or a charlatan. The result is that you feel pressure either not to say anything at all or to concede to his viewpoint even if you suspect in your heart that it may be false or unbiblical.
The important point for someone in ministry to take from this is that we should avoid speaking in such a way that our listeners are compelled, often on the spot, to take a side: (a) "It must be God," or (b) "It can't be God." Christians who are somewhat timid and not well-grounded biblically will tend to capitulate to that form of spiritual pressure and take the path of least resistance.
We must differentiate between manipulation and facilitation. Facilitation is the attempt to make the reception of a biblical truth or experience easier and more effective. Legitimate means are used to achieve legitimate ends, with no attempt to coerce or trick the congregation. It is not necessarily manipulative when a leader, in order to facilitate a legitimate biblical experience, speaks loudly or becomes emphatic in his actions, tone, or gestures. For example, when I preach, my aim (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course) is to influence and shape the life of my listeners. Therefore, I use those words, phrases, and illustrations that I believe will be most effective in persuading them of the truth of the message and the importance of obeying it. This is not manipulation.
People who charge a minister or leader with being manipulative are often those who are disdainful of means. That is to say, they believe that "If God really wants me to experience this phenomenon, He is more than capable of making it happen without your help." Or again, they say, "If it were God, you [the minister] wouldn't be necessary."
In other contexts with other spiritual activities they would probably never raise such an objection. They believe, for example, that God utilizes evangelism as a means for achieving the end of saving souls. They believe that God ordains prayer as a means for the goal of bestowing certain blessings. They believe God sanctions Bible study as a means for achieving spiritual growth. I suspect the reason why they become disdainful of means when it comes to this time of renewal is less theological than personal. It isn't because God is opposed to the use of means. It is because they are personally opposed to the strange and seemingly undignified things they observe happening in renewal meetings, and this objection provides them with what seems to be a legitimate excuse to keep it all at arms length.
In other words, if someone is skeptical of the renewal or offended by some of the more unusual phenomena that occur, they will often use the charge of manipulation to justify their opposition. Accusing the leader of being manipulative is an easy and effective way of excusing oneself from having to wrestle with the truth or falsity of the renewal. It provides warrant in the mind of the skeptic for not opening himself/herself to the influence of the Spirit. If a skeptic simply does not want what is happening for himself, the charge of manipulation provides him with an apparent good reason for maintaining his distance.
One would be hard-pressed to identify in history a season of renewal or revival in which physical manifestations did not occur. Once we recognize the presence of such phenomena both in biblical times and in the history of the church, we will be less inclined to rush to judgment concerning the validity of what we see occurring. During the First Great Awakening in the 1740s Jonathan Edwards addressed the tendency people have to reject events as not of God simply because the Bible doesn't provide explicit analysis or precedents for everything they see and hear. Listen to his counsel (which I have slightly modernized to make for easier reading).
"Many are guilty of not taking the Holy Scriptures as a sufficient rule whereby to judge whether or not this is the work of God, in that they judge by those things which the Scriptures don't give as signs or marks to judge one way or the other, . . . namely, the effects that religious exercises and affections of mind have upon the body. Scripture rules respect the state of the mind, and persons' moral conduct, and voluntary behavior, and not the physical state of the body. . . . Christ knew what instructions and rules his church would stand in need of better than we do; and if he had seen it needful for the church's safety, he doubtless would have given ministers rules to judge of bodily effects, and would have told them how the pulse should beat under such and such religious exercises of mind; when men should look pale, and when they should shed tears; when they should tremble, and whether or not they should ever be faint or cry out; or whether the body should ever be put into convulsions. He probably would have put some book into their hands that should have tended to make them excellent anatomists and physicians: but he has not done it, because he did not see it to be needful" (300. This and all subsequent quotations are taken from Edwards' treatise, Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion).
Edwards insists that as long as we are careful to monitor the state of one's mind and moral conduct, insisting that such be in conformity with Scripture, "our fears and suspicions arising from extraordinary bodily effects seem wholly groundless" (301).
But is it reasonable or biblical to think that people under the influence of the Spirit will experience intense bodily effects? Edwards answers:
"Let us rationally consider what we profess to believe about the infinite greatness of the things of God, divine wrath, divine glory, and the infinite love and grace in Jesus Christ, and the vastness and infinite importance of the things of eternity; and how reasonable is it to suppose that if it pleases God a little to withdraw the veil, and let light into the soul, and give something of a view of the great things of another world in their transcendent and infinite greatness, that human nature, that is as the grass, a shaking leaf, a weak withering flower, should totter under such a discovery? Such a bubble is too weak to bear the weight of a view of things that are so vast. Alas! What is such dust and ashes, that it should support itself under the view of the awful wrath of the infinite glory and love of Jehovah!" (302)
He cites as biblical examples, Ex. 33:20; Dan. 10:6-8; Rev. 1:17; Hab. 3:16; Ps. 119:131, and then writes:
"God is pleased sometimes in dealing forth spiritual blessings to his people, in some respect to exceed the capacity of the vessel, in its present scantiness, so that he not only fills it full, but he makes their cup to run over, agreeable to Ps. 23:5; and pours out a blessing, sometimes, in such a manner and measure that there is not room enough to receive it, Mal. 3:10" (303).
One particular objection often raised was to the "distress that they have been in for the souls of others" (305). Edwards was stunned that "Christian" people would actually object to other Christian people being so overwhelmed with grief for lost souls that their bodies fainted under the sorrow. He cites several texts that point to an intensity of concern for the lost sufficient to overwhelm the body: Rom. 9:3; Ps. 119:53,136; Jer. 4:19; 9:1; 13:17; 14:17; Isa. 22:4; Esther 4:1. "And why then," asks Edwards, "should persons be thought to be distracted, when they can't forbear crying out at the consideration of the misery of those that are going to eternal destruction?" (306)
I want to direct our thoughts once again to the issue of what constitutes a successful meeting or time of ministry. Edwards (1703-58) faced the objection in his day that there were many who boasted of success simply because they could point to physical manifestations as alleged "tokens of the presence of God." His response to this objection is worthy of citation in full (again, with slight revisions).
"Concerning this I would observe, in the first place, that ministers are accused of many things concerning physical manifestations that they are not guilty of. Some would have it that they speak of these things as certain evidences of a work of the Spirit of God on the hearts of their hearers, or that they regard these bodily effects themselves to be the work of God, as though the Spirit of God took hold of, and agitated the bodies of men; and some are charged with making these things essential, and supposing that people can't be converted without them; whereas I never yet met a man who held either of these views.
But when it comes to speaking of such effects as probable tokens of God's presence [emphasis mine], and arguments of the success of preaching, it seems to me they are not to be blamed; because I think they are so indeed. Therefore, when I see them excited by preaching the important truths of God's Word, urged and enforced by proper arguments and motives, or are consequent on other means that are good, I don't hesitate to speak of them, and to rejoice in them, and bless God for them as such. For at times . . . I have found that these are evidences that the people in whom these effects appear, are under the influence of God's Spirit. In such cases. . . . I confess that when I see a great crying out in a congregation, in the manner that I have seen it, when those things are held forth to them that are worthy of their being greatly affected by, I rejoice in it, much more than merely in an appearance of solemn attention, and a show of affection by weeping. . . . To rejoice that the work of God is carried on calmly, without much ado, is in effect to rejoice that 'tis carried on with less power, or that there is not so much of the influence of God's Spirit: for though the degree of the influence of the Spirit of God on particular persons, is by no means to be judged of by the degree of external appearances, because of the different constitution, tempers, and circumstances of men; yet if there be a very powerful influence of the Spirit of God on a mixed multitude, it will cause, some way or other, a great visible commotion" [emphasis mine] (399-400).
Let's consider several possible scenarios in a renewal meeting:
"I prayed, 'Come, Holy Spirit,' and people fell down, laughed, and trembled." Did the Spirit come?
"I prayed, 'Come, Holy Spirit,' and no one fell down, laughed, or trembled." Did the Spirit not come?
"I didn't pray, 'Come, Holy Spirit,' yet people fell down, laughed, and trembled." Did the Spirit come anyway?
We must be careful not to draw any dogmatic conclusions about the presence or absence of the Holy Spirit based on the presence or absence of phenomena.
It is not necessarily manipulative if people are led to experience extraordinary bodily manifestations simply by observing the example of others who are receiving God's touch. Whereas they may be copying the behavior of others, perhaps out of desire to be accepted, noticed, or affirmed, such is not always the case.
Once again, Jonathan Edwards faced this issue during the First Great Awakening. He pointed to numerous examples in Scripture where we are exhorted either to set examples for others to follow or are exhorted to follow the example that others have set (Mt. 5:16; 1 Pt. 3:1; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7; 2 Cor. 8:1-7; Heb. 6:12; Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Thess. 1:7. He writes:
"'Tis therefore no argument against the goodness of the effect, that one affects and stirs up another; or that persons are greatly affected by seeing others so; yea, though the impression that is made upon them should be only by seeing the tokens of great and extraordinary affection in others in their behavior, taking for granted what they are affected with, without hearing them say one word" (Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, 238-39).
In conclusion, perhaps the best and most biblical course of action in our renewal meetings is neither to produce, prevent, or perpetuate the manifestations. We are to pray, "Come, Holy Spirit," and be confident that He will, whether or not manifestations follow. If they do, we should not prevent them from occurring. But neither should we take steps to artificially perpetuate them.