Strange behavior normal in Church?
(concerning the normality of emotional expression in Christian gatherings)

T. J. de Ruiter, Pentecostal Pastor & Bible Teacher in The Netherlands

Sometime ago I was asked: "Is it normal that Christians laugh in christian meetings during the ministry of the word or the worship and get enormously excited, shake, tremble, jump or cry?" This question made me think: "What is really normal behavior in church? Is there a kind of behavior that can be classified as normal in a Church service?"

For non-emotional people it may seem abnormal that others express their feelings with strong physical actions. But then, I ask, is it really normal that one remains in church - at least outwardly - unemotional under all circumstances? Should there never be any excitement, in sorrow no tear, in pain or distress no sorrow? The answer must clearly be 'no.' A Christian who never shows any emotion, never gets excited about anything, has probably an underdeveloped emotional nature. The non-emotional behavior that results from it cannot be named normal'

Is it correct and scriptural to label the typical, traditional kind of unemotional church-behavior as normal and as holy and well-pleasing to God?" I dare to say that it is not. This view on traditional behaviour in churchservices is a norm, which is culturally developed in a society where it was - and still is to a large extent - a sign of weakness to show emotions, especially those which express sadness and shame.

Normal human behavior knows all kinds of emotional expressions, dependant upon the stimulants, coming from either objective circumstances or subjective conditions and realisations. A stimilant in a churchservice could make somebody sad or happy, generate strong emotions, even extremely or ecstatic. This could be generated through the preaching of the Word, through singing or in worship through an awareness of Gods presence. To suppress the emotional reactions, keeping oneself calm and un-emotional is not a healthy reaction. Even psychology teaches us that it is healthy to express what we feel. But many have learned from childhood to suppress any sign of emotions, especially in church. So, we don't get excited in church and we don't cry or shout, but keep ourselves very quiet, unemotional and hide or suppress what we really feel. Feelings are even that far suppressed that they are only 'functioning' in the subconscious.

A Dutch reformed pastor, Bram Krol, wrote in his book 'Attracted to the miracle,' that there should be room in churches to express emotions. He would even like to see 'churchboardmembers dancing in the service.' Why not? I have been pleading for more freedom te express emotions in Christian services. I seriously believe that the Holy Spirit can do more in the realm of refreshing, empowering and healing people when they are allowed and people feel free to express their emotions. That's why in revival times, under anointed preaching, people do get emotional. The church has overemphasized the importance of the intellect and neglected the emotional side of the human being. An healthy emotional life is very important for the development of our total being. So, why should we only allow ourselves to laugh, or cry, or shout in the theatre, before the TV, in the pub or in the football stadium and not in church? I say: If there is a place where I want to be happy, enjoy life and laugh, shout or cry, it must be in church!

But..... if I always laugh and roll on the floor in every churchservice, not being aware of what is preached and lie on the floor in a trancelike state, then that would not be normal. If people behave always like that in every service I do get very concerned as a pastor. We do not need - and it is not wise - to work ourself always into emotional behavior, not even in the presence of God. He does not want us to develop a state of emotional incontinence.  Normal behavior shows a wide spectrum of emotions, dependant upon all kinds of stimulants and sensations. I also would like to make clear that allowing room for emotional expressions does not one make holier than another person.

The question with which I started this article referred to shaking and trembling in services. In the annals of most historic revivals we read of people shaking, trembling and crying. How can we understand this exceptional behaviour? Let me say this: When the Holy Spirit generates strong convictions through the preaching of the Word - this can also happen during worship and during the singing of a hymn - upon the individual's conscience and he sees and feels his sin in every fibre of his being, then his body can react with shaking and trembling or even jerking. It may seem that he looses all his strength and the person falls to the ground.

 These manifestations can happen when there is a strong prophetic inspiration by the Holy Spirit and people are forced by the Divine Power to utter things they normally wouldn't say. Is all this normal behavior in Church? Of course not in the sense that this should always happen and everybody should be doing this. But it is normal in the sense that it can happen in the meetings where there are strong influences of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, so that people are deeply touched and moved. Really, I desire that all this should happen more in services and meetings, for there needs to be much more conviction of sin and a greater desire to be clean, holy and to be used of God. The people of God are in general not much troubled about their worldly, fleshly and lukewarm state. The present worldly and comfortable situation of the church cannot be called normal! Let's be honest, people of God! Let's review our understanding of what should be 'normal in meetings where the Almighty Spirit of God is working.

I mentioned above the danger of emotional incontinency. There are indeed people, who don't seem to have sufficient control over their emotions. They should be helped to apply the emotional brakes. Leaders of meetings and pastors must try to discern between genuine workings of Gods Spirit upon people and purely human or demonical activities.

I do thank God that there are ministries in which healthy laughter is released. There are amazing testimonies of returning health and vitality after people became happy and laughed. By the way, even medical science has discovered the healthy powers of laughter. Many Christians need a good dose of healthy, spiritual, holy laughter to receive a new awareness of freedom and victory, that is theirs in Christ. Of course, things can be exaggerated and the public can be manipulated. But this can also happen in every churchservice with the glowing rethoric of a trained minister. Some ministers seem to have the 'gift' to make people feel depressive, but others may have a gift to make them feel happy - I prefer the last ministry!

In closing I refer to a Bibleverse, Psalm 4:7: "You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound." (NIV). Many do not find real pleasure and fulfilment in the exercises of the Christian faith and search for pleasure and joy in the pub, the theatre or in frequent holidays. Many need ever increasing quantities of alcohol to get some excitement. I dare to say that God is able to give His people more joy, pleasure and excitement in life than the things of this world can give. Worshiping God, being filled with the Spirit are very exciting experiences. David must have known something about that because he could testify that God gave him more joy than that experienced by those, who had success or got drunk. I am sure that David did give expression to his joy. At least at one occasion Scripture tells that he danced before the ark . His behavior was normal, healthy and pleasing to God, though others despised him for doing that.. But God's evaluation of his behavior was more important to him than that of man. I am sure that Gods standard or norm of Christian behavior in church may be different than that of a lot of Christians. Come on, open you heart and receive from God joy, more joy, joy in abundance and show this miserable world that God's people enjoy Him and His salvation!

Leusden, The Netherlands, August 1997; revised 29 August 2011

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