I remember as a young person being invited to a praise and prayer service. In all honesty I went because I thought it might be a good place to meet a particular girl. About a half hour into this service the leader started speaking in tongues. I had witnessed this from a safe distance at other events. This time was different because I was right in the middle of everything. Eventually one of the leaders leaned over and whispered that I just needed to believe then I would receive my spiritual language. I honestly tried, but nothing happened, and eventually it got a little embarrassing. I wanted to be like everyone else; I also wanted to impress that girl with my spirituality. So I did what any self-respecting 16 year old teen boy does – I faked speaking in tongues. It worked- people were happy for me, they saw a new level of “Jesusness,” and I finally had a conversation with that girl. All-in-all, a smashing success. That evening has stayed with me for over 30 years. I can’t recall the girl’s name. But I vividly recall feeling spiritually inadequate. The leader of that meeting made it clear that unless I received the gift of tongues I would never become a fully grown Christian.
For me the manipulation was tongues. I have talked to others for whom it was the music they listened to, people they hung out with, political affiliations, sexual orientation, or believing a particular theology. Regardless of the manipulation, the damage is devastating.
Why is it that we have such a hard time believing that God’s world view might be larger than ours? Every once in a while I am asked to sign a confession of faith. The reasoning usually boils down to “we want to make sure that you aren’t teaching false doctrine.” The more I read these statements the more convinced I become that confessions of faith exist mostly to put God into a box and make me feel bad for asking questions.
Spiritual manipulation, whether it is requiring someone to prove their faith by speaking in tongues or asking an individual to sign a confession of faith, is dangerous. At best it just makes God small and at worst it creates a guilt that turns people off from even exploring a life of faith.