A few years ago, I visited one of the holiest of all Roman Catholic shrines at Fatima, Portugal. It is one of the top pilgrimage sites for Roman Catholic pilgrims who come from around the world to seek spiritual renewal and healing. Fatima is the Roman Catholic equivalent of a religious theme park. The streets are jam‑packed with wall‑to‑wall souvenir shops selling every imaginable form of religious kitsch. It is the height of religious tackiness. Souvenir shops overflow with icons and images ‑ from statues of the pope to Virgin Mary’s who glow in the dark. You can buy Fatima nail‑clippers, “our Lady of Fatima” snow globes and T‑shirts with the popes smiling face. You can buy six-foot candles to light for supplication and crude wax molds of various body parts to offer up with prayers in the hopes of getting healed. These included wax feet, legs, hands, stomachs and even fetuses for infertility. The place reminded me of the Roman Catholic equivalent of a Benny Hinn crusade. As my wife and I strolled around on a Sunday morning observing Roman catholic pilgrims crawling on their hands and knees doing penance while serenaded by Catholic hymns drifting from the morning mass (courtesy kneepads are now available). Despite the blatant idolatry surrounding us, we passed several groups of pilgrims who were emotionally overcome by their visit. Intimate groups were huddled together with individuals embracing one another and others openly weeping with joy. It was a poignant commentary on how people can get emotionally overwhelmed by their religious experience in spite of the fact that everything about the place was contrary to the word of God and authentic Christianity. To be sure, only God knows the true condition of a man’s heart and can meet a broken sinner anywhere but, for the vast majority, their experience was little more than ignorant, emotional fervor based on spiritual blindness and deception. The fact that endless busloads keep coming and experiencing such emotional rapture brought to mind another timely lesson we should each take to heart. It may come as a shock to some, but the exact same emotional dynamics are at play within numerous Christian churches, personal experiences and fad movements. Over the last 51 years of my pilgrimage, I have experienced my share emotional extremism. Long ago, those experiences caused me to buy into silly fads, empty sensationalism and ministry involvements that were false and fruitless. I’ve shared in the dynamics of the “herd mentality” with others caught up in a deceptive emotionalism and followed my share of worthless rabbit trails. I can look back now on all the foolishness I was involved in and ask myself, “What in the world was I thinking?”
As I look around the church today, especially in America, I see many silly Christians manifesting the same emotional fervor in NARism, Bethelism, manmade hype, and flash‑in‑the‑pan fads that blow in, blow up and inevitably blow out leaving the litter of disillusioned and shipwrecked lives. This tendency is especially prevalent among young religious zealots. It is the youth who are so susceptible and so easily caught up in the current wave of church hype – especially those who are five miles wide when it comes to emotional excitement and one inch deep when it comes to sound biblical teaching, mature guidance and spiritual discernment. I’ve witnessed the tears, the ecstatic laughter, the emotional passion and the “rock concert” hype and wacky teachings which demonstrate how easy it is to get caught up in an emotional extravaganza because of ignorance and, naivety.
Yes, I was there but I didn’t buy a T-shirt to prove it.