Last night I concluded a Bible Study series on the proper use of spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12-14. I showed a 35-minute video called The Taliabo Story: Delivered from the Power of Darkness. This video recounts the work of four New Tribe missionaries to the Taliabo people on a remote island of Indonesia. The Taliabo relied upon common pagan practices of saying power words, using anointed oils, invoking the spirits through repetitious rhythmic drumbeats and dances. Have you heard of, observed, or even performed any of these practices?
The apostle Paul introduces the subject of spiritual worship in 1 Corinthians 12:1-2 with grave soberness, because the Corinthians made the dangerous error of incorporating their former pagan ways of worship into their worship of God. I am afraid his instruction is critical to the church today because we are making many of the same errors.
Paul instructs the Corinthians that their past, which involved idol worship, led them to believe that ecstatic experience equaled deep spirituality. Before they became Christians Paul charges that they believed that if someone were carried away by frenzy, uncontrollable emotion, then they were having a spiritual experience with the gods. “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led,” 1 Cor 12:2.
When Paul says, "They were being led," the idea is of being carried by force, in a bad sense. It gives us the picture of someone being carried downstream by a current that has overpowered him or her. While they thought they were freely following these idols, in reality they were helplessly being moved and influenced by forces other than the Holy Spirit.
What were they following? "Dumb idols," which are objects that could not see, think, or speak. They were inanimate objects that couldn't do anything. If that is true, what caused the emotional frenzy they experienced? If the objects were lifeless, what did they really encounter when they worshiped these idols? Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 10: 14 that he did not want them involved with idols at all. Why? Because they are something? No, idols themselves are nothing, but because there is something behind them, 10:19-21. Paul warns:
What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons, 1 Cor 10:19-21.Pagans throughout history have associated a mindless, emotional frenzied state with being taken control of by the spirit of the gods. Paul here tells us that that spirit isn't God's, but demonic spirits. When God calls people to worship, He calls them to reason, to think, to consider, to know Him. True spiritual worship, Paul taught the Corinthians, was unlike their past experience in that it did not involve going into mindless, frenzied emotional states. In fact, just the opposite is true. The worshiper worships God first by thinking and dwelling on God's person and works (1 Cor 14:19).
Alarmingly, too much of today’s so-called worship fits a pagan description of worship very well. Many churches encourage worshipers to seek and go into an ecstatic mindless state to feel and express pure emotion. And if someone obtains this state, they are considered to be in the Spirit— God has taken over. This is exactly what the Corinthians were doing, and as Paul admonished them, the spirit that you fall under in such a state isn't God's. Christians are never to relinquish the control of our minds. The moment that you do, you open yourself up to having demonic spirits take control over you, and that is the antithesis of true worship.
I should add that in the Taliabo Story, God used the missionaries to bring about an amazing revival. The Taliabo people demonstratively renounced their pagan practices and turned to the Lord Jesus Christ. God accomplished this without the missionaries binding demons, rebuking Satan, or claiming anything. They simply carefully explained and preached the Gospel, which "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes," Rom 1:16.