This is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.”
We affirm that manipulation of the visceral appetites is dangerous to rightly ordered worship and Christian piety (Phil. 3:19).
We deny that the transmission of biblical truth can be rightly administered through the use of methods that appeal to the appetites. We further deny that holy affections can be expressed in worship employing aesthetic forms that by design stir the appetites.
We believe that God created humanity to consist of inner and outer, or body and a soul, and that these are so connected as to influence each other. Christian theologians before the modern era generally believed that inner and outer humanity each produced distinct desires, the higher corresponding to the will of the soul, and that these desires were called the affections (Col. 3:1–4). The lower desires, which corresponded to the body, were called the passions (1 Cor. 7:9; Phil. 3:19). The Bible does not teach that the desires of the body are necessarily evil (John 19:28) or that the desires of the soul are necessarily good (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:3). Nevertheless, inner humanity (the soul) is recognized as the seat of religion (John 4:23–24).
When we speak of the passions or “visceral appetites,” we are referring to innate impulses created by God in humans to preserve health and welfare. God gave people these impulses because the things that the body desires, such as food, drink, and sleep, are necessary to live. Even though they are necessary, however, the Bible condemns an inordinate attachment to these appetites. Paul speaks, in Philippians 3, of those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” He explains in verse 19, “Their end is destruction, their God is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” Paul certainly has corporeal needs in view when he says in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Because the things of this world are passing away, they do not deserve unrestricted devotion. God expects believers to keep bodily appetites under control (Gal. 5:16–24; Eph. 5:3–20; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Peter 4:3–5; 2 Peter 1:3–4; 2:17–22).
This Biblical testimony explains why we object when religious appeals are directed to the visceral appetites. These appetites are easily abused, especially by the unregenerate. Since we are embodied beings, the bodily appetites are often much more attractive to our senses and consequently much more powerful over us. Most people desire immediate pleasure over delayed gratification, bodily satisfaction over spiritual consideration, and self-indulgence over self-control. For example, our embodied existence leads us to give ourselves to leisurely diversion more readily than to sermons that require thought and attentiveness.
Some Christian leaders try to attract people to hear God’s Word or to enjoy other spiritual pleasures by promising them the satisfaction of these more immediate, sensual desires. This kind of tactic is dishonest and genuinely sinister. What it arouses is the very thing that Christ’s Lordship requires us to mortify in following him. The genuine pleasures that Christians offer the world are first and foremost spiritual, unseen, and (in a proper sense) rational.
Attempts to minister through methods that appeal to the appetites are akin to the “eloquence” that Paul refused to employ when he preached the Gospel (1 Cor. 1–2). Paul clearly denounced any such ministry because it would empty Christ’s cross of its power (1 Cor. 1:17). This kind of ministry is “doomed to pass away” (1 Cor. 2:6). Unsaved humans do not receive the things of the Spirit of God because they do not have Spirit, and the Spirit’s teachings (see 1 Cor. 2:6–10) are only understood by those who have received the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12–14). Ministries that try to make the Gospel attractive by exciting visceral appetites are in effect attempting to circumvent the necessary role of the Spirit of God. Believers who want to place the power of the gospel on display and who hope to ensure that professed faith rests in the power of God rather than in human wisdom will preach Christ without such appeals (1 Cor. 2:5).
While we recognize that worship in this life engages the body, we insist that true worship cannot be offered in an overtly earthly, sensual way. Because God is Spirit, the higher, holy affections of believers in worship are not carried appropriately by aesthetic forms that are designed to reflect and manipulate visceral appetites. Indeed, as Christians, we are explicitly given this command: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). So may we live, so may we minister, and so may we worship.