Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant. [1 Corinthians 12:1]*
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. [1 Corinthians 12:11]
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. [1 Thessalonians 5:19-21]
Having spent the first few years of my Christian walk with and among Charismatics and Pentecostals, I have been sympathetic with the basic premise of their pneumatology: i.e., the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, can and will operate through miraculous manifestations today, and that these manifestations of His power are the same as those listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12.
Over the past few years, I have come to question whether or not the application of those premises within Charismatic/ Pentecostal circles is Scripturally justifiable and necessary for the church today. I wish to emphasize here: I do not question the premise that the Holy Spirit can manifest Himself through miraculous displays of power to edify the church. What I question is whether or not churches today accurately apply Scriptural standards in evaluating and discerning what is displayed.
Given the excessive and anti-Scriptural emphasis on experience over doctrine I have witnessed within the Charismatic/Pentecostal community, I have come to feel more comfortable with believers who would be considered to be cessationist with respect to this area of pneumatology than I feel with Charismatic/Pentecostal believers.
One of the local Charismatic/Pentecostal congregations sponsors a daily radio program of excerpts of the pastor’s sermons. Several years ago, his position was that the “true” church in a community will demonstrate its power by having a ministry devoted exclusively to “deliverance” [i.e., casting out demons]. He then stated that the only congregation in this community which had such a ministry was the church he was pastoring. His inference was clear – he was teaching that the only true manifestation of the church in this community was the congregation he was pastoring. Conversely, the antithesis which can be also be inferred is clear–that every other congregation in this community is either in apostasy or promoting heresy.
A congregation my wife and I had attended for five years, while accepting charismatic manifestations in public worship, did not promote them as the congregation’s main purpose. In addition, on more than one occasion, the senior pastor stated his rejections of “word of faith” theology [known to its detractors under such pejoratives as “name-it/claim-it” theology].† The problem is that the same congregation has elders who do not share the pastor’s disposition and use their Sunday School classes to promote the very theology the pastor disclaims in his sermons. The congregation also provides financial support to missionaries whose sole purpose is to promote “Word-Faith” theology rather than the Gospel of Christ. So, regardless of what the pastor claimed from the pulpit as to what the congregation believes, the actual practice of the congregation says otherwise.
The senior pastor of an A/G [Assembly of God – one of the “classic” pentecostal denominations] congregation posted on his Facebook page a blurb stating the most necessary qualification of a church leader is clear vision–which he defined as being the ability to receive fresh revelation from God–based on Proverbs 29:18. This appears to be based on a rather forced and contrived eisegesis that sees the word “vision” as meaning that the church requiring ongoing prophetic guidance through new revelation. The source of this rather contrived eisegesis is the “Word-Faith” heresy promoted by such as Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. Interestingly, this A/G congregation has been declining in attendance/membership for the past 10 years.
The same pastor as I mentioned in Incident #1 recently posted a blog on Facebook in which he denied any intent in Scripture to guide/direct our lives. His position on Scripture is that it is a story to bring us closer to God – that is all. Once we know God, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and have no real need for Scripture. According to him, the problem with non-charismatic/pentecostal congregations is they invest too much in Scripture as a guide for our lives.
In response to Incident #1, I initially thought this to be based on some sort of very shallow and inadequate application of Scripture, as well as a rather arrogant assertion of the pastor’s sense of self-importance. Time has not diminished that assessment. Although this congregation has grown to become one of the largest congregations in the city, that growth has not come by evangelism and mission work within the community. It has come through the time-honored practice among the Pentecostals of “sheep-stealing,” – seeking out the disaffected and shallow-minded who place experience over sound doctrine.
The only Scripture upon which this pastor can base such claims is Mark 16:16-18. Unfortunately, it is a passage which does not have an unquestioned provenance. The oldest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel do not contain the passage. No manuscript prior to the fifth century AD contains the passage. Even if the provenance, limited as it is, is accepted, the hallmark of belief is not the ability to cast out demons. According to our Lord, the hallmark of belief is love for other disciples of the Lord (John 13:35), not casting out demons. For argument’s sake, even if we accept Mark 16:16-18 as valid, casting out demons is simply one exhibition of God’s Spirit at work among others, not the sine qua non. And, continuing for the sake of argument, if casting out demons is accepted as an evidence of the “true” church based on this passage, then the congregation is still a failure because it does not exhibit all of the other evidences listed in the passage: i.e., picking up serpents and ingesting poisonous substances. The last time I checked, they were not passing out timber rattlers or copperheads at the door before service and the communion elements did not include Drano or D-Con mouse pellets.
As for Incident #2, the pastor’s comments appear to be sound. However, the fact that he allows such utterances made by other congregational leaders to go unchallenged suggests to me that he may be less than diligent in his care of the flock in protecting them from false teaching. His failure to remove those promoting error from leadership positions indicates an unwillingness to confront error, or that his protestations against name-it/claim-it theology are offered as a sop to potential critics. Given his close fellowship with the pastor of the congregation from Incident #1, it remains difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt that he genuinely opposes name-it/claim-it heresy–especially since he has stated on more than one occasion that he values relationships over obedience to the Word of God.
Incident #3 proves MacArthur’s basic thesis in his work Charismatic Chaos—that charismatic/pentecostals value experience over Scripture, and that Scripture is valued only to the extent to which it can be proof-texted.
I would concede that the passage in Proverbs does reference vision. However, careful exegesis of the passage indicates that the Hebrew word rendered vision, ħāzôn, does not refer to specific experiences, but refers instead to the ability to open up and explain what God has revealed. (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament I:402) This is more readily understood when one looks at the Septuagint, which rendered the word ħāzôn as exegetes [the same word from which the term exegesis is derived], which indicates that it is not the lack of spiritual experiences which causes people to “cast off restraint” as the NASB renders it. It is the lack of teaching—opening up what has been revealed. So what Proverbs 29:18 is referencing is not the lack of some sort of supernatural experience, but rather the lack of sound exposition and teaching of the word already revealed by God.
Another reason for rejecting the heretical notion that the Church must still receive prophetic utterances is that Scripture itself rejects such a proposition.
In the first place, Scripture posits a time when prophecy would no longer be necessary (1 Corinthians 13:8). There is a debate on when prophecies would cease, with one school of thought being that it would cease when the apostolic era ended, the other school of thought being that prophecy will cease at the second coming. Hyper-charismatics assert that there will be a restoration of the “five-fold” ministries/offices listed in Ephesians 4:11. There are two flaws with such teaching. The first and most obvious flaw is that the construction of the clause in Greek indicates only four offices, not five. Where hyper-charismatics see five ministries/offices (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers), the syntax in the Greek language suggests that what is rendered as “pastors and teachers” should be more accurately rendered as “pastors, and in particular [pastors who are] teachers.” (MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV Edition, p. 1809, footnote. See also Handley C.G.G. Moule, Ephesian Studies, James A. Brooks & Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek, pp. 76-77—which indicate pastor-teacher refers to two aspects of the same office.)
This is beside the point. There are no prophets in the church today, and have not been as a matter of record since the Apostle John penned the book of Revelation ca. 96 AD. Although the book of Revelation does indicate two true prophets will arise during the Tribulation preceding Christ’s Second Coming, their prophetic ministry will be attested and confirmed by specific signs. Moreover, although some charismatic theologians [e.g., Wayne Grudem] teach that NT prophets such as Agabus uttered prophecies which were errant [Acts 21:10-11], the OT sets forth specific standards a prophet of God must meet and those standards have not been annulled or superseded by other standards in the NT. Those standards are: (1) the prophet must not speak anything which is contrary to Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:20; Isaiah 8:20); and (2) everything that prophet utters must come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). I have yet to encounter anyone claiming to be a prophet who has met these criteria. The hyper-charismatics hedge on this and claim that there is no NT criteria which requires the NT prophet to be 100 percent accurate. But when pressed, they have no proof the OT requirements for a prophet were ever set aside. And if a prophet is not 100 percent accurate in his/her pronouncements, then obviously what s/he proclaims is not consistent with Scripture and they are to be rejected and shunned.
I would also dispute Grudem’s assertion that the prophecy given by Agabus and recorded in Acts 21:11 was in error. Reference my previous blog: Another Look at Inerrancy, Part Two.
In addition, there are no apostles today. The criteria for an apostle was established clearly in the NT: (1) He had to have been personally acquainted with the earthly ministry of Jesus (Acts 1:21-22); (2) he had to have been set apart by the Holy Spirit and confirmed in his function by others (Acts 13:2-3); and (3) his ministry must be proven through the ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders which are objectively verifiable (Acts 14:3; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
Incident #4 also supports MacArthur’s thesis. The whole idea that Scripture is merely a story and not instruction for life flies in the face of the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture. The view of the pastor cited in this incident also contradicts the Scripture itself (Psalm 19; 119; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). If Scripture is merely a story, then how can it keep us pure, make us wise unto salvation, or provide doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, and make us mature and complete for every good work?
The classical Pentecostals got it wrong in their absolute insistence that the initial evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.‡ In the first place, there are only three instances in Scripture where tongues appear in correlation with the experience described as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit: on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when Cornelius and his household were converted in Acts 10, and when Paul encountered disciples of John in Ephesus in Acts 19. There is no mention of tongues when the Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit in Acts 8.
The three instances in which tongues are mentioned represent tongues as a sign of confirmation in extraordinary circumstances. On the day of Pentecost, tongues validated the Gospel to the crowd of unbelieving and not-yet-believing Jewish people who assembled at the Temple. The tongues of fire which appeared are analogous to the glory of God which appeared at the inauguration of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Glory which appeared at the inauguration of the Temple. In other words, a transition is being shown, that the center of worship is no longer focused on a building, but that each one called by God is now part of a living Temple [1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22]. Tongues were manifested at the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 as confirmation, not to Cornelius, but to Peter and the Jewish believers that God’s plan for salvation extended to the Gentiles. In Acts 19, the sign of tongues is not given as evidence to the Ephesian believers, but as confirmation that the finished work of Christ on the Cross completed the message of John the Baptist. To assert, as classical Pentecostal theology does, that tongues are evidence to the believer of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is to reject the witness of Scripture on the matter—imposing an experiential interpretation over the objective teaching of Scripture.
The neo-Pentecostals and Third Wave crowds have not improved on the excesses of classical pentecostalism. In most cases, they have simply substituted one form of excess for another.
Moreover, having sat through hundreds, if not thousands of “charismatic/pentecostal” worship experiences over the past 40 years of my Christian walk, I do not question whether or not those believers have a genuine spiritual manifestation. That is known only to God.
I do, however, argue that how those manifestations are displayed in public worship does not correspond to the teachings of Scripture.
In the first place, I have witnessed so-called “personal worship” times in which all present are encouraged to pray aloud in tongues. In one such “service” I witnessed, many of the people present were yelling and screaming, each trying to be heard over the other. The noise level was so loud that one little child was becoming frightened. Instead of taking the child outside to calm her, the woman next to her [who I am assuming was her mother] began to berate the child and suggested to others around her the child needed prayer to cast out demons. It was at that point I headed for the exit.
It should be noted that, according to 1 Corinthians 14, any public display of speaking in tongues is to be rigorously regulated—not displayed in a free-for-all screaming match (vv. 13, 27-33, 40). So the whole concept of speaking “as the Spirit moves” simply is not Scriptural. As 1 Corinthians 14:32 states: And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
Secondly, speaking in tongues in Scripture is always shown to be a language of prayer, even when displayed in public [1 Corinthians 14:13-17], and as such, it is directed toward God. However, in almost every situation I have witnessed, what is spoken by way of “interpretation” is not language addressed to God, but language addressed to the audience. While the pentecostal/charismatic crowd maintains the equation “tongues + interpretation = prophecy,” there is nothing in the Bible which will substantiate that conclusion.
Yet another manifestation I witnessed in many pentecostal/charismatic settings is the phenomenon called “being slain in the Spirit.” In this situation, someone who is supposedly under the control of the Holy Spirit lays hands on another, and the second person goes into a swoon and falls backwards in a type of trance. There is no Scriptural justification for this phenomenon. There is no instance of it occurring in the New Testament. The only instance where anyone could truly be said to have been slain in or by the Holy Spirit occurred in Acts 5, when Ananias and his wife Sapphira fell dead at the apostle Peter’s feet for the sin of lying to the Holy Spirit. And in this case, the death was literal and physical–a judgment for unrepented of sin—not some sort of mystical trance-state imparted to the faithful as some sort of “blessing.”
Finally, we come to the latest flavor of the month craze among charismatic/pentecostals—the so-called “Toronto Blessing” in which masses of people, supposedly under the influence of the Holy Spirit, erupt into spontaneous, hysterical giggling fits. I witnessed this a few times about 30 years ago—before the publicity which elevated the experience to a new status symbol of spiritual experience. I can only say that the experience was manipulated and not truly spontaneous. Basically one person started laughing, priming the pump in a manner of speaking, and then others joined in, not wanting to feel excluded–because the message being conveyed by those in charge of the meeting was that if one did not have this experience, it was due to unconfessed sin and the person not having giggling fits was in a state of rebellion against God.
So, in the end, I have an uneasy conscience. I accept that the Holy Spirit, being the third Person of the Trinity, is therefore omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and sovereign – and He therefore can bestow any manifestation He pleases at any time or place He is pleased to do so for the edification of the Church. And I would welcome such manifestations to confirm the Gospel in a world which increasingly turns away from Truth and light to embrace darkness and falsehood.
But my conscience is uneasy because the congregations which are supposed to be open to such manifestations neglect such Scriptural mandates as showing discernment and wisdom. When those in charismatic/pentecostal circles refuse to submit to the examination of the word, what is being promoted is not Biblical Christianity, but heresy and error. (Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 17:11; 20:27-30; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7; 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 20-21; Titus 3:10-11; 2 Peter 3:15-16; 1 John 4:1-3).
* Unless noted otherwise, all Bible references are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
† Even one supporter of this theology has popularized it with a similarly titled tract You Must Confess It to Possess It. That tract is may be found for purchase in the bookstore operated on the campus of the congregation this pastor leads.
‡ See Item #8 on the Assemblies of God “Fundamental Truths,” which may be found at: http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Statement_of_Fundamental_Truths/sft_short.cfm
See also the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) Declaration of faith which may be found at: http://www.churchofgod.org/index.php/pages/declairation-of-faith; and
the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel “What We Believe” which may be found at: http://www.foursquare.org/about/what_we_believe/spirit_filled_life.