We have arrived at an hour in the history and experience of the Church when there is much confusion, many questions and a multitude of heretofore unheard and unexpressed doctrines and spiritual practices being promulgated by so-called “revivalists,” “apostles” and “prophets.” I have italicized these titles, because I am convinced that a fair number who claim such designations are not what or who they claim to be. This in no way is intended to denigrate the legitimate among us, but rather to differentiate between the true and the false, between the authentic and the counterfeit.
Without doubt, no generation since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been faced with more questionable and previously unheard of teachings than the current generation of believers.
This is a time when mature believers who have been grounded in the incorruptible Word of God must stand up and let their voices be heard.
In the balance are potentially millions of souls who are naive, gullible or ignorant of the devices being employed to destroy their faith in the Sovereign God.
Sadly and dangerously, we also have come to an hour when anyone who questions currently claimed revelation or “present truth,” regardless of how spurious it might appear, is held in absolute contempt and disregard and is relegated to the ranks of the hyper-heresy hunters, doubters-of-everything good, and the Pharisaical accusers of the brethren or even as outright enemies of the Cross.
Because of the immediate and violent attacks any honest enquirer might be confronted with, many have been effectively silenced because of the scorn and retribution meted out by those who embrace extreme and extremely questionable doctrines.
The writer of this article has no reputation to protect and no empire to preserve, and thus welcomes any and all attacks from those who oppose honest questions from simple believers in Jesus.
I am only one voice, but I am a voice. Those who choose to indict my faith and insult my intelligence by hurling their own accusations at the straw dogs they may carefully construct will not intimidate me. So long as God gives me breath, I will speak the truth as it is revealed in His holy, pure and incorruptible Word.
In this article, I have been kind I think, generous and even positive in my assessments of what I have witnessed by those involved in various Charismatic, Pentecostal and Evangelical movements, renewals and outpourings. I have not attacked and will not accuse any singular person; I refuse to condemn any individual. My observations are about doctrine and practice, and not personal criticism. I remain supportive, as a Brother in Christ to those with whom I disagree and who disagree with me. This is about positions and practices and not personalities.
I have not accused any man or woman of being demonically controlled or of being adherents of New Age teachings. I have maintained the position that the Lord of Hosts would eventually reveal either the truth or the error of events in and around various revival movements. I believe that ultimately, a righteous and holy God will deal justly with those who would lead even one of His own elect astray. I continue to refrain from personal attack, even though those affected by this article may feel otherwise.
Finally, this writer is no enemy of renewal and revival; on the contrary, I have been both a student of revival and a participant of a powerful move of the Holy Spirit which began in my own life and church in 1995 and continued unabated until 2005. The effects of that move of the Spirit remain with me today. There are those who will make the claim that since “the voices of the former move of God will always condemn the current revival” I am obviously guilty of the same. I sincerely hope that is not the case.
Whenever I learn of moves of God here or revival there, my initial sense is always of support and not opposition. I caution anyone against attacking any revival before the fruit of that revival may be seen, and some fruit takes longer to appear than other fruit.
After spending many (now 48) years among Pentecostal and Charismatic fellowships, and after having seen the genuine, the precious move of the Spirit of God, the lives transformed, healed and set free, I also have witnessed abuses, excesses, gross error and rampant disregard for the solid Rock of God’s word. I am compelled to speak for the sake of the innocent and the hungry and for the future of revival in a world so desperately in need of a genuine visitation from heaven.
Approaching a trans-oceanic vessel from water level, an ocean-going ship appears monstrously huge. Its hull was laid with the effort of men and machines and with much sweat and muscle and exertion. Gazing at such a massive craft, one would likely not notice or pay attention to something as mundane and minuscule as a compass, or even an anchor. Yet without these two devices, any journey would be fraught with danger, even suicidal, for one provides direction while the other assures security. It is the compass that ensures the seaman of his course and of his eventual destination. It is the anchor that grips the sea floor and holds the vessel in place when wind and waves would shatter the ship on rocky shores.
If I have perceived anything regarding some current expressions of “revival” as manifested in various places around the world, neither instrument is prominent, and without both a compass and an anchor, an eventual collision between the ship of revival and the jagged rocks of reality is inevitable.
The compass and the anchor of which I speak is the singular instrument of the Bible, the divinely written, inerrant, perfect, complete and holy Word of God: A book possessed by virtually every modern believer in Jesus Christ, but one which either is untouched by or largely unfamiliar to far too many Christians.
Biblical Knowledge has been Trumped by Spiritual Experience.
We live in an era of general biblical ignorance, where the value and emphasis of experiential Christianity trumps the old, “boring” disciplines of learning and applying the scriptures to one’s life. The Bible itself warns, when people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy (Proverbs 29:18 NLT). We want this verse to refer to divine guidance as experiential revelation, but the context of the verse leaves no room for misunderstanding, “. . . whoever obeys the law is happy.” The “Law” refers to The Book, The Word of God. Jesus explained that “you shall know the truth (His Word), and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). If freedom is what we as children of God desire, God’s word will take us there.
Experience Finds its Source in the Word of God, not the Reverse
Many have quoted the well-used line, “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” That is a patently false, misleading and dangerous statement: If someone has an experience that flies full in the face of the revealed word of God, are we to accept that experience over and above the clear teaching of Scripture? If however a person reports an experience that is upheld by the Word of God, the very reliability of God’s word trumps any other experience, because all spiritual experience must flow from the word of God, and not the other way around.
Merely because someone physically shakes is not an indication that the Holy Spirit is the primary causa of that physical experience. Falling to the floor or being “slain in the Spirit” in itself offers no certain evidence that God is involved in the falling. Speaking with other tongues, or glossolalia, while impressive to the ear is not in itself necessarily expressive of the Spirit’s activity.
Physical responses, often called “manifestations” may be the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit, but they are not certain indicators of God’s presence. I’ve watched Satanists shake and Hindus fall to the floor in trance-like states. I am not persuaded that God is present just because someone shouts unintelligible syllables into a microphone. I’ve heard men shout “hula, hula, hula,” “boola, boola, boola,” and “yoi, yoi, yoi,” among other unintelligible phrases. I’ve never felt particularly spiritually encouraged or especially blessed in the hearing of these utterances. I am, however impressed when the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk.
Indeed if the Spirit’s work in an individual is to place him into a state of ecstasy wherein he can merely mumble incoherently, please tell me how that person will effectively be a witness for Jesus in the marketplace of men. Will a non-believer suddenly cast off his unbelief and embrace Christ if I chant, “hula, boola, moola” to him?
Heart and Character, Not Trances and Dances
The acid test of all spiritual encounters is this: What happens to the character of the person experiencing that manifestation? If I have been genuinely touched by God, should I not expect to be benefited in my heart and in my character? As has been said, “When a man is truly born again, even his dog ought to know it.” Any person touched by heaven will reflect something of heaven to those around him or her. That’s Bible: You can trust your life – your eternal life on that Book, and only on that Book.
I realize in making such a statement that there are believers, followers of Jesus who do not hold to a time-worn and time-tested reliance upon the Word of God as the singular infallible, divinely inspired, inexhaustible rule of faith and conduct. I recognize that in some Christian circles today, such language is considered out of date, pathetically cerebral, without anointing or unction, but, dear reader, those very terms – anointing and unction came to us not by a revival-spawned revelation but by anointed men of God, moved upon by the Holy Spirit.
The biblical phrase “inspired by God” in 2 Timothy 3:16 is translated from a single Greek word qeopneustos. The first word is qeos. It is the word for God. The second word is pnew which means “to breathe” or “to blow” and is also the verbal form of the Greek word pneuma, meaning “spirit.”
The resulting understanding from Second Timothy is that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” The very breath and Spirit of God is infused into the words of Scripture. This is why we refer to the Bible as the Word of God. If reliance upon the Word of God, the very God-breathed words of God is somehow unspiritual or out of date, what then may we rest our souls upon and in what may we place our trust for our eternal future?
In support of the veracity and genuineness of what many Charismatics and Pentecostals call renewal or revival, various devices outside the Bible have been utilized which, under scrutiny fail to bear the weight of authenticity. Following is a non-inclusive listing of the most objectionable teachings and or practices I have witnessed by the proponents some of these movements and the extreme prophetic, “mystical” movement.
- Use of Well-Known Personalities to legitimize and justify an experience, renewal or revival. The appearance of and endorsement by known apostles within the Charismatic church is not an assurance of biblical accuracy or of ministry appropriateness.
It was no less a recognizable name than the Apostle Paul who declared, “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
I care not one whit if Smith Wigglesworth or John Wesley themselves are trooped across the stage in support of any so-called move of God; if their testimony is not consistent with the eternal word of God, their presence means absolutely nothing to me beyond the astonishment of seeing the dead raised to life.
With reference to well-known and beloved ministry personalities, I will doggedly hold to Paul’s counsel in Galatians 1:8, cited above. I may love and honor such persons, but they are not equal with or superior to the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.
It is biblically and spiritually appropriate that we recognize and honor any man or woman whom God has used mightily, we are never encouraged by Scripture to place our trust or our hope in any human vessel. The world has never seen any faultless, complete or sinless figure outside of the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. To place final trust in any man or group of men is to invite spiritual disaster. God’s Word and not God’s creation must be our ultimate and final authority. This is especially and critically true with regard to those who claim prophetic gifting, calling and office. Vast numbers of hungry believers have been devastated because of foolish, presumptuous and even down-right silly so-called prophetic direction.
- Relating with Contemporary Society by adopting the language and the behavior of the culture outside of Christ.
Simulating the use of illegal drugs, and using the language of the illegal drug culture is not a legitimate way of reaching the “lost.”No exceptions and no apologies. Terminologies such as “Godka,” “Toking the Ghost,” “Jehovajauna” (pronounced Jehova wauna) and “Holy Ghost Bartender,” among many others do great dishonor to the character and nature of a holy God. To reduce the Holy Creator of the Universe to a joint of marijuana or a bottle of alcohol is a crime I am convinced no true, sensitive follower of Jesus could ever allow him or herself to commit.
“Toking the baby Jesus” as was demonstrated in one online video is blasphemous. Strong language, I know, but the images I have viewed of such behavior also are strongly objectionable and trivialize the Holiness and the Purity of our God and of His Holy Spirit.
Further, consider one specific meeting where the leader advocated and demonstrated the procedure for locating and injecting a vein with heroin. The “leader” then mumbled, “that’ll hit you in about half an hour.” Imagine someone in that meeting who had recently (even not recently) been delivered from mainlining heroin or from any other illicit drug: How will that person respond to such a suggestion?
- Use of New Age or Misinterpreted Terminologies and Practices will never be conducive to a true, Spirit-engendered practical theology and faith. I have listened to one “revivalist” use terminologies such as coming into the state of the “ecstasy” of God wherein he describes the spiritual states of “Mystical Union,” “Absorption Ecstasy” and “Concentration Ecstasy” as conditions that thirsty Christians should seek to experience. These terms are mentioned in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) where, on page 996 under the heading of “Prophet” (dealing specifically and exclusively with the question of how “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” in 2 Peter 1:21) and hails to the unio mystica discussed by J. Lindblom in the aforementioned text.
From the ISBE, I quote regarding the unio mystica, or mystical union, “The ecstasy of the true prophets did not usually display itself in peculiar behavior, for their ecstasy was basically a private experience of the conscious reality of God’s presence. The prophets’ profound spiritual experiences should not, therefore, be confused with mystical experience, nor with the frenzied and irrational behavior of heathen prophets.” Please note that final sentence: “The prophets’ profound spiritual experiences should not . . . be confused with mystical experience, nor with the frenzied and irrational behavior of heathen prophets. “Hula, boola schmoola?”
- Uncorroborated Testimonies of Healings and Raisings from the Dead. Nothing will kill the reputation of revival quicker and more decisively than making claims of miracle healings and raisings from the dead which cannot be substantiated by outside medical sources. Expecting believers and non-believers alike to simply “swallow” these claims without evidence is not only arrogant, but stupid. If a person were raised from the dead at a hospital, do you actually believe that no nurse, no physician, no friend or family member at that hospital would be aware of such a miracle, and be willing to talk about it?
Over the years, secular journalists who have heard reports of conspicuous miracles – the dead being raised, cancers dying, diseases disappearing, have sought to receive from the related ministries medical corroboration of such phenomena. Time after time, generalized testimonies and incomplete information, coupled with evangelistic gobbldy-gook has not only substituted for simple, direct medical evidence, but has also given the Church a black eye in the view of the unbelieving public. Verifiable testimonies and medical documents go a long way in substantiating claims made and establishing the veracity of any claimed move of God. Yet the media packet held no proof beyond names, locations and contact information which had been blacked out.
If God – not a contemporary evangelist or the Apostle Paul or Greg Austin – if God is raising the dead, we should expect to see evidence of these miracles. We should be able to see these people on camera, listen to interviews with them, and hear the astonished physicians’ statements of the veracity of these claims. These would surely honor God, but refusing to provide anything specific beyond claims that “we have X number of people raised from the dead and counting,” is both dishonest and dishonoring to God.
- The Centrality of Angels and Apostles to the neglect of the true centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit does not desire to be noticed, but He always points our hearts to Jesus. The Holy Spirit has come to us to guide us into all truth: Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The Holy Spirit magnifies Jesus. Never do we find the Holy Spirit exalting angels. Indeed, Paul asks the Corinthian church rhetorically, “do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3).
Much emphasis today has been placed upon the title or office of Apostle. I have watched with some concern at what I believe is an unhealthy and unholy veneration of those called “Apostles.” As I read through the New Testament, I see the apostles as servants; men and women with hearts of humility and grace, who desired that the work of God and the Kingdom of God should be advanced far more than their own work and their own were benefited or that their own names should be known or remembered. The Bible speaks of apostles as “foundational” gifts to the church. These are they who establish and maintain the flow of spiritual ministry based upon the revealed word of God. Nowhere in scripture is there any indication that apostles should be worshiped, or their words taken as the inspired word of God. Apostles champion God’s word; they do not seek veneration from any man.
During His temptation, Jesus told the devil, “’You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Lk 4:8). To a Samaritan woman who desired to understand true worship, Jesus said, “worship the Father” in John 4.
When a messenger from heaven appeared to John in Revelation 19, John says, “. . . I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
When certain Greek seekers came to Philip, their request was straightforward: They said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” The point in all these scriptures is that there is only One Who is worthy of our worship and our adoration. I thank God for those true apostles who quietly and decisively carry out their calling and their office, but a true apostle would be the first to warn us “don’t worship me.”
In all that I have said, I am not suggesting that no miracles have taken place in any revival or renewal atmosphere. I have listened to more than one testimony from individuals I personally know who have testified to receiving healing or miracles as they sought God during such meetings. But here is the key: They were seeking God. A principal upon which we may rely is this: God will not deny Himself, and if an honest seeker reaches out to God in faith, regardless of what personality may be present on a platform, God will honor such faith. One of the greatest dangers to any leader is to believe that when miracles are taking place in his meetings, he is somehow responsible for those healings.
The Word of God is the only reliable compass for negotiating the spiritual realms of life. The Word of God is the singular anchor that will hold us when the storms of life arise.
Any reliance upon any other device for direction, doctrine or practice than God’s inspired and immutable word; any use of so-called revelation that takes one beyond the boundaries of the revealed word will lead surely and ultimately to disaster.
Forgive my repetition, but it bears reiterating: “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
There is no legitimate “progressive revelation” that will carry us beyond the parameters of “the faith which was once for all delivered.”
Jude writes (Jude 3) “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Please observe, “the faith which was once for all delivered . . .” “Once for all.” There is no progressive revelation that will carry us beyond the parameters of “the faith which was once for all delivered.” The principles of the Word of God have been established for all time and eternity. The thrice repeated declaration of Jesus should settle our hearts on this matter: “heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away” (Mt. 24:35; Mk 13:31; Lk. 21:33).
God’s word is all inclusive; that is, whatever man needs to know or may know about the secrets of the Kingdom of God or the world to come has already been provided within the covers of our Bibles. If we waver on this crucial issue, we lose the whole structure upon which our faith is built.
May we grow in our understanding of the increasing depths of God’s word? Absolutely! Is God’s word so deep and so rich with spiritual truth and meaning that we may not, in a dozen lifetimes understand all its secrets? Without doubt. But once again, all the truth which may be known concerning faith and Christian practice is contained within God’s word.
There exist mysteries which finite man cannot know. There are unknown realms man cannot approach because we are creatures of time and space and not of eternity – yet. It was John, the Apostle who declared, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2).
Please notice, “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be.” There are unknowns, ambiguities, secrets unrevealed, undisclosed until the Day of Christ.
The natural instinct of man is a desire to teneo ultra, “know beyond.” When the serpent approached Eve in the Garden, her vulnerability was the thirst to “know beyond” what God had revealed. The entry point for the venom of sin was the desire to teneo ultra, to “know beyond.” The serpent played upon her desire for knowledge beyond what God had provided. While every tree God had placed in the garden was available to her and to Adam, one tree was forbidden of God to be touched. But the curiosity, the desire to “know beyond” what God had revealed drew Eve inexorably into sin like the mesmerized Ulysses of Homer’s Odyssey is drawn to the seductive song of the Sirens, who lured men to their death on the rocks around their island. Interestingly, Homer depicts the Sirens song promising “wisdom and knowledge of past and future.” And so Eve attempted to satisfy her desire for “wisdom and knowledge,” and in the process committed an act that would require the sacrificial death of God’s own Son to remedy.
New Age practitioners, cultists of every ilk, and myriad false religionists and magicians play upon the same, instinctual need to “know beyond” in order to ply their trades and fill their coffers. When a Syracuse, New York banker named David Hannum (not P.T. Barnum) proclaimed, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” he was merely affirming the truth that man wants to know and is willing to commit intellectual suicide or pay exorbitant material and perhaps eternal, spiritual fees in order to know even what cannot be known.
Many claims have been made by various revivalists of visitations to the “third heaven.” Support for those claims comes from Paul’s statements in Second Corinthians 12 of his own (singular, so far as we can read) translation into the third heaven. He writes, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third heaven.”
Follow Paul’s discourse regarding that incident in Second Corinthians, chapter twelve. Does he speak of revelations that surpass contemporary knowledge of the things of God? Does he reveal deep revelations of angelic encounters or of prophetic knowledge beyond what other apostles were aware of? Paul’s own words are notably absent of any such claims. In fact, he divulges no deep secrets to his readers. He speaks of “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” He makes no claims of super-revelation, he is decidedly not lifted up in pride and arrogance. He is silent about what he saw and heard while in Paradise, but instead tells us that he is careful not to boast of the experience, and even goes on to describe his personal caution.
He says, “I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
A Final Proverb
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his men have landed on the island of the Lotus-Eaters, and Odysseus sends out a scouting party of three men who ate the lotus with the natives. This caused them to fall asleep and cease to be concerned about going home, with only a desire to eat the lotus.
Odysseus went after the scouting party, and dragged them back to the ship against their will. He set sail, with the drugged soldiers tied to the rudder benches to prevent them from swimming back to the island. Unrealized by the stupefied sailors, Odysseus not only is saving their lives, but he is returning them to the true desires of their hearts; to their homes.
After a life of pursuing truth and the knowledge of God’s Son, the Apostle Paul bursts forth with the heart-cry, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).
There are, I fear, those who only desire to “eat the lotus” and not to know the Jesus Whom Paul pursued and was willing to lose everything in order to find.
My heart cries out for these “scouting parties” who have fallen prey to the “lotus” of false spiritual experience and subjective revelation. I want to reveal the truth of God’s word, and with Odysseus, drag them back to the ship of faith in order to save their eternal lives.
The false, temporal substitute of the Lotus – of temporary psychological, emotional, physical manifestation and experience crumbles and falls to the earth in pieces when confronted with the superiority and supremacy of a solid and true faith and experience in the Christ of God’s Word and in the Word of God’s Christ.
I am thankful to God for the Compass of His Word and the Anchor that holds us in the swelling tide. “On Christ, the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Several years ago in Derry, Northern Ireland, I was conversing with Clive Price, a free-lance journalist from England, (now a resident of Northern Ireland). We were discussing the very topics I have written about here. Speaking about certain extreme practices and unsupportable claims I said, “Clive, I believe God is calling the church to clean up its act, and if we won’t do it, the world will do it for us, and the world won’t be benevolent when it starts cleaning house.”