Pentecost, 21st Century

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I have a nagging question that will not go away:

How is it that so many Christians in the West willingly endorse the idea that the Gospel of Grace lay fallow for 1,000 years until “rediscovered” by the Reformation generation (Hus, Luther, Calvin), yet they find it incomprehensible that any other major component of God’s word might lie fallow longer and only find its rediscovery in our generation?

Yet that is what many Christians believe. It is as if the worldwide Church ceased to exist from 500-1500 A.D., flowered in the revelation of the Reformation, but has been on a deaf, downhill slide since. That belief also renders it impossible that our generation may experience any kind of renaissance in Christian spirituality.

I believe that this belief is the primary reason why so many people reject the charismata, not any Scriptural injunction, but an idea that, in essence, “it’ll never be better than Luther’s day.” Therefore, God will never choose to revitalize part of the True Faith during our day.

That’s too bad. It’s awfully presumptive as well.

Lakeland was a huge blow to the charismatic movement. And in a way, I thank God for it. Because it’s time for the foolishness to stop.

But it’s a logical fallacy to conclude that a charismatic reading of the Scriptures is wrong because some unhinged people claim to be charismatics. If one wanted to prove guilt by blanket condemnation, one would have to argue that the Holy Bible is not to be trusted because of the existence of The Book of Mormon or the New World Translation or any of the so-called “mystery books” or apocryphal writings that were supposedly “left out” of the Bible. And who now reading this believes that position?

It bothers me that so few people are able to look at catastrophes and meltdowns and glean anything from them other than polarizing positions. There never seems to be any middle ground, therefore the autopsy of the event thrusts people into starkly held positions. Positions which, when you get right down to it, end up not being the truth at all because prejudices get in the way of objective analysis.

But plenty of people want to dance on the grave of the charismatic movement. Me, I say, “Let ’em.” Why? Because I don’t acknowledge that what is commonly called “The Charismatic Movement” by outsiders and critics defines the genuine expression of the Holy Spirit operating through charismata in the True Church today. That label is far too broad, so it winds up encompassing both legitimate and illegitimate expressions of  the charismata. Critics then look at the invalid expressions and label the entirety corrupt.

No better example of this exists than Pentecostal and charismatic TV ministries. And here’s the rub: I suspect that they dominate the airwaves and present a much broader, polarizing picture of what is deemed charismatic than really exists. What gets put on the airwaves is the flash, the dog and pony shows, that represent the worst, not the best, of what is deemed charismatic or Pentecostal.

If aliens from beyond our galaxy were able to intercept television signals from Earth, yet the only show they could receive was Teletubbies, what kind of whacked-out interpretation of life here would they form? So it is with charismania on TV.  It may make for a wild show, but it’s not reality.

You want to know what is the genuine reality for charismatic and Pentecostal churches today?

Whenever we talk about the persecuted church in the world, those churches most oppressed by dictatorial regimes, those churches are, in many cases, Pentecostal. The first Pentecostal martyr, StephenThe Chinese underground Church so revered here by high-minded Western Christians? Mostly Pentecostal or with a belief that the charismata exist today. In fact, if one were to look around the globe, the revivals we see in developing countries, the thousands coming to Christ in the “backwaters” of the globe, those new Christians are Pentecostals/charismatics. For the far greater part, they are NOT Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Methodists, Lutherans, Reformed, Brethren, Episcopalian, or any other denomination of that type.

This is not some kind of slam on those other denominations. It’s just an acknowledgment that it is easy to bash Pentecostals and charismatics with blanket statements that end up making all us Western Christians look foolish.

What is the common denominator between the televised dog and pony shows fronted by red-faced, Armani-wearing Branham devotees and the persecuted Chinese Church? Not a whole lot. At all. Yet far too many people want to mash them up and label them the same thing.

There’s a word for that: lazy.

So if anyone out there wants to dance on the grave of what was epitomized by Lakeland, be my guest. But be exceptionally careful where else you jig because you may very well be contributing to the persecution of genuine, faithful, humble Christians who just so happen to believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still for today.




21 thoughts on “Pentecost, 21st Century

  1. Dan,
    As intrepid as the Reformers were, it is next to impossible to extricate oneself thoroughly from the groupspeak of their own generation. The reformers made great strides, but it seems to me, were incapable of imagining a spiritual world totally informed by and built upon the Word. All these years later, the Protestant church still stumbles about with their failure of imagination and the hangover of clinging to the remnants of an unscriptural tradition. The Pentecostal movement started with a return to the Word to answer the questions of what life in the Spirit should look like, without reference to tradition nor the theologians bound by it. Lo and behold, they began to experience the things found in the Word and long thought dead and irrelevant. I am more than happy to be amongst that camp, and for the life of me, cannot be to understand the opposition to it in much of the church.

    • slw,

      Along with you, I get frustrated by the fossilized response. In some ways, some parts of the Church are guilty of the same mistake that Peter, James, and John committed when they wanted to setup camp on the mountain at the transfiguration. Except they’ve done it at the Reformation.

      I grew up Lutheran. I love Lutheran theology. Most of my theology is still Lutheran at the core. But as much as I love what Luther did, I realize that Luther is not the pinnacle of the faith. Nor is the Reformation. Important? Heck yeah! But I’m not going to camp there. If anything, the Reformation is nothing more than a base camp for climbers who are pushing on toward the peak; it’s not the destination. Yet there are so many who get to the base camp and consider themselves home.

      Pushing on toward the peak is less certain. It’s more dangerous. The comforts of base camp are not immediately present. The oddity in the Christian Church is that those who attempt the peak, instead of getting support from the base camp as should be the case, often find themselves ridiculed for the attempt.

      And this is not a charismatic argument, either. I’m not going into the Christian/Christian+ argument because it’s stupid and pointless. I’m arguing in favor of anyone who believes that Christianity does not begin and end in the Reformation. Nor did the Reformers have the proper grip on it all, either. They were men, too. They had their failings and their inadequacies. God equips every generation for what it needs. That Pentecostals are the ones on the forefront of missions today, eclipsing some other denominations that in the past were at the head of the missionary push, shows God’s sovereign hand at work because He’s calling the people best equipped to meet the challenges of our age as opposed to some other age. That this has resulted in the largest number of people becoming believers in all of history should tell us all something.

  2. Diane R

    The thing that puzzles me is how both Pentecostals and Charismatics (that is, thos Charismtics that are OTHER-than-the-Third-Wave-Toronto/Wagner-type) have seemed to sit on the sidelines and say absolutely nothing for the past 15 years of this movement. Every Pentecostal and legitimate Charismatic leader should have come out against this and showed the specific differences between the real deal and the false. They should have also done this with parts of the Pentecostal (yes, folks, they are Pentcostals, not Charismatics) Word of Faith teaching.
    But things have been strangely silent in Pentecostal and the real-deal Charismaticland.

    On another point, I disgree with you about going back to the Middle Ages. Too many today (3rd wavers and also emergents) are going back to that period for their abberrant doctrine and occultic infuences.

    Why don’t we simply go back to the first century. You see plenty of “Pentecostalism/Charismaticism there.

  3. alan

    IMO, most people tend to find a comfortable (comfortable for them) subset of Christianity after they come to saving faith. For some that subset is orthodox liturgy, for others it may be house groups, others charisma, etc. Many believers I know, including myself, don’t think we’re missing anything by not fixating on charisma. It has nothing to do with with Lakeland, Jan Crouch’s hair, or anything like that. It’s just that we are forgiven, we have joy and peace, and our own experience of belief is unfolding in other areas. We don’t condemn authentic charismatic expression – we simply don’t seek it.

    I do agree with the comments of the other person who said the charismatic movement needs to do a better job of policing itself of the charlatans and weirdos like Bentley. Remaining silent in the face of these clowns destroys the credibility of the legitimate practitioners of charisma.

  4. Dan:

    I appreciate that in your writings here you have sought to encourage reform of the modern charismatic movement, and argue that the more visible, flamboyant charismatics, whose practices are obviously unbiblical, don’t represent the movement in its entirety and/or don’t represent what the movement ought to be.

    Along these lines, you said,

    But it’s a logical fallacy to conclude that a charismatic reading of the Scriptures is wrong because some unhinged people claim to be charismatics.”>

    Yet here is where I don’t exactly follow your argument. Are people like Bentley or Hinn just claiming to be charismatics, or are they charismatics whose doctrine/practice has somehow gone wrong?

    You might recall I was one of the commenters on the wrap-up of your series on the “Charismatic Crack-Up”. My comments met with vociferous opposition from some regular commenters here. But I believe I was raising valid concerns.

    For example, I said that Bentley’s foundational teaching is the charismatic doctrine of the “healing in the atonement” (I provided a link to his very standard teaching on this at the FreshFire website). The teaching of Bentley on this doctrine in fact lines up exactly with other Pentecostal/Charismatic/Word-Faith teachers, past and present. So is Bentley right on this doctrine, but wrong in his practices because of other aberrations he adds?

    I also raised the concern about exceptions to healing. I find that healing as commonly taught by many charismatic or Pentecostal or Word-Faith teachers is portrayed as a redemptive right to be claimed, something guaranteed because it is part of salvation through Christ. And yet, those who proclaim this message and their faithful followers are not all being healed. In fact they suffer sicknesses and die, just like the rest of humanity. So even those with great faith in these doctrines are often not healed.

    In fact Bentley and Hinn when investigated have not provided proof of their extraordinary claims of healing. OK, so perhaps you write off these guys as unhinged, but it is to be noted that their doctrinal foundation is the healing in the atonement teaching common to the entire charismatic movement.

    One doesn’t find then the evidence for miracle healings, especially on the scale some of these teachers are claiming, nor does one get solid biblical answers as to why there are so many people who believe these teachings but are not walking around in perfect divine health and are getting sick like everyone else.

    My objections to charismatic teaching then are not based on a “Western” bias against the miraculous nor the presumption that no theological insights may be gained post-Reformation. My argument is a biblical one– meaning, I think that the charismatic reading of Scripture is deeply flawed.

    And I don’t think that the charismatic segment of the church flourishing around the globe proves anything. All I want to determine is whether the movement is biblical or not, because I think this is the relevant question. I’m not saying we cannot gain insights from the way the persecuted church deals with opposition, or that we can’t learn from Christians who live in cultures much different and less materialistic than ours. Surely we can learn something from them.

    But in my opinion the prescription to the problem you frame is to re-analyze closely the charismatic message, to see whether indeed it is a solid reading of Scripture. I think that if one wants to disown “charismatic nutjobs” one would need to show that essential charismatic doctrines like “healing in the atonement” or the “baptism in the Spirit”are in fact biblical. Perhaps you have presented such a defense in other articles here.

    This is where I think the Reformers had it right– Scripture can guide us in all these matters and is to be the objective measure of whether our spirituality is on target and pleasing to God.

    Not to draw readers away from you Dan, but I can’t fully express my entire argument here, and so I’ll mention that I have been writing on similar issues in a series over at my blog, if anyone is interested. The latest article, Sickness, Healing and the Christian, Pt 2 (Biblical Analysis), is the 2nd in the series on the healing question, which has also talked about Bentley and Lakeland. An interesting discussion is happening there too.

    As always Dan, your articles are very well-expressed and cogent, even if I don’t always find myself in agreement with your conclusions.

    Blessings,

    Alex

    • Matt

      Alex, interesting thoughts.

      A couple of points here worth mentioning.

      1) Re: your quote “This is where I think the Reformers had it right†“ Scripture can guide us in all these matters and is to be the objective measure of whether our spirituality is on target and pleasing to God.” Many, many believers who recieve the modern day operation of all the charismata (this blog’s owner included) do so based upon their honest reading of scripture. To them (and to me) scripture overwhelmingly supports this view, and only a very few passages treated with unhealthy does of convoluted logic and western rationalism would lead one to think otherwise.

      2) Not all charismatics teach or believe that healing is in the atonement. Even if they did, your a priori rejection of this as an unbiblical doctrine is questionable, as this is one of those situations where there is good scripture on both sides to support either conclusion (in fact there may be more on the side of it’s in the atonement, I’ll refer to slw as the resident Pentecostal theologian of this blog to give his view on this, if he cares to).

      3) Regardless of whether the theology and practice of Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley are seen as accurate or orthodox, the statement that no one is healed through their ministries is simply not true (based upon the “investigation” you referred to). I personally know people who have been healed through both of their ministries. The kind of healings that result in say, massive fibroid tumors disappearing overnight resulting in a previously barren woman giving birth to a child 9 months later. Stuff like that.

      4) Lastly, it might not be to far off to state that Calvin was a “nutjob”, too–perhaps on a far more dangerous scale than any of the charismatic practioners of our day. Just ask anyone who dared to disagree with his theology at the height of his rule in Geneva. Gallows, anyone?

      The point I’m making is that even the great saints of history were human sinners like us, and on the whole a mixed bag both morally and theologically. The miracle of God’s grace is that he has preserved a witness of salvation through the ages with very limited material to work with (namely, us humans).

  5. Hans

    Dan….. what a post! I couldn’t agree with you more, Bless you and may many take what you say to heart.

    A large part of the problem is, I believe, that to many people get drawn into some group, denomination , church ,whatever , get indoctrinated, teachings etc and then at some point start reading scripture, but by this time the colored lenses are already in place and they “See through the glass darkly” and tend to read just to confirm what they already think instead of seeking discovery.

    To share a bit of my own walk, Back in a previous life as an agnostic, with no real religious background, beginning to realize that there is more going on here than we can see, and experiencing the burning question ” Like what IS causing all this ? ” So I went on a quest, a search for the truth, started reading all I could get my hands on in the general genre of history/philosophy. this seemed to break down into two camps , there is no such thing as God and there is definitely a God. The former always ended up sounding as nonsense , the latter always came across as much more coherent. So I decided I might as well go to the horse’s mouth so to speak. I was a commercial fisherman at that time and as I prepared to head out to the fishing grounds one season I took all reading material off the boat, got a hold of a bible and resolved myself to read it from cover to cover. Took three months, boy what a weird blood thirsty book, and believe me when you are working twenty hours a day and sleep deprived, reading the prophets does strange things to your head.

    Anyhow, all very interesting but I didn’t feel much wiser, so carry on I guess and about two years later I came to the point where I acknowledged to myself that knowing the truth had become more important to me than me being ‘right’, that lead me, in my workshop one day, to asking out loud to myself, ” What is the significance of this Jesus guy anyway”.

    That lead to a week of strange events ending with a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit , which preceded a three week period where I walked and talked with God ( the upside down world we live in was turned right side up, all my questions answered by recall with understanding of scripture ) and never felt my feet touch the ground, this culminated with the Lord presenting me with a choice, in a vision.

    In this vision I’m standing, leaning on a fence, looking at a great big black bull standing a little ways off on a grassy knoll, beside it on the ground was a red cape. I felt the Lord saying ” You can camp where you are and all will be good or you can hop over the fence and pick up the cape ( put on the mantle and follow me )”

    I dropped to my knees and prayed ” Yes but not by my strength but only by YOUR spirit ”

    Only after all this did I get involved with a local fellowship, only to run into another newby having a similar experience as myself. Not knowing any better we started sharing with each other and mentoring ourselves and remained kind of out of sight and out of mind of those who would ” teach us ” and when we humbled ourselves and took the the lowly seat of the student we were given greater understanding than our teachers and were keenly aware of false doctrine and teachings

    The point of all this is to say , one needs first the Holy Spirit, then Scripture, then teachings by man can take place

    Another point I’d like to add regarding all the thinking ( Hi Diane ? )out there, re right way wrong way, this way that…etc…etc….
    I was meditating one morning and asking the the Lord how to get the point across to a cousin of mine who is a Jehovah’s Witness when in came clearly ” Thinking is head stuff, it’s the heart that I judge ”

    So our loving must outweigh our thinking, and our thinking always tempered with love, thank you and bless you Dan for continually demonstrating this

    Hans

    • Hans,

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      I wouldn’t say in your case that the Holy Spirit came before the Scriptures. You had already read the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit was working in concert with that reading.

      I think that one of the problems we have in the West is our compartmentalization of everything because we have Greek worldview, in essence. If we abandon the head in favor of the heart or vice versa, we are in error. God gave us both a head to think with and a heart to feel with. We need both functioning to the full extent. The mistakes come when we jettison thinking to go only with feeling or we spend all our time in our heads to the detriment of our hearts.

      These either/or positions that some folks take really bother me. They are all or nothing, and God is not like that except in a very few rare instances. Being either/or all the time leads to factionalism and explains the ridiculous way in which Protestants have fragmented the Body into ever-tinier pieces. We can’t keep doing that.

      • Hans

        Dan,

        Yes in a technical sense the Scriptures came first, but there was no understanding , that did not come until after the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, during the three week period mentioned the Holy Spirit took me through my whole life to that point ( 42yrs ) showing how he had orchestrated everything from words spoken over me as an infant, to where my parents choose to live, experiences as a young adult and so on , so in that sense the Holy Spirit did come first.

        Christians are way too quick to believe it all starts at the moment one ” invites Him in ” and divide the world into two camps those who have and those who haven’t .

        One of the problems in Christendom is that we often become too focussed on Scripture being the only source, when in fact all in life teaches us and all of creation reveals Him. (I have had teachings through animals. Think about it, Man is the only creature thats in rebellion) How often do we run into truly spiritual people walking closer then we are yet totally discredit them because they they didn’t get where they are by our prescribed route ( another whole topic there )

        Instead of thinking in terms of ‘ converting ‘ someone to ‘our way,’ we need to learn to recognize those that are walking in the way but don’t know it yet. Come alongside in love and be a living word, the fountain of living water, washing their feet , lead them to the understanding that there is no such thing as coincidence. The results are amazing

        You are definitely correct regarding the either/or positions, when are Christians going to realize just how big and absolute our father is. He is in EVERYTHING ! Finding Him is in the subtle nuance’s , the details

      • Brian

        Dan,

        Just yesterday I was thinking about this very thing, how we tend to over-emphasize one area. Especially in the Pentecostal/Charismatic historical tendency to despise intellectual education in favor of feelings.

        But the great commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

        Heart: emotion/feelings.
        Soul: the spiritual component of man, our moral agency
        Mind: our intellect, reasoning faculties
        Strength: our actions, good works

        I’m going to try to develop this further in the near future.

  6. Chris E

    For the far greater part, they are NOT Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Methodists, Lutherans, Reformed, Brethren, Episcopalian, or any other denomination of that type.

    Hi Dan – just one correction – you are quite right in that the christianity that is growing in the Global South is very charismatic. However, sometimes it is actually linked to older denominations. In India – for instance – the CSI and CNI churches are growing, spirit filled and spirit led. The same is true of some of the Episcopal churches in Africa.

    I remember a Bishop from India sitting at our table and talking enthusiastically about his deliverance ministry – I suspect that I wouldn’t have the same conversation with the average Bishop in the CofE or the ECUSA.

  7. Dee

    HI, I have just recently come out of the charismatic church and have formed a blogspot for other charismatics who have left but have continued in their faith to search for biblical truth. It can be very traumatic leaving and confusing for some. As long as we stick to the main message of Jesus Christ, that is the main thing. I will look further into your website. Very informative. Please can you forward any one who is ex charismatic to my blogspot if possible: http://discernment4truth.blogspot.com

  8. Jonathan,

    As an example of what you are doing, I will use the same profoundly flawed reasoning to make a similar error-filled statement: “{The kind of people Johnathan agrees with spiritually} say they believe in Jesus Christ. However, they depend mostly on their intellects, their systematic systematic theologies, and whatever they are told to think by their leaders. Whenever they think and rationalize the existence of some forms of power, they conclude that because they have not experienced them in their own churches, they no longer exists. They say that the Holy Spirit is only experienced in wise sayings and a strong sermon. They say they are saved, but because they so thoroughly live in their intellects, they have no understand of the God’s deep and abiding emotional life, the same life He gives His true children. As a result, such people can pass by those who have been wounded emotionally by those who have done them grievous harm and show those poor souls no compassion. They are the elder brother who looks down on the prodigal, unaware of the father’s forgiveness and love, and so they miss genuine salvation. They have not love, and have been reduced to a clanging cymbal.”

    Jonathan, I have privately warned you in the past. I am publicly warning you now.

  9. Jonathan,

    You have put yourself into an untenable position:

    1. You acknowledge that the gifts of the Spirit as mentioned in the Bible are legitimate and have not ceased.
    2. You then say that for a gift to truly come from God, it must be discerned as being from Him.
    3. Yet you also say that it is not possible to tell definitively whether a charismatic gift comes from God or not. And then you add that unless that is known perfectly, a person will be damned for blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

    You and I agree on #1 and #2. We do not agree on #3. In fact, the way you argue #3 renders #1 moot. The charismata become gifts that no one can use because it can never be determined whether they come from God or not.

    Oddly enough, the early Church was able to deal with this in such a way that they could determine real from false gifts. Nor did they shy away from such determinations.

    But you close the gifts down altogether because you say that the risk for making that determination is too chancy. In short, from your position, they may as well never have existed at all! Aren’t you telling God that He doesn’t know what He is doing when He gives these gifts to men?

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