See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
—Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)
I have, since 1984, been a part of the charismatic movement (hereafter “CM”). In those years I’ve seen the blind given their sight, the lame healed, the demon-possessed freed of their anguish, and have given words of knowledge and wisdom to those who need them—all directed by God and for His glory alone. We are to do the works of Christ this side of heaven using all the power that He affords us as his chosen vessels.
That said, what is happening in charismatic circles today must be viewed as nothing less than the utter abandonment of all good sense, decorum, and biblical correctness.
Isaiah 43:19 has taken on a life of its own in the CM, unfortunately. We’ve become the Cult of the New Thing. The CM is no longer a new thing itself, and because of this the movement is in search of the next new frontier. I believe this to be highly dangerous given the movement’s willingness to quickly jump on bandwagons that later hurtle off cliffs, hurting many along the way. We in the CM have become addicted to new experiences, be they biblical or not.
An astonishing lack of biblical discernment dogs the 21st century CM. We accept any and all “moves of God” simply because something “new” is happening. Yet too many times those moves attempt to add something to the finished work of Jesus, and that should disturb all of us who consider ourselves charismatics.
With discernment urged from Scripture, the startling lack of books written by avowed charismatic leaders on the topic of discernment should trouble us. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British, Reformed pastor now many years deceased, wrote perhaps the best books on the subject decades ago—a sad statement concerning a topic so essential to keeping the “fire in the fireplace.”
With this in mind, I offer the authority of Scripture and six others tests charismatics often overlook. Anytime we encounter a teaching, practice, or supposed moved of the Holy Spirit, we should instinctively start counting red flags. Fulfilling any one flag should not immediately disqualify a genuine work of the Spirit (with Flag #1 being a very strong exception), but any two are reason to be cautious and perhaps reject that practice or teaching:
- Flag #1 – Cannot be squared with Scripture or is based on a single verse of Scripture (usually taken out of context).
Any charismatic teaching or practice that contradicts the Bible provides an immediate grounds for squelching it. God’s revealed word, the Bible, will not contradict Him, nor the other way around. We MUST always test against Scripture, not only in the moment, but later. Truth is truth and time doesn’t diminish it. We must also be wary of theologies built around a lone passage of Scripture. The Bible is a coherent whole and the completeness of it means that doctrines contained in it possess multiple reference points. Attempting to create a theology from a single passage usually leads into error. This is especially true when we exegete passages apart from their context (eisegesis).
Bible, Bible, Bible—there can be no practice or theology apart from it. It’s by far the foremost flag
Flag #2 – Is pronounced by direct revelation through a single individual or a small group of people.
Any of us who have been around the Christian life for any length of time know that truth is not typically spoken by a lone voice. Even when Elijah thought that he was the only prophet of God left alive, God had preserved a remnant. Anyone claiming to have a unique revelation of God should automatically force us to tread lightly. We should always remember how easy it is to follow someone claiming special revelation right into hell—think Jim Jones and David Kouresh. Small groups of people making revelatory claims are also suspect. Again, proceed with caution and consider other flags.
Flag #3 – Is considered relevant for today, yet has no historic precedent in the Church.
Too many charismatics disdain historical Christianity, but the Church has existed for a couple millennia and has seen just about everything. Even in Old Testament days, the writer of Ecclesiastes noted that there was nothing new under the sun. If a teaching, practice, or manifestation of the Spirit occurs nowhere in the writings of those Christians who preceded us in the faith, then a very good possibility of aberrance exists in the new “move.”
To our shame, we in the CM have completely misinterpreted Isaiah 43:19. God Himself is remarkably consistent. The “new thing” isn’t some new teaching, practice, or kind of manifestation. New moves of the Holy Spirit are more geared to individuals or local churches and not to the Church as a whole. For a perfect example we find Acts 13:2, which says, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'” This is not a new teaching. In fact there are NO new teachings since the closed canon of Scripture contains all doctrinally-sound teachings. In this case, the Spirit’s call is a new thing in that He is giving a command to move to a particular area. The practice—in this case, preaching the Gospel—has already been previously spoken of by the Lord as biblically sound.
Flag #4 – Attempts to make a New Testament practice/theology of an Old Testament practice/theology rendered moot by the finished work of Christ.
All Old Testament practices/theologies were fulfilled in Christ. No longer were God’s people to do blood sacrifices for the perfect sacrifice had come. The rule of the Law had given way to the freedom of the Spirit of Christ. We are no longer under the old, but the new. Christ did it all.
Flag # 5 – Involves “Restoring” or the “Restoration” of a practice or theology.
Similar to the preceding flag, but deals more with semantics. Many aberrant charismatic practices seem bent on restoring something. When a charismatic teacher claims that his new teaching concerns “restoring the Melchezidek Priesthood” or “the restoration of New Testament worship styles,” the word restoring or restoration should automatically raise a flag.
This also pertains to ministry practices, especially healing ministries, yet in a different way. Restoring, restoration, and restore are buzzwords commonly used by those of dubious healing ministries and are quickly swallowed by the undiscerning. If you hear these words spoken by anyone claiming to move in the power of the Spirit, caution should follow.
Flag #6 – Is a “redeemed” version of a secular/occult concept or practice (usually which has been abandoned or discredited by secular/occult practitioners.)
Charismatics have been as bad, if not worse, than evangelicals in attempting to Christianize secular practices. But as with all things secular, the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of this world are utterly incompatible.
Despite this, Francis Schaeffer claimed that whatever you see happening in the world, you will see happening in the Church seven years later. As I’ve watched the Church in the last thirty years, I’ve found those prophetic words eerily true. In most cases, the world discredited or abandoned the defective practice, yet foolish Christians struggle to incorporate it into the Church by wrapping “Jesus talk” around it. This flag is, unfortunately, exceptionally common.
Still worse, though, is the sickening attempt to modify occult practices to fit Christian usage. The use of spirit guides is an all too common example of this. Most often this takes the form in charismatic circles of supposed angelic communications from angels that, in truth, are not what they appear to be. (We must test all spirits.)
Flag #7 – May produce immediate results, but does not move the Church or individual into a deeper, biblically-based relationship with Christ in the long run.
Charismatic groups (and evangelicals, for that matter) are overwhelmed with quick-fix, syncretistic ideologies and teachings that are Band-Aids for deeper problems. These “revelations” typically wander so far from the truth their very “uniqueness” stirs up the crowds clamoring for something new—at least for a little while.
Sadly, I’ve seen many groups get short-term results from teachings or practices that over time fade away or even cause damage. ANYTHING that is God’s truth brings lasting, verifiable results.
If applied consistently, I believe these seven flags can help charismatics discern truth from error.
As I am so concerned for the people of God and their avoiding error, I wish to illuminate three movements within the CM: IHOP (The International House of Prayer), Theophostic Prayer, and manifestations of gold dust and gold fillings in teeth during meetings of believers.
IHOP or International House of Prayer (formerly known as Harp & Bowl) promotes 24/7/365 prayer meetings and continual worship via music . Clearly, continual prayer and worship isn’t inherently suspect. (However, while this may be a noble ideal, the New Testament contains no command for this particular style of continual worship.)
But as one delves deeper into IHOP, cracks begin to appear. The idea behind its genesis as Harp & Bowl is to recreate the OT model of David’s Tabernacle as illustrated in Amos 9:8-15 and Acts 15:16-17 (in context). Two flags immediately come into play—Flag #1 and #4. In the case of #1, IHOP’s philosophy misinterprets and misapplies both passages. The initial coming of Christ fulfilled and completed the Amos passage. The Acts passage, in context, is a promise to the Gentiles, again already fulfilled by Christ coming and opening the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In the case of Flag #4, we find the classic trap of trying to create a New Testament practice from an Old Testament practice. Why should the Church attempt to restore David’s Tabernacle when Christ already did it? In addition, IHOP’s call for “restoration” invokes flag #5. Also, while concerts of prayer and worship have been part of the historic Church, none have rested on a basis such as IHOP’s. Therefore, Flag #3 may also come into play. And lastly, the sketchy history of the origin of IHOP (from what I was able to find online) claims it began as a revelation to a small group of people, so Flag #2 may apply.
So in the case of the International House of Prayer, the underpinnings of the movement rest on grounds that certainly fail three flags (and possibly a fourth and fifth). We must also consider that worship consists of more than simply music and singing. While music may enhance worship, all worship isn’t based on it. Misapplying the texts leads to this mistake. In the end, while a noble cause, the genesis of IHOP rests on faulty exegesis and suspect revelation. This could lead to more egregious errors down the road.
Theophostic Counseling/Prayer is another “new” practice increasingly seen in the CM. An updated version of Agnes Sanford’s “healing light” theories, Theophostic attempts to help people who have become enmeshed in lies rooted in past brokenness and painful memories. By bringing the light of Jesus to these areas of hurt, healing occurs.
Again, on the surface this seems harmless enough, but Theophostic garners many flags when explored more thoroughly. Ed Smith, the formulator of the practice claims to have received Theophostic from God after he found his own counseling practices inadequate—Flag #2 . A quick overview of the methods used to heal people via Theophostic shows no previous historical practice of it in the Church—Flag #3, a source of pride for Smith. Truth is, Theophostic owes its existence to the psychological practice of recovering and healing memories, now abandoned by secular practitioners because of abuses of the technique and the recovering of illusory memories—the now classic False Memory Syndrome. This brings up Flag #6.
No record in the Bible shows the apostles or the early Church using such an approach, and the practice of Theophostic violates the Bible’s own words concerning wholeness in Jesus. (An excellent PDF on the errors of Theophostic’s concepts and methodology with regards to sound biblical doctrine can be found here.) Add Flag #1. Since Theophostic is a relatively new practice, its long-term results are difficult to follow, too. Given the damage perpetrated by professional psychology practitioners spawning False Memory Syndrome in patients, will Theophostic’s laymen practitioners cause even more trauma? Only time will tell, but a quick search of the Web shows horror stories starting to surface. Consider Flag #7 a possibility.
Theophostic, therefore, rates five flags—a serious indicator of problems that should lead us to abandon its practice.
Lastly, a number of charismatic churches report showers of gold glitter appearing spontaneously during worship, and even ordinary amalgam fillings in teeth turning to gold. We know from Job 31:24-28 that believers should never put their confidence in gold. Therefore, we must question the use of gold as a way of proving God is at work. A complete lack of this sort of “work” being evidenced in Scripture or in historical church documents forces a Flag #1 and #3. And while Church history is silent on manifestations of gold, spiritualism/spiritism’s history is replete with it. In fact, manifesting gold is an old medium’s trick—Flag #6, strongly. The lasting value of this kind of manifestation is highly debatable, too, so Flag #7 must be considered. Oddly enough, follow-up on many of these gold filling manifestations finds the supposed gold coloration of the filling to have itself faded away. Do we need to go any further with this? Charismatic, run away!
The Bible says God’s people perish for lack of knowledge, and so the CM is bankrupting before our very eyes because of a lack of godly knowledge and discernment. We in the CM must work hard to expose the fraudulent—and even demonic—manifestations and practices sweeping charismatic churches, lest the real work of the Holy Spirit be disgraced.