How to Distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Serpent

magnifying-glass5This excerpt is taken from The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson.

How do we distinguish the promptings of the Spirit of grace in His guiding and governing of our lives from the delusions of the spirit of the world and of our own sinful heart? This is a hugely important question if we are to be calm and confident that the spirit with whom we are communing really is the Holy Spirit.

John Owen suggests four ways in which the Spirit and the serpent are to be distinguished:

The leading of the Spirit, he says, is regular, that is, according to the regulum: the rule of Scripture. The Spirit does not work in us to give us a new rule of life, but to help us understand and apply the rule contained in Scripture. Thus, the fundamental question to ask about any guidance will be: Is this course of action consistent with the Word of God?

The commands of the Spirit are not grievous. They are in harmony with the Word, and the Word is in harmony with the believer as new creation. The Christian believer consciously submitted to the Word will find pleasure in obeying that Word, even if the Lord’s way for us is marked by struggle, pain, and sorrow. Christ’s yoke fits well; His burden never crushes the spirit. (Matthew 11:28-30)

The “motions” of the Spirit are orderly. Just as God’s covenant is ordered in all things and secure, (2 Samuel 23:5) so the promised gift of that covenant, the indwelling Spirit, is orderly in the way in which He deals with us. Restlessness is not a mark of communion with the Spirit but of the activity of the evil one. Perhaps Owen had particular members of his congregations in mind when he wrote:

We see some poor souls to be in such bondage as to be hurried up and down, in the matter of duties at the pleasure of Satan. They must run from one to another, and commonly neglect that which they should do. When they are at prayer, then they should be at the work of their calling; and when they are at their calling, they are tempted for not laying all aside and running to prayer. Believers know that this is not from the Spirit of God, which makes “every thing beautiful in its season.”

The “motions,” or promptings of the Spirit, Owen says, always tend to glorify God according to His Word. He brings Jesus’ teaching into our memories; He glorifies the Savior; He pours into our hearts a profound sense of the love of God for us.
How, then, does the Spirit act on the believer? The Spirit comes to us as an earnest, a pledge, a down payment on final redemption. He is here and now the foretaste of future glory. But His presence is also an indication of the incompleteness of our present spiritual experience.

Owen here writes in sharp contrast to those who spoke of release from the influence of indwelling sin and struggle through the liberty of the Spirit. Precisely because He is the firstfruits and not yet the final harvest, there is a sense in which the indwelling of the Spirit is the cause of the believer’s groaning: “We ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) The presence of the Spirit brings us already a foretaste of future glory, but also, simultaneously, creates within us a sense of the incompleteness of our present spiritual experience. This, for Owen, is how communion with the Spirit—understood biblically—brings joy into the life of the believer and yet a deep sense that the fullness of joy is not yet.

Discernment Rules from Doctrine Matters

fakeArticle: “Discernment Rules” authored by Chad Bailey at doctrinematters.org.

1. Know the Truth.

The only way discernment can be a sustainable practice is to first know what what the Bible teaches. The very meaning of the word discernment (to judge/decide accurately) requires that the standard, be clearly understood. Knowing the truth only comes by way of a continuous commitment to prayerful study of Scripture. And knowing what God’s Word says is critical, so that one might simply compare what purports to be biblical to the Bible. DL Moody said, “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.” There is no shortage of messages, within evangelicalism, that profess to be both Christian and biblical, and are neither. Christians must be Bereans, committed to God’s revelation in Scripture. We must also be ferocious defenders of the truth of God, as it is under attack by our spiritual enemy. The truest spiritual warfare has always existed in the mind. It is no coincidence, then, that the one offensive weapon issued to us in the armor of God is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

2. Admit That False Teachers Exist.

The first step to discerning the problem of false teaching is to admit there are false teachers. While this might seem as though it goes without saying, most Christians simply aren’t comfortable saying that someone with a pattern of false teaching is a false teacher. Most are uncomfortable because they think it is judgmental and hateful to call anyone a false teacher or a heretic. One popular hip-hop artists said, “Today the only heresy is saying that theirs heresy.” Others are reluctant to call someone a false teacher, because they lack the ability due to biblical illiteracy, thereby feeling unworthy of calling anyone out on something they themselves cant say for sure is in error. Either way, the first step is to recognize that there are both deceived and very deceptive Bible-twisters who regularly teach unbiblical and historically anti-Christian doctrines. This has been true since the time before Christ, back to Moses and the prophets. It has been true after Christ, throughout Church history. And it is true today. As you read this, there are men and women actively misleading, deceiving, and damning to hell many people who think they have the truth. Christians must take a biblical tone of aggressive concern for God’s people in the Church and selfless defense of God’s Word in the pulpit. There are false teachers and heretics that must be warned of, silenced, exposed, confronted, and avoided.

3. If It Is New, It Is false.

This was true in the early church and becomes more and more true with time. At the close of each period of biblical revelation (the Law and the teaching of the Apostles), God repeats the warning to not add or remove anything to His Word. This command coupled with the fact that the Bible we have today contains the very books and revelation God intended for His Church means that Christians have a closed cannon of Scripture. This is to say, God has finished telling the Church everything we need to know regarding Himself, salvation, and everything else to which the Bible refers in what we call the Old and New Testaments. This finally occurred when the mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was revealed to the Apostles. There are no more new and hidden mysteries to be discovered by the uber-spiritual or the intellectual elite. Though the truth in Scripture is spiritually discerned, it can be plainly understood. And while the help of a gifted teacher is sometimes necessary, this teaching is not to be confused with some mystical ability to reveal new meanings that the Church has historically overlooked or was not able to understand. (similar to #6)

4. You’re Not Israel.

It can be tempting to over-allegorize and to mis-apply the Old Testament in particular. It is critical to keep in mind that this portion of our Bible contains behaviors, promises, and even commands that were uniquely for God’s chosen nation and people, Israel, and therefore are to be read and applied to our lives today differently than one might a New Testament epistle (letter to a church). The primary danger here is that we insist on claiming for ourselves today the many circumstantial and material promises God made to His people at various periods of their history, coming out of slavery, warring against idolatrous peoples, or being rescued out of exile. Many have, with the best of intentions, taken excerpts of God’s great kindness, mercy, and faithfulness out of its historical, geographical, and national context, appropriating them to us, with whom He has no such covenant. Praise God for His revelation of His relationship to Israel. It is largely symbolic of the more glorious spiritual life in Christ to come. Today, God offers all who believe a much better covenant. However, many in the professing Church are not content with the all of the spiritual blessings we have in Christ and would rather attempt to steal the more material promise of God for descendants, land, prosperity, blessing, and victory, etc. The stories of God and Israel powerfully display God’s holiness, trustworthiness, righteousness, faithfulness, mercy, power, and His judgment.

*Regarding the Law (of Moses): While the Moral Law, given by God thru Moses, transcends the Old and New Covenants, Israel’s Civil and Ceremonial Law pertained only to Israel within the context of the theocracy (God-government). The Civil and Ceremonial Law are still extremely rich in value in terms of understanding God as well as the rule of God for society and worship, however they have ceased as law outside of that context.

5. Personal Life Matters.

Doctrine is critical, but it is not the only thing that matters. Christians must consider the personal lives of all who profess to be in Christ, and most strictly, those who teach. While on one hand, bad doctrine leads to bad living, it is possible for a teacher (at least for a season) to have solid doctrine, yet lack in the corresponding fruit of holiness or love. A teacher’s life and teaching must work in tandem, the one constantly commending the other. And while perfection cannot be expected, one must require spiritual leaders to be, by God’s grace, exemplary of a life lived for Christ. Sin is a danger, and our enemy, a threat, for spiritual leaders and they are not beyond temporarily falling into even gross sin. In other cases, a false teacher with largely solid theology may subtly show their falsehood by a pattern of moderate sin, the abuse of Christian liberty, or the occasional sinful slip of the tongue. Christ Himself, speaking of false teachers, warns not only of their false teaching, but also of their bad fruit. Their lives ought to preach as sound a doctrine as do their words. An important aspect of a teacher’s personal life to watch closely is their partnerships. Faithful teachers understand that to share a stage or a television network with dangerous or false teachers is to compromise the reputation of the otherwise clear and complete gospel they preach. The people with which a teacher is willing to fellowship and partnerships, is no small thing, and bears implications on their commitment to biblical doctrine.

6. False Teachers Say True Things.

Not everything a false teacher says is biblically false. But that much is obvious. No one would listen to them if they didn’t teach at least a minimum amount of widely accepted biblical truth. In fact, it is possible for a teacher to be largely in line with historical Christianity, and stray in only a few primary areas of biblical doctrine, and still be guilty of gross error. While many Christians will not notice the variance , many more, unaware of the theological implications, too quickly dismiss what is wrong with their teaching in the interest of what that is right with their teaching. Most false teachers may well be sincerely misled and therefore mislead others. However, ignorance to the influence of our evil spiritual enemy is not a virtue and is not helpful. We are wise to understand there are deceivers who intentionally teach just enough spiritual and biblical truth in order to mask their dangerous and blasphemous lies. This kind of deception has historically been for the purposes of money, power, or worse, to damn souls to hell in unbelief. As Paul teaches us, we should not be surprised if “deceitful workmen” sometimes sound so sincere, positive, even godly, because even Satan disguises himself as an angel (messenger) of light.

7. God Has Already Spoken.

Christians are under no obligation to believe that anyone’s subjective impression is from God. This especially applies when teachers claim to have heard from God, personally and directly. While God, by His Spirit, sovereignly guides and directs Christians, He need no longer speak. The word “speak” is important and is typically used to refer to an experience where someone either claims to have heard an audible voice or felt even an undeniable “impression” or “whisper” that you just know is from God. This is very dangerous speech. Even those who admit they did not hear His voice with their ears, have to admit, as well, they can’t be completely sure that what they felt, sensed, etc. was unquestionably from God. And since, it may not be authoritative, it must necessarily not be authoritative at all. This is the danger of subjective impressions. To say God “speaks,” is also unbiblical speech. There is no precedent and certainly no command in the Bible that would have us listening for God to speak to us. Even when Jesus shows His disciples how to prayer, He says nothing of hearing a response from God. This is because God has already revealed Himself to mankind in His Word and by His Son. In this case, biblical discernment means to compare what people say or write in the name of God, to the sufficient Word of God. Many false teachers claim to offer exciting, fresh insights and vision directly from God. However, faithful teachers are content with, even humbled by, the embarrassment of riches we find in God’s Word, in particular, how it illuminates Christ.

8. The Bible is Not About You.

It can be tempting to believe that God intended for us to be the hero of the Bible stories. This occurs when a teacher reads themselves or us as believers “into the text.” This blasphemous practice is called “Eisegesis.” By exchanging the preposition Ex at the front of the word Exegesis (to take OUT) with Eis, we get the word Eisegesis (to put IN). Eisegesis, then, is the process of “putting into” the text one’s own presuppositions, desires, agendas, etc. While this approach to the Bible may appeal more to our interests, particularly those of lost people, the job of the pastor is to preach the Word and explain its meaning. A faithful teacher will exegete, or pull out of text what God is saying in His Word. A fundamental truth about the Bible is it is not about us. It is about God. This is far more than semantics and word play. The Bible is to be read correctly, with God as the subject and His Church as the direct object. Likewise, the Bible is to be apply appropriately as we consider to whom it was originally written, then what it meant to them, and lastly what it means for us today. Scripture is often twisted in this way, by over-playing our role in the story. This is typically done to generate appeal or support a teacher’s agenda. And other times it is done simply out of sincere ignorance and a lack of biblical training. We will frequently mis-teach and mis-apply God’s Holy Word if we insist on finding ourselves, instead of God, in every text. While God’s Word is written to us, It must be enough that God’s Word is written about God and was graciously given to us in order that we may know Him and how to be saved.

9. Popularity Is Not Proof.

Despite how the world thinks, popularity is not an automatic sign of success. A packed out super-dome, multiple services and multiple location, a certified Twitter account, and books on the NY Times bestseller list are far from automatic proof of a blessed teaching ministry. There are a lot of ways even Christian teachers can draw a crowd and create a loyal following without being overtly biblical. And there are certain teachers who the Lord causes to be quite influential while maintaining a commitment to God-honoring and biblical teaching. So, while having influence or a ministry that impacts many people is certainly not a bad thing, Christians ought to be extremely careful to validate a teacher on the criteria of popularity alone. Far too often, teachers are surrounded by people who simply want there emotional and spiritual itches scratched, and there is no shortage of teachers happy to oblige. Charles Spurgeon is quoted to have said, “That very church which the world likes best is sure to be that which God abhors.” Many false teachers are popular because they are appealing to man’s desires and felt needs in order to gain their people’s attendance, money, and worship. Unfortunately, the more popular such teachers get, the more insulated to biblical criticism they become. Solid teachers take no joy in rejection except to know Christ too was rejected by most, due to the offense of the Gospel. Biblical discernment would have us value the faithfulness of a given teacher far more than we would his following.

10. Jesus Must Be The Focus.

Regardless of the text, Jesus Christ is the ultimate focal point for all of Scripture. One should expect at least a reference, if not an emphasis, on Jesus Christ and our christ-likeness from every teaching. Sadly, many teachers give themselves and many other things far more attention than they give Christ, when He is the entire point of Scripture. The Old Testament points forward to Him and the spiritual reality of being in Christ. The New Testament points backward to Him and His finished work on earth, His work in heaven as our high priest, and His future return and reign. A faithful teacher gives proper honor to Christ by beginning with a biblical text and customarily following the biblical pattern of teaching, consecutive exposition (verse-by-verse). An unfaithful teacher will make either himself, his creative delivery, or his pragmatic application the focus of the message. Since the influence of Pentecostalism, even the Holy Spirit has been given false-honor by way of an over-emphasis on ecstatic speech (tongues) as well as demonic and artificial manifestations of miracles. More recently, the Spirit of God is blasphemed by an emphasis on personal divine revelation knowledge and extra-biblical vision-casting that is supposedly from God the Holy Spirit. It is important for believers to understand the Father’s ultimate will to honor the Son and the Holy Spirit’s role, likewise, is to represent and honor the Son. It follows, then, that an appropriate teaching of Scripture will necessarily point to Jesus. This is what it means that Jesus as The Word made flesh. To focus on anything that doesn’t refer back to or directly emphasize Him is to not preach the Word. Every faithful teacher will join every text and rest of the Godhead, and point to Christ.

Calling Out False Teachers

John Piper on the so called “Prosperity Gospel”:

When I read about prosperity-preaching churches, I wouldn’t want in.” In other words, if this is the message of Jesus, no thank you.
Luring people to Christ to get rich is both deceitful and deadly. It’s deceitful because when Jesus himself called us, he said things like: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). And it’s deadly because the desire to be rich plunges “people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). So here is my plea to preachers of the gospel.

1. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes it harder for people to get into heaven.

Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” His disciples were astonished, as many in the “prosperity” movement should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They respond in disbelief: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27).

My question for prosperity preachers is: Why would you want to develop a ministry focus that makes it harder for people to enter heaven?

2. Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that kindles suicidal desires in people.

Paul said, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” But then he warned against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warned against preachers who stir up the desire to be rich instead of helping people get rid of it. He warned, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

So my question for prosperity preachers is: Why would you want to develop a ministry that encourages people to pierce themselves with many pangs and plunge themselves into ruin and destruction?

3. Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that encourages vulnerability to moth and rust.

Jesus warns against the effort to lay up treasures on earth. That is, he tells us to be givers, not keepers. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).

Yes, we all keep something. But given the built-in tendency toward greed in all of us, why would we take the focus off Jesus and turn it upside down?

4. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes hard work a means of amassing wealth.

Paul said we should not steal. The alternative was hard work with our own hands. But the main purpose was not merely to hoard or even to have. The purpose was “to have to give.” “Let him labor, working with his hands, that he may have to give to him who is in need” (Ephesians 4:28). This is not a justification for being rich in order to give more. It is a call to make more and keep less so you can give more. There is no reason why a person who makes $200,000 should live any differently from the way a person who makes $80,000 lives. Find a wartime lifestyle; cap your expenditures; then give the rest away.

Why would you want to encourage people to think that they should possess wealth in order to be a lavish giver? Why not encourage them to keep their lives more simple and be an even more lavish giver? Would that not add to their generosity a strong testimony that Christ, and not possessions, is their treasure?

5. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that promotes less faith in the promises of God to be for us what money can’t be.

The reason the writer to the Hebrews tells us to be content with what we have is that the opposite implies less faith in the promises of God. He says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

If the Bible tells us that being content with what we have honors the promise of God never to forsake us, why would we want to teach people to want to be rich?

6. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that contributes to your people being choked to death.

Jesus warns that the word of God, which is meant to give us life, can be choked off from any effectiveness by riches. He says it is like a seed that grows up among thorns that choke it to death: “They are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the . . . riches . . . of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).

Why would we want to encourage people to pursue the very thing that Jesus warns will choke us to death?

7. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that takes the seasoning out of the salt and puts the light under a basket.

What is it about Christians that makes them the salt of the earth and the light of the world? It is not wealth. The desire for wealth and the pursuit of wealth tastes and looks just like the world. It does not offer the world anything different from what it already believes in. The great tragedy of prosperity-preaching is that a person does not have to be spiritually awakened in order to embrace it; one needs only to be greedy. Getting rich in the name of Jesus is not the salt of the earth or the light of the world. In this, the world simply sees a reflection of itself. And if it works, they will buy it.

The context of Jesus’ saying shows us what the salt and light are. They are the joyful willingness to suffering for Christ. Here is what Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:11-14).

What will make the world taste (the salt) and see (the light) of Christ in us is not that we love wealth the same way they do. Rather, it will be the willingness and the ability of Christians to love others through suffering, all the while rejoicing because their reward is in heaven with Jesus. This is inexplicable on human terms. This is supernatural. But to attract people with promises of prosperity is simply natural. It is not the message of Jesus. It is not what he died to achieve.

Pastor John Piper

Rick Henderson has written an article denouncing influential TV preachers Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen as false teachers. Its important to know the issues involved.

Well Done Phil!

This is a repost but something we should all be reminded of:

I loved reading Phil Johnson’s response to a comment at his Pyromaniacs blog site who wrote…

Your identity as a “Baptist”; your endless quotations from Charles Spurgeon; your faithful devotion to John MacArthur; and especially your willingness to call yourself a “Calvinist” are all huge red flags that tell me something is seriously wrong with your theology. Why do you teach a system of doctrine that is named after a mere man? Why are you following human teachers instead of going to the Bible alone? After all, 1 John 2:27 says, decease “The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.” We ought to go to Scripture alone to establish our doctrine! The truth is in God’s Holy word, not in any theological system or theology textbook developed by mere men. Isn’t that principle what the Reformation was originally about? Sola Scriptura? Didn’t even Calvin himself go to Scripture for the truth instead of reading other men? I believe that if Calvin himself wrote for this blog, he would point people to the truth in God’s Holy word, not to a theology developed by some other man.

Phil’s reply: You have seriously misunderstood sola Scriptura if you really imagine that it rules out human teachers or eliminates systematic theology. The Reformers (including Calvin) often cited the works of Augustine, Tertullian, Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, and others-ranging from the early church fathers through Aquinas. They didn’t follow any of them slavishly, of course, but they certainly took them seriously. Not one of the major Reformers would have tolerated the claim that because the Church Fathers were mere men they were therefore irrelevant or incapable of shedding any helpful light on tough theological questions.

Sola Scriptura means that Scripture alone is the final court of appeal in all matters of faith and practice. It is an affirmation that “the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture” and that “nothing at any time is to be added [to the Bible], whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” It recognizes that there is ultimately no higher spiritual authority than God’s Word, so “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture . . . it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

But none of that means we’re obliged to discard the wisdom of godly men from ages past and require each man to try to discern truth from scratch by reading nothing but Scripture by himself.

As for Calvin, he certainly did “point people to the truth in God’s Holy Word”-but one thing he did not do was steer people away from the important theologians of the past. In fact, Calvin’s works are filled with references to the Church Fathers-Augustine in particular. Calvin knew it was important to demonstrate that he was proposing nothing wholly novel and that his theology was in the doctrinal lineage of the greatest theologians of the church. He regarded himself as Augustinian, in precisely the same way many today think of themselves as “Calvinists.”

If Calvin wrote for this blog and someone responded to one of his posts by refusing to read what Augustine wrote, Calvin would probably write that person off as arrogant and unteachable.

Incidentally, 1 John 2:20, 27 is the apostle John’s response to an early outbreak of gnostic-flavored spiritual elitism. He was refuting some false teachers (he called them “antichrists”) who insisted that real truth is a deep secret, different from the apostolic message, into which people must be initiated by some anointed swami. The Holy Spirit indwells and anoints each believer, and He is the One who truly enlightens and enables us to understand truth. But He also gifts certain people with a particular ability to teach others (Romans 12:6-7; Ephesians 4:11). So while John was condemning the notion of enlightened masters in the style of Freemasonry and gnosticism, he was not making a blanket condemnation of teachers. He himself was a teacher.

Bonus (from Phil):
A follow-up message asks if I am suggesting it’s wrong for someone to abandon all books and human teachers and rely only on what he can glean from the Bible for himself. Answer: yes, I think that’s wrong because it’s arrogant and reflects a sinful kind of unteachability. This is my whole point: sola Scriptura doesn’t rule out the valid role of teaching in the church.

Furthermore, it is simply not the case that any common, unskilled, unschooled individual, sitting down with his Bible and no other tools, can expect to come to a full and mature understanding of Scripture without any help from godly teachers who understand some things better than he will ever get it on his own. Here’s Bernard Ramm’s famous response to the arrogance reflected in such a perversion of sola Scriptura:

It is often asserted by devout people that they can know the Bible completely without helps. They preface their interpretations with a remark like this: “Dear friends, I have read no man’s book. I have consulted no man-made commentaries. I have gone right to the Bible to see what it had to say for itself.” This sounds very spiritual, and usually is seconded with amens from the audience.

But is this the pathway of wisdom? Does any man have either the right or the learning to by-pass all the godly learning of the church? We think not.

First, although the claim to by-pass mere human books and go right to the Bible itself sounds devout and spiritual it is a veiled egotism. It is a subtle affirmation that a man can adequately know the Bible apart from the untiring, godly, consecrated scholarship of men like [Athanasius,] Calvin, Bengel, Alford, Lange, Ellicott, or Moule…

Secondly, such a claim is the old confusion of the inspiration of the Spirit with the illumination of the Spirit. The function of the Spirit is not to communicate new truth or to instruct in matters unknown, but to illuminate what is revealed in Scripture. Suppose we select a list of words from Isaiah and ask a man who claims he can by-pass the godly learning of Christian scholarship if he can out of his own soul or prayer give their meaning or significance: Tyre, Zidon, Chittim, Sihor, Moab, Mahershalalhashbas, Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Aiath, Migron, Michmash, Geba, Anathoth, Laish, Nob, and Gallim. He will find the only light he can get on these words is from a commentary or a Bible dictionary. [from Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), pp. 17-18.]

Letter to a Charismatic (2)

I received a response from Malcolm by way of e-mail and I replied by interspersing comments in bold type below:

Hi John, thank you for your response. I know you love us and you speak from you heart with any and all types of concerns for God’s people.

Hi Malcolm, I am so glad you caught the spirit in which I wrote. Yes.

When I first encountered God when visiting your church that experience took me way outside of the box, the church box. You preached the Gospel

Yes.. and still do today.. though I feel I have greater insights into it.. I am a Gospel preacher and seek to be nothing else.

and displayed a life encounter with God contrary to anything I had seen or experienced myself. Being under your mentorship was the beginning of God encounters, visions, a trip to heaven, open eyes into the spiritual realm and demonic encounters. I didn’t pick and choose these but they happen. God has always been careful to place people into my life to walk with me, correct me and stand with me when no one else wanted anything to do with who I was.

Yes.. these things do happen.. they have happened many times in church history as God has poured out His Spirit. Jonathan Edwards, mightily used by God in the Great Awakening here in America, write a book about such things called religious affections. He made it clear though that these experiences should not be sought. There is not one New Testament verse that tells Christians to look for trips to heaven this side of the grave. If you remember, I have never taught on such things or encouraged people to seek such things. Even though my understanding of the Scriptures has increased greatly on some things, and even though there is still limitless things I dont know, I have always sought to root people in the word of God and not experience. That was Peter’s whole point in 2 Peter 1.. The text says:

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

having witnessed the transfiguration of Christ with his own eyes, something only 3 human beings ever did, on top of the mountain, he said “we have a more sure word of prophecy.” In other words, “the word of God is surer than any experience we have – even though I have had the greatest.”

When I share the Gospel with people I have the opportunity to see the majority of them receive Christ as their Savior but some do choose to say no, not now or how can you expect me to believe that?

Yes, I have always been aware of your gifting and passion as an evangelist.

I have no idea what they have been through so I know it may be hard for some to accept. When I share my encounters with people as I did in this last email I share them with believers. They don’t need to believe me or choose to accept that what I say can possibly be true just as some of the lost people don’t accept the Gospel I just shared with them but the fact remains the encounters are real and I share them as an encouragement to people. They may never have those experiences but why should I not testify about them. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophesy.

There can be a strong tendency for people to think their Christian life is sooo sub par if they dont have those experiences.. People can say “why dont I have them like Ron does?” Can you not see that? Experiences have to be tested, the word of God does not… the word of God is the diet of the Christian, all else is sinking sand. Yet the Christian who struggles sometimes to read their Bible and pray is just as loved as you.. just as cherished by the Father.. why not share your insights into His word, rather than your experiences? My mother has seen the Lord.. she could have made a movie about her experience.. she could have milked it for all it was worth – but instead she wants Christians to base their lives on the written word of God and in services here and abroad, has always just taught the word of God.

I don’t just want to lead the lost to Christ, I desire to lead those who are discouraged even as believers to a deaper relationship with Christ.

Deeper relationship – yes.. amen.. dramatic experiences – no – that is none of your or my business.. Leave that to God – our task is to preach the word.. in season and out of season..

Until God tells me different this is how I will continue to do it.

He already has said differently in the Bible Malcolm.

My story was not a Gospel presentation it was a story about Jesus sharing something of value to him with me. As for Jenn Johnson, I have not attended any of her classes that are taught at the Bethel School of Supernatual Ministry. That video was one of those classes. I don’t attend this school but I do attend this church. The teachings and the move of God durring these services remind me of a great preacher I have had the opportunity to learn under, You.

I am now at Bethel because I asked God to take me out of my comfort zone to a place I have never been before just like he did when I first encountered your church. A lot of people use to ask me about my comfort zone cause it was a place too hard for them yet it still intriqued them. That part of my life is behind me and I am reaching for more. Bethel Church doesn’t teach their people to bring the lost to church to get saved, they train them to lead the lost to Christ and then get them into a church that will minister to their own needs. I don’t see Bethel Church as a place of signs and wonders, it truely is a place that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is taught and it so happens that signs and wonders do follow, but its happening all over this nation and the lost are coming to Christ in a way I have never seen before.

I seek none of these experiences you mention.. I seek to spend time with my Lord and in His word each day and to feed the flock He has entrusted to me. All else is foolishness.

Because you have shared this with me I will be dillegent to keep my eyes and ears open to what is being preached to everyone here. You are a true friend..

I hope so – I remain very deeply concerned.

Letter to a Charismatic Friend

A friend of mine whom I will call Malcolm (not his real name) wrote to me this week. He recently moved to Redding California to be part of Bill Johnson’s church there. He writes:

I haven’t purchased a digital recorder yet so I’m an sending these God moments to you via email. This is what happened today – Saturday July 2nd, 2011.

Caroline (not her real name) and I went to the Healing Rooms at Bethel Church here in Redding California this morning. Caroline has been having some pain in her knee joints as well as some other issues in her body. I didn’t go for prayer myself, i just wanted to be there to be in the soaking room. This room is filled with the loving fragrance of God. People are dancing, praying, singing and worshiping God to come into His presence. It is such a wonderful place to be it is easy to get caught up in the Spirit as he moves among his people. My goal was to be in that presence this morning because I just wanted to look God straight in the eyes and tell him I love him. I didn’t really know what to expect but I did go there with an anticipation of having a refreshing encounter with him some how.

I was sitting in a chair rocking back and forth just soaking in the moment when two ladies started dancing in front of me. These were worshipful dances, I sensed it was an expression of their love for God. As I was watching them I asked God if the people in heaven dance the same way or is the motion and movement more elevated than what I was seeing. Right then I saw myself standing in a park like setting. I don’t know what was behind me but before me I saw hundreds of people in what looked like a park It was somewhat bowl shaped. There were a lot of kids dancing and laughing and just having a wonderful time. I saw older people joining them, it almost looked like Gypsy’s dancing as they moved in and out of the people around them. Their movements were smooth and precise and very fast. There was so much laughter. I stepped forward to join them and then I was no longer watching myself but I was seeing what was going on from the perspective of being in the flow of people. The music was very worshipful. As I danced through the people I moved on to another group also dancing but not to the same music as the first group. It appeared as though they were doing a two step country jig. Although the music was different it did not clash with the other dancers or the music they were dancing to. I asked what was going on and I herd someone say that the first group were worshiping God in their dance and the second group was declaring his power and authority in their dance. There also appeared to be more men in this group than women. The first group there were more children, then women then men. I hope that makes sense. As I was watching these worshipers in the expressive dances I looked further away into the park and could see an elevated patio off in the distance. It was large about half the size of a football field actually a little smaller. It was elevated four steps higher than the grass area and there were large columns on it but no solid roof over it. It all looked like a white polished stone. It had the appearance of fogged glass. I walked up the steps and to my right stood a very large angel. As my son Brian would say when he was six years old, “he was a dark man”. He looked like a warrior, maybe 8 ft. tall and well over 400 lbs. I’m not sure how I know this its just a guess.

I walked up to him and he just stood there looking straight ahead. I asked him if he ever smiled and he looked down at me and did so. I looked over to where all the people were dancing and celebrating and I asked him if he could dance. He started moving around like a ballerina. He was very graceful and light on his feet and smoooth. As he danced around more angels appeared. I don’t know where they came from they were just there and they were all watching. They had long hair, some with blond hair others brown hair and still others with black they too looked like warriors. Some of them had braided hair. Their skin color was not all the same but the majority of them appeared to be Caucasian. One stood out cause he looked like the movie character Thore. Then the angel dancing stopped and the others stepped forward and started dancing with power and authority, it was as if they were declaring something or telling a story. It didn’t last very long cause Jesus showed up. He was standing in the middle of them and then they all stepped back to give him some room and he looked at me. I just stared at his face. I walked up to him and said “once you asked me to dance with you and I told you I didn’t want to dance and you replied that you wanted to and so you took my hand and we just started dancing, well would you dance with me now?” And like someone on Dancing With the Stars we just started doing what looked like a Waltz. He took my hands and we just started sweeping around this patio, we looked good. It didn’t seem to last very long, when we were done we just stood silent for a moment then he pulled my head into his chest and just held onto me and loved on me the way a dad does who never wants to let his child go. I buried my face into his chest and just cried. I was so overwhelmed by his love for me. He didn’t have to say a word yet he spoke thousands to me. I just kept saying thank you over and over to him and then it was over. I opened my eyes and I was back at the Healing Rooms with a bunch of people loving on God and getting healed among other things. Several people started standing up declaring that they received their healing and no one had even prayed for them yet.

This is what happened today, it was a good day….Malcolm

I waited a few days to gather my thoughts and pray and wrote the following to him this morning.

Hi Malcolm and Caroline,

Many thanks for the updates. It is always great to hear from you. I think you are a terrific guy Malcolm – always have. Caroline is amazing too – but you already know that. Actually in what I can discern of my heart it is love that prompts me to write this now. That is because I do have genuine concern.

My concern is about where you, places like the IHOP and the Redding Church seem to be going spiritually. I dont attend of course, this is only an observation from a huge distance away. But the e-mail you sent does seem to be a pattern. Please let me explain.

As I understand it – a good day in the church for the people of God is when God is worshiped in reverence, the Gospel is presented clearly, the word of God is read to the people and the saints are edified because the Word is exposited, right interpretation takes place that is then applied to all of life. This last Sunday we had a good day at our Church.

I am not sure that is enough for people in these venues. Actually I feel sure it is not. They want something much more dramatic – visions, dreams, experiences, out of body experiences, gold dust, sights of angels.. and on and on we go. I think that is dangerous… VERY dangerous. I am convinced that these poor people would be bored to tears if the Apostle Paul himself left heaven and started teaching Romans in their pulpits.. yawns would emerge from the crowd within minutes.

Yet his charge for ministers remains – 2 Tim 4:1 – I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

I read through your update you sent me Malcolm and as interesting as it is, I dont see anything of the Gospel. There is no word of God expounded. Its just your experience.

… would you be gracious enough to watch a couple of very short videos which highlight my concerns.. Would you do that for me?

(1) From an IHOP church – http://slaughteringthesheep.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/unholy-manifestations-at-ihop/

(2) Jenn Johnson from your church in Redding – http://slaughteringthesheep.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/this-is-sound-doctrine/

Now I dont know if either of these videos are typical or representative of the sort of ministry and emphasis at your church.. I make no accusations at all.. I just believe our safety is in the God breathed Scriptures and not the slippery and dangerous slope of experience.

I just want to alert you as to my concern.

Your friend always and because I care,

John