So in my last post, I posted the first half of my notes from the second talk I gave at the Last Days Bible Conference. I dealt with the first two (of five) “fatal flaws” in the Renewal, as organized by the acronym K.N.I.F.E. The first two flaws were “Knotted Hermeneutics” and “Novelty Obsession.” Again I’ve included a few hyperlinks to content that I didn’t pull out of books (and remembered to write down).
As a reminder, the five fatal flaws are foundational issues that are fairly widespread in the Renewal Movement. If I were to nail the flaws down to just one, I’d point to the first issue regarding the hermeneutics (interpretation of scripture). One might suggest that all the other issues flow out of that, but they’re still significant root issues for large numbers of people in the Renewal Movement. Not every flaw is equally problematic for everyone; the streams of the Renewal Movement that intentionally push closer to a consistent historical/grammatical hermeneutic (i.e. the Calvary Chapel or ex-Sovereign Grace folds) tend to have less struggles with the other “fatal flaws.”
For example, folks in Calvary Chapel tend to see Satan and demons behind far less than folks in the Victory Church (a generally small, but…er…”theologically fawlty” denomination in Canada).
So without further wildly obscure euphamisms, here’s the second half of my notes:
3. Imitation Gifts.
The problem is that the contemporary gifts are categorically different than what we find in the scripture.
We will talk about this more in the next talk.
a. The modern manifestation of tongues is most frequently ecstatic speech, and the tongues in the Bible were nothing of the sort.
i. The early Pentecostals knew that tongues had to be earthly languages, hence the revival in Topeka had someone speaking and writing Chinese, and the revival in Azusa had people speaking and writing in multiple languages.
ii. The tongues of 1901 and 1906 weren’t real languages, and the minute people got overseas they learned that really quick.
iii. The tongues that aren’t ecstatic speech aren’t real tongues either (that will be explained in more detail in the next post).
iv. The question then becomes what do you do with a movement whose major verification of authenticity rests on a demonstrably fraudulent claim?
b. The modern manifestation of prophecy involves fallible prophecy that is almost always wrong and covers it’s penchant for error in being absurdly vague.. Like it or not, that one change has completely undermined the Bible:
i. Smith Wigglesworth tells a story of the 1920’s:
“Not long ago a meeting was being held in the town hall of a certain city in England. In the foyer of the hall was a large display of religious books for sale. A friend of mine, wanting a Bible, approached one of the attendants.
‘I would like to purchase a Bible,’ he said, ‘but there are none on display.’
The young man responded, ‘Oh, we don’t sell Bibles. We don’t need them now; we have the Spirit.’ “
ii. This attitude is rarely displayed so openly, but Charismatic literature is always heavy on testimonial evidence and shockingly short on exegesis.
– The underlying framework of providing testimonial evidence as opposed to biblical exegesis is one where exegesis, doctrine and practice are ultimately validated by personal experience rather than Scripture.
iii.The low regard that most Renewal folks have for the Bible is demonstrated in their mediocre exegesis of Scripture as well.
– Charisma magazine is “exhibit a” in the substantiation that many people in Renewal circles (though not all) have an shocking low regard for Scripture as seen in the continual lack of interest in the proper understanding of Scripture (you can start here).
c. The modern manifestation of healing is not the same as it is in the Bible, and everybody knows it.
i. Every single Charismatic Faith Healer has to make excuse after excuse for why they don’t heal like Jesus did, in the same manner and degree.
ii. The ones who claim to do what Jesus did never can produce actual proof.
– Healing stories never come with names and dates and methods of verification.
– We live in a world where everyone and their dog has a cell phone with a video camera on it, and yet all we see are healings that could be easily faked!
– Where are the blind eyes visibly clearing up on camera?
– Where are the shriveled limbs instantly regenerating on camera?
– Where are the lepers healed spontaneously on camera?
iii. If anyone in the Renewal really was able to heal in the manner that they claim, the whole debate about authenticity could be over in a matter of hours. All it would take is some names, dates, and authenticated medical records.
– I even know of people who have been healed miraculously (in response to prayer) who could provide that sort of data, but they’re not claiming that any sort of “faith healer” was involved…nor are they teaching “sowing and reaping” or “covenant rights” or any of the same theological sewage that the faith healers and prosperity preachers are teaching. They’re just individuals whose story is “people prayed and God graciously chose to act miraculously! Praise his name!” folks.
4. Fearful Spirituality
a. Fear of divisiveness.
i. This was the second biggest complaint made against the Strange Fire Conference in 2013.
– The biggest complaint was about the Broad Brush that was used: how apparently 500 million Charismatics were condemned to Hell.
– The second complaint was related to how divisive it was to the Body of Christ. John MacArthur was lambasted by everyone for suggesting that millions of professing Christians weren’t Christians.
(Sure, without context, I agree that this looks really divisive…until you realize that it’s talking about Bill Johnson at Bethel Church in Redding California, and is specifically talking about the type of folks who claim that gold crafting glitter falling from air conditioning ducts is actually the shekinah glory of God.)
– The bizarre part is that in the Renewal, anyone who claims to be part of the body of Christ is considered “in” and anyone who challenges their blind acceptance of heretics is seen as divisive.
ii. Yet absolute insanity is tolerated in Renewal Circles in an effort to keep unity.
– For example, the Assemblies of God put out an official paper in 2,000 on Endtime Revival that condemned many of the practices of the Brownsville and Toronto Revival, as well as the doctrinal ideas coming out of IHOP. Regarding the most outlandish “manifestation” of that era, the report says:
“We must admit that an omnipotent God could place gold fillings in teeth and gold dust on individuals. But can such events be empirically demonstrated? If it is for a sign to those present, the reason for the sign should be evident. But to run after such signs and wonders makes us little more than the Pharisees who came to Jesus asking to see a sign from heaven (Mark 8:11). The same attitude should guard believers, no matter what the unnatural sign might be. Judging from a distance on the basis of second hand reports is dangerous.”
b. Fear of quenching the Spirit
i. If people are “getting saved” and lives are being changed, that’s considered sufficient proof that anything is a work of the Holy Spirit.
ii. People in the Renewal Movement are allergic to questioning the teaching or practice of any fast-growing movement because, if numbers equal divine fruitfulness, then any opposition is most likely “quenching the spirit” and possibly committing the “unforgivable sin.”
– A perfect example of that is the 1949 debate about the Latter Rain movement. Without going into massive detail, the movement that started in North Battleford was highly controversial: The leaders were unfathomably arrogant men who openly laughed at any effort at correction, their “manifestations” were clearly just copied from other ministries (or were obviously not even close to biblical in nature), and they doctrine condemned the entire Pentecostal movement that preceded them as utterly apostate.
– In 1949, Assemblies of God pastor Charles W.H. Scott evaluated the fruits of the Latter Rain Movement and said that
“that the revival was not, after all, new at all, but rather the reappearances of enthusiastic mysticism common in church history.”
– His evaluation led to the 1949 response to the Latter Rain movement by the AOG in their national conference. They condemned the “excesses” of the Latter Rain revival as not being “of God.”
– What was the main response? Stanley Frodsham, a man of no small influence in the AOG, wrote:
“It has been so grossly unfair to link up this new revival which God is so graciously sending, where so many souls are being saved, where so many lives are being transformed, where God is so graciously restoring the gifts of the Spirit with the fanatical movements of the past 40 years”
No mention of the doctrinal critique.
– The only thing that mattered was that people were being saved, lives were being transformed, and spiritual manifestations were occurring.
– Since those are considered the mark of a move of God, Frodsham simply didn’t care about, or just glossed over as insignificant, the heresies that were being spread in the Latter Rain Movement.
c. Fear of Satan.
i. Inversely, verses like John 10:10 (“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy“) often become a mantra in many Renewal circles.
ii. The idea of “spiritual warfare” ends up in many Renewal folks thinking that Satan is out to steal their blessings and God is trying to show them how to hold on to them…but Satan comes at believers with almost innumerable tactics.
iii. This is one of the reasons why so many books on “spiritual warfare” are written; Renewal leaders are continually uncovering new and previously undiscovered avenues of Satanic attack.
– For example. Jentezen Franklin writes about a demon spirit, the Spirit of Python, and says:
“A python is after one thing: breath. It slowly coils itself around its victim and begins to squeeze the life out, little by little; as its grip gets tighter and tighter, it chokes and suffocates its prey until all the air is expunged from the prey’s lungs.
You might be wondering why I think it is so significant that the python’s goal is to suffocate the breath out of its victims. Let me explain. Breath, air, and wind are symbols of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. For example, in John 20:22 Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit came as a mighty rushing wind; in Genesis God breathed the breath of life into Adam, and he became a living soul. God breathed breath into man.
Guess who’s trying to choke and suffocate the life out of us? Satan is after one thing; like a python he is trying to extract the breath of the Holy Spirit and His anointing from our lives. Just as a python hates the breath in his prey and will do anything he can to eliminate it, Satan desires to squeeze the Holy Spirit life out of our churches and personal lives.”
– Franklin says later that the Spirit Python is the reason people lose their passion for the Lord, for the Bible, for prayer, and for church.
– Franklin says that the Python Spirit could be behind your problems at home, in your marriage, in your family, in your finances, and in your workplace.
– In other words, if you have a problem anywhere, it’s likely the Python Spirit.
– You had better buy his book and learn how to beat the Python spirit or Satan will have you for breakfast!
5. Experiential Verification
a. Verification of the movement itself
i. The biggest arguments in favor of the authenticity of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements have always revolved around numbers. When people talk about judging something by its fruit, the “fruit” is almost always numerical growth.
ii. In the 1950’s, the Pentecostals were accepted into Evangelicalism simply because of their size.
– In 1958, Billy Graham quoted Dr. Tim VanDusen as saying,
“The Pentecostal movement can no longer be considered a fringe group in Protestantism for it is the fastest growing movement in Protestantism today and must be taken within the fold of Protestantism.”
– No mention of why it was considered on the fringe.
– Nine years later, Billy Graham endorsed the faith healers & prosperity preachers when he spoke at the dedication of Oral Roberts University.
iii. In the 1980’s, the Charismatic Movement, specifically among the Catholics, was accepted by Pentecostalism simply because of their size.
– In the May 16, 1980 Assemblies of God minister’s letter (Called to Serve) regarding their response to the spreading of previously exclusively Pentecostal spiritual manifestations into Catholic circles, the Assemblies of God spoke of some upcoming ecumenical conferences and wrote:
“In view of the widespread outpouring…it is felt this series of conferences can help us as a Movement to maximize our involvement in the current visitation of the Holy Spirit.”
– The authentication of the Catholic manifestations of the Spirit was primarily found in their substantial proliferation.
iv. Now, the New Apostolic Reformation had been welcomed by everyone because their churches are growing like crazy.
– In 1998, C. Peter Wagner spoke of the New Apostolic Reformation and wrote,
“In virtually every region of the world, these new apostolic churches constitute the fastest-growing segment of Christianity.”
– The NAR people are everywhere in Renewal Circles now. You see some of their big figures popping up all over the place, and they will only become more prominent as the baby-boomer generation continues dying off.
b. Verification of truth.
i. Most questions of Charismatic doctrine ultimately rest on a small amount of biblical evidence and a lot of testimonial evidence. Testimonial evidence, as a rule of thumb, isn’t reliable evidence.
ii. They definitely attempt to use the Bible to support their ideas, but when your ideas contradict their own, they tend to respond with a story rather than a hypothetical argument.
iii. This is why Charismatic folks can seem immune to articulate exegetical arguments.
– Godly men can disagree on Bible interpretations, but you can’t argue with their interpretation of their experience.
– You must tackle their interpretation of their experience.
iv. This is also why Charismatic people get angry or insulted when you challenge their theology.
– Their theology is rooted in their experience of it, and challenging their ideas also implicitly is challenging their experience.
– Saying “that’s not true” is like saying “that didn’t actually happen”; it’s calling them a liar and questioning their salvation.
I would argue that the Renewal would look very different if Renewal folks would:
1. Strive to interpret the Bible with consistent historical/grammatical hermeneutics
2. Shift the focus from new manifestations and movements to discipleship and spiritual maturation.
3. Biblically define the gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy and bring their practice into consistency with those definitions.
4. Seek to cultivate an understanding of the sovereignty God and a biblical understanding of Spiritual Warfare.
5. Evaluate their experiences by the Bible.
If those things happened, the Renewal (as we currently know it) may even cease to exist.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Fatally Flawed but Supernaturally Saved” Unger