THE GREEK WORD FOR ‘DISCERNMENT’ in the New Testament is diakrisis, eg. ‘the discernment of spirits’, (e.g. First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 10). This article is designed to address a religious craze known as the Charismatic Movement and offshoots of it, such as the Toronto Blessing”, which involved falling down, laughing, gibbering, trembling, making animal noises, and other phenomena. The following questions and statements are representative of those being put forward by many perplexed and bewildered people today.
“We have been praying for revival for years, so when we heard about the church in Toronto, we paid for our Pastor to go there so that he could bring the Holy Spirit back to our church.”
Why is it necessary to go across the Atlantic to bring the Holy Spirit to your church? This is the Spirit of Almighty God of whom you are speaking – the One who ‘blows where [He] wishes’ (Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 8) and who already abides in every disciple of Christ. What kind of a ‘god’ is it that can be harnessed in such a way that we can infallibly bring revival by hopping on a plane? This ‘Aladdin’s Lamp’ idea of the Holy Spirit as a ‘genie’ that one can transport across the world is a most profane concept. If God wants to bring many to Christ, He will do so in His own way and in His own time.
“But doesn’t the Bible promise that there will be ‘times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord’?
This quotation is derived from the Book of Acts, chapter 3, verse 19. We must be careful to ensure that phrases and passages from the sacred texts are not lifted from their context and used to support things with which they have no connection, for that is how cultists and false teachers have always approached the Word of God. So let us discover what this text actually means.
Within the context of Peter’s speech, how one interprets the promise of ‘times of refreshing’ depends on whether it refers to the first part of verse 19: ‘Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’, or what follows in verses 20-21 about the ‘restoration of all things’ after the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ‘times of refreshing’ could therefore refer to either of these two concepts, that is (1) the lifelong consolation which comes to all disciples as a result of their consciousness of reconciliation to God, or (2) the blessed state of all disciples in their eternal rest in heaven after Christ’s return. Whichever it is, there is a vast gulf between what the Bible means here by ‘times of refreshing’ and the self-indulgent phenomena that are being hyped up in so many churches today.
“Some people in our church have been making lots of animal noises. Isn’t there something about this in the Bible?”
The fact that animal noises are mentioned in the Bible does not mean that we are to set about imitating them. However, roaring, howling, and wailing are among the sounds that are becoming common in Charismatic churches. It has even been reported that a man crowed like a cockerel in a church service, and the word of interpretation given was ‘The Lord says: “A new day is dawning”! The justification for these word interjections has been found in Bible texts such as, ‘Therefore I will wait and howl…. I will make a wailing like the jackals and a mourning like the ostriches’ (Mic 1:8). Here the prophet Micah is lamenting in a typical Middle Eastern fashion the awfulness of God’s judgment on Judah. The biblical imagery is that of a grief-stricken mourner and bears no relation to the frivolity associated with what is reported in Charismatic churches. It is a sheer travesty to equal the animal noises made in Charismatic churches today with the unique, Divinely-appointed ministry of certain Old Testament prophets.
Similarly, the lion-like roaring noises we find in Charismatic worship services are justified on the basis that God is said to ‘roar like a lion’ (eg. Jeremiah, chapter 25, verse 30, Book of Hosea, chapter 11, verse 10). But it is ludicrous to imagine that people can randomly mimic this figurative portrayal of God in His role as the Divine Judge. Let us not forget that the enemies of Christ are also said to roar like a lion (Book of Psalms, chapter 22, verses 12-13). And the devil himself is spoken of as ‘a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’ (First Letter of Peter, chapter 5, verse 8). This shows the extreme folly of plucking Bible passages from their context in order to justify deviant behaviour in churches.
“But weren’t the disciples ‘drunk in the spirit’ at Pentecost in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles?”
No, they most certainly were not. Moreover, to compare the behaviour of those who are so-called ‘slain in the spirit’ in Pentecostal-Charismatic churches today with the miraculous event recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 2 shows a complete misunderstanding of what was taking place.
This was the inauguration of the New Testament Church. Is it at all feasible that God would have his disciples appear like a band of town drunks at a time when establishing the humour and integrity of the Church was all important? Those disciples were ‘speaking…… the wonderful works of God’ (v. 11), not exhibiting the kind of religious phenomena which could be found in the many mystery religions abounding in the Mediterranean countries in those days. If the disciples at the Pentecostal gathering had been behaving like those undergoing the Charismatic or ‘Toronto experience’ of today, then this would have made the Ekklesia indistinguishable from those fanatical pagan cults and would have brought it into disrepute.
It is true that some of the bystanders (and it was only some) said that the disciples were ‘full of new wine’ (v. 13). But this was purely by way of mockery and had no substance to it. They were simply trying to ridicule the disciples in a spirit of unbelief. For this reason, it would be most unreliable to base our understanding of the disciples behaviour on the taunts of such mockers. Their gibes about drunkenness cannot possibly have been because the disciples were falling to the floor, or laughing hysterically, or grinning inanely, or uttering gibberish, or crowing like cockerels, or roaring like lions, or waving their arms in the air, or holding their quaking hands out in front of them, such as happens to those stricken in Charismatic/Toronto style gatherings. Such unruly and disreputable behaviour at that delicate moment of Church history would have undermined everything which was being established.
The speaking of this variety of ethnic languages was a manifest reversal of the confounding judgment which took place at the Tower of Babel (Book of Genesis, chapter 11, verses 1-9). It was sounding forth that great truth that there is neither ‘Jew nor Greek…in Christ Jesus’, and was a figurative representation of the ‘all nations’ composition of the New Jerusalem. To cite the God-honouring events of the Book of Acts, chapter 2, in support of quasi-drunken behaviour in church services of today is not only in defiance of Paul’s dictum that all things should be ‘done decently and in order’ (First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 40), but it also makes a mockery of the fact that to be filled with the Spirit is diametrically opposed to the state of drunkenness (see Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, verse18).
“If being “slain in the spirit” in a Charismatic church or getting the ‘Toronto Blessing’ is not just a Christian experience, how come I had such a great sense of peace when it happened to me?”
The fact that you have a general sense of wellbeing after an experience in no way proves that it is from the Lord, or that it is conducive to Christian growth. The objective validity of an experience can never be measured by the subjective feelings associated with it. Psycho-religious activities often create what is known as an ‘alpha-wave’ brain state, in which a person will have an experience of great peace. But this in no way proves that one is ‘resting in the Holy Spirit’, as many would put it, because this same state can be reproduced in Yogic meditation, occult rituals, an opium den, or a pub!
It is most unlikely that the pleasant sensations which occur in the wake of the Pentecostal-Charismatic ‘slain in the spirit’ experience have anything whatever to do with the Holy Spirit, because God does not bless disobedience. Such phenomena not only have no biblical pedigree, but they have been entirely absent in gatherings of genuine disciples down the ages, having only ever been practised among mystery religions, mystical orders, shamanistic cults, and pagan sects. It was not until the revivalist excesses of the so-called ‘Holiness Movement’ in the latter half of the 19th century that such phenomena began to seduce professing Christians en masse into their powerful wake.
The fact that you feel so high after having indulged in antichristian psycho-religious experiences merely shows that Satan has performed a consummate work in your life. For that is his aim with the millions of gullible “Christians” in the world today: to give them a ‘hands-on feel-good’ experience while introducing them to a welter of ‘Christianised’ occult techniques and practices. What so many today fail to understand is that when Satan determines to deceive professing Christians, he comes as an angel of light rather than the prince of darkness (see, e.g. Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 14). When you understand how Satan really operates, you will realise that an occult experience need not be one of spine-tingling horror but is more likely to fill you with feelings of joy and release. Satan is the master of the ‘buzz’ – the religious and psychological high; and he is exercising his craft today in the churches on a massive scale.
How easily bewitched professing “Christians” are today! It is not on any subjective physical or emotional experiences that a disciple should base his or her sense of peace but, rather, on the objective fact of his having been reconciled to God through Christ. There is a vast difference between ‘feelings’ of peace and actually knowing that peace has been made. The first is an artificial peace based on subjective experience, while the latter is a true peace rooted in the objective work of Christ. The world will offer you an earthbound peace which is either the space between two wars or the illusion of bliss (cf. Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 27). But Christ will bring about an actual condition of peace which is permanent and spiritual… a state which persists, even in times of affliction, and regardless of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we may feel. As a wise leader from a former era has put it:
“While we must fight together throughout this life under the cross, our condition is harsh and wretched…. For this reason we ought to know that the happiness promised us in Christ does not consist in outward advantages such as leading a joyous and peaceful life, having rich possessions, being safe from all harm, and abounding with delights such as the flesh commonly longs after. No, our happiness belongs to the heavenly life!”
Understanding this mighty fact is the key to true growth, which does not come through psychological catharsis, but through obedience to God’s word (First Letter of Peter, chapter 2, verses 1-3) and the hard road of suffering and adversity (Letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verses 3-4). Disciples of Christ are exiles in a hostile world, but their joy comes through knowing that they have an abundance of heavenly treasures. If your peace and joy comes from being ‘slain in the spirit’ – or undergoing any other psycho-religious experience — then you have no conception of the heavenly life, and are merely laying up for yourself treasures on earth.
“If this is not a genuine Christian experience, why do those who undergo it feel an apparent sense of renewed faith and zeal for God? Aren’t we to judge things ‘by their fruits’?”
It may come as a surprise to learn that increased devotion, reform of one’s personal life, dedication to the faith and zeal for one’s Lord are not necessarily sure signs that the experience which produced them is of a pure origin. All the world’s religions and cults can produce exactly the same results, and the well known Parable of the Sower shows that a professing “Christian” can have a very great apparent zeal that only lasts until the going gets rough (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, verses 5-6, 20-21).
Zeal for God, if it is not accompanied by right knowledge, actually results in a self-centredness which ignores the will of God (Letter to the Romans, chapter 10, verses 2-3, cf. Book of Proverbs, chapter 19, verse 2). On the Day of Judgment there will be many such people who will claim to have regarded Jesus as their Lord, to have prophesied, cast out demons, and worked miracles in His name. They will no doubt have been very enthusiastic people who will have imagined themselves to have been devoted to Christ and pathway of the disciple, but they will have been deluding themselves, and will be rejected by Him as those who ‘practice lawlessness’ (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 21-23). Bear in mind that these folks imagined that they were ‘super-Christians’ yet in reality they were so steeped in folly and rebellion that they are excluded by Christ from heaven. How had this come about? Surely, it was because they derived their understanding of God’s will from their subjective experience – ‘It works!’ – instead of from His objective truth (something about which the Lord Jesus warned His disciples in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verse 20). And that is the primary problem in so many churches today, which makes life hell for anyone trying to find a pure and faithful group of disciples to be part of, especially if one also does not want to be part of the opposite kind of group in the spectrum — a formalistic, authoritarian, nit-picking bunch of judgemental zealots.
People who have been ‘slain in the spirit’ will often make the claim that they have an increased hunger for God’s Word. But if that is the case, why do they indulge in the use of ‘worship aids’ and religious rituals which do not reflect reverence and awe due to the Divine Godhead? If they truly hunger after God’s Word, why do they continue to speak or pray in pagan gibberish, imagining it to be the biblical gift of languages? If they claim a desire to be faithful to God and His Word, why do they give out and soak up the most outlandish and banal statements as prophecies and ‘words of knowledge’? How is it that in spite of their desire to study the Word they don’t perceive their disobedience to it and incongruity of behaviour in relation to it? The questions could go on.
However zealously people may regard Jesus as their ‘Lord’, it is not necessarily the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Jesus Himself said: “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven (Matt 7:21). The only sure sign that there has been a true work of the Holy Spirit in a person is if there is a desire for complete obedience and discipleship to the will of God. In the final analysis, that is the only fruit by which these phenomena can be judged.
“I have fallen down at meetings many times, and it has never done me any harm. I keep wanting it to happen again and again.”
You might be under the impression that it hasn’t done you any harm, but the fact that you desire this experience to be repeated so frequently shows that you have become more or less addicted to it. Perhaps the reason for this is because there is something fundamentally lacking in your spiritual life…. Namely, the assurance of salvation. Because there are so many professing Christians today who have undergone a highly spurious experience of conversion, they lack that genuine ongoing inner assurance which is ordinarily given to all true children of God (Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 14-16). Consequently, they must seek some other way of convincing themselves that they truly have the Spirit. They therefore become caught up in an endless round of sensation-seeking, hoping to confirm their faith through repeated quasi-religious experiences.
But for how long will your present ‘high’ last? Until you lose your job, or your spouse leaves you, or you fall terminally-ill? How long will it be before you have to go back for another fall to the floor?…. and another. For that is how it all works: sugar-coated enslavement to psycho-religious ritual. So, whether you recognise it or not, in seeking after these ungodly experiences – and especially by doing so repeatedly – you are actually doing considerable harm to your spiritual health.
“But I read somewhere that these Toronto-style phenomena always happen in revivals. Doesn’t that mean that this is a revival?”
No, it most certainly does not. You are making an illogical deduction, rather like the person who says: ‘All Jews are circumcised; therefore all circumcised people are Jews”! In any case, revivals have by no means always been accompanied by physical and emotional phenomena; and the kind of phenomena we are seeing today would never have been countenanced by discerning leaders in past situations of so-called revival. I am deeply suspicious of what has come to be called “revival”, which mostly happens in an emotionally-charged public meeting rather than in the quiet truth of one’s own heart. Many so-called revivals have merely been emotionalistic contagions of hypnotic suggestion; and the Charismatic Movement is in that tradition. This world is steeped in mind-control, deception and manipulation. The Church is no exception to this.
A key problem today is that many have falsely deduced that they only have to mimic the outward aspects of certain phenomena associated with some phony so-called revivals in the past in order to generate a “revival” of their own. However, when any phenomena occurred in the revivals of earlier eras they usually took place as a result of powerful preaching about Christ, an overwhelming sense of one’s folly in the face of an infinitely holy God, the shocking realisation of the implications of separation from God, and a desperate desire for that to be remedied.
In complete contrast to this, the phenomena that we are seeing in churches today are entirely unconnected with any of these contexts, and are, at best, the outworkings of a childish, manipulative and hysterical ministry; at worst, they are the result of something far more sinister.
“Surely the Lord would not allow His churches to fall into deception on such a vast scale?”
God certainly keeps his people from the powers of evil, and those disciples and gatherings of disciples which are faithful He honours with His protecting love (eg. Rev 3:8-10). But the visible Church is now in the throes of a major time of sifting as a result of Divine judgment, in which there is a visible separation into two distinct kinds of gatherings – one true, the other false. The true Ekklesia consists of disciples who are obedient to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, who establish their gatherings through healthy teaching, who base their salvation on what Christ did, and who are willing to die in order to defend the truth. The false church, on the other hand, consists of those whose ‘Christianity’ is based on personal revelations, fashionable ideas, and cleverly manipulated religious experiences. The one is obedient to the revealed will of God, the other is manipulated by the powers of darkness.
Also, we cannot ignore the fact that the visible church is a hotbed of infiltrators and even spooks (as I will soon show in an upcoming article entitled “Discerning the Signs of the Times”) who have crept in to distract people from the simplicity which is in Christ and what should constitute the true regeneration of a human being. What we have now representing “the Church” in the world is a total hotch-potch of crazy ideas creating movements, megachurches and ministries influencing millions upon millions of gullible folks with fantasies and fallacies that beggar belief.
Today, we have an entire generation of professing Christians who are deeply ignorant of healthy teaching and have no understanding of the lessons of history. Having fallen prey to the ‘trickery of men’, they are being ‘carried around by every wind of teaching’ (Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 14). Instead of being allowed to dictate the agenda of the Ekklesia, they need to be awakened to the fullness of their deception.