An overview of my past in Pentecostalism will help shed some light on why I believe examination according to Scripture is vital. As a young boy, I was eager for the things of God but a part of a pentecostal denomination. It was there the Lord saved me by His grace. But as I look back there was a major deficiency.
We did not do as the Scripture commands all believers to do, test everything, examine everything, scrutinize anything that is deemed spiritual in light of God’s word, not feelings (1 Thess. 5:24). I say this to convey the dependence some may have had on those who were responsible for their spiritual welfare, and if they felt that this was a necessary part of their spiritual growth; who are you to contend against it? When you are born and raised into a certain sect of the faith, the process of undoing years of indoctrination does not go away easily. Yet God, the one who saves, is faithful. And by God’s grace and the desire He gives to know His truths, no one needs to remain trapped in any religious system that deviates from Sola Scriptura.
So what are some of the major problems with sign and wonders movements?
First of all, it does not consistently allow the word of God to validate or invalidate what they experience. Secondly, their view of the Holy Spirit’s work often conflicts with Scripture. Here is where I ask for you to understand what the Bible teaches about experience and the Holy Spirit’s work. First of all, the apostle Peter, a man who was a witness to the glory of Jesus Christ told the scattered believers that they have something greater than what he experienced. Peter was an eyewitness to the majesty and glory of Christ at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). It was there where Peter, James, and John saw Christ in His glorious array standing with Moses an Elijah.
Yet in spite of this experience, Peter said that those who have the enduring word of God have something that is of a greater certainty (2 Peter 1:19). The Bible, according to the Holy Spirit, is a far greater testimony than experience alone. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself exalted the word of God above anything else, even above His signs through miracles. When Jesus was approaching His death, He encouraged the disciples by letting them know that they are clean by the word of God spoken to them (John 15:7). When Jesus was praying to the Father, He tells the Father to sanctify them by His truth because His word is truth (John 17:17). Prior to this, Jesus told the Father that He gave to those them the Father’s word (John 17:14). Out of all Jesus did, in the end what mattered the most was the truth that was given to the disciples––the word of God.
Salvation comes through the truth about Christ being proclaimed or read, not through experience (Acts 4:12; Colossians 1:28). Sanctification comes through the word of God, not a “spirit” experience devoid of sound truth (John 17:17). Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Faith does not mature because of miracles. There were many who witnessed the miracles of Jesus and still rejected the Person of Jesus. Unfortunately, in the Charismatic movements, experiences and opinions may take front row.
Am I saying that the movement does not have genuine people? No. In fact some of you are truly sincere but the Bible does not call for sincerity without knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:3-8). Knowledge of God will lead to appropriate worship and spiritual conduct (Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-12). When a person grows in biblical knowledge there is less tendency to fall prey to questionable movements. Being grounded in the faith means that you continue to grow in your knowledge of God through Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18; Phil. 1:8). God is glorified when our worship of Him is based on true knowledge, not experience alone. This is a very important fact; many of you who are open to experiences start with a mild curiosity, which from the onset seems to be a genuine desire.
But as time goes on, what authority will you use to prevent the situation from becoming more subjective? You cannot use the Bible because it was never the basis for your experience. So you are left to the opinion of the pastors, leaders, or your discernment (which is not based on Scripture) to keep things in check, which is a recipe for spiritual failure. Sadly I must say that the general intent of Pentecostalism and Charismatic movements are not an accurate reflection of the Holy Spirit’s work. I say this based on Scripture. How you view the work of the Holy Spirit is critical to your movement. Let us examine key passages of Scripture to understand this more clearly.
In Romans 8:9-17, we have some of the clearest descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of believers. First, the Holy Spirit is the one who enables the dead sinner to live a new life in Christ (8:9); He gives new life by giving life to our spirit that was dead because of sin (8:11); He is the one who confirms our adoption (8:15); The Holy Spirit “testifies” of our entrance into the family of God (8:16). Because the Holy Spirit leads us, we are the Sons of God (Romans 8:14). There is nothing in this passage that confirms or teaches ecstatic behavior as a work of the Spirit. Finally the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son and does not draw attention to Himself (John 16:14). He will not make a scene and exalt His ability or power. He will testify of the Son of God (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit will not “speak on his own initiative” but will speak what has been given to Him (John 16:13).
Now some may say that the work of the Holy Spirit in the early 1900s cannot be denied. But there is a problem with this. Those who have examined that era have concluded that the tongues Charles Parham and others have experienced were not true human languages. Yet this is what Parham was seeking God for. He wanted a new outpouring of the Spirit for the work of missions, where someone did not have to learn the language but rather through the Holy Spirit, what happened in Acts would still occur today. The first person to speak in this “special” language was Agnes Ozman. She believed that God gave her the gift of tongues in some form of Chinese language. Experts took her inscriptions and examined it to be gibberish. Over the years, no one has been able to understand this new tongues movement.
During the time of Pentecost in Acts, the language was known dialects and could be verified (Acts 2:4-11). We have no way of verifying or testing these recent phenomena other than Scripture, and according to Scripture they fail the test. I state this so that you can understand the beginning of this movement is not driven by scripture. In light of that proof, will we not be better off taking God’s word and what it teaches about the Holy Spirit as true and everything contrary to that truth, a lie? Ultimately God cannot and will not move on any foundation contrary to His word.
You may ask, can someone be saved out of this? Yes, as long as the gospel is declared and the sinner believes. Yet if the foundation is corrupt, will the structure not be compromised?
In the end, how we view Scripture and how we understand the Holy Spirit is a key determinant of our spiritual life. To rest on experience alone is no different from Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, or Islam. As believers, our experiences must be weighed in light of what the Bible teaches, even if what we experience seems real or valid. The heart is deceptively wicked and must not be trusted on its own. Take the time to analyze the history of any movement that you are a part of. If they do not pass the test of biblical truth, then reject them. As a former Pentecostal, now a lover of truth over man’s tradition, I urge you to look at the facts of Scripture objectively and pray to the Lord. Ask Him to illuminate your spiritual eyes toward His truth––His word.
Prayerfully, your brother in Christ