SOME NOTES WRITTEN TO TANZANIAN STUDENTS WHO HAD QUESTIONS ABOUT TOUNGUES.
There were a lot of problems in the Corinthian church. The apostle Paul tells them in one Corinthians chapter 3 verse one that they were carnal in their behaviour, not spiritual. One of their problems was that they looked on the outward things. They loved outward show. They loved the supernatural, the spectacular! That’s what Paul tells them in two Corinthians chapter 10 and verse seven. “Do you look on things according to the outward appearance?” In two Corinthians chapter 11 he tells them that they love it if someone exalts themselves among them. They are impressed if someone makes themselves look important in front of them. You can read this particularly in verse 20. Because of these things many of the Corinthians did not regard Paul as an apostle because he wouldn’t make himself look important and he never demanded money from them. So many of them didn’t ever regard him as an apostle! In other words, their unhealthy zeal for the spectacular rendered them unable to recognise God’s truth and God’s nature. He implores them with these words, “I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am humble among you.” Well, many of them simply couldn’t understand such behaviour from an apostle! The thinking of many of the Corinthians was so wrong and so carnal (because of their unhealthy over-emphasis on the outwardly spectacular) that it brought them to a place where they could be deceived by the devil. And you can read this in two Corinthians chapter 11 verses 1 to 5. He tells them because of their wrong attitude they are in place spiritually where they are ready to receive a different gospel a different Jesus and a different spirit. He told them that they were ‘ripe’ for deception. So we can see that this is quite a dangerous place to be spiritually.
This wrong attitude had several consequences among them. For example, in the matter of speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is a supernatural gift, or at least it is meant to be so! Now, because it is meant to be a supernatural gift, some of the Corinthians were speaking loudly in tongues during the prayer and worship time. But they were doing this for the wrong reason. Their attitude was something like this, “Hey, look at me, listen to me, God is moving through me, I am moving in supernatural power!” They thought that speaking loudly in tongues so that others could hear them was a sign that God was moving mightily through them. But of course all this is self-centred and wrong. Paul teaches them that speaking in tongues is for personal, private edification and the only time you speak loudly in tongues in church is if you are giving it as a prophecy which then another person who is gifted can interpret into the language that the people understand. But the real problem was not that the Corinthians didn’t understand this teaching but their attitude and their motivation was wrong. They looked on the outward appearance of things and so wanted to appear important to other people by speaking loudly in tongues. A similar thing can happen with preachers. While preaching they will sometimes interrupt themselves by speaking in tongues, which is meant to give the impression that God is moving mightly on them, or that they are ‘under the anointing’. Of course, this is unnecessary. In fact, Paul tells them that it is useless and unprofitable to speak loudly in tongues in front of others because obviously they will not understand what you’re saying. But here we have the same problem, namely, the preacher or speaker is wanting to ‘show’ that he is moving in the Holy Spirit, that he is speaking by the power of God! However, if he is speaking in the power of God people will recognise this without him having to speak in tongues! Again, this is often done in order to impress people or to appear to be a man of God. Maybe the preacher is genuinely speaking in tongues but he is not doing it for the right reason in this case, and Paul tells us in one Corinthians chapter 14 and verse 32 that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. In other words, people are not forced into this behaviour by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can minister through us but this does not mean that we lose control of ourselves! He does not make us jump around and scream. That’s what men do to give the appearance that God is moving ‘in power’.
Now an even deeper problem can arise out of this wrong attitude of looking on the outward appearance of things. In order to impress people some speakers or preachers feel they need to speak in tongues when they have no such gift! In my experience, this can show itself in a number of ways. For example, the tongue can sound ‘hard’, ‘metallic’ and ‘dry’ in its delivery. It doesn’t sound living and fluid, it doesn’t flow like a river. Or, it can sound hard and repetitive like a machine gun. Or, it is just the repetition of the same few ‘words’. This desire to appear ‘under the anointing’ leads them to deceive themselves that they are speaking in tongues, when in fact they are just faking it or being deceived by the enemy that they are speaking in tongues, which results in what we all witness, namely, this mechanical, metallic and repetitive ‘tongue, which is definitely not edifying or helpful! At best it is carnal; at worst in invites deceiving spirits. In a case that I have experienced while watching a video, two men were seeming to speak in tongues but the manner in which they were speaking sounded mocking. They spoke for some time in tongues and laughing. This was in front of several hundred people who of course didn’t understand what they were saying. For me, it was definitely not the Spirit of God moving through them. It was the opposite. It was terrible and unedifying. I was listening to thison a DVD but I stopped it when they started speaking like this, as if they were mocking or deceiving the listeners. The tragedy is, like in Paul’s day, so today many are taken in and deceived by such men who glorify themselves and their ministry. And it is undoubtedly true that many churches today are in the same spiritual condition as the Corinthians were, namely, there is wrong motivation, a focus on outward things that results in carnal behaviour which itself invite the deception of the devil.
Another consequence of looking on the outward appearance, of wanting to appear to be important, or to give the impression of being a man of God, is that preachers will shout or speak loudly thinking this is a sign of God’s spirit and of God’s power! They may also march up and down on the stage waving their arms as if this is the power of God in order to impress and stir up the people. Usually, such carnal behaviour affects the content of the preaching. In other words, the people are not given spiritual food; they are just given things to excite them. Such preaching is like clouds passing overhead which seemed to promise water for the land but they pass by without giving a drop of water for the thirsty! When I teach on these matters I tell pastors that often preachers shout because they LACK the spirit and power of God! Sometimes the preacher might raise his voice for emphasis, but there is no need for shouting and jumping about. On the contrary, this would indicate that there is a lack of power in the preaching. It is also an unhelpful feature of many today who try to get the listeners excited and clapping every few minutes at their preaching. This is really unhelpful! The preacher obviously wants his sermon to appear successful by getting this kind of audience reaction! Meetings where people are clapping and sometimes suddenly standing up and shouting every few minutes during the preaching are usually of very little or no profit. Such excitement is not an indication that the spirit of God is ministering to people’s hearts. If God is speaking to you or challenging your heart it makes you CONSIDER His word; his word can comfort you, encourage you, humbles you, challenge or rebuke you. All this clapping, excitement and jumping up keeps things on a very superficial level and normally it doesn’t give time for the word of God to sink down into people’s hearts so that it affects and changes their lives! Often this excitement is also the result of the preacher making promises to the people that are not biblically based or that are not relevant to the spiritual condition of the people he is speaking to. Much of such preaching also follows the methodology of ‘motivational’ speakers.
Concerning the gift of speaking in tongues. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost the disciples spoke in tongues, but this was a very unique occasion in the sense that they spoke in different languages so that the people who were in Jerusalem from different countries good understand what they were saying. God was testifying to all these nations what he had done through the death and resurrection of his son. However, we know from Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians that the gift of speaking in tongues is the gift of speaking in an unknown tongue, so that neither the person speaking nor another person who hears, knows or understands what is being said. There are two other occasions in the Acts of the Apostles where people speak in tongues at the time of being filled with the Holy Spirit – acts chapter 10 and acts chapter nineteen. So it seems to have been a normal occurrence that believers received the gift of speaking in tongues when they were baptised in the Holy Spirit, and of course we know that a large number of believers at Corinth spoke in tongues.
However, in one Corinthians chapter 13 and verse 30 Paul says, “do all speak in tongues?”. The implication of this is that not everyone had the gift of speaking in tongues among the Corinthians. What we have in the Scriptures is a DESCRIPTION of what happened on certain occasions in Acts when believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. What we don’t have in the Scriptures is a TEACHING that says you are only baptised in the Holy Spirit if you speak in tongues. I would say that the gift of speaking in tongues is something that we can expect or anticipate when we are baptised in the Holy Spirit. And I believe it is good to encourage people along this line. However, it is not good if people feel left out or condemned or second class as a Christian if they don’t speak in tongues when being prayed for to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The most important thing is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ and this is what we need to focus on and develop in our lives. But if we don’t speak in tongues, I think it is certainly something we can still be open to God about and have an expectation that he may give us this gift in our private time with him or during the worship in a meeting, for example. What I have just said seems to be confirmed by what the apostle Paul says in one Corinthians chapter 14 and verse five. He says, “I would that you all spoke in tongues…” (He goes on to say that the gift of prophecy is a greater gift, but this is not our subject now.) So Paul is encouraging them to speak in tongues. He also tells them that he speaks in tongues more than all of them! So there obviously must be some benefit in having this gift, and he gives the reasons in this same chapter. He tells them that speaking in tongues is a means of speaking to God (verse two) and in verse four he tells them that speaking in tongues is a means of edifying oneself. In verse 14 he explains that when we speak in tongues it is our spirit that is praying. Personally, I can testify to this and to the benefit of this gift, especially in prayer. You can use up the words that you know in your language but still you want to pray, still there is that desire to pray in your heart, so you continue your praying by praying in tongues. So if we have been baptised in the Holy Spirit I think it is good to have an expectation to receive this gift of speaking in tongues, but not to let this expectation turn into condemnation or discouragement. Give yourself to the Lord in hopeful expectation.
SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS REGARDING SPIRITUAL GIFTS
“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:32-33).
I think the verse above is an important verse for our subject. It is telling us that if we have a gift, the gift does not control us. It does not take us over in a way we cannot control. We can use the wisdom and discretion that is consistent with the love and grace of God in handling our gifting. So, for example, in verse 30 of this chapter Paul says, “If anything be revealed to another that sits by, let the first hold his peace.” In other words, he was telling them that they could not claim that their gift was forcing them to interrupt another person or not to give space for another’s gifting, because this would just lead to disorder and confusion.
I think this is a very important principle. It is also consistent with the Holy Spirit being identified with a dove.
So we can apply this to certain phenomenon that have occurred in the last 30 or so years. One of them is uncontrollable jerking. This is at best just carnal behaviour (as in the Corinthian church) but at worst can be a gateway for daemonic influence (as in the Corinthian church). Where such jerking is seen ‘as evidence’ of the Spirit’s power or moving among God’s people, this can lead to an expectation for such things to happen, and such belief and expectation can fulfil itself, particularly such a belief opens the door to the power of deception and daemonic influence.
We can immediately see the problem we face in dealing with this issue in a clear way. The Bible does not give us a comprehensive manual about what is ‘of the Spirit’ and what is not! So a person may contest the idea that these spontaneous jerks are not of the spirit, and ask, ‘where is your proof?’ So who can arbitrate or give a definitive answer from Scripture? People may say that you cannot control the way the Spirit may choose to work! In Corinthians, Paul also mentions another gift which is called the discerning of spirits. And I would say that in this area the discerning of spirits is very important. But again, who or what is going to be the arbiter to definitively tell us who has this gift and who doesn’t? One person might be recognised as having the gift of discernment among one particular group of people but not among another!
This apparent lack of clarity with regard to guidelines in the Scriptures concerning these gifts will lead some to accept almost anything as evidence of the presence of the spirit of God! However, this is a recipe for confusion and deception. And this is exactly what we have today. It is best, insofar as we can, to follow the guidelines, examples and principles outlined in the Scriptures.
So with regard to spontaneous uncontrolled jerking, firstly, we can say that there is no such precedent in Scripture. Secondly, and more importantly, it goes against what we have just read in the verse above concerning the truth that the prophets are in control of the exercise of their gift. Although this specifically refers to the gift of prophecy, nevertheless it is a good principle by which to be guided, particularly as there is no example of someone losing control of their actions because of the Spirit moving upon them.
As I said, early on in any movement certain unusual or new manifestations may be regarded as a work of the Spirit of God. This not only may cause an expectation for such manifestations to continue but also create an (unconscious) desire among individuals to be one of those upon whom God moves on in that ‘special way’. Thus, what may have initially been the reaction of an unstable person, or a person with deep emotional or other problems, or even a daemonic spirit, now becomes the anticipated manifestation for those seeking God in such meetings. And this anticipation itself can be self-fulfilling.
John Wesley, during revival meetings, had the exact same problem, although the nature of the manifestations had a different context. As with other revivalist preachers in the 18th and 19th centuries, people would come under powerful conviction of sin and this would result in weeping and deep sobbing. With others this went further. They collapsed on the floor as if in agony. In the end John Wesley came to the conclusion that some people simply wanted to counterfeit what God was doing and to draw attention to themselves. So he took action to stop the excesses and wrote this in his journals, “Some stumblingblocks, with the help of God, I have removed, particularly the fits. Many, no doubt, were, at our first preaching, struck down, both body and soul, into the depth of distress. Their outward affections were easy to be imitated…Today one was pleased to fall into a fit for my entertainment, and beat himself heartily. I thought it a pity to hinder him so left him to recover at his leisure. Another girl, as she began to cry, I ordered to be carried out. Her convulsion was so violent as to take away the use of her limbs, till they laid and left her outside the door. Then immediately she found her legs and walked off. As we struggle in trying to decide what is of God and what is not, let us take courage in knowing that we are not the first to face this issue. Wherever the Spirit of God is moving, powerful emotions may be stirred and we can be sure that Satan will come in and try to discredit the work by fanaticism. As we struggle in trying to decide what is of God and what is not, let us take courage in knowing that we are not the first to face this issue. Wherever the Spirit of God is moving, powerful emotions may be stirred and we can be sure that Satan will come in and try to discredit the work by fanaticism.”
So here we find John Wesley doing something that many as leaders fail to do today, namely, taking steps to discourage unedifying manifestations and excesses in behaviour. Worse than this, it is the leaders themselves today that promote and encourage such behaviour, whether it is jerking, or laughing while the Scriptures are being read, making noises like various animals, or having a gold dust appear. We live in dangerous times when there is not only a lack of discernment but the actual promotion of what is at best carnal or emotional, but at worst represents daemonic influence. It is distressing to think that mature Christians could consider that mooing like a cow or clucking like a chicken in a meeting is the result of God’s Spirit moving among his people! Although as I have said there is no comprehensive compendium about what is of the Spirit and what is not, yet let us at least use that which we do have in the Scriptures. If speaking in tongues in meetings as the Corinthians did was meaningless, how much more so is clucking like a chicken. What is edifying about that? What precedent do we have in Scripture of something like that? All these points should make us at least question, if not totally discourage such manifestations. A particular unfortunate, if not sinister feature among such people is their claim that you are resisting and opposing the Spirit of God by not being open to such manifestations! People have been told just to ‘open up’ to the spirit’s moving and not to let their minds get in the way! Instead of employing wisdom and giving biblical guidance, leaders have been leading the people and others into opening themselves up to any impression or any spirit that may come upon them! It is disastrous advice that leads to disaster. It is as though in this generation people are being prepared to fit the scenario that Jesus Christ portrays in the following verse,
“For false Christs (‘anointed’ ones) and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if possible, even the elect.” (Mark 13:22). To have a sign, to have a wonder, to have a miracle does not necessarily mean that the ministry is of God, or that he or she who is ministering, is doing so by the Spirit of God. One day the following verse must have its relevant application,
“Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to deceitful spirits, and doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1). And the question is whether we are now approaching such days. However, error and deception are by no means limited to the area of manifestations. The word of God is widely being undermined by the infiltration and acceptance of humanistic teachings regarding self-esteem, feeling good about oneself, being non-judgemental, equality and so-called human rights and the excessive emphasis on social action.
To come back to our topic, a difficulty regarding certain spiritual gifts is discerning their origin. With regard to the gift of prophecy, for example, a person may feel that words are coming to them in an unpremeditated way and may have a sense of being inspired and so may result in them prophesying. This brings us to the following instructive verse, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge. (1 Corinthians 14:29). So here the Scripture recognises there is a need for discernment and judgement in these matters, as it is evident that such a gift can be influenced by the person using it, or the person can be mistaken in their judgement that they are being inspired by God at that moment. If we put it in general terms, we can say that the gift of prophecy in the meeting is subject to, or the result of impressions that the person receives. The decisive question is this, do the impressions come from the Spirit of God or from the person’s own train of thoughts, or even their desire to meet a perceived need? Hence, Paul advises that others judge such prophecy, to confirm that it is for the edification, comfort and exhortation of the church. Wisdom and grace are needed, as on the one hand we want to encourage God’s gifts in the church – and so Paul says ‘despise not prophesyings’ – but on the other hand, we need guidance, and correction if need be, to ensure the edification of the church, and to safeguard against a gift being misused, or by allowing it to create a bad precedent which others might follow.
This danger is particularly evident nowadays in the so-called gift of having a vision. Virtually all the mistakes mentioned above apply to this scenario. People are encouraged to have visions, space is made and opportunity given in meetings where people are encouraged to bring forward any vision that God may be giving them. Particularly in this realm of images or imagination, such an anticipation works against genuine spontaneous inspiration from God and opens the door to any image that comes into the mind of the individual, particularly if they have a vivid imagination. So this gift easily becomes subject to totally personal influences, if not worse. And this is no doubt the reason why so many weird and wonderful visions are given in meetings without any guidance or teaching at all from the leadership. Virtually everything passes as something God-given, which simply reinforces and perpetuates innumerable visions given in meetings which have nothing to do with any gift of God.
Indeed, Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” So, if we start with Scripture let us continue with Scripture and consider who had visions in the new Testament church and in what context. The Lord spoke to several men through visions in the early church – Acts 9:10,12; 10:3; 16:9; 18:9. In all of these examples the vision had to do with God’s will for the person to whom the vision was given and was in no need of interpretation. (I am leaving aside the prophetic visions in the revelation.) Now I wouldn’t limit receiving visions to the examples just quoted, but they are the only examples given from the days of the early church. So this could wisely suggests to us that the wide use of visions with their interpretations in meetings among some groups is more man-made than God inspired. I would not exclude their validity altogether but I believe the excessive use of this gift is on the whole counter-productive at best. Also importantly, in the references in Acts above we clearly see that none of these men were expecting a vision from God. God initiated the vision. The vision came from God in an absolutely unmistakable way that had to do with the specific will for the person concerned! We have reduced this gift to something else altogether.
Another totally unhelpful and unbiblical practice is the custom of getting people to lay hands on each other in meetings. All and sundry can lay hands on all and sundry and pray for them! By the way, attending a ‘prayer and counselling’ course does not qualify you to pray for or counsel another person before God. You can only truly counsel and give guidance to another soul in so far as God has truly dealt with your own soul. This modern idea that you can lay hands on and pray for someone just because you’ve been on a three-week course about it does not qualify you at all. It is a travesty of what is taught in the Bible, more accurately it simply ignores biblical examples and teaching. It is another area of error, and also of deception, were modern methods of psychological counselling apparently backed up by scriptural truths have replaced God’s ways and God’s truth. There is nothing complicated about this. In the Bible, from cover to cover, those who lay hands on others and pray over them are always without exception people who are called of God and have responsibility in the Lord’s church. It is not for me to say that a believer can’t pray for another person or lay hands on them for healing in every single situation, but this custom of someone from the front getting everyone to lay hands on everyone else and praying for them is a far cry from anything that is seen or taught in the Bible.
As a footnote I just want to mention an example where someone prophesied in a way that was beyond their control. But the example is not an encouraging one. King Saul had turned his back on walking in God’s ways and started to persecute both David and Samuel, and this is what we read,
“And it came to pass the next day, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will pin David even to the wall with it. And David escaped out of his presence twice.” / “And he went there to Naioth in Ramah: and the spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets? (1 Samuel 18:10-11; 19:23-24).
The Bible gives us this descriptive passage without any explanation as to how or why things like this can happen. There is a clue in Isaiah where God says, “I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spoke, they did not hear: but they did evil before my eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not. (Isaiah 66:4). When God’s people neglect or refuse to live by God’s word, it is God himself who also choose their delusions that they will walk into because of their rebellion against his word. God does this to underline and to expose the folly of not living by his word. From this passage it would seem that even people who are in rebellion against God can prophesy.
We see this most clearly in the case of Balaam (Numbers 22-24). Balak, King of the Moabites offered money (‘the rewards of divination’) to Balaam to curse God’s people Israel. Balaam seemed to give a very spiritual answer by saying that he could only do what God told him to do. God spoke to him and told him not to go and not to curse Israel, so he didn’t go. But Balak sent more noble representatives to Balaam and pleaded with him to come and curse Israel. Now we begin to see how ignorant Balaam was of God’s ways and of God’s nature. He went again to ask God whether he should go or not. Was it his love of money that lead him to do this; or was it that he was no true prophet and acted only as some kind of passive ‘psychic’ medium between God and man. It was certainly the latter but I tend to think it was both. Balaam should have known that God does not change his mind; he should have known that Israel were God’s people. But he was void of understanding and righteousness and operated only as a medium, as a ‘psychic’. Because of his obtuseness and lack of righteousness God told him to go, but as we know on the way an angel stood there ready to kill him, and he was only saved by the intervention of the ass that he was riding on. The story is well-known. Balaam arrived and was prepared to curse Israel, such was his lack of godly understanding. But God turned his intended curse to blessing for Israel, to the utter dismay of King Balak! However, before departing from the Moabites, Balaam counselled them to send their women among Israel to turn them away from God. Amazing! He had just prophesied God’s word of blessing upon Israel and now he was giving counsel how to turn them away from God. Later, the Israelites killed Balaam because of his evil counsel (Num.31:8,16). Balaam became a symbol of unrighteousness in the Bible in that he lead God’s people to sin and did it for money – 2 Peter 2:15; Rev.2:14.
Again, the Bible does not explain to us how such things can happen. Namely, that an unrighteous man who is no better than a medium could in some way communicate with God and God speaks through him. But on the other hand, it may not be so surprising, for God can take up those who are against him and use them for his own purposes to show his glory and power, as he did with Pharaoh. But what is of interest here and appears as an anomaly is that someone so unrighteous could appear to operate a divine gift.
In acts we read this, “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain maid possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, who show unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being troubled, turned and said to the spirit, I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.” (Acts 16:16-18). Here we have an example of someone with a spirit of divination, that is, someone who can as it were enter into and communicate with the spirit world. She perceived that what Paul is preaching was the truth of God, but she had no connection with God or his truth! It was simply the operation of ‘psychic’ spirit (‘spirit of python’ – Greek), which Paul then cast out of her.
Balaam was someone who seemed to glory in his ability. And Paul speaks of such in the chapter that I have already alluded to, namely, two Corinthians chapter 11. He had already told the Corinthians that they were ripe for deception and speaking of those that glory in outward appearance Paul says this, “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them who desire occasion; that when they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
How can such things be in the church? Well, they are certainly happening within churches today. If such things could be in the days of the early church where churches were established by the ministry of the apostles and had their teaching and presence, it should be no great surprise that it may be so today – and it undoubtedly is. There are any number of false prophets and preachers who operate under a false anointing – Paul calls them the servants of Satan. Men and women are parading what seem to be great gifts to lure to themselves a multitude of followers. Being bored with living by God’s Word alone people turn to things that excite and attract them, and because of such folly God himself at times chooses the delusions that they fall into. And so Paul says two Timothy, “I charge you therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be diligent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they draw to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
All the above should indicate to us that although there are genuine gifts of the Spirit of God for the building up of his church, nevertheless this realm renders people vulnerable to deception if they do not live by and keep to God’s word.
One of the errors in the Corinthian church was a misdirected desire and enthusiasm for the supernatural, which led them to be deceived by preachers who made themselves out to be someone because of their apparently impressive/gifted ministry. This is very much the danger today. It is happening on a wide scale. I think it is also important to note that on the whole such people are not ‘innocently’ deceived. As in the Corinthian church, such deception is based on wanting something more or wanting something other than living by the word of God. It is also important to understand that the Corinthian church was founded by Paul and that they believed all the fundamental things concerning the Christian faith, but nevertheless their waywardness in this matter led Paul to fear for their spiritual well-being to the point that they might be deceived by the devil into believing in a different gospel and a different Jesus preached through a different spirit! So what I am writing here is not nitpicking about some peripheral matter! It has to do with the very heart and nature of the gospel! It is not as though the devil comes suddenly with teaching that is obviously so far-fetched that no one will believe it. Little by little, by this teaching they are leading believers into deception.
With regard to new teachings, why don’t Christians ask themselves ‘where is this taught in the Bible, where do we have an example of this in the Bible?’ For example, there was a fashion (which I think is slowly dying out now) where believers were taught and encouraged to stand in public places and ask the Lord who they should speak to. And they would then wait for or get specific impressions like, ‘there will be a woman in her fifties wearing a green hat and blue coat.’ They will take this as being a message from God and then start looking around for that person. Let me just pause here and ask some simple questions. We don’t need to go to a ‘prophetic school’ or to a Bible college to find out the information we need. We just need to read our Bibles. So where in the Bible do we have a scenario like the one just described? The simple and clear answer is ‘nowhere’. It is neither taught in the Bible in any place nor do we have even one example of any believer doing this, neither in the old Testament nor the new Testament! What we have in the example above is someone choosing to go into a random public place and asking God that he may show them some (random) person that they can talk to about him. In the early church and all down the centuries believers have gone out and preached the gospel to people; preached faith and repentance; preached Jesus and the kingdom of God. The preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. But this methodology of seeking ‘supernatural information’ about someone random who you can meet to share the gospel with is nowhere in the Bible.
People may have different ways of evangelising and someone may say, ‘well, what’s wrong with this way?’ Firstly, it is nowhere in the Bible. Secondly and very importantly, it is a method that claims to rely on supernatural communication from God about who to speak to. If it is on people’s heart to preach the gospel, then why don’t they simply follow the natural biblical way of going out and preaching the gospel to all? Why do they want to bring in this new supernatural element of supposedly divine guidance? The Scripture says, “you shall not tempt the Lord your God.” And this is exactly the trap that these believers are falling into. You standing in a shopping area and asking God to give you information supernaturally about who you should talk to! What basis in the Bible would lead you to believe that God would use his supernatural power to give you the particulars of a person’s clothing or age just because you ask Him? He has not asked you to do this nor is it recorded in his word that anyone ever did this or taught this. All this stems from a zeal for the supernatural that abandons biblical example and biblical teaching. Having prayed this, you open yourself up to impressions of the mind or your imagination – you expect those impressions, whether visual or by word to come from God. You have no basis for such an expectation. You are just putting yourself in a position where you are tempting the Lord your God. Your impressions may come from your own imagination, or from the devil – initially, if you do this out of innocence, God may even a lead you, but there is no way of knowing this. Remember, it was Satan who tempted Jesus Christ to use his supernatural power by jumping from a height, but Jesus replied with the word of God saying, “it is written, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Satan was trying to tempt Jesus to use his supernatural power outside the will of his father. The devil would not have tempted Jesus in this way if the result hadn’t represented a danger to Jesus Christ! So you put yourself in danger of being under the devil’s influence when you so tempt God expecting him to tell you about the person you are to speak to in a shopping mall or in a park.
Spiritual gifts or manifestations are generally spontaneous in nature and come from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; such gifts are generally not premeditated or organised or anticipated by the person. This is a very important point so let me try and make it clear from Scripture. Philip the Evangelist did not anticipate nor expect that the angel the Lord would speak to him, telling to go towards Gaza. (Acts8). This was totally initiated by God himself! Philip did not ask God who he should speak to! The Spirit of God spoke to Philip and told him to speak to the Ethiopian who was near him. Ananias wasn’t sitting at home asking God who he should speak to that day! (Acts 9). The Lord came and spoke to him through a vision, telling him where to go so that he can pray for Saul, as Paul was called at that time. These events were initiated by the Spirit of God without any premeditation or anticipation on the part of the people concerned! Secondly, these events are directly linked to the will and purpose of God in a person’s life. There is nothing random about it! So it is with every case of this type that we could look at in the Bible. (Of course, God can give us answers to our prayers, but we are not talking here about praying and answers to them. We are talking about the use of supernatural gifts.) The case that I making here is the same as I was making about visions.
Someone might say, “But people have been blessed and saved through this means.” But that is what they have said about every passing Christian ‘fashion’ or teaching of the last 50 years! If the latest fashion or teaching is so effective, then why does it only last as long as a fashion lasts? About every 10 years some new strategy, methodology or teaching is introduced to the Christian church, but then fades out as another fashion comes in, which is also supported by its own testimonies of ‘blessing’. There is something wrong here. There’s also something wrong in people not asking why the strategies are changing every 10 or so years. Finally and most importantly, what we believe and do should not be based on anecdotal evidence of what has happened to people but rather on the word of God.
I asked the question why people use a methodology not found in the Bible. The answer I would suggest is this: these new methodologies or fashions don’t arise in isolation to other things. They issue out of and go hand-in-hand with an approach that tries to ‘soften’ the message of the gospel, to make it more ‘user-friendly’ and ‘non-judgemental’. The emphasis in the preaching and in the sharing of the gospel is on the love of God at the expense of preaching about sin and repentance. This is not a matter of my impression or interpretation; Christian leaders are deliberately and consciously toning down the message of the Gospel. Only last week I heard of a pastor who was deliberately changing the format of Sunday morning meeting and also deliberately toning down the language in order to make any visiting unbelievers feel more comfortable and at home. This has been going on since about the 1970s. Always, little by little, but in the end bringing about a definite and disastrous change and working towards another gospel, another type of Jesus spoken through another spirit. The result of all this is multitudes of quasi converted people in the churches who do not know how to live spiritually, and many continue to have the most fundamental problems in their lives because they have never had the Gospel preached to them in a way that leads them to an understanding of their problem and to a thorough repentance. People are wanting to preach the gospel with a kind of anaesthetic of love and compassion that shields them from a true conviction of sin that would lead them to repentance that would utterly change their lives.
While writing this I was reminded of a man, a so-called prophet, I read about some 30 years ago. A pastor was writing in a Christian magazine about this prophet and said something along these lines, “When he arrived at our house he immediately told us not to talk about our church or anyone in it. He wanted to keep his mind clear before the Lord and didn’t want any input from the outside. He then went into his room to be alone to pray.” This prophet was famous for having so-called words of knowledge. In other words, he would tell individual people specific details about their past and present life and also making predictions about their futures. When I read these few introductory sentences I immediately stopped reading. I didn’t need to know anything more about this man. I took him to be someone who is operating on a totally psychic level, or to use biblical language, who is operating by a spirit of divination. I knew this was utterly wrong and believed that if this man wasn’t already in sin he would fall into sin, as this is where giving yourself to such a spirit often leads a person. A spirit of divination, that is, receiving information or knowledge supernaturally but not from God, is often associated with sexual immorality, as was the case with Balaam. Never come under the ministry or influence of a man or woman who is habitually receiving information by supernatural means about the details of people’s past and present lives, whose ministry focuses on this kind of thing and is famous and well-known for it. So, it was no surprise to learn a short while later that this man had fallen into sexual immorality and was removed from ministry.
Can you imagine the apostle Paul arriving at a church and saying to the local elders, “Don’t tell me anything about your church or the people in it. Just show me where I can go and pray on my own to receive such information directly from God.” It is madness. As the apostle Peter says, “the dumb donkey speaking with man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.” Peter is here speaking about Balaam! But where are those today who will restrain the madness of these prophets and leaders?
However, what did surprise me is that after some time this man and his so-called gift was accepted again in certain Christian circles. I also read – and heard on videos – that this man had great influence in the lives of the leaders of Bethel Redding. I listened to some of the teaching from Bethel Redding which confirmed that they are baptised into the same delusional errors. They are teaching that the gifting of that false prophet should arise among them and that his mantel of anointing should fall upon them! Deception seems to be sweeping across the globe and there is a lack of discernment because, at heart, there is a lack of the preaching and of the knowledge of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. People are, and have abandoned biblical teaching in favour of either the sensational or the user-friendly or both together. As the prophet said, “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6). The irony and the tragedy is it is this very verse that preachers use to introduce their new teachings and methodologies!
As far as the gift of prophecy is concerned, we are told in 1 Corinthians 14:3 that prophecy is for edification, exhortation and comfort. Prophecy as a gift of the Spirit normally functions in a spontaneous way when the Lord’s people are gathered together. Prophecy will confirm the truths of the word of God to the hearts of God’s people to edify, exhort and comfort them. A dangerous diversion from this is to encourage people to expect from the Lord specific details of people’s lives – past and present – and secondly , details of how they may be used in the future or what they should do in the future. Concerning the former we have no examples of this in the early church, nor in the Bible as a whole in the way it is commonly and randomly used today. Concerning the latter we read of a very few unique cases. In Acts chapter 9, Ananias is told by the Lord to go and pray for Saul and to tell him about how the Lord will use him, and what great things he must suffer for the Lord’s sake. However, this was just a confirmation of what the Lord had already spoken into Saul’s heart (Acts 26:15-18). And here’s a very good principle. If anyone gives you a prophecy or word about any specific detail of your future life, such a word or prophecy should only ever act as a confirmation to what the Lord has already spoken into your heart or will personally speak to your heart. Such prophecies in themselves should never act as a catalyst or lead to action on your part. If it does, then it represents a breakdown in your relationship with the Lord. It is for you to know from the Lord how he is guiding you. Prophecies or words from people should only ever act as an encouragement or confirmation of that guidance.
Today there is a dangerous trend to what I will call ‘directive’ prophecy. In other words, prophecy that indicates or even instructs a person what they will or should be doing in the future. The fact that such directive prophecy is considered normal and commonly happens among some groups, shows that we have veered away from biblical examples and teaching and have exposed ourselves to the psychic or to the spirit world – and by ‘spirit world’ I don’t mean anything that is positive! I know of people who have made a big decision in their lives simply because someone prophesied that they should follow a certain course of action. This is not genuine prophecy; this is people acting like soothsayers / fortune-tellers of the worst type! Of course God can speak to us in various ways, as he did through Agabus, who told the apostle Paul about the things he would suffer in Jerusalem. At the beginning of Acts, God was moving in a very powerful way and it seems to me that we have an example of ‘the word of knowledge’ in Acts chapter 5, where the apostle Peter knows from God what Ananias and Sapphira have done. But today people are turning these special and unique gifts of the Holy Spirit into common ‘psychic’ activity among the many, encouraging young believers, and all believers to look to God and to expect from Him such words of knowledge and prophecy that would enable them to know specific, and often random details about a person’s past or present life, such as knowing when their birthday is, or where they were on a specific day or what they were doing a specific time etc etc. All such enthusiasm for such supernatural knowledge will inevitably lead to deception, and because of the nature of the deception and the spirits that are involved it can also lead to immorality.
The scale of error and deception among evangelical charismatic Christians is reaching, or has already reached an unprecedented level with regard to the history of the church over the last two or three centuries. This is not just a matter of disagreement over certain verses of Scripture or doctrines, it has to do with forming an outlook, a mindset among believers; a mindset that resists and is becoming inoculated against biblical teaching and biblical truths. I like the words that Jesus spoke to Peter, where he says, “What is that to thee, follow thou me!” The main point is that in the midst of all this we keep our own hearts right before God, to live by his word and carry on to serve and love him, and to love one another.
One thing that I haven’t touched on directly is what is generally considered a word of knowledge, where a person in a meeting will get up and say, “there is someone here who….” and then they will go on to specify a physical problem or another difficulty that someone may be going through. They might then either pray for them for healing, or offer words of encouragement. This is different to the scenarios I have been trying to describe and deal with above (where people mention just random specific details from people’s lives the purpose of which seems only to impress the listeners), and at this juncture make no further comment about it except to say that such gifting should be for edification, comfort and exhortation. A danger exists when there is over emphasis on one type of spiritual gift or dominance of one type of gift; or people are invited to the front of the meeting with the sole intention of operating such a gift. There is nothing spontaneous or inspirational about this as it seems these people can operate this gift at will. I find this very questionable if not dangerous for the people who operate such a gift in this way.
The apostle Paul encourages believers to desire spiritual gifts, and because prophecy is a gift for the edification of the church he particularly encourages believers to seek this gift. (1 Cor.14:13).
Again I would just like to reiterate that generally these spiritual gifts we have mentioned function in an unpremeditated way. As we walk with the Lord, or as we simply worship, praise and love him in a meeting – having our minds on him and not on the gift – it is God himself who will spontaneously inspire us with the prophecy or word that he has for the church.
I find it a bit difficult because there are genuine supernatural gifts of the Spirit which we want to see functioning in the church for the benefit and edification of the church, and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater or classify everything is ‘psychic’, but on the other hand the extent of deception today does require words of warning. As I said, we have no manual to tell us exactly in each case what is of the spirit and what it isn’t, so please try and understand what I have written in the context I have written it in. In the end, things depend on our own state of heart before God and whether we will live by his word or not. The Scripture says ‘prove all things and hold fast to that which is good.’ (1 Thess.5:21).
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