24 March 2015

Visions of Jesus and Charismatic Christianity

Christian media circles are awash with reports of mass conversions throughout the Middle East. Muslims are experiencing dreams and visions of Jesus and converting to Christianity in droves.

What are we to make of such stories?

Is it possible that such a thing is occurring, and if not then what is happening?

First we ought to emphasize the New Testament establishes a normative pattern of the gospel spreading through what it calls the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor 1.18-31). Through the proclamation of the Word, the Spirit works and men's hearts are changed generating repentance and belief.

Second, the New Testament indeed speaks of extraordinary signs and wonders, miraculous visions and healings and the miracle of tongues.

But the New Testament also makes two subsequent points...

These things were signs to the unbeliever (1 Cor 14.22) and just as God inaugurated the Mosaic epoch with signs and wonders so it was with the activation of the New Covenant. The miraculous signs which include the canonical writings of the New Testament (2 Peter 1.21) were meant to establish the Church's veracity in the new era and to demonstrate its Divine origin and sanction.

But as Hebrews 1 teaches us Christ and by extension His Apostles (Acts 1.21-22, 2 Cor 12.12) are the final and ultimate prophetic manifestation. He is 'the' Prophet and as the Apostolic age comes to end the final living Apostle effectively closes the canon (Rev 22.18-19). The era of miraculous establishment had come to end with the passing of the Apostles. Church history also testifies to this fact as the normative use of these things passed away and when they re-appear in groups like the Montanists, it was viewed as suspect and an anomaly.

Indeed it was already waning some thirty years before John wrote Revelation in the final days of Paul and Peter. Peter attests to the Scriptural normativity of Paul's writings (2 Peter 3.15-16) and Paul himself speaks of the fact the prophesying (preaching) is of far greater value to the Church (1 Cor 14.3-5, 19) than the miracle of tongues or languages being utilized within the assembly. Paul establishes a word-based ministry and a gospel administration spread through the proclaimed Word. Signs and wonders are not part of what he's establishing for the future. The same can be said when reading 2 Timothy, his final epistle. Timothy is encouraged to handle the Scriptures, to preach the Word. Nowhere is Timothy encouraged to cultivate a ministry of signs and wonders.

There is no reason to expect a return to the miraculous. Many at this point will quote from Joel 2 and yet they demonstrate their rejection of the Apostles authority and their refusal to submit to Peter's teaching (Acts 2.16) that the passage was fulfilled at Pentecost. The hyper-literal reading of Old Testament prophecy is discounted by Peter and in several instances of Apostolic witness. (c.f. Acts 15 and Amos 9)

The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord is upon us. It is imminent. It 'ought' to have happened except for the fact that God has delayed it and established a temporary arrangement to accommodate His will to be longsuffering. The Day is upon us even as it was in the year 30. The centuries that have passed are a blink, a flash of lightning, but a moment on the Divine timetable. The Second Coming is but the completion of 'The Coming' and the fact that it's two aspects are separated by centuries is not pertinent to the Divine timetable. The delay is God's mercy.

Over the centuries hordes of false teachers and prophets have plagued the Church and the Dissident Church with their lies and deceptions. With the breaking of monolithic Christendom, (a thing to be celebrated,) they have proliferated. With liberty comes danger, perhaps even a greater danger than when living under the control of the heretical arrangement known as Christendom.

By the 19th century a whole theological movement had developed around the idea of a second work of grace, a post-conversion experience that moved the believer from a bare intellectual assent to a vibrant 'higher life' and zealous faith.

In truth the gospel had been watered down and confused and the corrective theology sought to create both a narrative and an impetus for Christians growing and advancing in the faith. The problem was they had created a category the Bible knows nothing of... the carnal or dead Christian that bears no fruit. Scripture refers to this person as lost. The terms Christian and Gospel had been confused and distorted. And so now in order to maintain something of the Christian life, a new work of grace, a new 'higher life' type of Christian had to be developed.

By the early twentieth century the second work of grace had been reinterpreted once again to mean an appearance of the sensational and miraculous. The New Testament glossolalia (tongues) were reinterpreted as a form of gibberish instead of understandable languages and re-cast as a sign of the second work of grace... and thus the Pentecostal Movement was born. Originally intended to be a form of Restorationism the movement proved unwieldy and dynamic. Rooted in sensationalism and the spectacular it fell prey to marketing and manipulation and the quest for the latest thing. The early Pentecostals who also attempted to replicate the Church of Acts were soon supplanted by the Charismatic movement which took this teaching in new directions.

While paying lip service to the concept of Sola Scriptura this movement (Charismatic/Pentecostalism) actually supplanted it and ultimately eliminated it. While Scripture plays a part in the lives of Pentecostals and Charismatics the true authority and final arbiter of all doctrinal issues is the interpretation of emotion and experience... labeled the workings of the Spirit.

This is a rejection of Paul's concept of Scripture providing all that is necessary for the man of God to be perfect or complete (2 Tim 3.16). The Charismatic movement like every other cult establishes itself as the ultimate authority and like Rome and American Evangelicalism it treats Scripture as something to utilize when convenient, or something to manipulate and serve their own goals and aspirations.

While claiming to be restitutionist and following the Apostolic pattern of the New Testament, the Charismatic impulse rejects the teaching of the New Testament regarding the extraordinary gifts and their use. And it certainly rejects the development taking place throughout the New Testament and its message of prophetic finality in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Charismatic movement has strayed into the realm of the occult and many of their practices parallel Spiritualism and mystical exercises found in other religions. It is supremely syncretistic and has flourished not only in the Pseudo-Christendom of North America but in the sociological confusion and chaos of Africa and in Roman Catholic Latin America. Like Rome the Charismatic movement easily blends with paganism as many of the concepts and practices are effortlessly transferred and re-cast. The 'spirit' confirms these practices and over time the Charismatic movement has proven a threat even to Rome, forcing the Papists to accommodate it and incorporate its practices within their worship and theology.

Many have testified to the demonic nature of the Charismatic movement. The New Testament knows nothing of people writhing about on the floor, screaming and convulsing while speaking gibberish. Their actions are more reminiscent of the behaviour of those demon possessed and we believe that many in the movement actually suffer this affliction.

It is no marvel, as Scripture itself testifies that Satan manifests himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11.14). He is the great deceiver and is just as pleased by people serving an anti-Christ as serving him directly. In fact as a deceiver it would seem he is more effective and the New Testament warns repeatedly of this demonic threat at work within the Church.

The Charismatic movement is the fastest growing form of Christianity in the world and presently comprises over 25% of the world's professing Christians. In time it may and likely will surpass Roman Catholicism as the main form of Christianity on Earth. It is trans-denominational and all encompassing. It has penetrated even Confessional circles. While figures like Wayne Grudem and John Piper are (thankfully) a minority within Reformed circles they command a certain respect.

I remember being stunned while at seminary to discover the majority of my classmates, future PCA and OPC pastors were actually quite supportive of the arch-heretic Pat Robertson. A liar, criminal and false prophet he commands their respect because of their greater adherence to the Dominionist project.

The Charismatic movement is increasingly embracing this theology as well. Which will provide the basis for the ecumenical Big Tent? Charismatic Theology or Dominionism?

It would seem they are working in tandem. Dominionism mixed with Charismatic theology has the potential for great danger as it will mean political activism coupled with unbridled zeal. Christians will be persecuted but not for the gospel, rather for meddling in the affairs of others (1 Peter 4.15) and confusing godliness with the acquisition of wealth and power (1 Tim 6.5, Gal 6.13).

Much of the movement is patently fraudulent. Many of the faith healers and visionaries visiting heaven and hell have been exposed as frauds. And yet I don't believe it's all fake. There's every reason to believe demonic activity is vibrant in these communities and when leading 'pastors' are teaching the equivalent of magic...speaking words of power over your life... they are flirting with danger.

The Charismatic movement is another gospel which rejects the normative Word-based Gospel and its methods of conversion. It rejects the New Testament's ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as the means by which the Church operates. I'm not suggesting they don't practice these ordinances but their theology supplants and denigrates them. They are not sensational enough for a movement that existentially demands excitement and euphoria.

For years I have monitored the Christian news of the world. I've watched videos, read articles, listening to podcasts and overall I am not encouraged. There are some positive things happening but they are almost off the radar. It would seem that most of the activity in the world, most of the growth is on the Charismatic front. Like Paul we can rejoice in the fact that the gospel is out there, the Bible is put into people's hands, but the movement itself is not something to celebrate.

I recall recently watching a video of some American vacation-style missionaries visiting either Vietnam or Laos and stumbling upon a group of Charismatics meeting at night. These scenes move me and yet in this case I was discouraged. There was no language connection at all. The people were very excited to see these twenty-something Westerners among them but there was nothing to say. They sang hymns and many in the congregation became hysterical with 'joy' as they convulsed in sobs and wept copious unrestrained tears. It was a strange scene especially as again, there was no verbal connection.

I know at this point I just sound like a cold-hearted critic, as obviously I'm missing the Spirit at work. But is this what we see in the New Testament? Apart from Word-based fellowship, what is this they are experiencing? Is this Peter's 'joy unspeakable' (1 Peter 1.8) rooted in our awe concerning the works of Christ and the Spirit, or is this some kind of hyper-emotionalism? I vote the latter though I'm sure many will disagree. How can there be this level of fellowship when they cannot even pray together or 'amen' (confirm) each other's statements (1 Cor 14.16)?

The Charismatic joy and fellowship seems to be built on another foundation.

I'm not saying there aren't believers in Charismatic churches but it is a dangerous and destructive error.

John MacArthur is one of the few voices that has spoken out against this movement and I'm sure he's irritated not a few of his more politically minded friends and allies. I cannot agree with everything he says either, but I think he largely got it right and recommend his 'Strange Fire' series.

It is sad to me that the Middle East after being plagued by centuries of the false religion of Islam and Western Imperialism now must deal with a Pseudo-Christian revival.

I don't want to see visions of Jesus. I want to see Him in person at His return.