Understanding Pentecostalism: Pentecostal Questions and Aswers Essay

index This year for my Protestant Spiritual Traditions class at Tyndale Seminary I was required to write a paper on Pentecostalism.  The assignment was simple: to write three question you would ask a Pentecostal and then answer them as if you were that Pentecostal. No further research (outside of what was discussed in class and the assigned textbooks were to be used). As a Charismatic Anabaptist, this assignment was intriguing to me and when I shared what I was writing on, several individuals seemed interested in reading further.  So, I’ve included this essay here.  This essay also begins a series of a few more scholarly and longer pieces to this blog.  These essays will appear once a week throughout the month of May as an experiment to see if the readers enjoy this type of writing or not.  Please feel free to get back to me with your comments regarding how you think this is going.

Introduction

Many individuals believe speaking in tongues, prophesy, and other manifestations of the Spirit to be the very essence of the Pentecostal Movement. However, the scope of Pentecostal spirituality encompasses considerably more than the characteristics listed above. In Protestant Spiritual Traditions class, Dr. Van Johnson related that Pentecostalism is a fairly young movement, having only been formed around one hundred years ago (Johnson 27 March 2015). Nevertheless, in this short time period, Pentecostalism has established itself as being a diverse and worldwide movement which embodies and incorporates such aspects as spiritual gifts, an individual awareness of the Holy Spirit’s movement in a believer’s life, and a passion for evangelism and mission (Johnson). Yet, despite the fact that many Christians from other faith traditions do not fully understand Pentecostalism, it remains one of the largest Christian traditions in the world. Today, over a quarter of all Christians worldwide identify as Pentecostal or Charismatic, the majority being children and youth, coming from urban centers and living in geographically poor areas (Johnson). Due to the large influence Pentecostalism has on evangelical Christianity, this paper will seek to address the specific characteristics of Pentecostalism in a way that those unfamiliar with the Pentecostal movement can understand.

nonsense-memes-speaking-tonguesQuestion 1: Many Pentecostals believe in a post-conversion experience where one is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is often referred to as “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and is accompanied by visible manifestations – primarily speaking in tongues. What does this baptism entail and why do Pentecostals believe it is important?

Speaking in tongues, commonly referred to as glossolalia, is often considered to be the initial evidence of a believer being baptized in the Holy Spirit and subsequently filled with His power. In the same way that one is physically baptized in water to testify to their love for Christ, Spirit Baptism refers to a total immersion in the Holy Spirit and a desire to witness for Him. According to Pentecostals, this concept of speaking in tongues as evidence of being baptized in the Spirit first originated in the book of Acts, where on the day of Pentecost, many believers began evangelizing in foreign languages they had never spoken before. When the crowd around the believers heard them speaking in their own languages, many were amazed and drawn to the Gospel (Acts 2).

In recounting this miraculous story, the early Pentecostals initially associated this supernatural experience with xenolalia or the speaking of a foreign language unknown to the speaker but recognized as an actual earthly language. Well-known father of the Pentecostal movement, Charles Parham believed that God would give Christians the ability to speak foreign languages in order to expedite missionary activities and reach the nations for Christ (Johnson). Although Parham maintained this notion, Pentecostals later came to associate the baptism in the Holy Spirit primarily with glossolalia or the speaking of a “heavenly language” unknown to humankind (Johnson). In both instances, tongues were and are considered to be an essential witness to the Holy Spirit’s power in an individual’s life. Whether for personal edification, missionary activity, or both, tongues empower an individual to be bold in Christ and attain a place of intimacy with Him, where their desire for holiness grows.

For example, Adam Stewart writes about Ellen Hebden, a monumental figure within the Canadian history of Pentecostalism, recounting her experience with tongues in this way: “the Holy Spirit manifested His power in such a wonderful manner that everyone present saw that it was God” (qtd. in Steward 22). According to Johnson, Pentecostalism was heavily influenced by the Holiness Movement of the 1800s in which individuals focused on a New Testament restoration of the present day church (Johnson). This resulted in many of these individuals shunning worldly pleasures, including alcohol, tobacco, and dancing, in an attempt to better focus on Christ.

Thus, for many Pentecostals, tongues were (and are) a sign of combining holiness with the power of the Holy Spirit. In this pursuit of holiness, the early Pentecostals sought to live godly lives – not because they disdained worldly joys, but rather, because they had experienced such a profound joy in Christ that they did not want anything in the material realm to distract from it (Johnson). This new understanding of spiritual holiness prompted many Pentecostals to witness and evangelize; spurred on a desire to testify to the greatness of God; and ultimately established a framework for the expectation of even greater spiritual manifestations to take place.

Healing_'laying_on_of_hands'_ceremony_in_the_Pentecostal_Church_of_God._Lejunior,_Harlan_County,_Kentucky._-_NARA_-_541337Question 2: Many Pentecostals have witnessed and experienced miracles, healings, and prophetic utterances, yet many other evangelical Christians believe these events ceased after the book of Acts. Are these supernatural experiences truly still meant for today? How can one know whether or not these claims are truly legitimate?

According to Johnson, the Pentecostal movement teaches that the supernatural activities recorded in the New Testament are still happening today (Johnson). Cecil Robeck further explains how this concept of restoring the former supernatural activities found its way into what later would be termed “the latter rain movement” (Robeck 19). This theory views the book of Acts as the “early rain” creating the conditions for something of an even greater magnitude to take place in order to usher in the Second Coming of Christ (Robeck 19). Finding its validation in the prophecy of Joel 2:28 in which the Israelites are told that “your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” Pentecostals thus were and are filled with a renewed expectation of the coming of the Kingdom of God (NASB).

Today, Pentecostals hold a largely experiential faith in which they frequently have personal encounters with Christ, resulting in deeper intimacy with God. Consequently, this propels them to move forward in evangelism (Johnson, “Pentecostal Wheel,” 2). Nevertheless, healings and miracles are not solely rooted in the Pentecostal openness to wonder and surprise; however, they further serve as an effective means which God uses to save the souls of many unbelievers.

According to Robeck, miracles are an increasingly important evangelistic tool tangibly proving the Holy Spirit’s empowerment for mission within an age and culture that finds fulfillment in critical thought, scientific reasoning, and logical arguments (Robeck 42). Michael McClymond further goes on to say that “healing stimulates church growth” (McClymond 40). According to McClymond this is especially the case in several Chinese churches where close to 90% of new converts “attribute their conversion to a healing experience” (McClymond 40).

Pentecostals view healings and miracles as an opportunity to evangelize and witness as well as to testify to Christ’s immutable character in which God is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Pentecostals therefore imply that since God historically accomplished all of these miraculous acts and since He has not changed, that He therefore continues to work in the lives of believers in incredible ways in order to continue to build His Kingdom.

goQuestion 3: Pentecostalism has often claimed the motto of “Come, Lord Jesus.” How does Pentecostal theology fulfill the Great Commission? Do Pentecostals evangelize because of Christ’s imminent return or simply in order to serve the marginalized?

A major distinguishing feature of Pentecostal theology is its ability to interact with the poor and marginalized in society. This is evidenced by the fact that Pentecostalism is found within more Third World countries than in the West and can be identified as a movement of the poor, with close to 90% living below the poverty line worldwide (Johnson 27 March 2015). Furthermore, James Smith writes that Pentecostal theology is placed within “an overarching narrative that has an eschatological orientation towards the coming Kingdom” (Smith 45). Due to its experiential eschatology of individuals feeling the tangible closeness of Christ, this movement fosters a theology that the Kingdom of God is both imminent and already existent (Johnson, “Pentecostal Wheel,” 2). Smith further acknowledges that Pentecostalism is a belief system which challenges the complacency of the elite, empowers believers, and seeks to transform society (Smith 46).

With its emphasis on the soon return of Christ, Pentecostalism emphasizes that all believers are invited to participate in the Great Commission because many labourers are needed for the great harvest of souls (Johnson, “Pentecostal Wheel,” 9). Those who practice Pentecostal theology seek to live with the understanding that Christ is coming soon, and therefore all believers have the responsibility to evangelize to as many souls as possible. This results in a sense of urgency that Christians must always be prepared to testify, witness, and provide material resources for those in need. In this way, Pentecostalism fully recognizes the dichotomy of both the “now” and the “not yet” as they seek to build the Kingdom of God here on this earth while awaiting Christ’s final triumphant return.

Conclusion                                                                                                                                         

Pentecostalism is a faith tradition with a deep history of openness to the movement of the Spirit. It has often had a very strong emphasis on evangelism, mission, and the power of Christ resulting in the salvation of many. Pentecostalism acknowledges the power of the Holy Spirit, and encourages intimate encounters with Christ by fostering a patient expectation for His return. By embracing such traits, Pentecostals build the Kingdom of God on this earth, all the while encouraging others to do likewise. At the same time, they continually press forward to witness the Holy Spirit produce an even greater outpouring of His love on this world than what has previously been evidenced.

Works Cited

Johnson, Van. “Pentecostal Spiritual Traditions.” Tyndale Seminary. 27 March, 2015. Lecture.

Johnson, Van. “The Pentecostal Wheel: Defining Characteristics of Early Pentecostal   Movement.” Handout. Tyndale Seminary. Toronto, ON. N.D. Print.

McClymond, Michael. “Charismatic Renewal and Neopentecostalism: From North American    Origins to Global Permutations.” The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism. Eds.   Robeck and Yong. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 31-51. Print.

New American Standard Bible. La Habra, Calif: Foundation Press Publications, publisher for the Lockman Foundation, 1971. Print.

Robeck, Cecil. “The Origins of Modern Pentecostalism: Some Historiographical Issues.” The  Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism. Eds. Robeck and Yong. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 13-30. Print.

Stewart, Adam. “A Canadian Azusa? The Implications of the Hebden Mission for Pentecostal Historiography.” Winds From the North: Canadian Contributions to the Pentecostal  Movement. Eds. Wilkinson and Althouse. Boston: Brill, 2010. 17-37. Print.

Smith, James. “God’s Surprise: Elements of a Pentecostal Worldview.” Thinking in Tongues.       Ed. Smith. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 2010. 31-47. Print.

A Mennonite Seminarian Turned Pentecostal Intern Re-Examines an Anabaptist Approach Towards Signs and Wonders

lamen “Holy Spirit come with power, breathe into our aching night. We expect You this glad hour, waiting for Your strength and light. We are fearful, we are ailing. We are weak and selfish, too. Break upon Your congregation, give us vigour life anew.” (1)

“If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free. And set God’s people free. And set God’s people free. The Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.” (2)

“Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light. Praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming and feeding thousands with the very bread of peace.” (3)

The words to these well-loved Mennonite hymns echoed across the room as we all stood to sing of the Holy Spirit who heals, restores, forgives, and nourishes us. As a congregation we beseech the Holy Spirit to come into our lives empowering us for acts of service and witness to the wider church, to help us rebuild and restore our common humanity. We have no problem believing the Holy Spirit is more than capable to do miracles, but we have a hard time believing that He will do miracles for us. Today. In the 21st century.

As an Anabaptist thinker I grew up being skeptical of such spiritual activity myself. I doubted that God would choose to send angels and other prophetic messengers, and the thought of speaking in tongues seemed prosperous, forget about the idea of raising someone from the dead. I thought that the gifts of healings, casting out demons, and receiving words of wisdom from someone we barely knew were all things of the past. Not at all important or relevant to our society today. However, over time, I have come to believe otherwise.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I began attending Tyndale University College and Seminary, a trans-denominational school in Toronto, Ontario. While there my eyes and heart were opened to a variety of spiritual experiences, and over the years I have been incredibly blessed by God to be able to speak in tongues on a variety of occasions, to give and receive prophetic words, and even once to be able to interpret the tongue of another person. Throughout the last five years, I have also received challenging dreams and visions, have experience both demonic and angelic visitations, and on at least one occasion have experienced supernatural protection despite being in geographic places of profound spiritual darkness and distress.

Now, as someone who once was skeptical of all of these activities myself, I know how easy it is for individuals to just write-off these experiences as fanciful imagination or attribute them to lack of sleep, but now that I have experienced these other-worldly encounters myself I have no reason to believe that they no longer take place. In fact, as I read the Scriptures and discuss theology with seminarians of a more charismatic persuasion, I am drawn to believe that God did indeed grant these spiritual gifts to His people and that He has not stopped doing so. For example, both the Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of Christ’s followers, both before and after His departure, being able to open up the eyes of the blind, to heal dreadful diseases, and even to raise sick individuals from the dead. This is further cemented by Jesus’s rebuke on more than one occasion to His disciples for not having the faith to accomplish miraculous feats. Most importantly, after Jesus’s ascension into Heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit to His children as an advocate and a comforter, although there are numerous statements (both implicit and explicit) before that of the Holy Spirit being a vital part of the Trinity.(4)

This preliminary understanding of my own experience with spiritual gifts, thus serves as a backdrop as I approach Micael Grenholm’s chapter in the new MennoNerds Anthology “A Living Alternative” entitled “Charismatic Anabaptism: Combing Signs and Wonders With Peace and Justice” (if you own the book you can find his chapter on page 247). In his chapter, Grenholm argues that spiritual signs and wonders still occur and that they can indeed be a method of producing peace and justice in our world. At first glance this may seem quite peculiar. Many individuals may wonder how and why signs and wonders are important to the Christian community of faith and how it even applies to peace-making. After all, most Pentecostals are not necessarily pacifists and most pacifists are not necessarily Pentecostal. Nevertheless, as Grenholm traces the historical movements of the Charismatic church, it becomes quite evident that Pentecostalism began as a largely peace-oriented church and through believing in the power of the Holy Spirit has been able to accomplish wonderful and rich evangelism which helps dis-empowered individuals at the same time.

When I first received my copy of “A Living Alternative” I was immediately drawn to reading my own chapter (hey, there’s something special about having your work in print!), but as soon as I finished that, my next stop was to read Grenholm’s chapter. By way of explanation, Grenholm publishes frequently on topics of charismatic gifts and the Holy Spirit and has a blog and YouTube channel called “Holy Spirit Activism” which you can check out here: https://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/category/holy-spirit-activism/. A self-proclaimed Anabaptist thinker, Grenholm is one of the few scholars I have met who is able to meld both charismatic and Anabaptist ideals together without keeping them distinct. That’s because throughout my life when I started exhibiting more charismatic experiences many (though certainly not all) Mennonites disagreed with me that such things were possible and many did not want to continue the dialogue at all. Contrarily, on several occasions Grenholm and I have read each other’s literary works, have agreed or disagreed on certain points of theology, and ultimately have furthered dialogue within our individual circles because of it.

Reading through Grenholm’s chapter in “A Living Alternative” recently once again produced points of contention and fostered awareness of what the Holy Spirit is indeed capable of. It is hard to do a chapter full of such good scholarship justice in only one blog post; however, I’d like to highlight just a bit of what Grenholm shared in his chapter that I really resonated with.

Firstly, as I already alluded to previously, Grenholm traces the charismatic renewal through the centuries in the first few pages of his chapter. Here he references some of the best known occurrences of Spirit-filled worship including the Azuza Street Revival and the Toronto Blessing. The Toronto Blessing, now manifested in the Airport Christian Fellowship (also known as: Catch the Fire) is a movement that is still going strong in Toronto, Ontario. I have had a few opportunities to attend this church myself, and while I largely do not agree with the theology they espouse or the way they proclaim it, and while I believe that pastors should have more education than what their pastors currently possess, I have, like many others, been quite impressed by the sensationalism of the whole experience. It is hard for me to sort out what is truthful or not because I have never been to any of their healings, but without limiting the Holy Spirit, I do believe that certain occurrences are quite possible. My only caution with attending churches like this is to beware of emotionalism (meaning that belief and theology in healings and miracles must be both emotional and intellectual) and to ensure the testing of all such activities. The Apostle Paul himself warned to “test all things”.(5)

Secondly, I resonate with some of Grenholm’s words of caution on the testing of so-called spiritual experiences. I, personally, have been asked on more than one occasion if I believe that prophetic utterances still exist today. My answer: sure they do! HOWEVER, there are two criteria that I always keep in mind when someone tells me they have a word of the Lord for me personally or for the church. First, prophecy cannot contradict the Scripture (6). As the Bible tells us, no one can say “Jesus is Lord” and at the same time say “Jesus be cursed.” (7) A house divided against itself cannot stand (8). Therefore, everything that is claimed to be prophetic must be in accordance with what Jesus said and with the message of peace and justice that He proclaimed to the world. Secondly, prophecy must come true.  The Bible tells us that we will know a prophet based on whether the words take place as he or she espoused or not (9). In certain cases this can be quite difficult to ascertain based on the time frame they give us, but we should always be cautious of accepting all prophecy before it can be faithfully proven to us. We need to be alert and vigilant because many false prophets exist who only provide words of comfort which “tickle people’s ears” but in essence lead them astray. (10)

Finally, I found the personal encounters of the Holy Spirit that Grenholm uses in his chapter to be both encouraging and inspiring. Although it is easy to dismiss these experiences as legitimately happening, they remind us that the Holy Spirit primarily works in personal ways and that He is not confined or limited to our understanding of who He is or what He can do.

Like Grenholm, I truly believe that when we allow the Holy Spirit access into our lives, He truly will do great things through us. I am not of the persuasion that this looks the same for everyone, as I do not believe that every individual has the ability to speak in tongues, to be prophetic, or to do healings (in fact, Paul himself said that tongues was the least important of the gift (11). Nevertheless, I do believe that every believer does possess gifts which they can use to benefit and further God’s Kingdom here on earth in an attempt to bring peace and justice.

A very short anecdote about this would be from my own experience. As someone who grew up in the church and who has thankfully never experienced much hardship, it is easy for me to believe that my testimony is boring, uninspiring, or unable to bring people to Christ. After all, how can street youth, battered women, or deviant adolescents truly connect to a “good little church girl” who did everything she was supposed to do? Yet, a few months ago I started fervently praying allowing the Holy Spirit full permission to use any parts of my personal story that would benefit the church and bring glory to God. Although it did not happen right away, the Holy Spirit took me up on the offer. Soon I was asked to preach and in particular to share parts of my testimony, I was asked to write, and individuals were placed in my path with whom I could discuss and encourage. This may not be as profound as raising someone from the dead, but it did bring my attention to the fact that the Holy Spirit is a powerful force and one we cannot ignore because He is persistent.

I want to thank Grenholm for reminding all of us that the Holy Spirit is alive and active and that He woos each one of us closer to the heart of God. I also want to thank Grenholm for his courage in discussing a topic not always well thought out in the western Anabaptist church and for his honesty and integrity in exploring these concepts further. I hope that if you have the opportunity you will read his chapter in “A Living Alternative” for yourselves. I look forward to further dialogue on this topic with you :).

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1) “Holy Spirit Come With Power” (Text: Anne Neufeld Rupp, 1970; Music; attributed to B.F. White; copyright 1970)

2) “If You Believe and I Believe” (Zimbabwe Traditional; copyright 1991 WGRG The Iona Community)

3) “Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness” (Text: Rusty Edwards, Music: American Folk Melody; Copyright 1987)

4) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A26&version=NIV

5) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+5%3A20-21&version=NIV

6) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Peter+1%3A20&version=NIV

7) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12%3A3&version=NIV

8) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+3%3A25&version=NIV

9) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+18%3A22&version=NIV

10) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+4%3A3&version=NIV

11) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+14%3A5&version=NIV

To purchase a copy of A Living Alternative: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Alternative-Anabaptist-Christianity-Post-Christendom/dp/0989830411/ref=asap_B002BMG086_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417959721&sr=1-9

All Things Charismatic – A Mennonite’s Perspective on Visions, Prophesy, and Miracles

Image If you read this article and you like it, you can check out some of my earlier thoughts on the Charismatic movement by reading this blog post: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/a-mennonite-who-speaks-in-tongues/

In our modern world, the Charismatic movement has gotten a somewhat bad rap unless you are Pentecostal yourself.  There are two main ways of thinking of the charismatic movement according to the Christians that I have met.  The first way is to view it as a super incredible movement which is the answer to all of life’s problems.  I see this view played out all the time by churches which claim that they have raised people from the dead (I sincerely have my doubts about that one), go on mission’s trips with no other purpose than to preform healings, and have youth meetings where the only purpose is to receive Words from the Lord for one another.  Although these churches do provide a certain excitement around what the Spirit is saying to the churches[1], I actually feel this is doing a huge disservice.  Placing the expectation on youth and young adults that EVERYONE has the gift of prophesy or speaking in tongues not only adds a lot of pressure but is simply NOT Biblical.  The Bible does teach us that prophesy and speaking in tongues are both gifts,[2] yet by the same token it teaches us that of all the gifts speaking in tongues is the least important.[3]  Looking through the Scripture passages about gifts, we notice that there are many gifts but the same Spirit.[4]  Each gift (if used correctly) can be useful for edification of the church, but no one person has all of the gifts.[5]  In fact, the Apostle Paul reminds us that if everyone in the Body of Christ were an eye we would have no ears and if we had no ears how would we be able to hear?[6]

Yet, when churches make it sound like everyone should be able to receive Words from the Lord they are in effect saying that those who do not have the gift of Special wisdom or prophesy are somehow inferior Christians.  When I was at Tyndale, many of my charismatic friends believed that speaking in tongues was a sign of the Holy Spirit working in your life.  Speaking in tongues is indeed a Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 2 we read that in the first Pentecost this is exactly what was taking place.  People were speaking in tongues and little flames were dancing above their heads.[7]  Yet, for as much as Speaking in Tongues is a Baptism of the Holy Spirit it is only one mode of baptism among many.  I would say that the true Baptism of the Holy Spirit is when your life becomes completely consumed by Christ’s Word and when you begin to live a life that daily exemplifies His character.  After all, when contemplating what true faith is, the Apostle James writes that, “true and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep one’s self unstained from idols.”[8]  Looking at this verse reminds us of what the Baptism of Christ truly looks like – it is about doing service and acts of kindness to others, consoling them in their hurt and need, and focusing solely on Christ.  In a world that pushes for fame and recognition we are to keep ourselves pure and only care about the reputation we have in Christ.[9]

The second way of viewing the Charismatic movement is to view it with disdain as if it has no place in the church and in fact distracts from the true message of the cross.  I have no doubt that certain televangelists and teachers do distort the truth.  Their entire message is only one to get them fame and power, they do not actually follow the teachings of Christ.  Yet, at the same time as I disagree with these televangelists, to think that God no longer uses charismatic gifts does not make much sense in my opinion either.  Why do I say that?  For one, I find it hard to believe that God only granted the gifts of prophesy, healing, and miracles for a certain time period – why would He all of a sudden abolish them?  Why are they all of a sudden not important?   Second, how can we be negligent of the fact that the charismatic gifts are still happening all around us every day?  I have seen great things accomplished when my friends have laid hands on other people.  A few times I have received timely Words from the Lord that really spoke into my situation without the other person even being fully aware of what was happening.  Yet at other times, I also have received visions and have spoken in tongues in ways that have edified the Body of Christ.

I did not grow up in the Charismatic movement by any means and when I was younger I also had a negative view of Pentecostalism because I didn’t understand what it truly was.  I saw no point to rolling around and barking like dogs – in fact, I still don’t.  I still have my reservations on many things – gold teeth and being slain in the Spirit included.  Yet, as I have spent time at Tyndale I have come to learn that miracles still do take place and God has often spoken to me in dreams.

I think part of our resistance to the Charismatic movement is the fact that our worldview (if we are from the West) does not welcome these types of responses.  Our first response as Western Christians tends to be to attribute everything on science.  When someone is miraculously healed of cancer we thank the good doctors and surgeons who looked after them.  When a person is told they only have 6 more weeks to live and 6 months later they are completely pain free and moving on with their lives we say that the doctors misdiagnosed them.  We are human and we all make medical errors.  I’m not saying that skilled doctors and nurses don’t deserve our praise, but the truth is we don’t give credit where credit is due!

Yet, on the other hand, in my studies of Global Christianity I have become aware to the many medical and spiritual mysteries that are taking place in certain African and Asian countries where medical equipment is lacking.  Muslims from Africa who have never even heard the name of Jesus have often received visions of Him in their dreams and turned to Him as a result.  There was even one case that I heard about at Tyndale of a young woman who was illiterate and had never even heard of the Bible who received a vision before her (similar to the one Muhammad received) of an open Bible which she was able to read the pages on!  This woman converted to Christ and now evangelizes to others within her tribe!  How can we ignore the fact that these things are taking place and turn a blind eye to the fact that the charismatic movement is still sweeping our globe?

So, what do we do with these two conflicting views and which one is correct?  I would say they both are correct to some extent.  We should not fear the Spiritual gifts of prophesy and tongues, nor should we extoll them as being the important gifts thus insisting that those who have never received these opportunities are somehow less valuable to the Christian church than we are.  At all times, we need to test the Spirit because we know that Satan can use what is good and edifying as a way of destroying the church.[10]

How do we test the Spirit?  This is something that the churches I grew up in never taught me to do, but yet, without testing the Spirit we are opening ourselves up to potentially fatal consequences.  When you test the Spirit you need to first of all determine if what the person is saying makes any sense.  If what they are saying clearly goes contrary to the truths of the Scripture than it is not a true prophesy or vision.[11]  Secondly, their message needs to be timely and relevant to the person who it is being spoken to – if it is overly vague you should have some reservations about it.  Third, you should do your own research to determine if the word spoken to you really was meant for you and how it will play out in your life.  If you continue to be unsure about it ask trusted friends and mentors who have walked the Christian faith longer than you have, talk to your pastor or spiritual director, and continue to wrestle with Scripture on your own.

I would add a fourth idea for testing the Spirit even though I know some people would disagree with me.  In my own experience, I believe that receiving a word from the Lord needs to come out of some pre-existing relationship that you have with the other person.  It should be spoken out of love and concern.  This is not to say that strangers can never offer you a Word from God.  On at least two or three occasions I have received prophetic words which were very timely – one from a complete stranger at a church the other from students at Tyndale who had only seen me in the hallway a handful of times but never struck up a conversation with me.  I still cherish those encounters and believe God used those people to bring light to the experiences I was having at the time.  So, do not discount the fact that God can use anyone to speak to you, but at the same time, be very careful of someone who has no pre-existing relationship with you who is claiming they have some great truth from God to bring into your life.  Many times, these people are little more than false teachers and basing your life off of what they say can end rather poorly.[12]

Especially be cautious of churches or individuals which claim that they can receive a Word from the Lord for anyone as long as you ask them.  When I was in Indiana I visited such a church.  I was invited to sit in a little room with two elders who recorded our conversation on tape and made me sign a waiver form saying that I would not do anything stupid to make the Word of the Lord happen.  The example they gave me was that if the Lord said I was to become prosperous I would not rob a bank and then say that the reason I had done it was because this church told me I would become wealthy.  There is definitely some truth to this.  I think of the story of Abraham and Sarah who were promised a son and when it didn’t happen right away they took matters into their own hands and got themselves into a huge mess which still has consequences today.[13]  On the other hand, this church had no idea who I was and yet they were claiming that God could immediately give them some type of special knowledge about me.  If you experience such a church, RUN AWAY!  These churches have a tendency to have cult-like characteristics, their pastors being little more than a wolves who run around in sheep’s clothing.[14]

So, by all means, do not write off spiritual gifts as being for a different time and a different place.  Encourage one another to use their charismatic gifts and if the Spirit is leading you continue to develop your own gifts in these regards.  BUT be very careful, use common sense, and do not ignore what the other Scriptures teach us.  Charismatic gifts have much to offer to the church, but they have as much potential as being harmful as they do of being beneficial.  In all things, seek the highest aim which is the love of Christ, and only then will the other gifts help to make this happen.[15]


[4] 1 Corinthians 12:4 –  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2012:4&version=ESVUK

[10] 1 John 4:1 –  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20John%204:1&version=ESVUK