Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world…We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.1 John 4:1,6
John, writing one of the last of the apostolic messages for the Church was particularly keen that God’s people would recognise the distinction between truth and error. Inspired by the Spirit of God he anticipated the false teaching that would be a recurrent theme as the New Testament age developed.
In every period of Church history falsehood has been a constant challenge for the people of God and our generation is no different. It is our responsibility to recognise error and know how to refute it while jealously holding onto the truth.
CHARISMATICS & PROGRESSIVES; THE FALSE SPIRIT
This study focuses upon two fairly modern and developing movements, which at times merge together, hence my decision to look at them together.
One author I read said that as Christians we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way as the tennis player is prepared for his or her opponent’s skill or trickery. The professional tennis player must be equiped to deal with the agressive smash, the disguised drop shot, the devasting lob, the vicious dipping top spin the heavy slice and the heavy serve. The tennis player needs to be defensive and offensive and must be equipped to play at the back of the court or at the net. In like manner we need the tools to be able to respond to these novel ideas that are slipped into Christianity and which seem to adapt and change just as quickly as the fashion scene in New York, London, Paris or Milan.
This is especially pertinent as there are deceptions today which are most adept as using traditional evangelical language, but scratch the surface and we discover they are not remotely evangelical. There are times we feel ourselves to be living in those days of which the Scriptures warn:
There are certain challenges in defining who the Charismatics are and what they believe because this is about a practice, a system of worship and it cuts across traditional denoninational bounderies. Therefore we will find the Charistamstics within traditional Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic Church and within the new novel groups that we see springing up, who fall largely under the category of Progressive Christianity . Therefore this is a big subject, much too big for one sermon, and it is also a developing subject because the Charismastics are changing all the time. In five years time something new will have come along, which will be charismatic too.
At the outset I want to define the distinction between traditional conservative Pentcostal churches and the Charismatics. In some ways they appear similar but they are in reality poles apart. We know godly people in Pentecostal congregations and while we respectively disagree with them on the gifts of the spirit we are on the same page as far as Gospel ministry and the key doctrines of the faith are concerned. Some traditional Pentocostals have written very effectvely against the Charismatics because of the fact that this false system claims gifts that they also claim, challenges their practices. Those who are discerning within traditional Pentcostal congregations are aware of this challenge. This article, therefore, focuses on the Charismatics as opposed to the Pentecostals; they are far from the same, but I understand that some of what I say is a challenge to our Pentecostal brothers and sisters.
Key Facts Regarding the Charismatics
The Charismatics claim that the day of the Apostles is not yet over. While there is a distinction between the Apostles who saw the Lord and the subsequent generations, the apostolic gifts continue to the present.
Therefore, we are to expect the church in the 21st Century to avail of the gifts of tongues, of healing and of prophecy. While the Charismatics will appear similar in this regard to the traditional Pentecostalists they tend to be much more extreme in the way in which these gifts are manifested. For example charismatics will claim the most stupendous acts of healing, even to the extent where they have testified to resurrections taking place. At times their services have been characterised by strange phenomona such as people collapsing, being slain by the Spirit as they describe it. The Toronto Blessing, which spread worldwide, is an example of unusual hysteria, which charismatics saw as a work of spiritual renewal in the lives of men and women.
The Charismatic Movement itself will be found among those advocate a prosperity gospel, that when you are a Christian you get become materially rich. It will also be found among the ranks of those who preach a social gospel, that Christianity is about helping the poor, running food banks, organising homeless shelters; that in itself is not wrong but when that replaces or becomes more important than reaching the soul, the message is imbalanced.
Unlike traditional Pentecosotalists who do have a Protestant theological basis, the Charismatics tend not to be defined by traditional doctrinal standards. Therefore, you will find this phemonena appearing across the theological divide from Pentecostal Churches, to Anglican and even Roman Catholic congregations.
I would like you to remember, however, the word anointing, which John employs earlier in the Epistle and its significant meaning:
The word wording anointing is the Greek chrisma, from which the word charismatic is derived. The Charismatic believes that he or she has the chrisma, they are the anointed of God. If the Charismatic is correct, however, then we ought to be seeking what they possess. But if they are are wrong, then we need to know why they are wrong and why we do not need these special gifts. This, therefore, matters a great deal. Where the work of the Holy Ghost is counterfeted we need to be alerted, we must know how to test the spirits whether they be of God.
Progressive Christianity commenced with a movement in the early 2000’s known as the Emerging or the Emergent Church. The label now attached to a lot of what they believed is now captured by the title Progressive Christianity. There is an organisation called The Progressive Christian Network, to which churches can affiliate. In reality their ideas go far beyond the network. They have a statement of faith in 8 points which don’t mention key truths such as sin or redemption. This is in itself sounds alarm bells. They want to reimagine the Gospel believing that traditional orthodox doctrines have failed. They are particularly opposed to the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for our sins. These are sometimes typified by the fellowships of professing Christians which have sprung up in towns and cities some of which experience rapid growth. Some will certainly have charismatic tendencies, hence there is a converging of these two movements.
One of the most socially recognisable traits of this movement is it’s acceptance of same sex marriage. Progressive Christians are leading the way in bringing these kinds of unions inside the professing church. A well known Northern Ireland example is Steve Ames, Pastor of Harbour Faith Community in Carrickfergus, who performed the first religious same sex marriage ceremony in this jurisdiction. This is an Anglican style congregation, which is seeking affiliation within the Church of Ireland.
Bethel Church, Redding, California, is an example of classic progressive vagueness. They have produced a document on issues relating to sexuality which is a total fudge. Many words which the reader can interpret whatever he or she wishes. They have stronger words for those who have opposed homosexuality from within the church than for those who engage in these practices themselves, which tells us a lot about their spirit. For example this quote towards the end appears to leave the way open for embracing LGBTQ within the Church but the language is couched in ambiguity:
In my judgment the Progessives want to infiltrate every church. Within society generally every immorality under the sun is described as progressive. A progressive society adopts the LGBT agenda, supports abortion and will come under pressure to adopt euthanasia and who knows how many other depravities. These are not progressive but regressive – and we can see their ideas manifest in the way the political landscape is changing. Satan is endeavouring to catch the church in this snare.
At times these groups are characterised by an what what ŵe would call an easy believism. Without a sound doctrinal emphasis, by fudging the Gospel, by not teaching repentance the fruit becomes a certain shallow kind of convert.
These philosophies continue to influence Christianity worldwide far beyond the confines of their own fellowships. The Charismatics especially have hundreds of millions of followers.
This considerable influence is achieved through literature, television, podcasts and video. Well known personalities such as Benny Hinn, Brian McClaren, Joyce Meyer and Rick Warren advance the ideas and philosophy behind what I would call the Charismatic and the Progressive Christian delusions.
Another way by which their agenda is promoted is through music. Popular music has changed the post second war culture. Rock music created a youth culture which is a godless. Pop stars today are the icons which millions adore. Similarly the modern evangelical church has been infilirated not by false preaching but by their songs but by counterfeit Christian music. Bethel music and Hillsong are well known current labels which have stolen the hearts and the minds of many and left a generation thinking that our traditional hymns with their biblical lyrics are outdated. The doctrines of faith and the practices of these organisations, certainly do not inspire one with confidence that their music is to be trusted. Contemporary Christian Music with its drum kits and band culture feeds a diet of music driven rather than word driven worship, with their shallow man centred lyrics. This is one of the battle grounds for truth in this generation.
(One warning among many regarding the dangers of following charismatic music https://www.wayoflife.org/reports/beware_bethel_church_bethel_music.php )
At the heart of the Charismatic Movement is the appeal to the flesh rather then the mind and the heart. There is a stirring of the motions, generating emotional exictement and it is this emotionalism which is deemed to be a work of the Spirit of God. The offer of uplifting experiences is so overhwleming for some and for those who are suffering the gift of healing seems irresistable.
Progressive Christianity, on the other hand appeals to the mind and the reasoning bypassing the Scripture in an effort to bypass the Gospel of Grace alone. In many respects it a rehashing of Modernism, which we examined last week.
2: A BIBLICAL RESPONSE
The Need for a Confessional Church
The Charismatics and Progressives have given some Christians an urge to dispense with Church order and discipline and set up their own little group, thinking that they have the authority call themselves a congregation. Groups spring up in private homes, as they develop they rent out premises, some have grown into very large meetings. They don’t have a coherent confessional statement, their structure is haphazard to say the least, some are personality driven and their stance on certain doctrines, practices or moral issues can rapidly change.
In response to this tendency, we should be aware that no-one has the right to set up a meeting and call themselves a church. The Church of Christ is based on Scripture but it also has an historic basis. A movement which is not rooted in Scripture and Church history is not of God, because the truths and practices which God orders, He also preserves. But these Charismatic groups set themselves up without confessional Christianity. Confessional Christianity is a very important concept. God has given us truths and doctrines, which the Church must believe in order to be a true Church. These core doctrines have been formulated and passed down from one generation to the next. They are bulwarks which safeguard us against error and apostasy. Prebyterians historically accept the truths embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Throughout Europe the Protestants adopted confessions of faith; The Augsberg Confession was German, the Heidleberg Confession was Dutch, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were English, the Irish Articles of Faith were very influential, the Baptists adpted the Baptist Confession of Faith while the Congregationalists subscribed to the Savoy Declaration. The Creeds of Christendom is a very ancient study that takes us back to the days of the Apostles. The most ancient example is the Apostles Creed. It is verging on arrogance to dispense with the need for a proper Confession of Faith, and set up a Church in your own image. Never, ever, be waylaid by such a sect. You will only get blown about by every wind and doctrine and it will be to the detriment of your soul and the souls of your children.
Biblical Experiences Only
Whatever spiritual experiences are offered to us, they must always be weighed in the balances of God’s Word. If a person claims to speak in tongues we need to enquire of the Scripture to discover if such a gift is indeed Scriptural. If somone insists that they have a word of prophecy we need to know if the Bible teaches the valdiity of such an office in this New Testament age. If a brother claims a healing gift, is it a Bible ordained and appointed gift? It is not enough for a fellowship of believers to be nice friendly people who do good things in the community; What do they believe, How are they governed? What kind of teaching do they present? – Discernment requires of us that we ask questions in order that we are not blown about with every wind of doctrine. If someone leaves an established evangelical church to attend one of these charismatic or emerging church sects because the Spirit has led them; for the reasons outlined above whatever spirit has led them it is certainly not the Holy Ghost.
But is this not an area where we all must act with care and caution? Too many act on a whim, take decisons and have words to say on the basis of a feeling thinking that the Spirit is leading. Our own feelings are so deceptive. We can be like the fizzy bottle bubbling today and flat the next. We must not depend on feelings. Emotional experiences or decisions taken because of how we feel at a given point in time will never sustain nor will they last. We need something deeper, something more stable, something based not on what we think or how we feel but upon what we know. This why we must be grounded on the teachings of the Word.
The Apostolic Age is Over
There were three periods of sunstained miracles in Scripture; Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Christ and the Apostles. MIracles, were never at any time the history of God’s people, the normal means whereby the divine intereacted with the natural. There are times when God suspends the normal course of nature but no man or no woman has the power to bring these about as a consequence of special gifts. When we read the story of the New Testament gift we discover that the signs of the Apostles slowly diminished as the men appointed by Christ gradually left the stage of history.
The Charismatics have their proof texts, which they delight in quoting. Corinth is frequently alluded to without considering that Corinth was the most carnal of all the New Testament congregations. Whatever was happening in Corinth we can be abolsutely certain that it was not a product of the Holy Ghost. While tongues are referred to, they are commonly within the context of evangelising, reaching the foreigners in their own languages. The Corinthians tongues produced nothing but confusion. Regarding healing; God continues to heal BUT there are dieases which He orders to take us form this scene of time…it is not always God’s will to heal. To claim otherwise is to offer false hope or even worse it can make the recipient feel sinful, worthless and faithless if healing does not occur.
The Scriptures are God’s Final Message
The Bible is God’s last Word. In times he spoke through the prophets but now according to Paul, in these last days He speaks through HIs Son (Hebrews 1). Christ is our great prophet; after His ascension He sent the Spirit of God to prompt the apostles, to lead them into all truth (John 16:13). All the truth we need is found in the Book. We don’t need a prophet to come and show us something thats not written in the Scriptures. We don’t need experiences that are not identified in the Bible. We ought never to add to the Word of God. The ultimate sin of the Charismatics is that they diminish the authority of the Word of God.
This is the one point where the Charismatics and the Progressives absolutely converge. The Scriptures are removed as the final and absolute authority.
I can think of no prominent evangelical leader who has taken a stand on the Charismatics quite like John MacArthur. He has written extensively on this movement since the 1970’s and has preached numerous sermons exposing the fallacies. In a sermon, which became the title of book called “Strange Fire”, Dr MacArthur makes special special reference to the sin and the punishment of Nadab and Abihu:
These were anointed and privileged men, servants of God. Their task was to woship Jehovah as Mediators and as Priests on behalf of the people. But they worshipped in a way that was not according to God’s command. They offered strange fire and for that they were punished. Worship is the greatest, the most noble exercise of the soul. Our public worship must be regulated according to Scripture, we dare not introduce anythung into worship that is fleshly, that is not of God. To do so is to offer strange fire.
Dr MacArthur speaks eloquently and passionately about the lack of discernment among today’s Christians. Remember, John the apostle is writing his epistle appealing to God’s people that they should try the spirits, be sure that what you hear and what you are taught is truth:
This, however, is not merely an issue for the Charismatics or the Progressives or whatever other movement arises to challenge the true Church of Christ. It is also an issue for us.
We are commanded to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Worship is about more than being in a nice building on Sunday morning with our families, all dressed up, carrying bibles and singing hymns. It about hearts seeking after God, souls hungering for righteousness, its about being submissive to God, listening out for His Word and being willing to be changed.
In my opinion one reason why many are seeking after other things, drinking from dry wells and feeding in barren pastures, is because the true Church has failed. We are not failed by the Spirit of God. We have been shallow in our convictions, too self sufficient, too proud while a whole generation around us has lost hope entirely.
The true, the only reponse to these attacks on truth is to pray for the unleashing of the mighty genuine power of the Holy Ghost. When people see and experience the genuine article they won’t seek the counterfeit. May God have mercy upon His dear bride in these dark days.https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/TM13-1/strange-fire-john-macarthur