The following sermon transcript does not match the video version of the sermon—it matches only the audio version. Here's a brief explanation why.
John MacArthur routinely preaches a sermon more than once on the same date, during different worship services at Grace Community Church. Normally, for a given sermon title, our website features the audio and video that were recorded during the same worship service. Very occasionally, though, we will post the audio from one service and the video from another. Such was the case for the sermon titled “The Dead Will Hear Christ,” the transcript of which follows below. The transcript is of the audio version.
As you know, over the last number of weeks, we have been sort of anticipating the coming of our Strange Fire Conference which will be held here at Grace Church on October 16 through 18th. This is the second in what we’re calling Truth Matters Conferences, and this one addresses the issue of the Charismatic Movement which has had a greater negative impact on the church over the last 25 years than probably any other Movement at all. It has created all kinds of chaos. It needs to be addressed and so that’s what we’re going to do in that conference.
Now there will be, we’re not sure what the ultimate number is, but we know there are somewhere around 4,000 people who have registered and we’ve closed down registration, at least for the moment, but we know we’re going to have the unregistered church up as well. So we’re not quite sure how many. We may be able to squeeze everybody in. But we don’t want to leave you out, so we’ve been talking about some of the issues with regard to the Charismatic Movement and reaching back, not too many months ago now, maybe over a year at least, I did a series on Romans chapter 8, The True Work of the Holy Spirit, comparing it with the false representations of the Holy Spirit that have become so ubiquitous in the Charismatic Movement.
Over the last three or four Sunday nights, Phil Johnson and I have dialogued a little bit about the issues and from what I hear, this has been very helpful to all of you. That was very gratifying. We intended to do one and there was such a great response, we did two, and then there was equally great response so we did three. So I have preached on this from Romans 8. I have put on the question and answer hat and sat and dialogued about this. And now I’m going to kind of put on my lecture hat tonight and come to you more maybe as a professor, more looking at this from the standpoint of giving you a lecture, but that doesn’t change the urgency of the issue before us…whether preaching or answering questions, or presenting to you essentially what will come across as a bit of a lecture rather than unpacking a portion of Scripture—the truth is the same.
And the question I want to address tonight, and I’m going to do this for three Sunday nights this month. There are three urgent questions that I think are at the foundation of this Movement. The one for tonight is “Is experience a valid test of truth….Is experience a valid test of truth? That is a very foundational issue. How do you discern the truth—is the first issue, is the foundational issue.
The Charismatic Movement goes wrong because it has an invalid approach to discerning the truth. They can’t possibly come up with the right answer when they’re asking questions of the wrong sources. They can’t possibly come up with the truth when they’re looking for it in all the wrong places.
Now this can be illustrated, first of all, a woman wrote to me and she was very angry, as occasionally people are with me, and she wrote this, “You resort to Greek translations and fancy words to explain away what the Holy Spirit is doing in the church today. Let me give you a piece of advice that might just save you from the wrath of Almighty God. Put away your Bible and your books and stop studying. Ask the Holy Ghost to come upon you and give you the gift of tongues. You have no right to question something you have never experienced.”
And while that is anecdotal and while that is a letter from one rather beleaguered lady whose husband I would only show mercy to, it is reflective…it is reflective of a trend, in fact it is reflective of the whole Movement. Put away your Bible and your books and stop studying and ask the Holy Ghost to come upon you and give you the gift of tongues.
Another radio listener after hearing me teach on 1 Corinthians 12 through 14 wrote, and I quote, “You people, and especially ministers of the gospel who claim that speaking in tongues is not for today, are in my opinion and all those who do speak in tongues, grieving the Holy Spirit and missing a blessing from God. To me it is as ridiculous as if an unsaved person tried to persuade you that you absolutely cannot be sure that you will enter into heaven. If you haven’t experienced it, you cannot tell someone who has that it doesn’t exist.”
Now there is another testimony to where they draw their truth. They draw their truth out of their own experience. If you haven’t experienced it, you can’t speak on it. Both of those letters reflect the Charismatic tendency to gauge truth by personal experience rather than Scripture. This kind of jumps into our contemporary situation with a quote by Mark Driscol, a well-known pastor in Seattle who says, “People like me have created a new Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Scripture.” And the assumption in that accusation is that we have somehow replaced the Holy Spirit with the Holy Scripture. That is being thrown at people who want to qualify and define everything that the Spirit does by the Scripture. That is no threat to the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and that all of them work in perfect accord with the Holy Scripture.
Charismatics, however, if they’re at all honest with themselves, have to acknowledge that their personal experience, not Scripture, is the foundation of the whole system. They want to give the Bible a high place. They carry around Bibles, they read Bibles. They don’t interpret them, necessarily. They read them, they are familiar with the surface of the Scriptures but the Bible itself, and Scripture itself rank second to experience in their system. Experience is the priority source of truth and the Bible is used to proof text those experiences. Experience is the basis of belief. Experience is the source of truth. And that, of course, is exactly backward and that is why the Movement is as out of control as it is because it is defined by as many people as are having experiences. And that’s completely out of control. And non-Charismatics are accused of opposing experience and opposing emotion, and exposing feeling.
Now let me tell you, that’s not the case, not at all. We believe that God works in our emotions. We believe that He exposes Himself in our experiences. But we do not discern truth out of our emotions and our experience. I would not for one moment advocate some kind of cold inanimate approach to religion, some attachment to a barren creed, or some empty ritual. We as believers have authenticate spiritual experience and emotion and feeling, things like a strong sense of remorse over sin. That’s a legitimate feeling. A mighty sense of trust in God, great faith, almost faith that produces joy in the midst of a devastating traumatic experience.
We also feel overwhelming peace in the midst of trouble, great joy and confidence and hope in God in the face of death, intense sorrow, heartbreaking sorrow over the lost, joy over answered prayer, exhilaration in praise and even a sheer delight as the truth of Scripture opens to our understanding. We feel all that in our emotions and it produces the range of emotions. So we’re not saying there’s no place for emotion, and there’s no place for feeling and experience, there is. Spiritual experience in its legitimate form is an internal awareness that responds to the truth of the Word of God. We are emotional because we understand the truth. We are joyful because we understand the truth of Scripture. We are sad because we understand the truth of Scripture. We are confident in the face of trouble because we understand the promises of God, and so it goes.
No matter what hits us, we’re so anchored by truth that literally our joy surpasses all difficulty. Sad to say that’s not true of Charismatics. When the riding on their emotions that is unattached to truth, when the real issues come, they have nothing from which to draw emotional joy and confidence and peace and hope. You basically live on, survive on, triumphant on your theology and your theology cannot be the product of your own experience or you’re hoping in yourself. And anybody knows in the depths of his heart that that’s folly.
Charismatics err because they tend to build their teachings on experience. They are utterly detached from authenticate experience. They don’t have authenticate experience because authentic Spirit-directed emotion and experience is drawn in response to the truth of God and the knowledge of that truth. They look like they’re flying high. And I guess emotionally, they are. But they are unattached. There’s nothing that holds them. They just float in to nebulous space.
There are then no ways to…in the system…contain the false teaching because it can come out of anybody and there are no bases for disqualifying that claim. Charismatic books, Charismatic media are literally full of visions, dreams, prophecies, words of knowledge, private messages, voices from heaven, appearances of God, appearances of Jesus, appearances of angels. It gets to the point where the experiences are so definitive that they would say things like this, this is Kenneth Copeland who’s one of the leaders. He is not one of the low-level privates in the Charismatic army, he would be a general. He’s a leader, he’s a definer of what they believe. Kenneth Copeland claims that he receives his own novel interpretations of Scripture by direct revelation. So when he misinterprets verses in the Bible, he says that his interpretation came to him by divine revelation.
For example, he was teaching on the account of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 and he was clearly seeking support for the prosperity gospel from the story of the rich young ruler which is a story about Jesus saying to a man, “Sell everything you have, give it all to the poor and come and follow Me.” But he needed to turn that on its head in order to sell the prosperity gospel. Jesus says in Mark 10:21, “One thing you lack, go sell all you possess, give to the poor, you’ll have treasure in heaven, come follow Me.” Copeland claims that God privately revealed to him that this verse actually promises early monetary wealth. Copeland says, quote: “This was the biggest financial deal that young man had ever been offered and he walked away from it because he didn’t know God’s system of finance.” So he literally reverses the intention of our Lord’s words and defends it on the basis that he gets private interpretations from God Himself.
Dr. Percy Collett(?) who was a Charismatic medical missionary devised an extensive series of detailed messages on heaven, all drawn from his extraordinary experience. He went to heaven, transported to heaven. That’s very popular nowadays. If you look at the new edition of The Glory of Heaven, the whole opening section looks at these more contemporary trips to heaven by…particularly by children. But this is Percy Collett, he is a medical doctor who went to heaven for five and a half days. He says he saw Jesus who was very busy supervising the building of mansions there. Never mind that there are no mansions there, what the King James said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” and the Greek says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” You can’t have mansions in a house. A newsletter detailed Dr. Collett’s journey to heaven. He says, “While Christianity abounds with accounts of glimpses of the other dimension from those who have had out-of-body experiences, Dr. Collett’s is unlike these. Obviously he was caught up in the third heaven as Paul was, the difference being Paul was not allowed to utter the things he saw and heard, but Dr. Collett almost two thousand years later was commanded to do so. So you can set Paul aside, this guy’s got a higher rank.
He offers video tapes detailing his trip to heaven. It says things like this, “Everything God created on earth is in heaven…horses, cats, dogs. Everything He created on earth is in heaven in the way of animals. Only these are perfect animals. For example the dogs don’t bark.” And then he adds, “You don’t need plumbing. You can go to the banqueting house and eat all you want and no plumbing is needed.”
Collett also describes the pity department, the place where the souls of aborted babies go and also some severely retarded babies and it’s here that these little souls are trained for a period of time before they go before the throne of God. Then he saw the record room, quote: “An immense area where all the idle words spoken by Christians are being retained until after Christians give account of them or are judged at which time these will be emptied into the sea of forgetfulness.” Then he describes the garment room where angels are sewing our robes,” mansion is under construction, a Holy Ghost elevator, and many other things.
And then he added one detail. When I was traveling back to earth, quote: “I saw two girls, one brunet and one redhead. We stopped to talk to them, their soul-bodies, they were on the way up, we were on the way back, we asked them what had happened to them and they indicated they had gotten killed in a car accident on the California highway, their bodies were physically in a funeral home, and they said their mother was weeping over them, so would I please find her and tell her they were okay?”
That kind of nonsense is then supported by conclusive proof that he has, quote, “About a year later I went to that area where the mother lived and was giving this testimony. A mother jumped up in the congregation and said, ‘That’s a description of my daughters.’ I told her she shouldn’t fret, that her daughters are in that wonderful place.” She said she would never cry again.
And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you…I said that, he didn’t. Dr. Collett…Dr. Collett lectured on heaven to standing-room-only audiences and the first question in a Q & A he did came from a man down in Montgomery, Alabama at a Q & A who said, “I’m a cowboy, are there rodeos in heaven?” Dr. Collett was ready with an answer. “There are horses in heaven, beautiful horses. They’re all praising God. There’s no foolishness in heaven, I’m not saying that a rodeo is foolish, but there’s no Will Rogers’ style acting up there.
I mean the folly of this is so ridiculous and bizarre. Why am I reading this? Because Charismatics have never said anything editorially about this. There’s no way to judge it. There’s no way to stop it because the experience validates itself. Fresh revelation, by the way, like that, trumps the Bible…the old book...the old book.
Now everything starts in the system, in the Charismatic system, with what’s called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It’s a misunderstanding of a wonderful, miraculous event that occurs at salvation, according to the New Testament. When you put your faith in Christ and when you’re saved, Christ Himself by means of the Holy Spirit places you into His body, immerses you into His body. That’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It happens to every believer at the moment of salvation.
But in the Charismatic Movement, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a post-salvation experience. It’s not a divine transaction. It’s not the Son by the Spirit placing a believer into the body of Christ as in the Bible, but rather it is an experience that you feel. If it really happens, you are euphoric, you may have visions, you might have outbursts of various kinds of emotion and in most cases you will speak in tongues, you will jabber in some kind of non-language. Anybody who hasn’t had this post-salvation experience is not possessing the fullness of the Holy Spirit and consequently is immature, carnal, disobedient and incomplete. So that is the initial inaugural entrance into the Charismatic Movement and you need to have the experience. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not an experience. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is like justification. You don’t experience justification. You don’t experience it, that’s a forensic declaration by God that the righteousness that He possesses and manifest in Christ is credited to your account. And the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a divine action, a divine miracle by which the Father places you into the living, organism of the body of Christ by granting to you the life of God in your soul. You don’t feel that.
But for them, the Baptism of the Spirit is this post-salvation, or perhaps it is something that most of them who are unsaved chase, some kind of experience, highly emotional, sensational, usually including jabbering in a non-language. And that then becomes the inaugural experience and from there you continue chasing those kind of experiences. That’s why you see people in a Charismatic meeting, the music is hard-driving, highly emotional, very repetitive and the people are swaying and moving and waving their arms. This is not worship, this is an effort to induce a kind of elevated feeling. One writer said, “This would be like putting LSD in the communion wine.” Why not? Because what you’re trying to do is induce an experience.
The experiences can be bizarre. A Charismatic newspaper reports a genuine photograph of the Lord Jesus. “Yes, I have one recorded on film,” writes this photographer, “in mid-summer I woke at 3:30 A.M. to a strong voice, thought impression(??), ‘Go and photograph My sunrise.’ Beside the river I set up my camera, waited for the sun. In that pre-dawn I felt so close to God, perfect peace. On one negative, in the perfect shape of a figure, arms raised in blessing as reflected in the water, exactly opposite to every other shadow, I believe God gave me an image of Himself to share.” The item is signed, Dudley Danielson, photographer, and you can have an 8 by 10 copy of God for $9.95 prepaid. It doesn’t bother Dudley that the Bible says, “No man has seen God at any time, that God is a Spirit.” Oh how about Exodus 33, “That no man can see Me and live.”
Marvin Ford who was featured for a long time on the 700 Club went to heaven and got the aroma of heaven on his necktie. And whenever he wants to renew the experience, ne sniffs his own tie. Another Charismatic leader by the name of Roberts Liardon who is, by the way, a very influential one, says he took an extensive tour of heaven as an eight-year-old with Jesus as his personal guide. He recalls and these are his words, “Many people have asked me what Jesus looks like. He’s five foot eleven to six feet tall and He’s got sandy-brown hair. It’s not too long and it’s not too short. He’s a perfect man. Whatever you picture as a perfect man, that’s what Jesus is. He’s perfect in every way. The way He looks, talks, everything, that’s the way I remember Him. We walked a little farther and this is the most important part of my story. I saw three storage houses, five hundred to six hundred yards from the throne room of God. They’re very long and very wide. We walked into the first. As Jesus shut the front door behind us, I looked around the interior in shock. On one side of the building were arms, fingers, and other exterior parts of the body. Legs hung from the walls but the scene looked natural not weird. On the other side of the building were shelves filled with neat little packages of eyes, green ones, brown ones, blue ones. The building contained all the parts of the human body that people on earth need, but they haven’t realized these blessings are waiting for them in heaven and therefore saints and sinners alike. Jesus said to me, ‘These are the unclaimed blessings. This building shouldn’t be full, it should be emptied every single day. You should come in here with faith and get the needed parts for you and the people you’ll come in contact with that day,’” end quote.
So there are all kinds of body parts up there and the reason they’re stuck in heaven is because you don’t have the faith to get them down here. Roberts Liardon describes many other incredible sights. The River of Life, a stadium full of people who he says were the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12. And a medicine cabinet with pill bottles labeled overdose of the Holy Ghost. He describes the River of Life, he says this branch of the River of Life was knee-deep and crystal-clear. We took off our shoes and I got in and do you know the first thing Jesus did to me? He dunked me. I got back up and splashed Him and we had a water fight. And so it goes. I can hardly bear to read more of these things. Liardon also claims while he was in heaven he was ordained to the ministry by Jesus Himself.
Now that will give you some leverage in the Movement. If you were an unimportant person, but you’ve been to heaven and got ordained personally by Jesus, you just trump everybody…everybody. He says, “When I get back to heaven, I’m going to put up a historical marker on the place where Jesus dunked me. It’s going to say, ‘This is the spot where Jesus Christ became not only my Lord and Savior but my friend. Yes He became my friend. Now we walk and talk together. When I hear a good joke, I can run to Jesus and listen to Him laugh at it. And when He gets a good one, he tells me.’ We walked awhile and were quiet, then Jesus turned around and took both of my hands in one of His, He placed His other hand on top of my head and said, ‘Roberts, I’m calling you to great work. You’ll have to run like no one else, preach like no one else, be different from everyone else. Go, go, go like no one else has gone. Go and do as I have done.’”
And by the way, Jesus has appeared to him, he says, two more times. This is beyond comprehension. The third time I saw Jesus I was eleven years old. Jesus walked in through the front door of my home while I was watching Laverne and Shirley on television. He came over and sat down beside me on the couch, kind of glanced at the TV and everything in this natural world clicked off. I couldn’t hear the telephone or the television set, all I heard was Jesus and all I saw was His glory. He looked at me and said, ‘Roberts, I want you to study the lives of My generals in My great army through time. Know them like the back of your hand, know why they were a success, know why they failed, and you’ll want nothing in that area.’ He got up and walked out through the door. The TV clicked back on and…this is impossible…I resumed watching Laverne and Shirley.’”
Are you kidding me? What fool would have a face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ and watch Laverne and Shirley? These things are so absurd, but there’s never any condemnation of it because this is the source for revelation. Dr. Richard Eaby fell off a balcony and I used to listen to him, it was painful, but I did. He struck his head when he fell off the balcony and was supposedly dead. He went to paradise. He could see for hundreds of miles and he goes on talking about that. He found some flowers, broke them off, noticed there was no water in their stems because Jesus is the living water. He had a body that was transparent, that floated in mid-air. He said in regard to the twelve cranial nerves, the twelve cranial nerves represent the twelve tribes of Israel. He learned that in heaven. And Dr. Eaby was a doctor. But when you have all of this folly and you have no way to stop the outrage, then the Movement just goes bizerk. This is pseudo-Christian mysticism, it has nothing to do with the Bible, nothing to do with God, nothing to do with Christ, nothing to do with the gospel. Mysticism is any system of belief that attempts to perceive spiritual reality without objective verifiable fact. I’ll say it again, mysticism is a system of believe that attempts to perceive spiritual reality without objective, verifiable fact. It seeks truth through feelings, intuition, senses, dreams, supposed visions, hallucinations and most of it is just lies…just lies. But I would think that some of it is experience generated by the kingdom of darkness. Mysticism is at its heart existentialism, humanism, and paganism. Mark down those three words in your mind…this kind of mysticism is not Christianity, it is at its heart existentialism, humanism and paganism. It is irrational and irrational mysticism is at the heart of the Charismatic experience. And when you draw spiritual reality out of your experience, you subvert biblical authority. And that’s why people say, “You’ve got to stop studying the Bible because the new standard is personal experience. The Lord told me…the Lord said to me…the Lord gave me a revelation…the Lord gave me a vision. This is how all those preachers talk because people can’t negate that. This gives them ultimate power. The people sitting out there are honest enough in most cases to say that’s never happened to me. But they want to cash in on whatever’s going to come through this preacher that might happen to them.
So the lady says, “Put away your books and your Bible and stop studying.” Now there are only two basic approaches to truth, one is the historical objective approach which emphasizes God’s action toward man recorded in Scripture, perceived rationally. The other is the personal, subjective approach which emphasizes man’s experience as defining God. In one, God defines Himself by revealing in Scripture His truth. In the other, man defines God by his experience. The choice is self-evident. We can’t define God by our experience. We can only build our theology, we can only know truth as we go to the Bible. We can’t get a collective doctrine of God by pulling together everybody’s experience. That is why there is no doctrinal commitment in that Movement, because they can’t frame any doctrine, other than simple things. They might affirm the Trinity, the deity of Christ, things like that. But beyond those very basic things, even when they talk about the nature of Christ, or the nature of God, or the nature of the Holy Spirit, they start to go afield. Objective historic theology perceived rationally is biblical theology, is classic theology, reformation theology, historic evangelicalism. It is orthodoxy. We begin with Scripture , my thoughts, my ideas, and my experiences have nothing to do with discerning the truth. I cannot discern the truth through my experience. I can only discern the truth through careful study of the Word of God. The subjective approach, rather than the objective approach is not new. It is the methodology of historic Catholicism…intuition, experience, mysticism plays a central role in Catholic theology. That’s how they come up with saints. They invent miracles and they canonize people. By the way, the subjective approach is at the heart of liberalism which denies the Scripture. It’s at the heart of neo-orthodoxy which also denies the validity of Scripture and is essentially existentialism.
For us, truth is what is revealed to us from God. To them, truth is what happens to you. The subjective view, the truth is discerned by what happens to you is the methodology of historic Pentecostalism. How did this ever get started? It got started. It got started in 1900, 1901. It wasn’t around. Well there were forms of mysticism around, sure. But not in the Pentecostal Charismatic form, prior to that. There was a guy in Topeka, Kansas, there’s a very fascinating section about him in the coming book Strange Fire, his name is Charles Fox Parham. He was a bizarre character who eventually was arrested on homosexual, sodomite sex charges…bizarre guy. He started a small Bible college in Topeka, Kansas in 1900 called Bethel College and it was out of business in a year. His approach to the Bible was not to study a book of the Bible, or a passage in the Bible. He came out of the Holiness Movement which was very, very experiential and in that beginning year, they locked the date down as January 1, 1901, they began to have some bizarre experiences as they sought those experiences.
The way they studied the Bible was to bounce around a concordance, I won’t go into the detail, it’s not helpful. They began to bounce around the concordance. Somebody came up with the idea that they needed to seek this thing called the Baptism of the Spirit and connected to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues. And so, during the last days of December 1900, headed for January 1, 1901, he gave his students an assignment in his Bible school to study about the gifts of the Spirit and come to some conclusion. They came to the conclusion that the Baptism of the Spirit was what they ought to seek and if they found this post-salvation work, they would speak in tongues.
Now they believed that tongues were real languages, as they were in the Bible. The first person began to seek it on New Year’s Day, 1901. The student body all got together, they didn’t know how to go about this, so they just kept seeking for hours, and hours, and hours. Then, according to one of the historians, later that day, a thirty-year-old student by the name of Agnes Osmond came to Parham and requested the laying on of hands so she might receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. As he prayed and laid hands on my head, I began to speak in tongues, glorifying God. I talked several languages. It was manifested when a dialect was spoken, “Glory to God.” The report is that then others began to have the same experience. Agnes Osmond tried to record her experience on paper and she believed she was writing Chinese. There’s a copy of that in the book Strange Fire, it’s not Chinese, it looks like it was written by a two-year-old, it’s nonsense. She thought it was Chinese. It later became apparent that it wasn’t Chinese.
This Movement found its way to Azusa Street in Los Angeles. A pastor named Seymour cultivated this another very suspicious character, a very ugly scenario, and that all gave birth to this crazy idea of the Baptism of the Spirit and speaking in tongues.
Sixty years later, in the sixties, it jumped into the mainline right here in Van Nuys, California. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, Dennis Bennett. And for the first time it was out of the little Pentecostal Movement, the Holy Rollers as they were called, and it jumped into a mainline denomination that was as dead as a dodo bird, looking for some kind of experience, and it was on the way. Once it jumped out of the confines of traditional Pentecostalism into mainline denominations, it knew no limits. And then they demanded acceptance as normal evangelicals and they pressed the rest of evangelicals into silence on the basis that anything other than that was loveless…loveless.
I guess we could ask the question then at this point, and there’s a lot more to say and a lot more will be available for you in the book, but I guess we could say, you know, if we look at the Scripture, let’s just take a look at Peter and Paul and ask if Peter and Paul were Charismatics. I mean, I would think that if you were going to try and defend this, you would want to say that the Apostles were committed to this, wouldn’t you?
Well what about Peter? Listen to the words of Peter in 2 Peter chapter 1, the first chapter of his second letter. He says in verse 16, “We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” You want an experience, there’s an experience. What’s he talking about, do you know, do you remember? Transfiguration, Matthew 17. “When He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the majestic glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,’ and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
Listen, Peter could have been the first Charismatic. He could have launched his ministry, “I am the guy who was on the mountain who heard the voice of God. I was there when Christ was transfigured, pulled back the veil of His flesh and His glory was manifested.” He had an experience not unlike the experience of Moses in Exodus when he saw the glory of God revealed on Mount Sinai. And that experience was stunning. I mean, it made him a bumbling, muttering sort of incommunicable man, he fell down literally like a dead man. He couldn’t speak, he was shocked and stunned and shattered and broken. An incredible experience. He could have that parlayed that into a career, the man who heard the voice of God…the man who saw the glory of God unveiled in the person of Christ. Incredible experience. He could have gone on the road with James and John because they saw it.
Did he build his theology on that? Let’s go to verse 19, 2 Peter 1, “So we have the prophetic word, more sure. We have the prophetic word, more sure…more sure than what? More sure than that experience, to which you do well to pay attention. It is the prophetic Word that is a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star himself arises. But know this first of all, that no prophecy in this Word of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Does Peter build his theology on his experience? No. What does he build his theology on? On Scripture. A better rendering of the Greek text in verse 19 would be this, “We have the even more sure prophetic Word.”
The King James is good, “We have a more sure Word.” More sure than what? “Than a valid experience,” to say nothing of an invalid one. Peter was saying, in effect, that although the Transfiguration was an astonishing experience, Scripture is a far more trustworthy verification of truth. All experience is superseded by the more sure Word of Scripture. I will tell you this, Peter would never be a Charismatic…never…never. Because you can’t rely even on a valid experience. You must base everything on the revealed Word of God.
One man said on television he was driving in his car, suddenly looked and Jesus was sitting next to him. And then he said this, quote: “It was wonderful. I drove along and just talked with Jesus and He was sitting right beside me. And if you have enough faith, you can talk with Jesus, He will appear to you.” Really? I don’t think Peter would do that or say that because it was Peter that wrote this, 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
And it’s not just uninformed immature Charismatics who say things like this. One of the most famous pastors said to me personally, Charismatic pastor, “Jesus comes into the bathroom, puts His arm around me and we talk while I’m shaving in the morning.” And then he paused to measure my reaction. He said, “Do you believe this?” I said no, I do not believe it. But what troubles me is I think you believe it.
And he said, “Why is it so hard for you to accept the idea that Jesus visits me in a personal way every morning?” I thought to myself, does he keep shaving? I would cut myself to ribbons. Does he collapse in fear and trembling? Does he cry out like Peter…let’s stick with Peter…when he saw Jesus command the fish, Luke 5, what did he say? “Depart from me for I’m a sinful man.” Go away, I can’t stand Your holy presence.
Another very well-known Charismatic wrote a book on Miraculous Healing, he says, “It may confidently be anticipated as the present apostasy increases that Christ will manifest His deity and Lordship in increasing measure through miracle signs, including healings. We are not to say, therefore, that the Word is sufficient. Stop saying that. Not sufficient.
So at the core of this whole system is a denial of Scripture’s sufficiency. And even more, Scripture is not where you go to find the truth. You proof-text with the Scripture your experience. Really frightening. Did the disciples have experience? Oh yes they did. On the road to Emmaus, their heart burned within them, didn’t it? I was talking about emotion. Why? Because He opened the Scripture to them and their heart burned.
Well what about Paul, was Paul a Charismatic? If Paul showed up today, would he be a Charismatic? Would he be on TBN, would we have to listen to him there? He had a fantastic experience. Really, I mean what an experience. He’s on the Damascus Road and he’s headed to rest and persecute Christians and he’s knocked flat and he’s got a mouthful of dirt, he goes blind. Jesus confronts him, speaks to him. Devastating, instantly changed from a killer of Christians into a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Did he use that experience? Did he make that the basis of his message? Listen to Acts 17:2 and 3. According to Paul’s custom, he went to them and for three Sabbaths, reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead and saying, “This Jesus who I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” He could have said, “Let me tell you about Him. He’s alive cause I saw Him.” He didn’t say that. He went to the Scripture to prove the resurrection.
And then, if you will for a moment, turn to 2 Corinthians 12. I’m not going to be able to cover everything, I thought I might. But 2 Corinthians 12, verse 2, Paul pushes this whole thing away. But he’s defending his apostleship. “I know a man in Christ,” he’s reluctant to say it’s him, “who 14 years ago whether in the body, I don’t know, or out of the body, I don’t know, God knows, such a man was caught up to the third heaven.” “I don’t even know what that was,” he says. “I don’t know what it was. I got caught up into the third heaven. And I know how such a man whether in the body or apart from the body, I don’t know.” So that’s the second time he says in two verses. Please don’t ask me for more information, I don’t know what it was. I can’t explain it. God knows. He says it twice.
“This man was caught up into paradise and heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak. On behalf of such a man, I will boast but on my own behalf, I will not boast, except in regard to my weakness.”
You know, I could boast about that amazing experience, but I would rather boast about my weakness. I would rather boast about my weakness. And what I saw, I’m not allowed to speak.” Why? Because it’s not verifiable, it’s not repeatable. God gave it to Paul as an affirmation in the midst of his dire suffering. God gave to Paul before there was a New Testament, comfort through an experience, but now comes to us through Scripture. Paul reasoned. Even at the end of the book of Acts, 28:23, he kept reasoning out of God’s Word. As a prisoner in Rome, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers, he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the Kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning until evening. He never closed his Bible. Let me tell that lady, I’m going to keep my Bible open because Paul never closed his. Charismatics don’t follow the road of Paul and Peter. They travel a road frequented by liberals, by neo-orthodox theologians, by existentialists, humanists, pagans. They do it unwittingly but they nonetheless do it.
They are literally in the same zone that neo-orthodoxy is in. What do the neo-orthodox say? This is what is their mantra, the Bible becomes God’s Word when it speaks to you. It isn’t of itself God’s Word, so let me make a little distinction. Liberalism says the Bible is not the Word of God. It’s a religious book, written by men. It’s their musings about God. It may be true, maybe not. That’s liberalism. Neo-orthodoxy backs off of that a little bit and says, “The Bible can become the Word of God. It isn’t in itself the Word of God, but it becomes the Word of God and it can become the Word of God when it speaks to you.” That’s the new orthodoxy, that’s…somebody in liberalism saying, “We can’t live with the fact that this is not the Word of God at all, we don’t have religion then. All we have is another book.” So backing off, they wanted to create a new-orthodoxy, hence neo-orthodoxy. Carl Bart, German theologian, who says, “No, no, it is the Word of God, not in itself but it becomes the Word of God when it speaks to you.” Well that’s the view of Charismatics. You can find that in the writings of people like Charles Ferra(?) that there is the logos which…the logos is simply the words on the page. The rhema which is another word for word, is when it speaks to you. That neo-orthodox idea dominates the Charismatic Movement.
But Paul would tell us that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness and ultimately makes the man of God perfect. I’m not questioning the sincerity of Charismatics. They’re just sincerely wrong. They have zeal without knowledge, remember Paul’s indictment to the Jews in Romans 10:2? They have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. You can’t approach the Christian life without your mind, without reason, without thinking, without the Scripture. You can’t depend upon your own experience or somebody else’s experience. This is mysticism. This is another form of existentialism.
You say, “What is existentialism?” It’s a philosophy that says life is meaningless and absurd in and of itself, and you put meaning into it. You’re free to do whatever you want because you create your own meaning. That’s existentialism. Truth is whatever grabs you. Truth is whatever you want it to be. It’s a post-modern idea. Existentialism says life is meaningless and absurd in and of itself unless you infuse it with whatever meaning and truth you want to put into it. Well that essentially is what the Charismatic Movement does. It’s also humanism. Humanism is the philosophy that humanity is the ultimate power. Humanity is the ultimate potential. Time, education, experience, self-authenticates, all truth is relative. What matters is what you think, that’s humanism. And paganism is another illustration of experiential theology.
Paganism starts with the mystery religions is just trying to create mystical, transcendent experiences without objective truth. Experiential theology was at the heart of Baal worship. The emphasis of Baal was on psychological relatedness and subjective experience, says one writer, the transcendents of the deity was overcome in the ecstasy of feeling. Baalism is worship reduced to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting. Yahwehism, Old Testament Judaism, established a form of worship which was centered in the proclamation of the Word of the Covenant God. The appeal was made to the mind and the will. Man’s rational intelligence was roused to attention as he was called upon to respond as a person to the will of God. And Yahwehism, everything was said, words which called men to serve and love and act and obey responsibly and decide. The distinction between the worship of Baal and the worship of Yahweh is a distinction between approaching the will of the Covenant God, which could be understood and known and obeyed, and the blind life force in nature which could only be felt, absorbed and imitated.
Extreme emphasis on experience in the Charismatic Movement is perilously close to neo-Baalism. With all of this in view, Christianity is in danger. We are victimized by an experiential approach, mysticism, existentialism, humanism, paganism are over-running Christianity everywhere and the new theologian abandons the intellectual, the rational, the historic, the objective. And by the way, they condemn us for our adherence to it and we’re right back to where we started. Get rid of your books and your Bible, they say, cause the only real test is experience and we’ve had the experience and you haven’t. So you have nothing to say to us.
This is how substantially foundational this subject is for us. When you think of the Charismatic Movement, this is where you start thinking. Not about something out on the periphery in terms of behavior. Theology is never an explanation of someone’s experience. It is a revelation from God…a revelation from God.
Let me give you one other footnote and I’ll stop. You can’t possibly grow in grace if you’re a Christian, through your experience. Your experience has no power. John 17:17, “Sanctify them by Thy truth, Thy Word is truth.” If you’re bouncing from one experience to another, to another, to another, to another, you are not moving in the direction of Christ’s likeness and sanctification. This is a serious counterfeit and the impact that its had has really been devastated. It obliterates, in many cases, the gospel because people are looking for a gospel experience.
I’ll close with this. I did a radio program, Q & A, and there was a woman who was the afternoon talk show host and this was a Charismatic Christian radio station. And I use the word sanctification in answering some questions she asked me and she said, “Well, what does that mean?” And I thought, “Whoa, she’s…she’s, you know, like three hours every afternoon answering people’s question and she doesn’t know what that means. So I began to realize through the question and answer that she didn’t know a lot of things that she should have known. So in the break I said to her, “Can I ask you a personal question?” She said, “Yeah, of course.”
I said, “How did you become a Christian? How did you…how did you become saved?”
She said, “Wow, man, it was really cool.” This is almost a direct quote. “One day I got Jesus’ phone number and we’ve been connected ever since.”
I said, “Could you explain what that means, that you got Jesus’ phone number and you’ve been connected ever since?”
She said, “What do you mean explain? How would you explain the gospel?” she said.
And I said, “Here’s how I would explain the gospel.” And in this three or four minute break, I explained the gospel to which she responded, “O come on, you don’t have to go through all that, do you?”
This is a talk-show host, five days a week, three hours a day answering people’s spiritual questions on a Christian radio station. If you don’t think this is pervasive, you’re missing reality. This is pervasive. And if you wonder why we’re addressing the subject, maybe you’ll have a better understanding of it now. And I can say this as well, be grateful the Lord has put you in an environment where the Word of God is exalted, right? And lifted up. (Applause)
Look, that applause goes to the Lord who is the source of this. I’m one of us. I’m glad to be here, too. I think the Lord made me a preacher because He knew I’d have to take the hardest hit from every passage because I’d have to spend the most time in it. And that’s okay by me.
Well I could say a lot more. That’s what preachers say when they run out of notes. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank You for a wonderful time today, wonderful fellowship, the joy of being with each other, and celebrating our loving union in Christ. Thank You for dear friends, and thank You for the flock here with fellow shepherds and all of Your children who make up our family. Thank You for Your Word, what can we say? Thank You for showing us the truth, enlightening us. Thank You for the Holy Spirit’s mighty work through the Word in teaching us the truth. Open the hearts of all of us, Lord, to Your Word. And, Lord, we pray that You will do a work to bring the truth in the midst of all this confusion. May the Word spread so that You might be honored because You have exalted Your Word even as high as Your name, Psalm 138. No one really honors You who doesn’t honor Your Word as supreme. Your supreme and Your Word is supreme, for Your Word is Your will expressed and revealed. Give us an increasing love and knowledge of that Word and we thank You in our Savior’s name. Amen.
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