We’re going to embark upon a study of the charismatic movement, the contemporary charismatic movement that surrounds us in the evangelical church. Back in 1977, to be exact, I preached a series on the movement, or maybe a little bit even before that year. But a book came from it which I spent 1977 writing. That book was entitled The Charismatics. And now we are about a dozen or more years beyond that publication and I felt that it’s time for an update, and from this series will come another book entitled Charismatic Chaos.
I believe that book will be released sometime after the first of next year. So many Christians are confused by the theology and the experiences of charismatic people. And they have become so visible because of Christian television, radio, books, magazines, and because their ministries are so aggressive that we all are inundated by them through direct mail. Television and the media has spread this movement. It has created for them a tremendous platform.
In fact, it is probably not far from the truth to say that most people would assume that evangelical Christianity is what the charismatic movement represents, because it is such an exposed movement. But we must deal with it in line with 1 Thessalonians 5:21, and that is to examine it carefully to determine what is true and what is not. Now, as we embark upon this examination, I want you to know at the very outset that I love my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and I have no intent to convey anything other than love for them.
I think in the movement, there are many who are not genuinely saved; I’m equally concerned about their salvation. My purpose is not to debate them, pitting our theology against theirs, but to call them to the test of Scripture; to drop what Amos called “the plumb line” to see if they are straight with the Word of God. Now, I have to say at the very outset that a rather powerful intimidation factor works against those who wish to deal with this movement biblically.
To critique charismatic doctrine or practice is commonly viewed as inherently unloving, inherently unkind, inherently divisive and even blasphemous. I have personally been accused of blaspheming the Holy Spirit by calling this movement to the test of Scripture. Anybody who wants to answer the movement, to confront the movement, to measure it by Scripture, can be intimidated. Because it is very hard, then, to find a platform to speak about the movement, it runs almost rampant like wildfire.
Charismatic extremists can promote almost any idea they choose, on television, or on radio or in their books, and those who attempt to examine those in the light of Scripture are muzzled. I’ve been waiting for many years on one of these charismatic television talk shows to hear the host say, “That’s not true. That is not true. That is not in the Word of God. We will not accept that. You cannot verify that by Scripture.” That never happens, no matter what is said.
It can be the most bizarre thing imaginable. It can be the most whimsical, the most self-generated interpretation of Scripture or experience, and no one ever stops and says, “Hold it, that’s error. That’s heresy. That’s not true.” The number one book on the Christian book-selling list right now, this month, the latest one, is a misrepresentation of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is number one because so many Christians across America are buying it.
It is not a time to speak against this movement unless you want some flack, and so I’m getting ready for it, I guess. But I am duty-bound to assess everything according to the Word of God. Our radio program, Grace To You, is heard on a network of 200 stations, being broadcast about 600 different times a day, and there are satellites that take it to even more stations. Nearly all of the stations that we are on, and all of the broadcasting mediums that we use, would share our doctrinal perspective.
They would share out doctrinal commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. Yet most of them back out at broadcasting any series on passages that confront charismatic error. Most of them would agree not only on the sufficiency of Scripture, but they would probably even agree on our theology with regard to the Holy Spirit, signs, wonders, miracles and tongues, but they simply do not want to offend. Here is a typical letter - and I’m quoting - written to us.
“Please reconsider your policy of dealing with the charismatic movement and other controversial topics on your radio broadcast. Though we share your convictions on these issues, many of our listeners do not. These people are dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and we do not feel it is helpful to the cause of Christ to attack what they believe. We’re committed to keeping peace among brethren and unity in the Body of Christ. Thank you for being sensitive to these concerns.”
It is not helpful to the cause of Christ to attack error anymore; that’s what it says. It is not helpful for these dear brothers and sisters in Christ to attack what they believe, even though it is wrong. It is more helpful - under this philosophy - to let them remain in error. We are committed to keeping peace, even if peace means error, and finding unity, even if unity means heresy. Thank you for being sensitive to our desire to maintain heresy if it must be maintained for the sake of unity.
Apparently, these people, while being dear brothers and sisters, are not dear enough to deserve to be taught the truth. Does real Christian love leave them in a spiritually debilitating error, thus out of God’s will, and out of the place of blessing, misrepresenting God’s sacred truth? Is that love that calls us to do that? But this is the kind of thinking that pervades the church. In effect, it has given charismatic extremists the freedom to propound fantastic views, while imposing a code of silence on all who object.
The legacy of such an attitude is not unity, and the legacy of such an attitude is not peace, believe me; it is confusion, it is turmoil, and it is chaos. How so? Churches, mission agencies, schools and other Christian organizations that have tried to maintain unity by not confronting charismatic influence, and thus allowing it to come in and never be dealt with, ultimately will all have to sacrifice their non-charismatic position or split the organization.
It does not bring unity, it brings the exact opposite, because inevitably, you have the haves - the charismatics who feel they’ve reached a higher level - and the have-nots, and you have pitted two theologies against each other; one gives in or it splits. It is not unkind to analyze Christians’ doctrinal differences in the light of Scripture. That is not unkind, that is kind. We have a mandate from God to do this, even if it involves rebuking certain people by name, because they are so well known.
The apostle Paul, writing in Philippians 4, says, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” And then he says, “True comrade, help those women.” He identifies two cantankerous, trouble-making, disagreeable women in the congregation who were to be publicly rebuked for all time, because their names have occupied a place in the permanent record. In 1 Timothy chapter 1 and verse 20, Paul identifies Hymenaeous and Alexander, whom he had delivered over to Satan that may be taught not to blaspheme.
In 2 Timothy 2 and verse 17, he identified Hymenaeous and Philetus, who had gone astray from the truth and made up some kind of spiritual resurrection, upsetting the faith of some. In 3 John, that little epistle, he identifies another man by the name of Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them and doesn’t accept what we say. When it comes down to the integrity of the church, and when it comes down to what is right and what is true, the Scripture will even name people - publicly and for the record, to be eternally embedded in the pages of Scripture - who stand in the way of the movement of truth.
Real love, and real unity, and real peace are bound up with truth. Love apart from truth is hypocritical sentimentality, and that kind of thing, frankly, is at an epidemic level; a kind of sentimentality that does not want to confront truth. But remembering again the words of Ephesians 4:15, “We are to speak the truth in love. That’s how the body grows up in all aspects unto Him who is the Head, even Christ.” Criticizing the charismatic movement by Scriptural comparison should be welcomed, since truth - it pleases God - is the only concern that is valid.
Now, my purpose is not to mock; my purpose is simply to correct. In my first book, I was accused of using bizarre examples. That was not true, but some accused me of using bizarre examples of the charismatic movement. As I have accumulated data over the last number of years since that first book, and in going through that data more recently, I find that what we have now is even more bizarre, and yet still commonplace. More visible now, more common now, with no end in sight.
When I was driving through the city of Dallas on Friday, I noticed a number of huge billboards on all sides of the city - and I was trekking back and forth in meetings. They were advertising the name of a man, Robert Tilton. Robert Tilton preaches every Sunday in Dallas, and he will mail you a miracle coin - which, by the way, is actually worthless - but it’s a miracle coin. He has mailed them to hundreds of thousands of people, promising them a financial miracle if they will send him “a check for the best possible gift you can give.”
And then there is a reminder in this mailing: “Only you and God know what your best gift is.” A little intimidation there - if you’ll send, for him, the best gift you can give, you’ll get a miracle coin that guarantees you a miracle. The secular paper calls Tilton’s television program, “the fastest-growing empire in religious television.” The things that he promises and says are absolutely bizarre, and yet the bizarre has become the commonplace.
An associate of mine attended a charismatic businessman’s meeting in Chicago where a Catholic priest testified that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had given him the gift of tongues while he was saying his rosary. Then the charismatic pastor leading the meeting rose and said, and I quote, “What an amazing testimony that is. Aren’t you glad God isn’t bound by any ideas of what’s doctrinally acceptable?” He went on. “Some people would try to dismiss this brother’s testimony just because it doesn’t jive with their doctrinal system.
“But how you get filled with the Holy Ghost doesn’t matter, as long as you know you’ve got the baptism. Even if you’ve got it from Mary, while saying your rosary, it has to be legitimate.” The audience, by the way, numbering in the hundreds, broke into wild affirmation and applause. It is too easy to say that any critique of this movement is unfair and unkind. It is too easy to say that and silence the non-charismatic, and leave people in confusion, and let the movement spread unchecked even more and more and more, and then become exempt from biblical criticism.
Beloved, I want to tell you, it is all over the globe; all over the globe. Everywhere I go in the world I find that they have been making massive inroads. I was talking to a man in our church this morning who had, for a number of years worshiped here and then returned to his native Scotland, living just out of Edinburgh. And I said, “Have you found a church?” and he said, “Well, yes we have.” And I said, “Is it one of the Scottish Baptist churches?” knowing that most of the Scottish Presbyterian churches long gone liberal - with, of course, some exceptions.
He said, “No, it’s not a Baptist church.” He said, “For the most part, the Baptist churches have moved into the charismatic movement.” Scotland. It is a major problem in Eastern Europe, and will continue to be one. It is a problem in Australia. It is a problem in Asia. It is a problem of massive proportions in Latin America. It is everywhere, confusing millions of people. The Russian church now is waiting patiently for the finishing of this book.
And they want the manuscript even before the American publisher publishes it, because they desperately need it translated into the Russian language and distributed immediately in the Soviet Union, because of the rampant confusion about these matters. Fantastic encounters with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are claimed as commonplace. Personal messages from God are routine. Healings of all kinds are claimed. Miracles occur - everything from puppies being raised from the dead, washing machines being healed, empty gas tanks and teeth are filled - not with the same thing.
People are slain in the Holy Spirit. People go to heaven, go to hell, come back. There are some today who even say that the church can’t do effective evangelism without such phenomena, without such signs and wonders and miracles. The gospel, they say, is weak without signs and wonders - and this is the emphasis, by the way, of what is called “the third wave.” Charismatics say if you’re not in the movement, you have no right to evaluate the movement.
Howard Irvin, a Baptist pastor, wrote some years ago, “The attempt to interpret the charismatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit without a charismatic experience is as fatuous as the application of the Christian ethic apart from a regenerate dynamic. Understanding of spiritual truth is predicated on spiritual experience. The Holy Spirit does not reveal spiritual secrets to the uncommitted.” And there is the ploy they use: “Well, we would expect you to be against it, since you haven’t had the experience.”
That is Gnosticism; that is believing that you’ve been elevated to a higher level of comprehension, in which the uninitiated have no understanding. Rodman Williams - who has written a number of books and was once the president of a local charismatic school, and I quote - said, “Any vital information concerning the gifts of the Spirit, the pneumatic charismata, presupposes a participation in them. Without such a participation, whatever is said about the gifts may only result in confusion and error.”
If you haven’t had it, you have no right to talk about it. One pastor said to me, “You talk exactly like one who never had the experience. You’re speaking out of ignorance.” I wonder if they feel that way about talking about heaven, hell, murder, adultery, homosexuality, and numerous other subjects. Do we have to have that experience, too? My experience and your experience is not the test or proof of biblical truth; it is the reverse. Biblical truth must validate or invalidate any experience.
Doctrinally, it is almost impossible to define the charismatic movement; it almost resists theology. It resists categorization because it has such a wide and growing spectrum of viewpoints. If they don’t rightly divide the word of God, they’re not going to come to a proper systematic theology. If they determine what is true because of their own experiences, then there is no limit to the theology.
It will take whatever form experience takes, and so what you have is a very amorphous kind of volatile, changing system of beliefs, that ebbs and flows, and rises and falls, and refuses to find any structure. The charismatic movement is achieving - by the way - what the liberal ecumenical movement tried for years to achieve, and that is a unity that is indifferent to doctrinal truth. And so, I say, there is intimidation as we approach this study, because we’re not supposed to have a right to do this since we haven’t had the experience.
We’re not supposed to do it because it isn’t loving, and it isn’t gracious, and it doesn’t make for unity. And so, I just want you to know that I acknowledge the effort to intimidate, and I reject that. I do not believe, furthermore, that I have to have some kind of experiences in order to understand what the Bible says about them. I haven’t walked on water, but I can understand what it says when it says that Jesus did. Doctrinally, we must have structure; we must have sound doctrine.
We cannot fall prey to a system that resists any doctrinal categorization. But see, once you allow experience to be the test of truth, then you can’t limit doctrine to the pages of Scripture. Now, just a brief history. Historically, the charismatic movement is the child of the Pentecostal movement. That began about 1900, and it went along for about 60 years, and the Pentecostal churches were primarily the Assemblies of God, the Four-Square Church, and then there were some other smaller groups - the United Pentecostal Church and so forth.
But they were basically off to themselves, and people used to call them the “Holy Rollers”. They were a kind of unique group that did not mainstream at all in evangelical Christianity because of their strange beliefs. In 1960, a remarkable thing happened. In 1960, not far from here - in St. Mark’s Episcopal church in Van Nuys, California - Rector Dennis Bennett supposedly got the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And what happened was, Pentecostalism jumped out of its own box and landed in Episcopalianism, and for the first time it transcended its denomination definitions.
Since that time, it has moved through the major denominations like a flood. It went beyond historical Pentecostal denominations, and has continued to do that. That second movement is called the “charismatic movement.” They borrowed that concept of charismatic because it’s associated with the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the believer. But the charismatic movement can’t be defined doctrinally. Why? Because it involves Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, anybody and everybody, so it resists and has resisted any kind of doctrinal definition that is too rigid.
What they all hold in common is an experience, which they will call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” And they – wrongly - define the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a post-salvation experience that adds something to your Christian life that you previously didn’t have, and is usually accompanied by signs and wonders, most particularly speaking in tongues - and we’re going to talk much more about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues at a later time.
But once you’ve had that experience, you have sort of jumped into this new level of spiritual awareness, and you have reached the level of the charismatics. Without this experience, a Christian is second-class, so you have the spiritual haves and the spiritual have-nots. I remember being sent a tape of a talk radio program by Walter Martin when he was still alive, and he was interviewing Rodman Williams at the time. And for some reason, they got to talking about me because I had written a book on the charismatics - and both of them were certainly favorable to the charismatic movement.
And they were discussing what I had said in the book, and how that I really didn’t understand the movement, and Rodman Williams on the tape said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing: I don’t know who this man is, but God will never bless his life or his ministry.” And there was a moment of silence, to which Walter Martin simply replied - because he knew me and he knew the ministry – “I think you’ve gone too far in saying that.” But – but the bottom line is, that’s what they have to say, because if you haven’t reached that second level, then you’re not participating in the fullness of the spirit of God.
That’s very intimidating to some Christians. No miracles in your life. No spectacular revelations. Jesus never comes and talks to you. No signs, no wonders. What’s wrong with you? I am convinced that these experiences are real, in the sense that maybe they have some emotional reaction, or maybe there is something that they are feeling at the time, but that they do not follow a biblical pattern. They are not authored by God, and they do not lift someone to a higher level.
And what that means, then, is, that since they’re not really true, in terms of moving people into genuine spirituality - since they do not increase your understanding of the Word or your true knowledge of God - they lead, then, to the need to exaggerate, dramatize or even invent experiences just to keep up with everybody’s expectations, and just to be spiritual. One nationally known television charismatic evangelist was recently discovered using a hidden receiver in his ear - you remember that, a man named Popov - through which his wife was broadcasting information supposedly being revealed to him by the Holy Spirit as he stood in front of the audience.
Another healer was using the same phony plants in the crowd in every city, and re-healing the same bunch from city to city to city to city. Terrible sex scandals abound in the ostensibly spirit-filled charismatic leaders’ circles. Sexual scandals seem epidemic and catastrophic. Admittedly, that can happen in any group, but you would think it would happen less, not more, in those that have reached the higher level of spirituality, wouldn’t you?
Such scandals reveal the fact that pursuing signs, and pursuing wonders, and chasing spectacular experience, and speaking in tongues, and reaching some plain of esoteric mystical feelings has led some leaders not only to be fraudulent - to be fake - but to miss the path to true spirituality, and consequently to be on the path of moral disaster. You see, false standards of spirituality don’t restrain the flesh. Fundamental teachings of the charismatic movement create an emphasis on the external, and they foster bogus claims, false prophets, and other forms of what I guess we could call spiritual humbug.
Now, some of the people are sincere, but in the pursuit of experiences, and emotions, and miracles, and signs and wonders, they begin to imagine all kinds of things, and to falsify all kinds of things. And I also believe that Satan invades with his deceptions. Well, that just gives you a little feeling of what we’re going to be dealing with. I want to ask one question tonight and briefly answer it, that will take us into the flow of this subject.
The first and foremost thing for us to consider is this question: is experience a valid test of truth? I know you know the answer to that, but I want to help frame it up so you can understand it fully. Is experience a valid test of truth? A woman wrote to me, seething with anger. This is what she said in her letter. “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 gifts of tongues. You have no right to question something you’ve never experienced.” Such an attitude prevails in the movement - the tendency to gauge truth by personal experience. Now, what about experience? Is there such a thing as a true spiritual experience? Sure. A true spiritual experience will be the result - listen carefully - will be the result of the quickening of truth in the Christian’s mind; and I’ll sum it up that way, and I don’t know any other, better way to say it.
A true spiritual experience would be the result of the quickening of truth in the Christian’s mind. In other words, the Spirit all of a sudden gives dramatic life to a truth. It does not occur in a mystical vacuum. In an authentic spiritual experience, there are emotions, and feelings, and senses; and I want you to know that I believe that, and I understand that. I have some absolutely exhilarating spiritual experiences. And I have some very difficult experiences; very sad and heart-wrenching experiences.
But - and I’m not talking about an emotional experience, or an earthly experience, some kind of worldly thing - I’m talking about a spiritual experience. I have them, and I hope you have them. God has given us our emotions so that we can respond to His truth. But I do not have an experience that is godly that leads me to truth in a vacuum; I have an experience in response to truth. Let me show you what I mean. Here is one kind of spiritual experience: strong feelings of remorse over sin.
Have you had that experience? You go along in life, fairly even-keel. You go along fairly happy and content and satisfied, and you’ve got the ability to balance your sorrow with your joy and keep sort of your head above water. But there are times in your life when you have felt strong remorse over your sin. That is an experience that was generated by the truth of the Word of God quickened to your heart by the Holy Spirit, right? That was the case in Luke 18:13, where the man who was the publican was in the corner of the temple beating on his breast, crying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Why? Having been exposed to the truth about his sin, his spirit was quickened, and he had an experience of conviction. He had an experience of remorse. He had a tearful experience of repentance. Another kind of spiritual experience you might have would be an almost inexplicable sense of trust in God in the midst of a traumatic situation; an almost inexplicable sense of trust in God - peace, calm - in the midst of a traumatic situation.
I remember taking off in an airplane from LAX, and when we were barely off the ground - maybe 100 feet - an engine blew up. Now, that is what I call a traumatic situation. We had to go in a circle, dump fuel over the ocean, and come back and land again - and then get out and get another plane. But in the process, it was amazing - the reality of the moment, the whole plane is shaking, everybody has heard the noise, everybody knows something dramatic has occurred, and to all of a sudden, be literally overwhelmed - the first question came into my mind was, “Lord, are You sure this is the right plane? This is me - I’m on this one,” you know?
That’s my first response, and then I said, “No, no, the Lord knows the - He’s got an OAG guide. He knows the airline schedule.” And in the middle of that kind of trauma, I was overcome with a mighty sense of trust in the sovereignty of God, and a perfect peace that came over me, and I began to even anticipate the realities of heaven. Maybe – maybe - that is a common experience at some point in time, in the life of any faithful true believer.
In Acts chapter 16, it was that kind of experience that the apostle Paul had with Silas. They were put in stocks - that means their limbs were stretched to the limit and locked in at a stretch point. Their legs were pulled as far apart as they could go, like a wishbone, and then stuck in the stocks and locked there, so that the muscle pain would be indescribable, unimaginable. Their arms, the same way. And there they were, locked, awaiting their execution, and it says they were praying and singing hymns of praise to God.
That’s a spiritual experience, where the spirit of God has quickened to their hearts the great reality that their God is near, their God loves them, God is in control of everything, and that confidence gives them a song to sing in the night. That’s an experience. Maybe - maybe there are times when you have had an overpowering peace in the midst of trouble that made your spirit totally calm like that. Certainly, Paul had it. He said, “I’ve learned in whatsoever state I am to be content.”
And he said, “If you just learn to go to the Lord with everything, he’ll give you perfect peace. Be anxious for nothing but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made know unto God, and the of God peace” - right - “will grant to you His peace.” Even in the face of death, there is an overwhelming joy and peace that can come over us. Stephen is there under the bloody stones as they crush out his life: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. Don’t blame them for this.” Quietly he reposes in rest.
And then there is that - that other kind of spiritual experience, that Paul had in Romans 9:1-3, where he said, “I have such a deep and profound longing and sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart for the salvation of Israel that I could almost wish myself accursed if it could mean their redemption.” You had that experience. Have you ever wept over the lost? I remember one time as a little boy - the first time it ever hit me.
I was sitting at a campfire, and I became overwhelmed after hearing a message about lost people - I think I was about 12 - and I couldn’t control the tears, and I just began to weep over the lostness of people. That was a spiritual experience, as the Spirit of God quickened to my heart something true from His Word: the lostness of man, the sovereignty of God in the midst of my trouble, the great peace that He gives, confidence in His care, repentance and remorse over my sin - all of those kinds of things.
On the other hand, have you ever rejoiced to the point where you can almost not contain your joy because somebody you love so much had come to Christ? That’s a spiritual experience. Have you ever just contemplated the glory of God, and found yourself singing hymns to Him in praise because you were so exhilarated? Have you ever gone into a ministry, and knowing that the Spirit of God was on you and you were going to go preach His truth, felt that you couldn’t wait to get there? And when you got there, you thought you might tear the pulpit to pieces because of the joy, the exhilaration, of what you were about to do?
I don’t want anybody to think for a moment that I don’t have a spiritual experience. People sometimes think I’m sort of cold and calculating, but I’m very emotional about those things. Spiritual experience, by definition, is an internal feeling; it is an internal feeling that involves strong emotion in response to God’s truth, amplified by the Spirit and applied to me personally. That’s a true spiritual experience. Now, what is a false spiritual experience? That’s the experience that supposedly leads me to the truth: “this must be true, because look what I experienced.” That’s backwards.
The charismatic movement errs because it tends to build its teaching on experience; as John Wimber said, “We’re cataloging all of our experiences, so we can develop a theology.” They do not understand that authentic experience happens in response to truth, and anything that doesn’t square up with the revealed truth of the Word of God is not authentic, not of God. Too many of their experiences are detached from truth, and they lead to false conclusions.
I spent a couple of hours with a prominent well-known charismatic pastor last Sunday afternoon. I asked him a number of questions, and every time I asked him a question, he answered me with an experience. Visions, dreams, prophecies, words of knowledge, private messages from God, are the real authority in that movement, and Scripture, when used at all, is typically employed for proof texts, or twisted to fit some novel opinion. And many Scriptures, beloved, are literally mauled.
Kenneth Copeland was teaching on Mark 10, the rich young ruler - and of course, Kenneth Copeland teaches that Jesus wants everybody rich. Jesus wants everybody healthy, wealthy, prosperous; big house, big car, big wardrobe, big bank account. It’s hard to teach that from the rich young ruler, because Jesus said to him, “Sell all you have, give to the poor, come and follow me.” It doesn’t fit too well in that text, so how’s he going to handle it? Well, he twisted the text to make it seem to say that God wants his people wealthy.
Jesus’ words in verse 21 are very clear, Mark 10: “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Turn in your worldly treasure for heavenly treasure. Here’s Copeland’s comment, and I quote: “This was the biggest financial deal that young man had ever been offered. But he walked away from it because he didn’t know God’s system of finance.” What? What he’s trying to imply there is, that if he’d have given away everything, God would have made him richer. It doesn’t say that.
The claims these people make just go on and on. I don’t know if you’ve read about Percy Collett, a charismatic medical missionary? Claims that in 1982 he was transported to heaven for five and a half days. A newsletter describes the story: “While Christianity abounds with accounts of glimpses of the other dimension from those who have had out of body experience, Dr. Collett’s is unlike these. Obviously, he was caught up in the third heaven, even as Paul was; the difference being, Paul was not allowed to utter the things he saw and heard, while Dr. Collett was.
“Collett offers video tapes detailing his sojourn in heaven, and his accounts are peculiar indeed. Quote, ‘Everything God created on the earth is in heaven - horses, cats, dogs. Everything that He created upon earth is in heaven, in the way of animals, only these are perfect. For example, the dogs don’t bark.’ Further, he says, ‘You don’t need plumbing. You can go to the banqueting house and eat all you want, and no plumbing is needed.’
“Collett then describes the pity department. ‘The pity department is place the souls of aborted babies go, and also some severely retarded babies, and it is here that these little souls are trained for a period of time before they go before the Throne of God.’ Then he claims he saw the record room, an immense area where all the idle words that are spoken by Christians are being retained until after Christians give an account of them or are judged, at which time these will be emptied into the sea of forgetfulness.’
“Collette then describes the garment room, where angels are sewing our robes, and mansions under construction, and he found a Holy Ghost elevator, and many other astonishing sights. He adds one macabre detail: ‘While I was traveling back to earth, I saw two girls, one brunette and one a redhead. We stopped to talk to them - that is, their soul bodies - on the way back. We asked them, what had happened to them? They indicated they had gotten killed in a car accident on the California Highway, and their physical bodies were in a funeral home.
“‘They said their mother was weeping over them, so would I please tell her they were ok?’ Dr. Collette feels that he has conclusive proof to verify that tale. ‘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; we saw them on the way to heaven. She said she would never cry again.’
“After Dr. Collette lectured on heaven to his third straight standing-room-only audience in Montgomery, Alabama, he offered to take questions from the floor. The first question was something I admit I had never contemplated. The question was, ‘I’m a cowboy. Will there be rodeos in Heaven?’ Dr. Collette was ready with an answer: ‘There are horses in heaven, beautiful horses that are all praising God. There is no foolishness in heaven. I am not saying that a rodeo is foolish, but there is no Will Rogers-style acting up there.’”
Just the silliness of these kinds of things that find their way into print. By the way, excursions to heaven and back have become almost chic in that movement - the ultimate experience for those who want something unusual - and many say that they have made the trip. On April 11, 1977, a charismatic television network in Los Angeles carried an interview with Dr. Richard Eby, who claimed to have died, gone to heaven and come back again. “According to Dr. Eby, he fell off a balcony, struck his head and was supposedly dead.
“He reported he experienced paradise. His formerly weak eyes needed no glasses; now he could see for a hundred miles. His body took on a wonderful quality. He could move anywhere at will; he was visible yet transparent. Dr. Eby said he found some flowers, broke them off, and noticed they had no water in their stems, because Jesus is the living water. The aroma of heaven was especially overwhelming with the sweet savor of sacrifices, Eby said. He discussed the fact that the human brain has 12 cranial nerves, and then added that those 12 nerves represent the 12 tribes of Israel.
“Furthermore, he said that the number-one nerve in God’s cranium is the sense of smell. Eby said he learned that the whole purpose of sacrifice was to send a sweet aroma up to heaven to satisfy God’s main cranial nerve.” In regard, by the way - in regard to that kind of silliness - in regard to the twelve cranial nerves representing the twelve tribes of Israel, it would be just about as reasonable to say that because you have ten toes, the bottom half of your body has the image of the Beast, mentioned in Daniel chapter 2 and chapter 7.
By the way, I checked with a medical doctor on the 12 cranial nerves, and found that actually there are 12 pairs, which makes 24, so perhaps it would be better to say that they correspond to the 24 elders - and I know it’s hard to resist chuckling at these things because they are so foolish. The reason we chuckle is because we know it’s so far-fetched, it’s so strange. But, you see, charismatics have no way to judge, and they have no way to stop those kinds of things. They can’t stop that because the system validates experience, and the truth rises from the experience, and so, they spend their time trying to get the Bible to fit their experience.
Dudley Danielson, in the National Courier, a charismatic newspaper, ran an ad; this is the ad: “A genuine photograph of the Lord. Yes, I believe I have one recorded on film. In midsummer I awoke at 3:30 am to a strong voice thought impression: ‘Go and photograph my sunrise.’ Beside the river I set up my camera, waited for the sun, and that predawn I felt so very close to God, perfect peace. On one negative is the perfect shape of a figure, arms raised in blessing, as reflected in the water, exactly opposite every other shadow. I believe God gave me an image of Himself to share.”
The item is signed “Dudley Danielson, Photographer,” and you can get a picture of God for only $9.95. It doesn’t seem to bother Dudley that the Bible says, “No man has seen God at any time,” nor does it appear to matter to him that the Bible says, “God is Spirit,” and “No man can see Me and live.” It’s no different than people who think they see Jesus on a pizza billboard. Such extreme examples are not uncommon. In the November 1990 issue of Charisma Magazine, which is the most popular magazine in the movement, there is a claim by a lady named Aline Baxley, an ex-alcoholic and drug addict, who says she has been to hell, and God brought her back to tell her story.
Experience after experience is reported in the charismatic press, television, radio; a subtle but sinister pattern is developing. Instead of responding to a proper interpretation of God’s Holy Word, Christianity is collecting preposterous tales, producing a pseudo-Christian mysticism that’s more like Hinduism and the New Age than it is Biblical Christianity, and that’s why I quoted the woman who wrote me and said, “Put away your Bible, your books and stop studying.” Feelings are more important than the eternal Word of God; intuition surpasses interpretation.
This is a tragic thing. Now, in a quick conclusion. When we turn to the Scripture, does the Scripture validate experience as the proper source for truth? Look at 2 Peter - and I’ll just give you a couple of Scriptures because we have covered these. In 2 Peter 1:16, Peter says, “We did not follow cunningly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For 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.”
Stop at that point. Peter says, “Look, I am going to write in this second epistle about the second coming of Christ. I am going to write about His coming glory and His coming majesty. And I want you to know that I am not talking about something that I don’t know about, because this is not some tale that got passed down. I was an eyewitness, along with the other apostles, of His second coming power and glory.” When did you see it? “On the mountain.” What mountain? “The mount of” – what – “transfiguration.”
Matthew 17, Jesus took the disciples into a mountain, and He was transfigured before them, and they saw the shekinah glory of God. “We saw it! We were there! And the voice out of heaven, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.’” That is an amazing experience; an amazing experience. Peter said, “I had an experience. I saw the glorified Christ in His second coming majesty. I saw the shekinah glory shining through Him. I heard the voice of God, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.’”
You could make a career today out of just going around telling that experience. But look what he says - verse 19: “But we have a more sure word of prophecy” - “we have the even surer prophetic word,” is the proper translation. What is more sure than experience? The Word. Peter’s point is precisely the issue that many charismatics fail to understand. The pilgrimage from experience to experience, more and more spectacular, is not only frustrating, it is counterproductive spiritually.
Peter says, “I had an experience; a real one. But I have a more sure word than my own senses. I can’t even trust my own senses in a real experience of seeing the glory of Christ.” And so, he says, “We have a more sure word, and you do well to pay attention to that as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your heart.” Until Christ comes in His day, you better stick with the Word, because, verse 20 says, “It didn’t come by any private interpretation.”
It isn’t somebody’s experience, it isn’t somebody’s emotion, it isn’t what somebody feels. No. “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” If you want human experience articulated, you can have it. Peter says, “I’ll take the more sure word, the Word of God, not of human origin, not of human interpretation, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. I’ll take God’s Word over your word, or even mine.” Peter was no charismatic; no charismatic.
Psalm 19 - another Scripture that must be dealt with - in Psalm 19 verses 7 to 9, the Psalmist writes, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.” You have six titles for Scripture: it is called “the law of the Lord,” “the testimony of the Lord,” “the precepts of the Lord,” “the commandment of the Lord,” “the fear of the Lord,” and “the judgments of the Lord.”
Two of those in each of those three verses, Psalm 19:7-9. Now, you’ll notice this: he is talking then about the Scripture. He sees it as law: it is God’s law for man’s conduct. He sees it as testimony: it’s God’s personal testimony to who He is. He sees it as precepts, principles for life. He sees it as commandment: it is binding. He sees it as fear: that is, instruction on worship. He sees it as judgments, or verdicts from the divine bench on the destiny of man. Scripture is all of that.
But notice what the Scripture is in terms of its character: it is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true. You can trust it - all six of those characteristics. It is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and it’ll restore the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, endure forever, and produce comprehensive righteousness. That’s why Jesus said, “If they don’t believe the Word of God that came through the prophets, they won’t believe even though someone” - what? - “is raised from the dead.” He was, and they didn’t believe.
Miracles don’t make people believe. Signs and wonders don’t make people believe. They never did. If a man doesn’t believe the Word, he is not going to believe some experience. Look at John chapter 14, and see what Jesus said about whether experience is the issue. John 14:6: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.’ Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’” “Do a miracle, show us God.”
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and you haven’t come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’” What are you saying, “show us the Father” for? In other words, “I have told you all you need to know. You don’t need a sign and a wonder. You don’t need some mystical and ecstatic vision of God. I’ve told you all you need to know. I’ve demonstrated it in my life and my teaching.” Paul was no charismatic either, believe me; Paul was no charismatic. He made divine truth the beginning and the ending of his ministry; it was the preaching of the truth revealed to him by the Spirit of God.
Acts 17:2: “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 whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’” He was explaining the Scripture; he was delineating the Scripture. He had an experience - he went to heaven. But God said, “You’re not allowed to” - what? “You’re not allowed to talk about it. I don’t want anybody basing anything on your interpretation, on your experience.”
Paul never built his ministry on his visions, his experiences. He built it on what he knew was the revealed truth of God, and he called into question any experience that violated Scripture. The end of his ministry in the 28th chapter of Acts, we find him at lodge, and people were there in large numbers, “and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.”
He was in the Scripture trying to prove the truth from the pages of the Word of God. Charismatics - like Jews of Paul’s day - have zeal without knowledge, enthusiasm without enlightenment. They are often approaching truth without their minds, without thinking. Some even claim that God deliberately gives people unintelligible tongues in order to bypass and thus humble the proud human intellect. Beloved, this is a serious and tragic error.
Clark Pinnock once said, “We cannot allow these people to draw their theology out of their experience. Whenever the existential cart is put before the historical horse, theology becomes a synthesis of human superstitions, and putting LSD into the communion wine is fair play” – end quote - anything to induce an experience. Christianity is in serious danger, victimized by the experiential spirit of the day, the legacy of mysticism, and it must be tested by the Word of God.
We are going to do our best to do that, but at least you know from the start, experience is not the valid test for truth; the Word is, and your experience flows out of the ministry of the Spirit through the Word to your life. Let’s pray. Father, we thank You for letting us cover these things tonight, and there is so much that could have been said. We thank You, Lord, that we can take a stand where Your Word does, in love. We ask You to help us to do that faithfully as we go through these things, remembering that not all we say is true of all the folks in the charismatic movement, but these are the general trends.
We thank You for those in that movement who are doing their best to adhere to the truth, to search Your Scriptures, and we pray that You will lead them to a full understanding of your truth. Help us to be loving, even as we pass these things on; and yet to confront error that we might be faithful to you, in Christ’s Name. Amen.
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