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Pentecostalism
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Hi Alistair

Thanks Alistair for sharing your thoughts. Very hard to get Pentecostals to write on this subject so a special thanks. I note your concern and respond. You write,

>>Please forgive the lack of articulate or academic argument but you got me a bit upset. I've got say I'm incredibly saddenned and stunned that you're still back there in the days of cessationist polemics and attacking as unbiblical or extrabiblical the experience of those believers who claim to have experiences of the of the Holy Spirit that they would identify as being those experienced by early Christians.<<

Your sadness with what I believe is a small matter, but in reality what’s ‘incredibly sad’ is the divided and broken churches resulting from the charismatic movement. How could that happen if it was a movement of the Holy Spirit? And keep in mind, Pentecostals have no qualms labelling fellow believers as “spiritually dead” and second-rate Christians, just because we don’t speak in tongues. Today, ‘Holy Rollers’ claim all kinds of experiences from the weird to the absurd, so I’m happy to endorse “cessationist polemics”. After all, where is the Biblical evidence the miraculous gifts (ie tongues and healing) didn't cease with the completion of the NT? And where do the Scriptures say, I should seek a 'Baptism of the Spirit'? You wrote,

>>I certainly do not want to engage in endless debates about these points of theology with you, who would, after seeing your letters, apart from Nick maybe:-), we could be at it for decades. However, in grave seriousness, do you properly believe that your learning lends you the authority to label anyone, who associates with any group that does not deny so called charismatic and pentecostal experiences, as part of something included in the heretical or cultish or apostate?<<

And I’m happy just to answer your comment and leave it at that. Interesting, cults also hate to be ‘labelled’. They would rather be regarded as fellow believers like us. But I think maybe your concern is getting the better of you. I aim to address the doctrine not people. If you hold that doctrine no matter what ‘group’ you 'associate' with, you will feel uncomfortable. But of course, the group we associate with will also give us a reputation or ‘label’. Like "cessationist" for example. You wrote,

>>I am deeply concerned that individuals like yourself may unwittingly misuse their authority to cause many others to think of fellow believers as they would people of a muslim faith, that is to say 'lost and misguided however sincere'. And that such a duly influenced person on hearing that the fastest growing demonations today are pentecostal denominations would despair that many were turning to other faiths rather rejoicing with all heaven at the true repentance of one sinner.<<

I call Pentecostals "brother(s) in Christ" (eg). You may imagine what people might ‘think’ but they decide for themselves. What ‘fellow believers’ think of Pentecostals is determined by Pentecostals. I try to distinguish between people and doctrine with no desire to place a gulf between Charismatic's and non-Charismatic's. And no rift can exist when we meet on the common ground of God’s Word. Division germinates only when we turn away from God’s Word. Sadly I must say the legacy of the charismatic movement is not ‘the true repentance of" sinners, but doctrinal confusion and division.

‘Growth’ or acceptance by ‘
denominations’ isn't the determining factor whether doctrine is biblically sound. Historically the Church has pursed all kinds of fads and fancies, as if God-given. Pentecostal denominations tend to grow by feeding off each other and other denominations. The one main reason for their growth is spiritual hunger. People hear that tongues are the way to have a wonderful new experience and fear they might miss out. They want ‘something more’ and to express themselves spiritually. They hear that tongue speakers are thought to be holy and spiritual and try it. People like to be in the ‘in group’ or feel they have something others don’t. They feel directly in touch with the supernatural ('on fire') and feel the traditional churches are cold and lifeless. You wrote,

>>What in heaven or earth would possibly have led you to put 'Pentecostals' in a bracket with Atheists, Evolutionists, Christadelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, followers of United Church of God or Worldwide Church of God, acolytes of WDW etc.<<

And King James Radicals. I 'bracket' them because I’m familiar with them and they challenge me to embrace their doctrine. But note the 'grave seriousness' of these two matters -

[1] Pentecostal behaviour can be worse than cults - people rolling on the floor, running around out of control, animal noises, ecstatic tongues, ‘demons’ screaming, endless laughter, snake handling, vomiting and nudity in healing meetings etc. All in the name of Jesus. Who needs cults, Pentecostal behaviour does more damage and all Christians get the reputation.

[2] Pentecostals are similar to cults. Why? They claim revelation from God beyond Scripture. Virtually every cult and false teaching ever spawned was begun on the premise that its leader(s) had access to new revelation. All abandon the principle of Sola Scriptura. The Charismatic acceptance of modern ‘prophecy’ represents a turn down a perilous road.

I don't equate Pentecostalism with cults, but in this vital area of revelation the parallels are obvious. The price of Charismatic mysticism and subjectivism is too high – everyone free to do and say and teach whatever this weeks personal prophecy supposedly reveals. Scholarly and careful study is swept aside in favour of private messages from God. You wrote,

>>Surely a man such as yourself understands this to be a completely different category of issue and a demoninational difference of doctrine, in the same way that a presbyterian and a baptist may have a sharp division of understanding on the interpretation of a particular doctrine. But this is altogether non-essential and of no barrier to proper fellowship for any sincere Christian.<<

There is a problem deeper than just superficial 'denominational' differences. Charismatic's have abandoned the crucial precept of Sola Scriptura, and now the true Church in this century must fight for the supremacy and sufficiency of God’s Word. The uniqueness of God’s Word is at sake. The Bibles own claim for itself is being challenged. I would urge you not to seek energy for the spiritual walk in the empty ‘prophecies’ of someone’s imagination, but from God’s Word. You wrote,

>>To be frank I do not see how, although I only have a secular undergraduate degree and may be relatively unlearned, you can argue, that Cor 13:8 is a plainly interpreted text, systematically understood or otherwise. I don't claim to fully understand it, but I would never presume to denigrate to the level of heresy or cultic belief the faith, however weak, of someone who has a different understanding of something so non essential to the gospel. So much for 'faith like children' if we all need postgraduate degrees in theology to live out our faith!<<

The passage clearly says ‘tongues shall cease’ when, how and why. If you 'understood' it, you might not have written. Even Gordon Fee indicates there is a real problem among Charismatic's in this regard [Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent – a Major Problem in Pentecostal Hermeneutics’ in R.P. Spittler ed Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids 1976) pg.119-122]. It’s not amazing that Pentecostals and Charismatic's tend to base much of their teaching on very poor principles of hermeneutics. They have a poor attitude toward Scripture and a general disregard for scientific exegesis and careful thought-out hermeneutics. In the place of scientific hermeneutics they have developed a kind of pragmatic hermeneutics. The fact is, accurate Bible study is hard work (NOT a supernatural ‘gift of knowledge’). The task of hermeneutics is to discover the meaning of the text in its proper setting and draw the meaning from Scripture.

Some passages might be hard to understand but that does not negate our responsibility to study carefully and diligently. Why is it that Charismatic's have a lack of respect for the work of gifted theologians and expositors whom have spent years studying and interpreting Scripture? Because Charismatic's place more emphasis on experiences and letting people in the congregation say whatever they think the Spirit told them about a Bible verse. I’m ‘stunned’ by this ad-lib approach to Scripture. You wrote,

>>Clearly, however, for many of the systems of belief you mention in your site, there is an easy to understand issue about how these faiths radically depart from the the true gospel, even for someone like me, but on this point of pentecostalism, you sail both a dangerous and potentially damamging course in terms of the effect on the christian community, no matter how sincere you may be.<<

Why hide Pentecostalism and not discuss it? It’s important to have a good understanding of it and allow Pentecostals to defend their experiences. It's good Christians can discuss differences openly, hopefully without the antagonism which characterize cults.

But it’s remarkable a movement that claims to be in direct contact with the Holy Spirit can simultaneously include Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants, amillennialists, premillennialists, Calvinists, Arminians, those who deny the verbal inspiration of the Bible, those who reject Christ’s vicarious atonement. In fact, in Asia shocking new charismatic cults are springing up, blending Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and other false teachings with the teachings of Western Charismatic's [‘Alleluia’ Asiaweek Oct. 6 1989 pg.46-51].

I’m concerned Pentecostalism, while divisive among groups that are orthodox, has the opposite effect among those who are not. It builds bridges with groups and individuals whom Christians are commanded to shun [2 Jn.9-11]. It will draw converts from these groups and splits good churches. Do you have any idea how many thousands of churches have split over charismatic teaching? Charismatic doctrine is schismatic, it erects a fence between the common believer and those who take the view that they are at a higher spirituality than others. You wrote,


>>Of course if you had made one of the many valid points about how some leaders in the pentecostal (and many other) churches can get way offbeam with teachings like 'health and wealth' or 'prosperity doctrine' etc. or those lack in integrity with financial matters or personal boundaries, I would have supported you completely. But, what you seem to have done here is to attack the merest idea of a biblical truth still being valid today simply because your own complex theological teaching has been to deny this has comtemporary validity. This is a huge weakness in whatever good you would otherwise achieve.<<

I disagree, there are dramatic consequences embracing Pentecostalism. And other sites deal with Pentecostal con-men www.deceptioninthechurch.com Why criticise the doctrine? Because it’s scriptural to be concerned about whether we walk in the truth. It may not seem very loving but the Bible is clear ‘speak the truth in love’ [Eph.5:15]. Love must act on the truth. While you find my website offensive others have written expressing thanks. You wrote,

>>I genuinely pray that if you are sincere, that the one true and living God, the god of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, the creator and sustainer of all things will give you grace, wisdom, understanding and blessing in what you do for him.<<

I think that until one is genuinely sincere with God by studying His Word they are unlikely to see the error of Pentecostalism. His Word revealed the truth to me (and others). 'The God of 'Abraham Isaac and Jacob' spoke in various ways in times past; in these days He speaks through His Word [not by new revelation, prophets, or tongues]. Thanks for the mail.

Regards


His reply -


>>I appreciate your effortful and detailed response but it doesn't convince me that your thinking is valid. You tar all with the stick belonging to the worst advocates of the Faith, (which makes me question how well you 'know' 'charismatic' and 'pentecostal' believers), in the same way that an agnostic or atheist tars all believers with the stick that belongs to the odd minister who abuses kids.<<

Point taken but can I make a few points? I didn’t accuse you of those extremes. I mentioned them because you regarded it a “grave seriousness” to label “anyone” who accepts the “so called charismatic and pentecostal experiences” as a cult. I indicated “pentecostal experiences” are worse than cults. Their extremes "tar" us both (with a bad reputation) but you in particular as your doctrine opens the door to what they do.

Scholarly and careful Bible study is swept aside in favour of private prophecy messages or experiences 'from God'. They will say the 'Spirit is moving' why 'miss out?' You describe them as the “
worst” examples “of the Faith”. The word “faith” doesn’t describe Pentecostalism. “We walk by faith not by sight” [2 Cor.5:7] Faith is the opposite to 'signs and miracles' which are seen.

>>The only thing I can say is that I have not abandoned the authority of the Scriptures and very definitely take my lead thus; Gal 5:5 - 6:18 (NLT)<<

You may not have "abandoned the authority of the Scriptures" but what about the crucial precept of Sola Scriptura? You have accepted another authority from 'prophets' who fool you into thinking they speak from God. And Pentecostals will often cling to experiences regardless of what the Bible says.

The Bible is the primary witness to the events associated with the supreme revelation of God - in Christ. And the apostolic witness is the final word of objective revelation. When redemption reached it's climax, special revelation reached it's climax. With the end of the events of redemption came the end of special revelation. The NT as written by the apostles is the delegated authority of the Lord Jesus, no one has that authority today [Eph.2:20].

Wishing you a merry Christmas.
Regards
Mark


"Sensationalism first attracts, then disappoints, then disgusts"


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