Charles SpurgeonI’m hardly alone in expressing love and admiration for Charles Spurgeon. He had a way with words that is nearly unsurpassed in the history of the church. These words about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer are powerful and challenging.

I very much question whether this prayer was intended to be used by Christ’s own disciples as a constant form of prayer.

It seems to me that Christ gave it as a model, whereby we are to fashion all our prayers, and I think we may use it to edification, and with great sincerity and earnestness, at certain times and seasons. I have seen an architect form the model of a building he intends to erect of plaster or wood; but I never had an idea that it was intended for me to live in. I have seen an artist trace on a piece of brown paper, perhaps, a design which he intended afterwards to work out on more costly stuff; but I never imagined the design to be the thing itself. This prayer of Christ is a great chart, as it were: but I cannot cross the sea on a chart. It is a map; but a man is not a traveler because he puts his fingers across the map. And so a man may use this form of prayer, and yet be a total stranger to the great design of Christ in teaching it to his disciples.

I feel that I cannot use this prayer to the omission of others. Great as it is, It does not express all I desire to say to my Father which is in heaven. There are many sins which I must confess separately and distinctly; and the various other petitions which this prayer contains require, I feel, to be expanded, when I come before God in private; and I must pour out my heart in the language which his Spirit gives me; and more than that, I must trust in the Spirit to speak the unutterable groanings of my spirit, when my lips cannot actually express all the emotions of my heart.

Let none despise this prayer; it is matchless, and if we must have forms of prayer, let us have this first, foremost, and chief; but let none think that Christ would tie his disciples to the constant and only use of this. Let us rather draw near to the throne of the heavenly grace with boldness, as children coming to a father, and let us tell forth our wants and our sorrows in the language which the Holy Spirit teacheth us.

 

John Stott
John Stott

I ought to be continuing my series on bestselling Christian books this morning, but found myself taken with this prayer from John Stott. It was apparently a prayer he would use to begin his day, and it’s a sweet one.

Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
Amen.

 

Over the past few years an old form of Bible reading and interpretation has resurfaced and made quite an impact. It is known as Lectio Divina. I appreciate David Helms’ critique of this method in in his little book Expositional Preaching. Where others have, I think, come up with novel ways of critiquing it, Helm heads straight to the Bible. Essentially, he says that Lectio Divina often leads us away from the right meaning and right application of a text instead of toward it. Let me explain.

In one of the early chapters he writes about ways preachers can unfairly contextualize a biblical text. Preachers “are increasingly appealing to their subjective reading of the text as inspired. More and more, Bible teachers are being told that whatever moves their spirit in private readings of the Bible must be what God’s Spirit wants preached in public.”

He goes on to say,

One example of this kind of reading strategy has a long history. It goes by the name Lectio Divina. This traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural interpretation was intended to promote communion with God and, to a lesser extent, familiarity with the Bible. It favors a view of biblical texts as “the Living Word” rather than as written words to be studied. Traditional forms of this practice include four steps for private Bible reading: reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. You begin by quieting your heart with a simple reading of the text. Then you meditate, perhaps on a single word of phrase from the text, and in so doing intentionally avoid what might be considered an “analytical” approach. In essence, the goal here is to wait for the Spirit’s illumination so that you will arrive at meaning. You wait for Jesus to come calling. Once the word is given, you go on to pray. After all, prayer is dialogue with God. God speaks through his Word and the person speaks through prayer. Eventually, this prayer becomes contemplative prayer, and it gives us the ability to comprehend deeper theological truths.

As Helm says, this sounds wonderfully pious. It even appears to come with solid Scriptural support in a text like 1 Corinthians 2:10 which says, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” Stating his objection broadly first, Helm says, “Lectio Divina advocates a method that is spiritual as opposed to systematically studious. It substitutes intuition for investigation. It prefers mood and emotion to methodical and reasoned inquiry. It equates your spirit to the Holy Spirit.”

Of course many will object to that final sentence, but from Helm’s perspective, conclusions based on inner contemplation cannot be trusted in the same way as conclusions based on a close and studious reading of the text.

This method has gained popularity in recent years, first in private devotions and increasing in sermon preparation. “And even where it is not practiced by name, it is remarkably similar to the way a lot of young preachers are taught to prepare. They are told to read the Bible devotionally, quietly, waiting upon the Holy Spirit to speak. For you can be assured that what God lays upon our hearts from a text in the quiet of the moment he will use also in the lives of others. So ‘Preach it! It must be inspired.’”

What is the heart of the problem here? It is that the method leads to subjective, rather than objective, conclusions.

When we stop the hard work of understanding the words that the Spirit has given us and work exclusively in the “mind of the Spirit,” we become the final authority on meaning. We begin to lay down “truths” and “advice” that are biblically untenable or unsupportable. We may do so for good reasons, such as our sense of the moral health of our people or a genuine desire to renew the world we live in. But, nevertheless, we begin operating outside of orthodox doctrine. We confuse “thus sayeth the Lord” with “thus sayeth me.” We ask our congregations to trust us instead of trusting the Word.

Let me repeat that final line: “We may ask our congregations to trust us instead of trusting the Word.” That may just be the long-term consequence of this kind of preaching. Of course it has begun with the pastor allowing himself to trust himself in place of the Word.

Here is how this sometimes happens:

A lot of preachers—particularly young preachers—go to the text first for their own edification or spiritual growth. This is not an inherently bad practice, and devotional preaching is not inherently a bad thing. We all should be spiritually convicted by and conformed to the image of Christ in the text. The problem is that we are easily tempted to jump from the way the Spirit impresses the text upon us to how the Spirit must be working among our people.

In other words, if we follow Lectio Divina from personal devotions to sermon preparation, we do not preach the text, but preach our interpretation and appreciation of the text. We preach the text as it impacted us, not the text as it is.

The Holy Spirit is undoubtedly trustworthy and can, miraculously, implant his intent in us intuitively. But does this possibility absolve us from doing the hard work of exegesis? Why would he have bothered inspiring Scripture in the first place? Is it not possible that the Spirit works through both research and meditation? By pursuing such a subjective approach to interpretation as “inspired” preaching, are we not at risk of ignoring what God intended in his Word in favor of preaching our own? Are we not conforming ourselves to the spirit of the age (of which we are necessarily a part) rather than to the depth of his Word?

This, then, is a danger in Lectio Divina, that it teaches us to approach the text subjectively rather than objectively, and that in this way it leads to unstable, unsupportable conclusions. Though it appears to elevate piety, it may just train us to preach badly.

(Note: Helm anticipates a critique. It is important to note that rejecting Lectio Divina in personal study or sermon preparation is not the same thing as rejecting the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, and especially expositional preaching. Far from it. “The word of the gospel must be wedded to the Spirit’s work in order for conviction of sin, regeneration, repentance and faith, and lifelong perseverance to come.” Expositional preaching is still fully reliant upon the Holy Spirit, though in a very different way.)

Image credit: Shutterstock

 

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers and to examine the false doctrine each of them represents. Along the way we have visited such figures as Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Ellen G. White (Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking) and Benny Hinn (Faith Healing). Today we turn to a man who pastors a mega-church, whose sermons are a staple on TBN, and who has written a long list of bestselling books.

T.D. Jakes

TD JakesThomas Dexter Jakes was born on June 9, 1957 in South Charleston, West Virginia and grew up in nearby Vandalia. As a teenager he was charged with supporting and caring for his invalid father and dedicated himself to that task. While still a young man he felt that the Lord was calling him to ministry so he enrolled at West Virginia State University and began to preach occasionally. Before long, though, he dropped out of school to work at Union Carbide, while continuing to preach on a part-time basis. In 1981, at the age of 24, he married Serita Ann Jamison.

Around this time Jakes, still eager to be a minister, founded Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith, a small, independent, Pentecostal congregation in Montgomery, West Virginia. The church quickly began to grow from the ten founding members meeting in a small storefront to two hundred and then three hundred attendees. Jakes soon came into contact with Bishop Sherman Watkins who had founded the Higher Ground Always Abounding Assembly, which at that time was an association of more than two hundred Pentecostal churches. Watkins ordained Jakes and suggested that he plant a church in the Charleston Area.

In 1990 Jakes moved to Charleston and began to focus on the spiritual concerns of the women in his church, many of whom were in abusive or other otherwise difficult relationships. He called his class “Woman, Thou Art Loosed” and this later became the title of his bestselling book and the name of an annual conference. By 1993 he had moved his congregation to Cross Lanes, West Virginia, where the mixed-race congregation exploded to more than 1,100 people. The next year he established T.D. Jakes Ministries to produce televised sermons and conferences. In 1996 he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he founded the Potter’s House. Today some 17,000 people call it their home church. His television broadcast “The Potter’s House” appears on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and other networks around the world, making him one of the world’s most prominent and recognizable preachers. His annual MegaFest event draws up to 100,000 people each year. He has written more than 30 books, many of which have appeared on the lists of bestselling Christian books.

A gifted speaker and excellent communicator, Jakes has been widely praised for his teaching and his leadership. In September of 2001 he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with the title, “Is this man the next Billy Graham?” He has also appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s network and has reciprocated the invitation, inviting her to appear at his MegaFest event. He has acted in or produced several movies including the currentHeaven Is For Real. Among his acquaintances he counts both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

False Teaching: Modalism

T.D. Jakes is associated with several troublesome teachings including the prosperity gospel and positive thinking. For our purposes, though, we will look at his teaching on the Trinity. Jakes has long been associated with Oneness Pentecostalism which holds to an unorthodox position on the Trinity. This position is known as Modalism or, historically, as Sabellianism.

Modalism holds that Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not refer to distinct persons in the godhead, but to different modes of existence of a single person. It teaches that in ages past God manifested himself as the Father, during the incarnation of Christ he manifested himself as the Son, and subsequently he manifested himself as the Holy Spirit. As one of its key tenets it states that God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time. So while this teaching does hold to a form of trinitarian theology and while it does proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ, it denies that there are three distinct persons who together make up the godhead. Hence the belief statement at the Potter’s House says, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Formerly the statement was even clearer: “We believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation, being both Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority.”) The important word here is manifestations. Where historic Christianity affirms persons, modalism demands use of manifestations or modes.

Followers & Adherents

Jakes has wide influence in many circles. Some 17,000 people attend his church on a weekly basis and millions more encounter his teaching through his broadcasts, conferences, movies and books. He is one of a few Christian figures who has a voice that extends into the broader culture through association with Oprah Winfrey, American presidents, and other leaders.

What the Bible Says

These minor distinctions in trinitarian theology, a word here, a letter there, actually represent colossal differences and even eternal differences—the difference between heaven and hell. Modalism has long been labeled as a heresy meaning that if you believe it in place of the biblical understanding of the Trinity, you are not and cannot be a true Christian.

We can define the Trinity, as the church has historically understood it, through a series of seven simple statements: There is one God; The Father is God; The Son is God; The Holy Spirit is God; The Father is not the Son; The Son is not the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Father.

In all that is, in all that exists, there is only one God. No truth was more precious to the Israelites of old. In Isaiah’s prophecy God records:

There is no other god besides me
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22)

It could hardly be clearer. The New Testament is equally explicit. Paul writes, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). James agrees: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).

There is one God. The other six statements affirm both unity and diversity within the godhead. There is one God who exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet each of these is distinct from the others. There is unity here, but there is also diversity. There is a real sense in which God is one, and there is a real sense in which God is three.

To summarize those seven statements, we might say, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” In all that we believe, in all that we affirm or deny, we must hold these seven statements together. If we take away one, the entire structure collapses. In fact, every time the Trinity comes under attack, or every time the Trinity is denied, it is because one of these statements has been taken away or tampered with.

What words can we use to describe this quality of one-ness and this quality of three-ness? God is one (blank) and three (blank)? Christians came to use the term essence to describe the one-ness of God, and the term person to express the three-ness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one essence and three persons.

Though he has recently denied being a Modalist, T.D. Jakes continues to use manifestations in place of persons and continues to affirm the faith of those who remain ardent Oneness Pentecostals. This is no minor quibble in theology because it contradicts and confuses the orthodox and accepted view of the Trinity. Until he clearly affirms the orthodox definition of the Trinity and denies the Modalist definition of the Trinity, we must regard him warily as a false teacher.

 

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day four, and today we have a guest writer: Dr. Joel Beeke (whose preferred translation is the KJV) who, with his love of Puritan writers, is particularly well-equipped to write on putting sin to death.

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. -Romans 8:13

Every Christian finds himself living out two realities: what he is in Christ, and what he is at present, wherever he happens to be in his earthly pilgrimage. The one reality is the fact of his justification “by faith alone in Christ alone” from the guilt of all sin and his personal union with Christ crucified, risen again, and received up into glory. The other reality is the Christian’s degree of personal sanctification. Unlike justification, sanctification is never complete in this life. A substantial first step is the regeneration of the heart that marks the beginning of all true Christian life. But the way forward is rife with difficulties. We can go backward as well as forward in this way; and we all pass through seasons of stagnation and declension.

The Christian learns early on that sin still has a hold on him and remains in him, even “besetting” him, dogging his steps and burdening him with guilt and shame. Paul describes this remaining sin as “another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:23). How does the believer respond to this “law of sin”?  We must mortify (put to death) what Paul calls “the old man and his deeds,” and “the lusts of the flesh” (Rom. 8:13, 13:14; Col. 3:15). This mortification is both a gift (of the Holy Spirit) and a duty (ours). In our own strength we cannot accomplish any lasting mortification, without the Spirit’s grace. But by the powerful and enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, we may and must hate sin, strangle it, and put a sword through it. We must meditate often on the horrific consequences of sinning against our beloved, triune God and Savior. We must know our own hearts and weaknesses, and avoid those situations that tend to promote the temptations that we are weakest in battling against. We must cast off all remnants of the life we left behind when we began to follow Christ. We must put ourselves under the death-dealing power of the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14) so that the Spirit of Christ may put to death what is earthly in us.

The Spirit of Christ focuses us on Christ when teaching us how to mortify sin. Mortification begins when we condemn our sins as transgressions of the law of God. We confess these sins to be forgiven by God and cleansed by the blood of Christ. Then we forsake these sins for Christ’s sake. Paul tells us to fight against sin from a position of strength (Rom. 6; Eph. 6). Know what you are in Christ. In Christ we have died unto sin. In Christ we have been raised again to newness of life. In Christ crucified we have been set free from sin’s dominion and continue to die to sin, so that, as John Owen emphasizes, we experience the death of sin in the death of Christ. Sin may assail but cannot master us, so long as we stand firm in Christ, calling upon His name. In Christ we are assured of God’s help in striving against sin. Though we may fall and lose various skirmishes against sin, because of our union and communion with Christ we have by faith the promise of ultimate victory and final deliverance, which, more than anything else, gives us hope and sustenance in the daily fight against sin. The only sin fatal to our cause is unbelief. Unbelief alone can rob us of God’s grace and shut us out of His kingdom.

Ever blessed Triune God, in the light of Thy holy law, I confess my sorrow of heart that I have provoked Thee by my sins. By Thy Holy Spirit, deepen in me more and more the hatred of these sins, and the desire to flee from them, dying unto sin with Christ, and rising again in newness of life, to live unto Thee in righteousness and true holiness, for His sake. Believing Thy gospel promise, I ask Thee to forgive my sins and help me by Thy Holy Spirit to fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion, as a follower of Christ, and one who bears His name before the world.  Amen.

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I intend to scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Arius, Pelagius, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We continue this morning with a false teacher whose name has been nearly forgotten even though his followers regularly knock on your door. He is Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Charles Taze Russell was born on February 16, 1852 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the second of five children born to Joseph and Ann Russell. Charles grew up in a devout home and his parents were respected members of the Presbyterian church. When he was young, his family moved to Pittsburgh, where his father came to own a number of haberdashery stores. In his early teens Charles became a partner in this business and soon owned several of the locations.

As a boy Charles had a great deal of religious enthusiasm, and while still only a teenager left his Presbyterian congregation to attend a Congregational church. As a form of evangelism he would often go to public locations and use chalk to write out Bible verses related to sin and damnation. But then, at the age of sixteen, he engaged in a debate with a friend that led him to question the reliability of the Bible and the validity of the Christian faith. He embarked on a period of religious searching and dabbled in many Eastern religions before determining that they, too, were empty and unsatisfying.

Charles Taze RussellWhen Charles was eighteen he encountered Adventist preaching and began to regularly attend a Bible study. It was not long before he determined that he could not reconcile an eternal hell with a merciful God. Over the next two years he came to question many other historic Christian doctrines and became convicted that the historic creeds betrayed true Christianity. At the same time he adopted Adventist teachings: that the end times had begun in 1799, that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and been crowned King of Heaven four years later, that all Christians who had already died would be resurrected before the end of 1878, and that 1914 would mark the end of a harvest period and usher in Armageddon. He sold his five clothing stores, an act that generated a substantial amount of money (today’s equivalent of several million dollars), and committed his life to writing, publishing and funding the propagation of the message of Christ’s imminent return. He did this at first through a partnership with Nelson H. Barbour and his Adventist periodical Herald of the Morning.

When 1878 came and went without any of the predicted events, he was forced to re-examine his beliefs and to distance himself from some of his Adventist peers, including Barbour. He founded his own periodical which he titled Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. At this time he also married Maria Frances Ackley in an apparently celibate union that would last until 1897 before ending in an acrimonious divorce.

In 1881 Russell founded the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society which grew to a substantial publishing venture, and there were soon some 16 million of his books and booklets in print. His ministry and his opportunities to preach grew exponentially and Pastor Russell, as he became known, soon had followers all over the Northern and Eastern states. He preached and wrote constantly, his sermons were printed in several thousand newspapers around the globe, and he became one of the most famous preachers in the world. He eventually moved the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society to Brooklyn, New York, where they remain today.

Russell died of cystitis on October 31, 1916, near Pampa, TX, as he attempted to return to his home in Brooklyn. By the time of his death, his writings had become among the most widely-distributed works in the world. Some estimate that when he died, only the Bible and the Chinese almanac were in greater circulation than his myriad books and pamphlets.

False Teaching

Unlike so many other false teachers before and after him, Russell did not rely upon visions or other extra-biblical revelation. Rather, he simply interpreted, and misinterpreted, the Bible. While claiming to be a Christian and, in fact, a Christian who was restoring the faith of the New Testament, he denied many key Christian doctrines including eternal punishment, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the existence of the Holy Spirit.

Russell, as with most Adventists, denied the existence of hell as a place where the wicked face God’s wrath. He also held that the soul simply ceases to exist after death.

As with Arius centuries before, he held that Jesus was a created being, and was actually Michael the Archangel in human form. While he taught that this Jesus died on behalf of humanity, he also taught that Jesus rose only spiritually rather than physically. While he denied the divinity of Jesus, he denied the existence of the Holy Spirit, teaching that the Spirit is not a person, but simply a name given to express a specific manifestation of God’s power. In denying the divinity of Jesus and the existence of the Holy Spirit, he necessarily denied the Trinity.

Followers and Modern Adherents

Those who followed Russell during his lifetime referred to themselves as Bible Students. In the years following his death, Joseph Franklin Rutherford succeeded him as president of the Watch Tower Society. Despite many people withdrawing from the Bible Study movement, and despite those who remained splitting many times over, Rutherford’s followers maintained control of the Watch Tower Society and officially renamed themselves Jehovah’s witnesses in July 1931.

The Watch Tower Society remains the official religious body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though both their beliefs and their structure have evolved in the past century, they continue to state that there is one God in one person, that there is no Trinity, that Jesus was God’s first created being, that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, and that there is no hell. While Russell is honored among Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not refer to him as their founder. Rather, they hold that Jesus is their founder while Russell was simply a man used by God to restore beliefs that had been lost.

Today there are some 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world.

What the Bible Says

The Bible teaches clearly, forcefully, and repeatedly that hell is real and that in hell God’s wrath is poured upon out upon the wicked in conscious, eternal punishment.

The Bible teaches with equal force and clarity that Jesus is co-eternal with God, uncreated, and in all ways fully divine. This is proven in a host of places in the New Testament. Among them are John 20:28, where Thomas exclaims to Jesus, “My Lord and my God;” Acts 7:59 where Stephen prays to Jesus; and John 10:30 where Jesus claims, “I and the Father are one.” John 1 is a key text that the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has modified to make Jesus “a god” rather than “God.”

That the Holy Spirit is a person rather than an impersonal force or manifestation of the power of God is attested in many passages that refer to the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A host of verses speak to his personhood, including Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Spirit is a person who can teach, be grieved, be resisted, speak, help, and so much more besides.

In February 1906, William J. Seymour, a 24-year-old, one-eyed son of former slaves, began what had been planned as a one-month visit to Los Angeles. Seymour was a preacher based in Houston who had become convinced that speaking in tongues was the first evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Barred from many churches in Los Angeles, he and a group of followers began a series of meetings in the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. They prayed, they pleaded with God, they fasted, and finally, after five weeks, a man named Edward S. Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. Others soon followed, and Bonnie Brae House soon became known as the spot where the modern Pentecostal movement began. For that reason, it is the next of the twenty-five objects through which we are telling the history of Christianity.

Bonnie Brae HouseThe Pentecostal movement is such a significant force within Christianity today that it can be difficult to believe that it, in the sweep of Christian history, it is still in its infancy. The history of the Reformation, the history of the Great Awakening, the history of the early missionary movement—these were times where God was powerful present and powerfully accomplishing his purposes and plans. Yet the signs and wonders that marked the early church—the prophecies and miracles and speaking in tongues—were neither sought nor seen.

And then, rather suddenly, there were Pentecostals, those who longed for and believed in the restoration of the apostolic power of the early church. Most historians believe that Pentecostalism emerged from the American and British revival movements of the late nineteenth century. One of the significant themes during these times was holiness and a higher life. Many taught that the end times were near and that during this time the church should expect a great outpouring of God’s power through signs and wonders.

Charles Parham, a holiness pastor and evangelist, was an early leader in this movement. In 1900 he founded a school near Topeka, Kansas, where he taught that speaking in tongues was the first and necessary evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit. On January 1, 1901, many of his students prayed for and experienced tongues, believing that God had given them miraculous knowledge of foreign languages. Parham soon closed his school and began a four-year tour through Kansas and Missouri, propagating his teaching. In 1905, he settled in Houston, Texas, where he founded a second school and among his most devoted students was William J. Seymour.

On April 9, 1906, under Seymour’s influence, Edward Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. Almost immediately several others began doing the same, and the small congregation believed they were experiencing a modern-day Pentecost. Just a few days later Seymour himself would have his first experience of tongues-speaking.

The news of this event spread rapidly and soon people of all religious, ethnic, and financial stripes began to migrate to Bonnie Brae Street, eager to see what was happening and to experience it themselves. The crowds quickly grew so large that it became difficult to even come near the house. The sheer number of people pressing up against the house undermined the foundation and caused the front porch to collapse, though amazingly, no one was hurt. Within a week of the outbreak of revival the church had to look for a larger facility and they soon settled in a former African Methodist Episcopal Church at 312 Azusa Street. Having begun on April 9, the Azusa Street Revival would carry on for 9 years.

The services there were enthusiastic and chaotic:

Worship at 312 Azusa Street was frequent and spontaneous with services going almost around the clock. Among those attracted to the revival were not only members of the Holiness Movement, but also Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, and Presbyterians. … Among first-hand accounts were reports of the blind having their sight restored, diseases cured instantly, and immigrants speaking in German, Yiddish, and Spanish all being spoken to in their native language by uneducated black members, who translated the languages into English by “supernatural ability”. … Singing was sporadic and in a cappella or occasionally in tongues. There were periods of extended silence. Attenders were occasionally slain in the Spirit. Visitors gave their testimony, and members read aloud testimonies that were sent to the mission by mail. There was prayer for the gift of tongues. There was prayer in tongues for the sick, for missionaries, and whatever requests were given by attenders or mailed in. There was spontaneous preaching and altar calls for salvation, sanctification and baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Beginning in September 1906, only five months after revival began, Seymour began publishing a newsletter called The Apostolic Faith so he could communicate what was happening at Azusa Street. Copies were printed and distributed freely worldwide. The publication proved hugely influential across America and across the world. It drew many people to the revival and convinced many others that they, too, could experience the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. What had begun in Bonnie Brae House soon spanned the globe.

Today Bonnie Brae House is owned by the Church of God in Christ and is a museum, open to the public, though only by appointment. The porch has been rebuilt and the house looks much as it did in 1906. It houses a variety of exhibits, including portraits of William Seymour and several of the important leaders of the early revival. The house is still regarded as a special location, as evidenced by a recent report in Charisma: “The Los Angeles Revival broke out Friday night on Bonnie Brae Street with the laying on of hands by evangelist Verna Linzey, who was the keynote speaker and minister. The revival saw ecstatic utterances, slaying in the Spirit, violent quaking, crying, tears, people falling on their faces, hands lifted up toward the heavens, screaming in the Spirit, calling the fiery Holy Ghost down from heaven. Event organizers say they’re seeing a repeat of the initial outbreak of the revival in 1906, except more people were present this time.”

Seymour PortraitFrom that inauspicious beginning, Pentecostalism experienced a meteoric rise. Though estimates vary, we do know that today there are some 600 million Pentecostals around the world, and they trail only Roman Catholics as the largest force within Christendom. Bonnie Brae House sparked a religious fervor that shows no signs of decline.

by Dan Phillips

I'll combine my comments on Phil's sessions, Is There a Baby in the Charismatic Bathwater? and Providence Is Remarkable.

Phil Johnson's voice is, to my mind, one of the sanest and most helpful on a host of issues related to Charismaticism.

Before I knew there was such a thing as a Phil Johnson, I had been in the movement for the first years of my Christian life, and I'd given it a lot of study and thought. I'd even written a book (as-yet unpublished) on the person, work and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which countered such branches of Charismaticism as existed by the 90s. I'd read every book I could get my hands on. Yet what I encountered in Phil's posts at the original Pyromaniac site expressed the most insightful thinking and lucid, incisive commentary I'd ever read. Phil's absolute classic, You're probably a cessationist, too, is a perfect example.

So I wasn't in any suspense as to whether the time invested in hearing Phil would be well-spent.

In the first session Phil responded at great length to Dr. Michael “I-Denounce-All-Aberrations-Though-I-Can't-Put-My-Finger-On-Any-Specific-Ones-Just-Now-I'm-Really-Busy” Brown, as well as to the rationale for all Charismatic leaders' blithe neglect concerning the chicanery and shenanigans with which the movement is riddled. In response to Charismatic leaders' unintentionally telling plea that they just don't have enough time to denounce all the false teachers in the movement, Phil appositely pointed to texts such as Titus 1:9. Turns out that denunciation of error is definitional for elders. In the Bible, that is. Go figure.

Phil also responded to the squawks about MacArthur's earlier observation that some Charismatics are guilty of blaspheming the Spirit. Phil observed that attributing to the Spirit words He hasn't said and deeds He hasn't done — the heart and soul of Charismaticism as to its distinctives — is blasphemy, and it is a sin. It is not the blasphemy against the Spirit of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 12:31, but it is blasphemy, and it does injure the name and majesty of the Third Person of the Trinity. That Charismatic leaders not only merrily tolerate and turn a blind eye to the constant flow, but indeed run cover and develop rationales for it, lowers hopes for locating a healthy infant in the bilge.

Phil noted the Charismatics' instant impulse to circle the wagons at even the most obvious criticisms, and asked “If you bristle at every critique of your movement, what is your proposal to keep from constantly accumulating filth in your bathtub?”

As an example of the patently obvious, Phil dwelt on the so-called Lakeland Revival, and its ringleader Todd Bentley. He detailed Bentley's love for violence, braggadocio, and outrageousness, to the exclusion of anything remotely Christlike or Gospel-fragrant. Phil alluded to this post, which sketched out the Biblical framework with which any Christian should approach any claim to revival.

Contrast that post with this post, published less than two weeks later by Charismatic obsessive Adrian Warnock. Trumpet blast? or dithering, fence-straddling equivocation? Which stance was warranted — nay, demanded — by Scripture? You judge, and do not forget as you hear Adrian and others crying over and lamenting the Strange Fire conference. That is a classic example of how the movement polices itself. In the sense of “not.”

Does such dithering suggest a commitment to Scripture as sufficient? or to an unhealthy need to defend virtually any form of charismatic antics at virtually any cost — so long as it's done in the name of the Spirit?

Phil noted that there is monstrous potential for evil when one imagines that his imaginations are the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He also observed that the claim that God “told” me something when He in fact did not is itself a monstrous evil which leads to disaster, and which in fact was a death-penalty offense in Moses' time. Yet disgraced “prophet” Paul Cain was endorsed for years by Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, and John Piper. In fact, John Piper still insists that Cain “really prophesied.”

Then there's Mark Driscoll, who was broadly promoted by John Piper, and who attributes super-porn-o-vision powers to the Spirit of God in the most astonishingly irresponsible rant one can imagine from someone so prized by so many, and who ran cover for apparently unrepentant Charismatic modalist prosperity-gospel preacher T. D. Jakes. Indeed Charismatic leader Driscoll, who has frequently been spotlighted on high-traffic Reformed-type blogs, reportedly includes fellow-Charismatic Jakes among fundamentally-Christian tribal leaders.

Breathtaking. Not in a good way. It is as if Driscoll wanted to underscore the need for the alarm sounded by MacArthur, Johnson, and the others.

Phil's conclusion is that Charismaticism, as to its distinctives, has produced a century's worth of dreck and sludge, with nary a tot to be found.

In his talk on providence, Phil alluded to Driscoll's silly (and unintentionally revealing) linking of sufficientism with Deism, and the notion of some Charismatics that unless we posit God doing constant miracles, we see Him as distant from creation. Phil drew on the rich vein of revelation in Scripture about God's meticulous sovereignty and His daily control and oversight of absolutely all that happens (cf. Ps. 115:3; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3, etc.). He said that God directs our thoughts and our steps (cf. Prov. 16:1, 9; 20:24). There is (to say the least!) no need to imagine a non-Biblical category of semi-hemi-demi revelation to account for His doings.

Phil observed that Driscoll, despite an odd reputation for being some kind of Reformed pastor, betrays an appalling ignorance of the Reformed emphasis on the doctrine of providence and a failure to grasp what Scripture teaches about God's immanence. Phil used Matthew 10, with its assurance of God's control against the background of a perilous mission. He asked what comfort Romans 8:28 is, if we do not see God as actually working in all things.

Phil made the Biblical case that the miraculous is not central. The greatest prophet (according to Jesus) — John the Baptist — did no miracles. Biblical miracles were indubitable, overwhelming, defying any other honest explanation; they were outbursts of Divine power; and they attested God's prophetic messengers. They weren't finding a parking spot, or a normal pregnancy and delivery.

Can God put a thought into my head to get something done? Indeed; but when He does, it is a remarkable providence, not a prophecy. God uses everything providentially — including my sin! But a bad idea (or deed) isn't good nor fraught with divine authority just because God uses it for good.

God is nearer and more involved in our lives than most Charismatics believe and teach.


First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post
Fourth post
Fifth post
Sixth post

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