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Sunday, November 23, 2008


I wonder how big a trend this is. I mentioned before that my church does this, but I wanted to point out that a church in an old, rundown part of our town has recently started declaring the following statements because they are under the impression that chanting these magic words will effect some supernatural, Piercing the Darkness styled changes. The ridiculous part is that this church, like mine, does not even have any ministries to "our neighborhood"! This underscores my general critique of charismatic Christianity: so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good. Get a load of these, paying particular attention to the buzzwords "prosperity" and "health", as well as the stupornatural focus on "spirits" of this or that, with characteristic ambiguity as to what the heck that means (what's the scriptural basis for this?).

1. We declare that God is blessing our neighborhood.

2. We declare peace and safety for our neighborhood.

3. We declare prosperity for our neighborhood.

4. We declare good health and healing for our neighborhood.

5. We declare that righteousness is exalted in our neighborhood.

6. We declare hearts of parents are turned to their children and the hearts of children are turned to their parents.

7. We declare that kindness reigns with neighbor helping neighbor.

8. We declare a spirit of generosity over our neighborhood.

9. We declare a spirit of forgiveness over our neighborhood.

10. We declare freedom from addictions in our neighborhood.

11. We declare freedom from abuse, verbal and physical, in our neighborhood.

12. We declare a sense of God's presence in our neighborhood.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Angels win! (But whose angels?)

Quick update on the thievery that's recently plagued the neighborhood (the stealing of copper from the AC units). My church ordered the angels of the Lord to keep it from happening again, and they quickly let us down. I'd like to see them try to get a reference from us!

But as of a few weeks ago (and I am truly glad this happened) the thief situation has finally been resolved. Apparently he was making the rounds between about 5 churches throughout our general area, but now the threat has been removed. Our church didn't say too much about it, but that's not really surprising if you know the whole story.

See, he didn't come down the aisle with tears streaming down his face, asking for mercy (as some in our church believed he would). He didn't encounter a flaming sword or get thrown into an invisible prison until the police came by and captured him. Heck, worst part is, he wasn't even caught near our church.

It was a church a few streets down that caught him. See, they actually had their units being watched by real, flesh-and-blood people. Angelic people, maybe they were. Anyway, the rich part was that it wasn't even close to being a charismatic church, or even a straight-laced Baptist church. Rather, it was the dead, liturgy-enslaved, live-out-the-faith-in-the-flesh Mary-worshippers down at the Catholic church!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Heal the sick, raise the dead, etc.

Been awhile. I haven't been to my church much in the last few weeks for various reasons. But today's sermon got me going; it confirmed all the things I hate about the charismatic movement. I've got some things in my personal life that will be resolved in the next few weeks, and after that, I'm leaving. No doubt.

The charismatic view of the Christian life is light years away from my understanding of it.

For churches like mine, in which tongues, healing, prophecy, and the other stuff are not simply things that are supposed to keep the services lively, the charisms are fundamental to how the Kingdom of God operates in our world. And for this I can forgive them, more than I can for those who request just "a little charismatic demonstration, on the side," because it's more like the Scriptural view of the purpose and use of signs and wonders: they were not just sideshow attractions, but important validation of the gospel being preached. If healing gifts and prophecy are still around, how can we just take a little dab here or there? The consistent charismatics are the ones who recognize the high importance of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit.

One of the most popular passages in my church right now is Matthew 10:7-8. In it, Jesus tells the twelve, "As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give." Healing, raising the dead, and exorcism are central components of this commission, demonstrating the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Charismatics get this, but overextend it past the first century, in which this sort of manifestation of the power of God was especially important. They think that - now more than ever - just being a "living witness" is underachievement: heal somebody, and then they'll listen!

The sermon today was centered around Matthew 10:7-8. It was laying out the preacher's vision of what the Christian life is supposed to consist of. Since I first heard this guy, he's talked about all these demonstrations that should happen, that once happened in his past experience, and although we're not seeing a whole lot of it now, they're on the rise again right now! Yet we never get beyond a backache that goes away, or someone who is reportedly recovering, not instantaneously, but -- well, faster than the doctors expected.

Tied in with this is always something like my pastor said today, "Where in the Bible does it say that the Holy Spirit would stop doing miracles? Where's the expiration date on the works of the Holy Spirit? He never changes." Ahem. The termination of at least some aspects of the charismatic is certainly the implication of 1 Cor 13, is it not? Tongues and prophecy are both explicitly mentioned to have an "expiration date". And besides - was it not a "change" in the Holy Spirit's ways (by their definition, anyway) for the apostles to begin performing miracles after Pentecost? Signs did not "follow those who believe" except by special dispensation: Jesus commissioned his followers who were already following him (had been following him for some time) to perform miracles.

Anyway, as an example of the awful exegesis that exceptionlessly pervades and perpetuates the charismatic movement, allow me to expose what's happening in Matthew 10:7-8 that will defeat these guys once and for all, if they'll listen to the words of Jesus in context (*gasp*! that's limiting the Holy Spirit!). When I finally "come out" to my friends and family about my cessationism, I'm going to do so this way.

Read the following and tell me when it stops applying to the modern church.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,b drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Verse 8? Maybe verse 15 (verses 9 and 10 will mess with your prosperity message!). How about all the way through verse 20? How many synagogues are flogging Christians nowadays? But look at verse 23! Whatever "coming" of the Son of Man that Jesus referred to here had to have happened before the gospel even penetrated the entirety of the nation of Israel! Many scholars believe Jesus was referring to a judgment "coming", actualized in the real world by the Romans decimating Jerusalem and, as a result, punishing the Mosaic Covenant Jews for persecuting the Church.

Regardless, it's crystal clear that lifting verses 7 and 8 out of their context does great violence to Jesus' words, which had a very strictly defined audience: the twelve apostles of the first century. Something has changed since then, guys, or else not only are we supposed to perform the miracles Jesus mentioned, but we should do so as homeless wanderers under a vow of poverty, expecting to be brought in shackles before governors and kings.

Come on, folks. If you believe all that stuff is for today, at least do the Bible (and simple rationality) the courtesy of not ripping sentences out of context in order to support your belief.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


As an update on my last post, my prediction of a prayer walk did not come to pass - glad to be wrong every now and then.  The prediction that someone would blame it on the supposed inroads we're making in the spiritual realm, on the other hand, was fulfilled.  Their solution?  Think Todd Bentley.

Although initially there was a lot of buzz about the Lakeland "revival", Pastor J wisely began to caution the congregation to not just accept everything being said and done there without question.  One thing that occasioned this was that someone in the congregation pointed out to him the whole "Emma the angel" thing.  Bentley was obsessed with angels: angel this, angel that, behind this bush and that bush, over and under everything.  He claimed frequent communication with and spiritual guidance from them.  Anyone could see that he was harping a bit too much on the angel thing.  But because the mantra of the day is, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," this nonsense - although frequently recognized as such - failed to stop people from following the Lakeland circus.  Moreover, Bentley's angelology has not been entirely ignored: the charismatics tried to salvage as much of it as possible.  Hence the new favorite topic at our church: angels!  Specifically guardian angels who must watch over the grounds of our church so that vandals can't attack it anymore.  These angels, who would seem to have been sleeping on the job for the 20 or so years I've been at this church, cannot be blamed for failing to do what they're supposed to: we forgot to invoke them to do their duty.  Although Pastor J wisely declined to answer the question of whether we're supposed to directly command angels to do their duty, others such as Bro. W spoke up publically and proclaimed their conviction that this is indeed what we're supposed to do.

Pastor J's sermon was all about angels and their duty to us as ministering spirits.  Another member initiated a conversation on our personal guardian angels stories, each of which featured a seemingly miraculous story of protection (usually car wrecks) but lacked an actual angel.  I found myself wondering why we can't just thank God for His providence, however He accomplishes His provision; why we have to envision angels in all those circumstances, putting their hands in between us and a steering wheel, keeping the other cars in the lane out of the way when we starting spinning, etc.  In the Bible, angels are usually visible if credited with doing something: if we are so convinced we are the recipients of a miracle and no angel appears to us, should we not just assume it's God Himself doing it?  Or is that not sensational enough?  Is God's providence really so much more cool or real if He uses invisible beings to work it out?  Well, angels are more fun to talk about than "God protected me," I suppose.  I'm trying to stay ambivalent on the issue of whether or not angels are actually doing things; my main point is that here again, I'm seeing the mindset of "a miracle a minute" plastered all over a healthy recognition of God's ordinary providence.  I am also sick of all this "angel" distraction.  This is an example of "being so heaven-minded that we're no earthly good."

So...no prayer walks.  But we have it on Bro. W's authority that angels are now stationed at every corner of the church grounds.  Dare I wonder if we would be having the vandalization problems if we had been ministering to the neighborhood for all the decades we've been situated there?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Works of the flesh

My church is situated in a somewhat seedy neighborhood.  Over the years, our church has had to deal with more than its share of breakins, resulting at least in busted windows and at most with the loss of expensive sound equipment (a keyboard and some wireless microphones, most notably).  Its membership does not reside in this neighborhood, but commutes from elsewhere. There have infrequently been surges of consciousness of the need for outreach in the area, but they don't last long: a bus ministry thrived for a good few months. The poor response from the community to our fledgling, toe-in-the-water efforts was attributed to our forcing things on God, working "in the flesh" à la Abraham and Hagar. Of course the major difference here is that Abraham was seeking to fulfill a promised blessing from God on his own, yet we were trying to be a blessing to others at our own expense using all the resources we have available - hardly a trifling distinction. Apparently we're supposed to wait for a "word of wisdom" or a prophecy before we know whether or not we should feed a hungry person.  Please don't breathe the concept of a "ministry" or anything like it: to these guys, you might as well be advocating converting the church to Roman Catholicicm (no offense - for me, that would be a welcome change).

Anyway, of late, I have been happy to see a resurgence of interest in meeting the needs of our community. Unfortunately, as has become typical in recent years, the leadership seems to think that supernatural methods of doing so can stand in for natural (read: practical) ways.  We've had a couple "prayer walks" through the neighborhood and, most recently, every Sunday we declare peace, prosperity, healing, a "spirit" of forgiveness, and a few other Candyland dreams over the neighborhood, convinced that this is going to effect change in the hearts of the people in the neighborhood, eliminate some recent vandalism, and perhaps drum up a little unction to do something.  Note that we don't pray for those things corporately; we declare them together: "We declare righteousness and peace for the neighborhood."  Feels like a cult of some sort incanting magic words.  For my part, I've half a mind to stand up and declare, "Listen up - I've got a word from the Lord: 'Inasmuch as you've done it to the least of these my brethren...'"  I mean, come on - if Jesus said it, we're pretty safe in saying it's a word from the Lord.  (Ever notice Jesus didn't get after the goats for not doing deliverance ministry to remove the spirits of sickness and imprisonment and whatnot?)

I just found out that, after our church just paid out the ying-yang replacing the copper tubing in our air conditioning units a couple weeks ago, the same druggies who stole the copper last time have taken the replacements this week, too. Apparently insurance pays for most of it, but the church has paid several hundred dollars in deductibles already, and it appears we will have to again. Pastor B bought some fencing for next time, but I have no confidence that will keep anyone out - they're dismantling the units and cutting out the copper, so I doubt a chain-link fence is going to keep them out.  When I hear about these things, I am reminded of the "declarations " we regularly make over the neighborhood and wonder how long it will take the church to tire of speaking into the air.

My prediction: this Sunday, a prayer walk will be announced. I also expect that some will try to convince others that the Almighty Devil is doing this because he's shaking in his boots over our church's "declarations".

Am I too cynical?  I hope not, but if so, it's come honestly: years of this kind of ineffectual talk of "power for the hour" has left me cold. I do believe in prayer and that we should ask God to guide us into doing things that please Him; we need His infinite wisdom and providence to pull anything off. At the same time, "God helps those who help themselves" carries some truth to it: knowing what we should do and asking for some wisdom in how to go about it is one thing, but ignoring the opportunities that He has dropped in our path because we're chanting and pacing around the neighborhood waiting on the angels and demons to hash it out in the heavenlies is tantamount to disobedience. Offering a cup of cold water in His name requires no special authorization.  Assuming supernatural solutions for our natural problems seems presumptuous and lazy. My church is afraid that taking practical measures is a lack of faith, whereas I see it more as a lack of faithfulness to our charge.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


The gift of tongues is a major component of most charismatic movements, due to the charismatic assumption that the NT's description of the experiences of the first century church is wholly indicative of what our modern experience should be. For me, this was one of the first columns to crumble, and it led to my eventual recognition of cessationism. So what do I do with tongues as described in the Bible?

In Acts 2, we see the definition of tongues, and find no reason to believe that there is a redefinition elsewhere. The words used are glossa and dialektos, which never meant “tongues” as we understand it, but “languages” and “dialects” (roughly speaking). The text is quite clear that the apostles spoke in actual human languages. Now, why should we expect the glossolalia discussed throughout the rest of Acts to be different? What competent author or historian, having taken pains to describe a phenomenon in detail, would suddenly start describing another, distinct phenomenon using the same terms he used for the already defined phenomenon?

Even 1 Corinthians 14 affirms Luke's description. Paul is somewhat impatient with the Corinthians who were using glossolalia in worship services uninterpreted. Accusing them of “thinking like children,” he points out the true purpose of glossolalia as prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 28: speaking in “strange tongues” and with “the lips of foreigners” was meant as a confounding sign of judgment (cf. Babel) for unbelieving Israel. In fact, the Old Testament proclaims in multiple places that the language of foreigners spoken in Israel was to be a sign of God’s displeasure with and judgment of Israel. (cf. De 28.49; Je 5.15)

Have a look at this webpage, which lays it down pretty much as I believe it. The gift of tongues was “a sign, then, not for believers, but for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14.22), and was used to warn Old Covenant Israel of the judgment that eventually came on them when God, through the Roman armies under Titus Vespasian, sieged and destroyed Jerusalem and her beloved temple in A.D. 66-70. That this judgment was accomplished is seen by the Diaspora and the resultant dysfunctional nature of Judaism sans a temple or the genealogical records necessary to determine the priestly Levite line.

But wait - human language is simply one type of tongue, and the heavenly language is completely different....right? Well, even accepting for the sake of argument that tongues were of two types, my argument still stands that Paul's intent in 1 Cor 14 is to correct the abuse of glossolalia in the church. The stinger that closes this subject is the passage I cited, in which he reminds them of the purpose of glossolalia, without making any distinction between what he was describing in verse 2 and the sort that was a sign for unbelievers in verse 22.

However, I don't think there is any evidence for two types of glossolalia. Different kinds of languages? There definitely are, as any linguist can tell you! But different kinds of glossolalia? I am aware that charismatics talk about "prayer languages" as opposed to the "language of heaven" and use 1 Cor 14 verses 2 and 14 as their prooftexts, but here again, you have his statements just a few verses later, without any redirection or distinction made, that talk about "tongues" (same word) as a sign "not for believers". If you put this passage in the larger context of the letter, viz. the correction of abuses of God's gifts in worship services, you'll see that when Paul said that "he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" (v. 4), he was not putting this in a positive light, but was describing its abuse: some Corinthians were showing off the charismatic gift, "speaking into the air" (v. 9), even when no one was profiting by it. Glossolalia was ecstatic prophecy in actual languages of men, apparently uninterpretable even to the speaker without a special dispensation (v. 13). Putting that gift on display when no one was there to profit by it was simply "speaking mysteries" that only God could understand, to the speaker's glorification alone.

In fact, to use it in the presence of people who were already believers when no one present could understand the language was useless ("not for believers"); and if no one was there who actually understood or could verify it as an actual language, what good would it be as a sign? Anybody can babble meaninglessly. "Will they not say that you are out of your mind?" (v. 23) Surely that unfortunate situation sounds like the norm today in charismatic/Pentecostal settings!

One more thing: the idea that "praying in a[nother] language" is referring to personal prayer time in one's prayer closet is unlikely given the immediate context of worship services, as well as the cultural context in which prayers were most often (if not always) spoken aloud rather than silently (cf. 1 Samuel 1:13). This is why Jesus told people to go into their prayer closets for prayer so they wouldn't be heard and thought to be showing off for passersby -- he could have told them to just pray silently with their eyes open! I think, therefore, that this passage is probably referring to prayer offered in a corporate setting. Regardless, my other points stand.

I think the other charismata, as well, were signs of the times, and not something meant to carry over. In fact, the author of Hebrews (written sometime in the mid 60’s) implies that the age of signs and wonders as embodied in the ministry of the apostles had dwindled to the point that those manifestations could be spoken of in the past tense (2.3-4). But nevertheless, although the Old Covenant was passing away (8.13) it was being replaced by a “better covenant” (8.6). It is this we live in today.

Monday, August 4, 2008

No baby

I think the charismatic movement suffers from a fundamentally misguided interpretation of the Christian life. Moreover, it's a blemish upon Christianity's reputation.

Charismatic Christians who recognize that things often go awry in charismatic circles will try to temper statements like mine above by saying, "Now wait, sure there are abuses here and there. But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater." I understand that sentiment, I really do: for years I have tried to walk the fine line, but then recently I realized I'm having a hard time finding the line, such that I have come to doubt its existence. I have come to the conclusion that there is no baby in that bathwater.

Let me give you a little background.

My history

My Baptist church growing up believed so much in the charismata and we all tried to move in them. Until I went to college, our church was never particularly successful, however. No healings, almost zero tongues, but a few people who tried to prophesy. I went to a Church of God college and thought that there I’d finally be able to really break loose from the sincere but somehow still uncharismatic Baptists. Sure enough, during Convocation in my freshman year, it finally happened. I went down to the altar and amidst the hullabaloo surrounding me, a few prayed for me to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. I was overjoyed! It didn’t feel at all like I thought it would, but I prayed in tongues in worship as often as I could.

Flash forward 12 years (has it been that long?!). I am now a cessationist. What happened?

A number of things. It is a complex issue. First, as I studied Acts and 1 Corinthians (at this Pentecostal college, no less) my doctrine began to change and I put it over and above my experiences. It was then that I began to see that “tongues” as espoused by modern Christians is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the first-century phenomenon.

Upon examining this evidence, I examined myself. I became convinced that as sincere as I was, I had been fooling myself. I opened my mouth and just started producing syllables as I was instructed at the altar once I noticed that I didn’t get an overpowering “unction”. Although we can't press this too far, I think that it is perhaps significant that such instructions for "priming the pump" are not given to anyone in Scripture.

Broadening the scope

Now, does “cessationist” mean that I don’t think God speaks, moves, or heals today? No, not necessarily. Miracles are still possible, but the offices and gifts meant to testify to and confirm the teaching of the Gospel to the Jews are no longer in effect. God can heal anyone, and we should pray for healing. But are there “healers”? No. Are there prophets? No, although this does not mean that God absolutely could not or would not give some insight to His believers if He so chooses. After the unique apostolic age, the gifts as core commodities and integral aspects of the life of the Christian are no longer “standard issue”. On this point, I would like to quote C.S. Lewis.

They [miracles] are found at the great ganglions of history – not of political or social history, but of that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men. If your own life does not happen to be near one of these great ganglions, how should you expect to see one?

My predicament

I belong to church which moved from a traditional Baptist church to a contemporary/charismatic-leaning church in the eighties, and has been increasingly giving itself over to most every charismatic whim of doctrine since the turn of the millennium.

So why don't I just leave?

I have been a part of this church for twenty years, so many of the members of this church mean the world to me. They are wonderful people who deserve to have their delusion removed; unfortunately, I have only recently become convinced that I will never be able get through to them. Another big reason? A significant constituency of my beloved family attends this church. So until I have an undeniable and wholly defensible reason to tell them I'm leaving them other than, "I think you're all delusional, like I once was," I am not going to risk hurting and isolating myself from the only friends and family I've ever known. But the day's coming, I'm afraid. This blog is an attempt to vet some of my thoughts, perceptions, and opinions.

It's unlikely that charismatics will deny their experiences, unless they're committed to a Scriptural basis for their doctrine and they have been convinced that Scripture contradicts their interpretation of their experiences. That's what happened to me. In later posts, I'll be chronicling the theological problems of a host of charismatic teachings, focusing on some popular ones at my very own church.