Flashback Friday: How Do We Hear The Holy Spirit?

In honor of the Truth Matters Conference on the sufficiency of Scripture, I thought this article  from August 31, 2017 might be appropriate:

Voice Of GodCharismatics have claimed personal words from God for years. That figures, since the bulk of charismatic theology (despite their insistence to the contrary) depends on exalting experience over Scripture. In light of that fact, I can almost expect them to believe that God speaks apart from the written Word of God.

A Facebook conversation with someone from the Charismatic church I belonged to in California reminded me recently that a primary argument for God speaking personally pits the living Holy Spirit against the “dead letter” of the Bible. It’s not a denial of Scripture’s authority. In this person’s mind, it’s not even a denial of Scripture’s sufficiency (though that’s pretty much exactly what he’s doing). Rather, it apparently adds a personal relationship with the Spirit that Scripture somehow can’t provide.

Of course, my friend hastens to add, the Spirit never contradicts Scripture. Which raises the question: Why would He then need to speak apart from Scripture in the first place? Why not trust Him to speak through the Bible He inspired?

The mere suggestion that God’s Word is a “dead letter” needing augmentation with personal experiences absolutely chills me. That very idea completely ignores what the Bible says about itself.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

As we read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit uses it to convict us of sin, instruct us in righteousness and reveal Who the Triune God is. Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us what to look for in a spouse, how to conduct ourselves in business, how to order our families and what His Church should do. Above all that, He shows us His nature and His priorities. He lets us   know what angers Him, what pleases Him and what honors Him.

Certainly, during the course of a day, the Holy Spirit will bring Scriptures and/or Scriptural principles to our minds that we can apply. Even then, please notice, He’s speaking Scripture. He doesn’t, as some claim, direct us to brush a stranger’s hair or purchase an extra bottle of milk. Rather, He commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as much as we love ourselves.

Until we obey everything He tells us in His Word, what would be the point of Him speaking personally to us?

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Spiritual Warfare And Daring To Rebuke Satan

spiritual-warfare

There’s a popular notion, particularly in Charismatic circles, that Christians possess the same authority over Satan and demons that Jesus conferred on the First Century apostles. This line of thinking ignores the key point, however, that the apostles received the ability to perform signs and wonders in order to authenticate the Gospel until the New Testament canon could be completed.

Back in November of 2016, I wrote a Bible Study series on the book of Jude for this blog. Because someone recently challenged a statement I made regarding the nature of spiritual warfare, I thought I’d adapt the study I wrote on verses 9 and 10 as a response.

My challenger objected to my remark that spiritual warfare is about resisting temptation rather than about rebuking Satan. He cited Titus 2:15 (out of context, of course) as substantiation for the practice. Um, that’s a gross misinterpretation and misapplication of Paul’s instructions to Titus. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!

Jude addresses the practice of rebuking the devil more directly than any other New Testament writer,so I believe we best serve this topic by looking at his words. Remember that Jude (a half-brother to Jesus) writes his epistle in order to delineate the characteristics of false teachers. We going to discuss verses 9 and 10, which I want to quote in their proper context.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)

Instead of getting hung up on where this story came from or why Michael and the devil fought over Moses’ body, let’s give our attention to Jude’s meaning.

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” ~~Jude 9 (ESV)

Jude’s purpose is to contrast the brashness of false teachers who dared to rail against the spiritual realm with the archangel Michael’s humility in deferring to the Lord in cursing the devil. This allusion should warn us not to think that we have the authority to rebuke the devil, since even the highest angel didn’t dare do so.

Michael surely would have had some measure of authority, given the fact that God dispatched him to fight Satan on other occasions (see Daniel 10:13 and Revelation 12:7 for examples). Yet he deemed it presumptuous to  rail against the devil on the basis of that authority. Jude’s point is that, since Michael didn’t rebuke the devil directly, false teachers greatly err in doing so. In fact, this sort of practice actually marks a person as a false teacher.

Maybe we should let that last point sink in. Instead of believing that the Lord gives all Christians the authority to hurl comments at Satan and his minions, shouldn’t we take note that false teachers perform and advocate this sort of behavior? If rebuking the devil identifies a person as a false teacher, perhaps we shouldn’t encourage it.

Jude goes on, in verse 10, to explain that the false teachers who rebuke the  devil don’t even know what they’re talking about.

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. (ESV)

He shows the irony of their claims of mastery over the spirit world  when all the while their carnal natures consume them. Unlike Michael, who actually is a spirit, these people have limited knowledge of Satan and his demons, and as a result they lack the qualifications to enter into confrontations with them when they really should confront their own sinfulness.

Rebuking Satan appeals to human pride while providing a distraction from the true spiritual warfare of mortifying our sin and refuting false teaching. Jude 9-10, in exposing the wrong focus of those who rebuke the devil, reminds us to maintain a proper attitude. Let’s trust the Lord to rebuke Satan while we concentrate on resisting temptation and closing our ears to Satan’s lies.

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Throwback Thursday: Sending Something You Can’t

Originally published  September 8, 2016:

lilacsMany people, in all innocence, assure their friends that they will send “good,” “positive,” or “healing” thoughts to suffering people. Occasionally, they combine these thoughts with prayers, although typically they serve as substitutes for prayer. Recently I’ve been in some online conversations with fellow evangelicals about the meaning and appropriateness of this sentiment, and those interactions have caused me to think about whether or not Christians ought to use this phraseology.

In fairness, let me begin by acknowledging that many Christians (and indeed many non-Christians) use this type of phrase simply to express the idea that they’re sympathizing with the hurting person. I get that point. Perhaps they’ve heard these phrases and figure they’re nothing more than an updated way of saying “thinking of you.” What’s wrong with keeping up with the current vernacular?

When I hear this type of phrase, however, I generally connect it with either New Age philosophy or Charismatic theology, both of which tend to promote ideas that humans possess “creative” power. New Agers would say that all people have this power, whereas Charismatics would restrict this power to those who are “baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

Back in my Charismatic days, for example, someone in leadership over me said that she  considered a good thought to be equal to a prayer. At the time, I struggled with her comment, finding it both attractive and disturbing. Attractive, because praying doesn’t come easily for me. Disturbing because Scripture nowhere supports such an idea.

Thirty-one years later, I no longer feel attracted to the idea that thoughts have any  sort of metaphysical power. As I see it, the basic concept attributes abilities to man that belong exclusively to the sovereign Lord. In doing a preliminary Google search, I discovered that these types of phrases have their origin in a New Age practice known as Distance Healing.

Consider the following excerpt from a New Age blog post (which, please note, I do not endorse) entitled Sending Your Love From Afar: The Power of Distance Healing.

Visualize the person you want to heal. Feel the divine energy moving outward from you to that person. Do this from a state of mind of total relaxation and acceptance, meaning you do not doubt the effectiveness. You simply allow divine energy to do its work.

Icky-poo! Clearly, this method of “sending good thoughts” relies on the same lie that Satan told Eve in the garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. ~~Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)

Even as Spirit-filled Christians, we must take great care to remember that we are not “little christs” in the sense that we have power to heal or alleviate the suffering of others,  especially by sending positive thoughts. Only the Almighty God has that kind of power. When we claim that our thoughts can have a healing effect, we essentially commit blasphemy.

Again, I realize that many people don’t understand that phrases about sending healing, positive or even good thoughts carry connotations of New Age ideology.  I’ve written this essay, not to shame anyone who has uttered these phrases without knowing their connection to Distance Healing, but to avoid them from this point forward, lest anyone mistakenly associate us with this worldly and demonic philosophy.

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Of Course God Speaks To Christians Today — But He Chooses The Bible As His Medium

Bible Speaking

More and more evangelicals have come to expect personal words from God. Even thirty years ago, such expectations were limited to Charismatic circles, but Baptist teachers like Henry Blackaby, Rick Warren and (yes)  Beth Moore have convinced more conservative Christians that all believers ought to experience God to speak to them apart from the Bible.

Thirty years ago people who  claimed that God spoke to them were considered mentally ill. Now, however, those of us who deny extra-biblical revelations receive sideways glances.  Most believers see us as abnormal and spiritually Continue reading

Flashback Friday — Doctrine: The Key To Worship

Bible And WorshipHaving begun my Christian life in Charismatic circles, I learned to think of worship in terms of my emotional responses to praise music or to my private prayer and Bible reading. If I felt fluttery feelings, I believed I’d experienced good worship. If such feelings eluded me, I concluded that I’d failed in worship.

Emotions certainly play a part in worshiping the Lord. I love Him, which naturally means  a level of emotional engagement with Him. I’d go so far as to argue that an absence of passion in  prayer, praise and Bible reading amounts to nothing more than dead orthodoxy. Such dispassionate religion hardly exemplifies the sort of worship that Jesus described as pleasing to God.

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” ~~John 4:23-24 (ESV)

Yes, by all means worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit should (and in fact, must involve our emotions! But unless something informs those emotions, we have no ability to worship Him correctly. Even worse, we have no assurance that we’re actually worshiping the true God. Therefore, in order to worship Him in spirit and in truth, we need to make doctrine the key to our worship.

I  care about doctrine because it helps me know the Lord. Not a Jesus fashioned as I think he should be, or one who adapts himself to current culture…though I admit that believing in such a compliant and flexible Jesus appeals to me. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind tweaking the Bible here and there, making it just a little more comfortable, nor would I object to receiving extra-biblical revelations. But Scripture, studied in context and with a dependence on the Holy Spirit leads me to see Jesus as He actually is.

Do I  claim to know Him perfectly? No. In fact, I have only begun understanding the great doctrines of the Christian faith, partly because I  spent years in Christian groups that emphasized  experiential spirituality, partly because the days before the Internet made study materials less accessible to me (due to my disability and my finances), and mostly because I didn’t mind “going with the flow” of whatever my church went after at any given season. The fluttery feelings satisfied me.

Following the crowd and swallowing the Kool-Aid proved easier than learning to distinguish good doctrine from bad. Also, the non-resistance ensured my acceptance with peers and those in leadership. Quite often, people commented on my raised hand and heavenward gaze with admiration. My emotionally charged worship showed them an impressive example of spirituality.

Sadly, it also demonstrated that I worshiped the acclaim of my church more than I worshiped the Lord.

Now, as I read and study the Bible in context  (rather than scanning through it until something gave me spiritual goose bumps), the Lord reveals Himself. I watch His holiness in dealing with Israel, and His humility during His Incarnation. Currently, He teaches me the interrelationship between keeping His  commandments and loving other believers as I study 1 John.The doctrine of human depravity keeps me dependent on  Him, and the doctrine of His sovereignty strengthens my trust in Him. Scripture’s great doctrines show me His perspectives on relationships, sin, faith, money and just about everything else in life.

Most importantly, Scripture teaches me (for the word “doctrine” means nothing more than “teaching”) of Christ’s preeminence in all creation. He is not a god who suits himself to my fancy. Quite the contrary, He is the holy yet gracious King Who allows me the privilege of serving Him for all eternity. The doctrines of the Bible display His  majesty, drawing me to praise and worship Him in thrilled anticipation of being physically in His glorious presence.

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Why I See A Connection Between Charismatic Teaching And Occult Practices

Occult ChristianityGrowing up in the 1960s, I had exposure to many occult and New Age influences. My mom, although she in some respects had turned away from her Christian Science upbringing, introduced me and my sister to horoscopes, Ouija boards and yoga. The liberal Presbyterian church (PCUSA, of course) encouraged my fascination with occult and paranormal phenomena. On a youth group ski trip the pastor’s daughter read our palms.

Very soon after that ski trip, the Lord graciously brought me to Himself, and within a few months He allowed people to confront my interest in astrology. Over the next few months He helped me renounce other forms of occult and New Age practices.

But readers of my Autobiography With Purpose series will recall that I attended Pentecostal and Charismatic churches for the first 31 years of my Christian life. True, after 18 years the Lord showed me that the sign gifts ceased when the Canon of Scripture was completed, but He let me remain in the church for several more years. Throughout those 31 years, I occasionally observed random incidents that reminded me of my Continue reading

Why We Like To Believe That God Speaks Directly To Us And Why We Must Question That Belief

Ancient ScriptureThe other Sunday School teacher had taken the rest of our Special Needs class on a short excursion, leaving me with a particularly difficult little boy. His intellectual disability was profound, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was somewhere on the autism spectrum. In 1975, leaving a child alone with a teacher didn’t raise eyebrows, so there we sat for ten minutes.

“I hate you, Debbie,” he declared. I was minoring in Special Education that semester, so I tried reasoning with him the way my professor had taught me. Didn’t work. He repeated his proclamation several times, each time more loudly and eventually adding profanity.

Suddenly I had the thought to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” To my astonishment, the little boy sang with me! The others returned to find the two of us singing and laughing together.

For years I told that story as evidence that Continue reading