Bleeding Hearts and Propaganda:
Whenever God does something new, a lot of people miss it. Take the establishment of the Church in Jerusalem. The Jewish gentry thought the Church was drunk, the priesthood thought they were deceived. Only one Jewish scholar, Gamaliel, come to their rescue. Gamaliel, a noted Jewish rabbi, is remembered for his sage advice when the Sanhedrin considered murdering the apostles for preaching in the streets of Jerusalem. Gamaliel told the counsel to let them go:
Leave these men alone Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (Acts 5:38-39)
It is not always easy to discern the fresh wind of the Spirit. Sometimes the Body of Christ does no better than the Jewish Sanhedrin did. Today we are too quick to judge and condemn new moves of God. I saw that during the Charismatic Renewal. When I was born again in 1974, I watched the Church struggle to contain, then accommodate the Charismatic outpouring. But too often many charismatic leaders were excommunicated from denominations that couldnt understand the new spiritual shaking.
Today, however, the Evangelical churchby and largehas accepted the Charismatic Movement. However, the Charismatic debate is not over. New spiritual manifestations assail the Church in an even more dramatic way than the Charismatic outpouring thirty years ago. Now these manifestations are under fire. These phenomena include the Faith Movement and what has been termed the "Toronto Blessing."
Moderate Christian leaders reserve judgment on new Pentecostal experiencesthey take a "wait and see" attitude. They realize that what seems disorderly on the surface may be simply carnal excesses within a genuine spiritual stirring.
As I write this chapter, the Toronto Blessing is a highly controversial topic within Evangelical circles. This experience, which began in 1993, appears to be a new wave of Pentecostal fervor spreading throughout the world like a whirlwind. Alternately referred to as "Holy Laughter," the experience has affected hundreds of thousands of people who testify to spiritual renewal accompanied by uncontrollable laughter. The apostle of this new wave is a South African evangelist, Rodney Howard-Browne.
By January, 1994, the movement spread to Airport Vineyard, a church near the Toronto airport. By January 1995, 200,000 people had attended the church to see first-hand what was happening. As many as 10,000 of them have been pastors from five continents, many of whom have carried the experience to their own churches.
English churches were probably most affected by what many Christian historians and observers are calling a genuine revival. Charisma magazine estimates that as many as 4,000 congregations in England have experienced meetings similar to Airport Vineyards by 1995. Londons 1,000 member Anglican church, Holy Trinity Brompton, has grown to the point where tickets are required to get into the Church for services.
Holy laughter, while it is extremely disconcerting to modern America, is not unknown in revival history. Time magazine quoted Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan:
Though virtually unknown today, holy laughter was a long-standing Pentecostal tradition that petered out in the 1950s, according to religious historian Vinson Synan of Virginias Regent University. Why has it resurfaced in such an unlikely place? "Its a kind of emotional release for a lot of people," maintains Synan. "It shows theres a spiritual and emotional hunger that's not being met in mainline churches."
Charisma cited several Christian historians who suggest this new move may be of God:
Richard Riss, a revival historian and author of Twentieth Century Revival Movements, believes the Toronto Blessing is heaven-sent. "What is happening in Toronto is at the very least on a par with what happened at Azusa Street in 1906," he says, referring to the movement that gave birth to modern-day Pentecostalism.
"Toronto is a new Azusa Street," agrees Sten Sornensen, pastor of the Oslo Baptist Church in Norway. Sornensens questions about the authenticity of the "Blessing" were resolved when he experienced it himself while visiting Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican church in London.
One of the distinctives of this renewal is its cross-denominational character. Baptists, Catholics, Anglicans, Charismatics, Pentecostals and believers from virtually every Christian denomination have experienced the same refreshingoften while standing side by side.
Tsugumichi Ohkawa, president of Calvary Bible Seminary in Yamoto, Japan, says the renewal has spread throughout his country and, in the process, promoted unity among Pentecostals and evangelicals.
Guy Chevreau, author of a recently published history of the Toronto movement, Catch the Fire (HarperCollins London), believes this interdenominational quality validates the renewal as a legitimate work of the Spirit. "There is no church-growth strategy or program that works through denominational barriers and prejudices," he says. "It is a true mark of the Spirit when those barriers are gone."
Church leaders also point to the spiritual fruit produced in peoples lives. Overall, they report, participants are experiencing a deeper relationship with God. Repentance is often manifested on both a personal and a congregational level. People yield to forgiveness, relationships are healed, and families are restored.
While most Evangelicals are watching the movement with patience and charity, some of the Heresy Hunters are having a field day deriding the phenomenon of holy laughter. Hank Hanegraaff evaluated it this way in a conversation with a caller on "The Bible Answer Man:"
I can tell you categorically that holy laughter, although it is said to be a move of the Holy Spirit, is not holy laughter at all. It is not a move of the Spirit. There is nothing Holy about it whatsoever
It can be explained from a psychological, sociological standpoint quite easily. Some of those who are doing this holy laughter can easily be undressed in terms of their method; others are a little more clever. It just depends on which particular teacher you have foisting this upon your assembly. But let me say that this exact same phenomenon can be found within occultic circles
These guys are using sleight of hand, sleight of mind manipulation tactics. Although some cant see through it, its easy to undress.
While some pop-apologists are eager to "undress" the proponents of holy laughter and proffer glib evaluation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose Anglican Church is being inundated with the Blessing worldwide, is more reserved. Newsweek reported:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, says that while he had not experienced the Blessing himself, those who have report that "it was a very refreshing event."
Even the secular media was more careful than the pop-apologist detractors. The Toronto Star had this to say:
[The] British press and TV had been all over the story, reporting the global spread of a spiritual renewal movement that had broken out here last winter. They were calling it the "Toronto Blessing or the "Mighty Wind from Toronto. So, what was happening? And why, of all places, was it happening here? The Canadian Anglicans - like the clergy of every other Christian church; like the academics who teach the history of revival movements; like the 80,000 people from around the world whove made pilgrimages to the Vineyardcould certainly answer the Archbishop now. The Spirit of God, inexplicably and dramatically, has descended on the Vineyard, an evangelical, charismatic, but non-denominational church thats quietly been around since its founding in California in 1978.
Of course the Church must be vigilant. The legitimate function of the apologists is to keep the devil at bay so that foundling Christians can survive their birth into the kingdom. However, a mature Christian understands that people who suddenly experience salvation, and do so in the midst of a revival setting, often exhibit fleshly reactions. As one wry commentor stated "Where there is light, there will be bugs!"
But those of us who would police the work of the Holy Spirit must be very careful. Nothing can more fundamentally harm the Church than secular, propagandistic, knee-jerk criticism. Its a tragedy to call something heresy, when it isnt heresy. Its tragic because it quenches the Spirit and it hinders the work of God.
If ever there is a time for careful, studied, godly evaluation, it is when God is stirring his Body to bring in new fields of harvest. Nothing is more harmful to evangelism than a vicious watchdog so keyed-up it devours its own young. When the apologists, in their zeal, destroy or hinder the work of God, they are on dangerous ground.
We must be very careful that in our zeal for doctrinal purity we do not excommunicate legitimate brothers and sisters in Christ. If we decide to try to separate wheat from chaff, we must understand that we are engaged in a risky business. (Matt. 13:28-29) My greatest criticism of the Heresy Hunters is that they appear so reckless! What should be a sober, careful evaluation of doctrine too often turns into a vicious personal assault.
THE NEED FOR CONSENSUS
In our care, we need consensus. The Church needs the kind of consensus it has on Mormonism, for example. For more than 100 years the best Bible-believing Christian pastors, teachers, and theologians have agreed that Mormonism stands outside Christianity; that it is a false nonChristian religious system.
We do not have that kind of consensus where the Faith Teachers and the Toronto Blessing are concerned. History teaches us that the Church needs to be in agreement when we anathematize people. That is the point of the great councils which met in the early centuries AD to declare sound doctrine and to excommunicate heretics.
If we cast people out of the Church prematurely, we ourselves may be the real heretics, because we divide the Church. If the Faith Teachers (and others who are deemed undesirable by the Heresy Hunters) are not genuine heretics, but merely novel, unusual, or otherwise flawed, we dare not throw them away. If we start that process then no pastor or teacher is safe, because every one of us is flawed. All of us are sinnerseven the best of our leaders. "There is none righteous, no not one." (Rom. 3: 10)
Every move of God has been characterized by fiery, unusual, and often (in the opinion of some) offensive manifestations: The Jews couldnt abide the new Christians position of liberty from the Law of Moses; the established Church in the Middle Ages couldnt accept the Reformers view that man was saved by faith alone outside the structure of the visible Church: the detractors of John Wesley accused him of teaching "enthusiasm."
Likewise, during the Great Awakening in America, Jonathan Edwards and the British Evangelist George Whitefield were considered by the established churches to be too emotional and "experience oriented" to be genuine instruments of God.
Great Awakening OR GREAT APOSTACY?
One of the greatest outpourings of God ever to bless this continent sprung up under the preaching of a young pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734. Jonathan Edwards is credited with beginning the revival which would sweep throughout the entire nation. What Edwards began, the British preacher, George Whitefield, who came to America in 1739, fanned into a flame of revival that spread the length of the Eastern Seaboard. Besides adding an unprecedented number of new Christians to the Church, the Great Awakening is credited with:
Stemming the tide of Enlightenment Rationalism.
Stimulating missions to the American Indians.
Producing vibrant seminaries.
Increasing religious tolerance.
Binding the American colonies together so they could resist the intolerable British rule.
In spite of all that, many of the established churches rejected the Great Awakening! Likewise, many pop-apologists today resist what God may legitimately be doing in Pentecostal circles they judge to be "too far out." They cricicize the excesses and manifestations of flesh. They say the current revival is too emotional to be from God. Only the devil, they argue, can produce a work so filled with spiritual excesses. Those are the exact criticisms the established Church mounted against the Great Awakening.
And, it is true, there was emotionalism in the Great Awakening. Weeping, sighs, sobs, visions, and fainting spells overtook the seekers after salvation. And some preachers, really were over-zealous. James Davenport, for example, harangued his listeners for twenty-four hours straight-then collapsed.
Those who opposed, resisted, and criticized the revival were called the "Old Lights;" those who welcomed it were the "New Lights." The leader of the Old Lights was Charles "Old Brick" Chauncy, pastor of Bostons First Church. He denounced the revival as "religious frenzy" and likened it to "antinomianism [lawlessness], popery, communism, and infidelity."
Jonathan Edwards, however, steadfastly defended the revival as a legitimate work of Godin spite of its unseemly elements. Time, of course, has proved Edwards was correct. The Great Awakening stands in Evangelical history as an unprecedented outpouring of God.
At the height of the controversy Edwards went to Yale College to address the graduating class of 1741 on the controversy surrounding the Awakening. (That address, entitled "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God," attempted to outline what were, and what were not, legitimate ways to judge whether religious activities were from God. There is much in that sermon for us today.
The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God
William Cooper penned the introduction to the published version of Edwards sermon. Cooper was perplexed as to how those who detracted from the work could think it might be from any source other than God. He attemped to explain the actions of those who opposed the revival. He suggested four possible motivations:
1. They may not have been correctly informed on the subject.
2. They may have been offended because "they have not experienced anything like such a work in themselves."
3. The work may have been distasteful to them because it supported theology they didnt supporttheology which they were prejudiced against.
4. Some may have disliked the work because they themselves hadnt been used by God to bring it about.
When Edwards addressed the graduating class at Yale, he took as the text for his sermon the fourth chapter of the First Epistle of John:
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the World." (1 John 4:1 KJV)
He was convinced that that chapter of John provided ample information to determine the source of any purported move of God. He thought there were "true, certain, and distinguishing evidences of a work of the Spirit of God" by which we could judge any religious operation we should encounter. He listed five sure marks for judging a move of God. He also dealt with nine criticisms opponents of the revival brought against it.
Edwards first dealt with the criticisms against the revival in general. All of the nine negative arguments were aimed at the bizarre manifestations which attended the revival. They sound uncannily like what the critics of current manifestations of the Spirit are saying today.
Edwards concluded that the criticisms were worthless because they could not prove conclusively, one way or another, whether the spiritual manifestations in the Great Awakening were occasioned by the world, the flesh, the devilor God Himself.
The Nine Criticisms
Criticism One: The Old Lights argued that the manifestations in the Great Awakening were new, unusual, and extraordinary. Edwards agreed, but said that was no sign they were not from God. God often does things differently than He has in the past. Edwards counseled the Old Lights, "We ought not to limit God where He has not limited himself."
Criticism Two: The manifestations, the critics said, were unseemly: tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, the failing of bodily strength. Edwards said, "So What?" He noted that the Queen of Sheba fainted (I Kings 10:5) at the wisdom and glory of Solomon. He wondered why it would be inappropriate for the Church to faint when it comes to see the glory of Christ. He also remembered that the Philippian jailer fainted with fright when he saw Paul and Silas standing outside the jail. (Acts 16:29-30)
Criticism Three: Great Awakening meetings were too tumultuous for the Old Lights. "Too much ado," they said, "To much noise about religion." Edwards reacted indignantly. Matters of religion were "so important-of such vast and infinite concern," he thought it was amazing people were not more agitated, by religious considerations.
Today, as it was in Edwards day, people who are being saved from a world of sin and a future in hell often get stirred up! How can we accept that people can get worked into a state of frenzy over their kids high school basketball team and insist they remain sedate when they see the power and principalites of hell put to flight?
Criticism Four: Some of the stories the newly saved were telling were too farfetched to be reasonable. They were emotionally worked up and highly imaginative! Edwards said the fact that the imaginations of the people were greatly stirred up was no proof God wasnt working in their lives. Just because people are stirred in their imaginations, he said, doesnt prove "they have nothing else."
Who can say that a person who exhibits his spiritual life in a boistrous, even unconventional way, is less committed to Christ than someone who is sedate and reasonable. Jonathan Edwards said:
I know men who think they have some experience in religion who think they are able to determine the state of other mens souls by a little conversation with them, Experience has taught me that is an error.
Criticism Five: Hysteria! These people are only mimicking what others are doing!
Edwards said the fact that people react to the manifestation of God in others is no sign they are not truly reacting to God. Coming to an understanding about God by watching the effects of the Holy Spirit on someone else is as legitimate as reacting to a dry, reasoned sermon, he said.
Criticism Six: What about the sins and failings of the participants in the revival? Edwards said we must understand that truly pious men "may have a great deal of remaining blindness and corruption" within them. Though that is unfortunate, it does not prove that what they preached was wrong.
It is impossible to discern from the mannerisms and outward bearing of a preacher the accuracy of his message. Let us judge his message rather than his demeanor.
Edwards knew we dare not get sidetracked into a discussion of Church discipline when we are really talking about orthodox doctrine. They are two separate discussions. I believe denominations and congregations have the right and responsibility to censure sinful ministers. However, when you try to establish the orthodoxy of a mans message by examining his character, you will often come up short. The cultists are often men of impeccable character, but their doctrine is heretical. Conversely, many a sin-ridden preacher has ministered a flawless message.
Criticism Seven: Some manifestations in hot revivals are even demonic! Edwards understood that. But, he said, even if some delusions of Satan were mixed with the work, that still did not prove the work itself was not from God. It was to be expected, he said, that some of those in the revival would "fall into satanic traps."
Criticism Eight: Some of these people fall away into gross errors or scandalous practices! With great boldness, Edwards pressed his point: That reasonof itselfis not proof that the work in general is not the work of the Spirit of God:
If we look into church history, we shall find no instance of great revival of religion, but that it has been attended with many such things...Therefore the Devils sowing such tares is no proof that a true work of the Spirit of God is not gloriously carried on.
Criticism Nine: The preaching is too extreme! One of the greatest charges brought by the Old Lights was that Edwards and his comrades preached too much "hell, fire, and brimstone:"
Some say it is an unreasonable thing to frighten persons into heaven; but I think it is a reasonable thing to endeavor to frighten persons away from hell, especially those who stand upon the brink of it, and are just ready to fall into it, and are senseless of their danger: it is a reasonable thing to frighten a person out of a house which is on fire.
Positive Evidence For Revival
Edwards believed the critics of the revival were looking at the wrong end of the horse to determine its health. The nine criticisms proved nothing, except that people are flawed, carnal, and given to ungodliness.
He was convinced that Gods Word, on the other hand, did provide a way to examine a spiritual experience. In fact he suggested five sure signs by which any move of God can be judged. The five Positive Evidences follow.
Positive Evidence One: A genuine move of God raises the esteem of Jesus among those who partake of it. A genuine work of God must lead men to see the real, biblical Christa Christ who "appeared in the flesh." Here he refers to the fact that Jesus must be understood to be the Creator God who took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:12), the Eternal triune Godthe Christ who was both God and "with God." (John 1:1)
Those who want to judge the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements, or the Faith Teachers, or those falling to the floor in holy laughter, would do well to ask the question Jonathan Edwards asked"Do these people develop a burning love for Jesus?"
No objective observer can doubt that the Faith Movement for example, in spite of whatever shortcomings it may possess, is made up of people full of a fervent love for Jesus. Such zealous movements are full of people who constantly lift Jesus high, who worship Him, and who exalt Himsomething cults (like Mormonism) never do!
Positive Evidence Two: Edwards said the Spirit of God always operates against the interest of Satans Kingdom. Some suggest that the Faith Teachers are too caught up "dealing with demons." Faith Teachers also dare to teach that Jesus actually entered hell and spoiled the powers and authorities there. They teach that His victory gives us "power to tread on serpents and scorpions." (Lk. 10: 19)
Edwards stated clearly that only the Spirit of God can truly open mens eyes both to the kingdom of hell and the kingdom of heaven. Only the Holy Spirit will remind men of the treachery of Satan and the victory of the Redeemed through Jesus name and blood.
Positive Evidence Three: Edwards said it is surely the Spirit of God which causes men to have a greater regard for the Holy Scriptures. Cults add to, and detract from, the Bible. However, Pentecostals/Charismatics, including the Faith Teachers, revere the scripture. Pentecostals are as zealous for the accurately preached Word of God as any other segment of the Evangelical church and more zealous than the Church as a whole.
Positive Evidence Four: Edwards said the Spirit of God certainly must be in a movement which presents the following as true:
That there is a God, and that he is a great God, and a sin-hating God; and makes them realize it more; (and to realize) that they must die, and that life is short, and very uncertain; and (that Spirit) confirms persons that there is another world, that they have immortal souls, and that they must give account of themselves to God; and convinces them that they are exceeding sinful by nature and practice; and that they are helpless in themselves...
These truths, of course, are foreign to the cults and the occult, but they are central to those groups the Heresy Hunters are attempting to exclude from the Church.
Positive Evidence Five: Edwards was certain that wherever you found a genuine spirit of love for God and man, you were observing the Spirit of God in action. When you see sacrificial giving, godly dedication, burning fervor for lost souls, Edwards said you have seen a movement empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Using this standard of evaluation, one is forced turn the tables on the Heresy Hunters. We must, in all honesty ask, what spirit drives those critical, derogatory apologists who shade the truth to make their points and who act as though they are driven by vindictiveness.
As Jonathan Edwards concluded his sermon at Yale, he said that he defended the Great Awakening in spite of all its excesses, abnormalities, demonic harassment, and other strange manifestations. He said he had observed multitudes of services where people did "extraordinary things" which "many persons have been much stumbled at." Things like: "persons crying out aloud, shrieking, being put into great agonies of body, and deprived of their bodily strength."
Some object against it as a great confusion, when there is a number together in such circumstances, making a noise; and say, God cant be the author of it, because he is the God of order, not of confusion.
That is one of the primary criticisms one hears today. "God is a God of order. These meetings are out of order, therefore God cannot be part of them."
Edwards, of course, hoped people would avoid as much confusion and commotion as possible, but he understood it might not be possible to avoid it.
If God is pleased to convince the consciences of persons, so that they cant avoid great outward manifestations, even to the interrupting and breaking off of those public meetings they were attending, I dont think this is confusion or an unhappy interruption.
It is not an unhappy interruption, Edwards says, if it leads to the conversion of sinners! He concludes that raucous public meetings may not be evidence of confusion at all, but, on the contrary, evidence of an outpouring of the Spirit of God. Such behavior, he said, is not confusion any more than if:
A company should meet on the field to pray for rain, and should be broken off from prayer by a plentiful shower. Would to God that all the public assemblies in the land were broken off from their public exercises with such confusion as this the next Sabbath day!
The Old Lights missed the revival. One by one leading churchmen spoke out against it and churches took formal positions against it. Edwards himself would eventually be drummed out of his own congregation where the Great Awakening began.
Today I believe there is a danger that many will miss current moves of God by prematurely judging events that are unusual to them. I sincerely believe that we need to take Gamaliels counsel to be patient and wait upon God in some of these matters. I think we need to remember the Bibles warning:
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of mens hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (I Cor. 4: 5 NIV)
In the last section of this book I have tried to underscore the damage well-meaning Christians can do when they fall prey to worldly methodologysecular propagandizing. I do not believe we can sound the bell too loudly here. If they are undermining what God is doing, they are dupes of the devil.
Just as the Liberal Evangelicals opened the door of the Church to worldly influences, the Heresy Hunters threatenby the unbridled use of propagandato slam the door in the face of their brothers. And, they themselves are in grave personal danger.
EdwardS Severe Warning
Jonathan Edwards strongly believed that the work of God he took part in would eventually be vindicated. He was right. So convinced was he that he warned the detractors with the greatest solemnity not to oppose the revival. He reminded them of how the Jews had rejected Jesus during his earthly ministry. He staighforwardly warned the detractors that if they were opposing the work, they might find themselves beyond the grace of God.
Those who maliciously oppose and reproach this work, and call it the work of the Devil [lack] but one thing [to be guilty of committing] the unpardonable sin, and that is doing it against inward conviction.
Edwards warning should ring in the ears of anyone who raises his voice against those who claim to minister in the name of the Lord Jesus. We must be very careful. We must walk with fear and trembling. God takes it unwarranted criticism of the Body of Christ very seriously:
Let us all be warned not to oppose or do anything to hinder this work...The Jews in Christs and the apostles times... opposed Him, counted Him a madman, and the spirit that he wrought by, they called the spirit of the Devil...and so were guilty of the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost Jonathan Edwards