I originally wrote the following article as a series of six blog posts in 2014 on a now defunct site. I have combined them all into one mega-post and made a few slight edits in order to re-publish this article here. The topic is still of immense importance. Personally, it is of my special import, as I have extended family members caught up in the very dangers of which I write about in the following paragraphs. This post is not dealing with whether or not the Holy Spirit moves today. I believe He guides, directs, and empowers believers today. This post is about specific aspects of the “Charismatic” movement that need to be addressed.
The Strange Fire Conference
The Strange Fire Conference (2013) engendered numerous blog posts, articles, and radio programs on the topic of the “Charismatic movement.” The conference sought to expose the errors behind the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement. Personally, I thought the conference was a much needed event to provoke critical thought and discussion concerning a view of “Christianity” that is spreading all over the globe. As I was already quite familiar with John MacArthur’s view (and in large agreement), nothing said at the conference really took me by surprise. Were some things said that were over-generalizations? Sure. Could someone get the impression that all Charismatics support Benny Hinn? Possibly. But a level of discernment concerning the goal of the conference is needed to sort through these things. Additionally, numerous clarifying statements were made concerning the fact that not all self-identified Charismatics support the likes of Creflo Dollar, Hinn, and Kenneth Copeland.
Despite such clarifying statements, a consistent response to the conference (from both Charismatics and non-Charismatics) was that the conference used “broad brush strokes” to identify the problem. The contention is that the speakers at Strange Fire were unfair in there analysis of the problems in the Charismatic movement. Phil Johnson has already responded to this critique. My contention is something slightly different. I don’t want to speak for the conference speakers. I can understand someone who says that, at times, it seemed as if MacArthur grouped all Charismatics into the “prosperity gospel” camp. But my contention is that the problem is more than simply those so-called fringe elements. The accusation against critics of the “Charismatic movement” is that they are using a broad brush. I will use as narrow a brush as possible.
In the following paragraphs, I will be going through some aspects of a movement that greatly troubles me. This will not be an analysis of the Strange Fire Conference. Nor will it be a response to criticisms against it. Rather, I am writing this post because I believe that the main issues are being missed (perhaps by people on both sides). As I mentioned, I thank God for the Strange Fire Conference. Much of what I say here was discussed at the conference, but perhaps not in the way I will do it. I want to present my concern with the “Charismatic movement” and why people get confused about interacting with this problem. This reflection has also been prompted by people largely in agreement with much of what was said at the conference—but who have written articles urging us not to go “too far” in our criticism and to be thankful for the “good” in the charismatic movement. For example, Dr. Thomas Scheiner in his review of the book Strange Fire, writes the following:
Many charismatics reject the likes of Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland…We can be thankful for [John] MacArthur’s longtime passion for the truth of the gospel and for his unswerving commitment to the Word of God. He rightly reminds us that we must be bold and courageous in renouncing false teaching. At the same time, the charismatic movement is painted with too broad of a brush in Strange Fire. We can be thankful for the many good things that have occurred and are occurring in the charismatic movement as well.
While I agree that many Charismatics reject Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland, my main concern with the Charismatic movement is not that Benny Hinn is preaching egregious heresies and lies. It is true that I am concerned for the people who believe Hinn’s lies, but what Hinn is doing is simply adding more problems to the Charismatic movement. I want to be fair and address the underlying problem with the movement, not simply the televangelists who shame even other Charismatics. I think this is where some clarification will be helpful regarding the dangers of this movement.
What is the “Charismatic Movement”?
At the outset, I have to define what I am talking about. This is really half the battle—and a main part of this post. As soon as I say the “Charismatic movement,” a myriad of thoughts can come to mind. Add to that the fact that I include the Pentecostal movement as part of the problem, and we really have muddied the definitional waters. Therefore, in order to prevent any confusion, I want to start from scratch and lay out some common denominators. In order to prevent the criticism that I am using a term erroneously, I want to label what I am concerned with as “Movement X.” As I seek to define Movement X, you will see that there are certain characteristics that may line up with what you view as the “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal” Movement. Or, conversely, you may not see these things as essential to what you consider the Charismatic or Pentecostal Movement. The point to be made is this: if someone says Movement X is not what the Charismatic or Pentecostal Movement is, then I have no problem with what that person calls the Charismatic Movement (we just might disagree on the terminology). The error that I really want to avoid here is one of misunderstanding the issues. I don’t want anyone to say that I have painted with a broad brush, that I failed to define the Charismatic movement properly, thus overgeneralizing in my critique of it.
Before defining Movement X, I want to make a few brief comments about the supposed credence that being “Reformed” is giving to people within Movement X. This article is written to anyone interested, but also specifically for those who are cautious of the Charismatic movement and yet are hesitant to write it off because there are “solid, Reformed preachers” who endorse or even practice it. Simply because someone affirms “Reformed theology” does not mean that everything else becomes a secondary issue. The false impression that many people get is that since so-and-so “believes” in “Reformed theology” and preaches the “same gospel” then everything else is minor by comparison. The problem with this is that is in an oversimplification. Mentally assenting to certain aspects of a theological school of thought is not sufficient. Fundamental issues include: What is Christianity? What is the Christian life? What does it mean to know God? What does it mean to worship God?
Some people in the Movement X (like Tope Koleoso for example) seem to argue that it is one thing to have good doctrine and it is another thing to really experience God. The question in my mind then becomes, What is your doctrine on experiencing God? Instead of erroneously saying that “Reformed Charismatics” have the same doctrine as “non-reformed Charismatics” but just have different experiences, we ought to say that there are two totally different doctrines on what it means to know and experience God (not a periphery issue when it comes to even the “simple gospel”). This is why this issue is of vital importance. At a bare minimum, the issues here have a “significant effect on the fashion in which one conducts one’s Christian life and even on the very style or tone of the Christian life” (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 894). Indeed.
These are not peripheral issues. These are essential issues. Ironically, many “Reformed Charismatics” say to the Reformed non-Charismatics that mentally assenting to doctrine is not enough, but we must experience it. I would send that challenge right back at them: Mentally affirming Reformed theology (or any theology) is not enough, what is important is how one actually views (lives out) his Christianity, God, and the Christian life—what is your real doctrine?
While there is a sense in which this is a discussion within the Christian circle, there is another sense in which it is not. Proponents of Movement X (as I will define it) are presenting a false view of Christianity. Unbelievers think that Christianity is what they see Movement X teaching and practicing. That is why this issue spills over and is not just a matter of intramural debate among Christians. It is also an evangelistic and apologetic issue.
However, as I am specifically writing this with those who are tempted to hesitate in critiquing the movement because of the “Reformed” people in it in mind, I have attempted to clarify my understanding of the movement by listening to respected “reformed” people within the movement. For example, I have looked at the views of “Reformed Charismatics” such as Tope Koleoso and Adrian Warnock. Koleoso, a pastor in London, was invited by John Piper to speak at the Desiring God 2013 Conference for Pastors. Many Reformed Christians’ confusion about this whole issue is fomented by the fact that John Piper seems to accept the Charismatic movement (as I will define it). Warnock is a leader within the church Koleoso pastors and has written many blog posts on Charismatic movement. In considering men such as Warnock and Koleoso, I have come to the conclusion that they indeed fit the definition of Movement X (but we will look at this later). Another Charismatic leader that I have looked into is Michael Brown. While not Reformed, Brown is a leading voice in respectable Charismatic circles (I mean those circles which reject the likes of Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar). Adrian Warnock and Sam Storms joined Brown in a recent radio program—and they happily agree concerning the main aspects of Movement X. Naturally, Sam Storms is another person to consider among this group of “respected Charismatics.” Storms and Piper may not agree with everything in Movement X, but I do believe they are not helping Christians really understand the issues at stake in this matter. I refer to Piper because his voice on this issue has special weight to many Christians, myself included.
Without further ado, let’s define Movement X as best we can. There are three main characteristics to the movement (which will be elaborated on below):
- A view of experiencing “God’s presence,” “God’s face,” or “God moving” that includes any or all of the following:
- An actual physical, sensory experience—a feeling of warmth or electricity, etc.
- Being taken over by some power that causes you to lose control or your body—perhaps you will laugh uncontrollably, cry uncontrollably, or twitch/shake uncontrollably.
- Speaking in gibberish or ecstatic speech.
- The constant push for expectancy and desperation for God to move (as we will define what “God moving” means); a constant seeking of “God’s face” or “God’s presence.”
- The push for the presence of “signs or wonders”—supposed healing, people speaking in gibberish, people claiming to speak for God.
- Note: These are not the gifts of the apostolic age. As you consider Movement X, remember that there are no cases of verified miraculous healings. No one is raising people from the dead or healing lifetime paralytics (think of someone like Joni Eareckson Tada getting up out of her wheelchair). This was the power that Jesus and certain apostles had. Additionally, the biblical gift of speaking in known languages and translating is not present either. We will get into this later, however note from the outset that I am not rejecting any apostolic gifts being used today, there simply aren’t any within Movement X to reject. (I still believe God heals and answers prayers, so just bear with me as I address this below.)
If Tope Koleoso, for example, will reject these three things, then I would have no problem with him calling himself a Charismatic (after all, I believe in charis in a New Testament sense). If one rejects Movement X, there is no longer anything (in my mind) to separate the so-called non-Charismatics from the so-called Charismatics. This is my hope. However, I don’t expect everyone to reject Movement X—perhaps having people understand it is a more modest goal. In the following sections I will look in-depth at the characteristics of Movement X and very briefly consider the flaws of each.
In looking at the three main characteristics I will be citing various preachers/teachers, including Warnock, Brown, and Koleoso. By citing these “respected Charismatics” I am not seeking to use them to define the movement (I already recognized all these characteristics before encountering these men), but rather to give examples and show that these so-called “respected Charismatics” adhere to the core of what makes Movement X so dangerous, in my view. Also, this is an attempt to show that I am not talking about some fringe, extreme wing within the movement, but rather the very essentials of the movement. Also, I will only be offering very brief criticisms of these characteristics; more will perhaps need to be said at a later time to deal fully with the problems—the issue now is one of definition.
Characteristic #1: A Specific View of What It Means to “Experience God” or “Experience His Presence”
The first characteristic we will be considering when thinking about “Movement X” is a specific view of what it means to experience God. Adrian Warnock writes the following about being a reformed Charismatic:
In a sense reformed charismatics are occupying the center ground. Like ‘new Labor,’ they advocate a third way. It is really possible, they say, to pursue a solid biblical knowledge and sound doctrine while experiencing the presence and the power of God in a real way today. The Word and the Spirit are not in conflict, but rather work together to cause us to know God.
Whether “reformed” or not (and most in Movement X do not consider themselves reformed), the idea of experiencing the presence and power of God is central. Once again, the assumption that Warnock makes is that solid biblical knowledge and sound doctrine promotes what Movement X calls “experiencing God” (for the most part, “experiencing God,” “experiencing God’s presence,” and successfully “seeking God’s face” are synonymous in Movement X). I strongly disagree. Sound doctrine does not promote a view of Christianity that includes this distinctive features of Movement X, as we shall see.
What is it that characterizes “experiencing God” in Movement X? First and foremost, it is a physically tangible experience. While many will insist that it includes understanding propositional truth, the essence of it is a sensation, emotional outburst, or ecstatic manifestation. Of course, this “experience of God” and people’s description of it can differ greatly in many respects within Movement X. But there is a consistent theme to the idea of feeling God’s presence. Defining this doctrine of “experiencing God” is not easy. By looking at some contemporary examples, we may get some clarity.
Consider what Adrian Warnock says was an instance of him “experiencing” God. Warnock was reading a Tweet from one of his favorites, Rick Warren, when he “experienced God.” Read what he wrote:
One of my favoriter Tweeps is @RickWarren and he simply said “Those anointed by God feel no need to prove themselves.” As I read the word anointed this time, the sun came out from behind a cloud and hit my face, and simultaneously a powerful warmth filled my chest. Natural light was warming my face, but this was supernatural light warming my heart from the inside out. I felt like God was saying to me “Adrian I have anointed you.” The wonderful truth is that the Spirit is of course at work in every Christian, but awareness of his work is not so common today, and often even charismatics like me can grow less and less aware of his touch.
I could feel his love welling up within me. It wasn’t about any kind of anointing for service, it was simply his stamp of approval on me. He wasn’t asking me to do anything. In fact just sitting doing nothing was a major part of the blessing he had for me! How wonderful to know the love of God. I may not be anything special, but I am special to Him. The key factor about being anointed by the Spirit that struck me was simply that it was an act of God that was not dependent on anything in us, and that the measure of the blessing poured on us is determined purely by his grace, not by any merit in us. He poured out his Spirit on me not because I was good (I am not) not because I am disciplined (I need to grow in that) but simply because he chose to! (Adrian Warnock, “I don’t just believe in God, I met with him this morning.”)
Warnock closes his post by commenting, “If you feel it has been too long since the Holy Spirit rushed upon you, why not ask him to today?” I am intentionally including this because Warnock’s experience is not one of the more “impressive” ones within Movement X. However, it is an example of what they claim it is to “experience God.” Note that the essence of this experience was feeling “a powerful warmth” and “feeling” God’s love. The discerning reader will note that Warnock includes some ostensibly reformed language in his account of the experience—but his experience is still the same, one in which non-reformed adherents of Movement X would heartily embrace (as well as Mormons, Catholics, etc.).
In a blog post on the issue of assurance of salvation, Adrian Warnock comments, “I believe that the experience of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit can settle the question of whether we are saved or not once and for all.” With his phrase, “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” Warnock links his readers to another post, entitled “Finney’s Experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Charles Finney is another good (or bad) example of theology gone awry. But Warnock says that Finney’s account of his “baptism” is “probably the best description of what I call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that I can find.” He goes on: “For those (charismatic or otherwise!) who claim to have all that the Holy Spirit has to offer, I issue this as a challenge. Have you experienced a life changing effusion of the Holy Spirit of such intensity as the one described below? If like me you still long for more of the Holy Spirit, perhaps that prayer ‘More Lord!’ is one of the most important we can pray.” Warnock then shares the following (apparently Finney’s words concerning his experience, although Warnock is unsure of their authenticity):
As I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me. I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more.” Yet I had no fear of death.
How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir for I was the leader of the choir came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church. He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, “Mr. Finney, what ails you? I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain? I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.”
He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office. This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in, I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him. Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laughter. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart.
…just at the time when I was giving an account of my feelings to this elder of the church, and to the other member who was with him, this young man came into the office. I was sitting with my back toward the door, and barely observed that he came in. He listened with astonishment to what I was saying, and the first I knew he partly fell upon the floor, and cried out in the greatest agony of mind, “Do pray for me!”
Regardless of the historicity of this account, it demonstrates what is deemed as a good thing in Movement X. This idea of feeling electricity is not limited to “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” but as something that can occur whenever someone experiences God. (There is something else this “feeling of electricity” is not limited to: supposed “Christian” circles. This sort of experience is found in Mormonism and Hinduism as well, once again demonstrating that there is nothing distinctly Christian about Movement X.)
Let’s continue to explore this idea of “experiencing God” in Movement X by considering Michael Brown. A key player in the Brownsville Revival, Brown is very familiar with this characteristic. The Brownsville Revival—a “revival” that certainly embraced the key characteristics of Movement X (and perhaps then some)—occurred in the 1990’s in Florida. John MacArthur was rather critical of this so-called revival, noting:
I was down in Florida and people are being rocked down there by this Pensacola craziness that’s going on in the name of revival and people flipping and flopping and diving on the floor and gyrating and speaking in bizarre and unintelligible fashion and all of this kind of wild thing is going on. And they keep saying this is God, this is of God.
Can I be very straightforward with you? It is an offense to our rational, truth-revealing God, it is an offense to the true work of His Son, it is an offense to the true work of the Holy Spirit to use the names of God or of Christ or of the Holy Spirit in any mindless, emotional orgy marked by irrational, sensual and fleshly behavior produced by altered states of consciousness, peer pressure, heightened expectation or suggestibility.
While I heartily agree with MacArthur, Michael Brown resents his analysis. In his recent discussion with Phil Johnson, Brown reaffirmed the validity of the Brownsville Revival. But don’t take MacArthur’s (or Brown’s) word for it: watch the revival on YouTube. One session included a young lady shaking uncontrollably as if suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. It is rather sad, but worthwhile, to watch this ten-minute clip of the young lady at the Brownsville Revival. Eventually she became so possessed that she began to convulse on the floor. (There were various other “manifestations” of the Spirit at the revival, including being thrown to the ground and being “paralyzed” by God.) People in Movement X should understand when people think this seems more like a girl possessed with a demon than someone under the power of a Spirit who produces self-control. I know it is possible for some people in Movement X to reject this sort of manifestation of “experiencing God,” but they would have a hard time doing so. How can they reject this and yet embrace other “reckless” behavior (a phrase Tope Koleoso approved of). Even if one in Movement X does reject jerking and convulsing, they still embrace the general idea of “feeling” God and experiencing him through things such as this—things that are all common in other (false) religions as well.
The nature of Characteristic #1 is one of knowing God by physically feeling him. As the defining feature of Movement X, I must belabor this point. Movement X declares that the Christian should not simply know truths about God, but should experience God. On the surface, I agree with that statement. It is not enough for someone to know truths about God; one must know God, or rather be known by him (Gal 4:9). One must personally experience the Spirit’s work in his or her life. He must personally love Jesus Christ. However, where Movement X diverges from sound doctrine is when it teaches that to know God means to experience him in a physical way. Koleoso likes to talk about the fact that since the Holy Spirit is a person, we need to experience him as a person. I would point out, however, that the only people who had the strange, ecstatic experiences we see in Movement X when getting to know Jesus as a person in first-century Palestine were those possessed with demons. In fact, one of my favorite accounts of Jesus’ power is found in Luke 8:26-39. Jesus heals a man who was under the power of multiple demons. After Jesus heals the man who was once under the control of spirit, the Bible tells us what happened: “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid” (Luke 8:35). Experiencing Jesus meant being in his right mind and self-controlled.
Koleoso, however, simply assumes that because the Holy Spirit is a person, we ought to have physical experiences when we “encounter him.” One of the problems with this is that the Bible does not attach a physical experience with knowing God; we are not called to seek an ecstatic experience of God’s presence, but to believe in Christ and follow him (which is not a “non-experience,” by the way). Why is it that Movement X is unable to see that you can personally know God and “encounter” him without having a physical sensation or “experience”? It is because they have fundamentally misunderstood what the Bible teaches. They mistake signs and wonders (and they also pervert these) for the witness of the Holy Spirit in the believer.
What does it mean to experience God? It means to know and embrace the truth about him. To have your heart changed so that you love the things he does and hate the things he hates. It means to treasure Christ above all other things. It means to continually set your hope on things that are above. It means to die to self. The New Testament never enjoins us to seek some sort of manifestation of God’s presence, some sort of experience which will “validate” our relationship with God. The Bible teaches that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). Romans 5 does not go on to note that this means we had a “warming of our heart” or an experience of feeling electricity. In fact, Romans 8 teaches in-depth on the role of the Spirit in the believer’s life, and it has nothing to do with strange, ecstatic experiences. The genuine Christian need not constantly seek for a physical experience of the Holy Spirit. To do so is to ignore God’s Word in Romans (and elsewhere). But, alas, Movement X’s defining characteristic is that one ought to seek “God’s face” and (leading us to the next characteristic) be desperate for him to move in such a way as to reveal himself through sensual/physical ways.
Characteristic #2: The Constant Push for a Desperate Expectancy for “God to Move”
We will now consider the constant “desperation” for God “to move.” This will take some careful work to clarify because I also am very desirous for God to move in my life, the Church, and the nation—but we will see that what I have in mind is totally different from what Movement X promotes.
What is wrong with a desperate expectancy for “God to move”? As we saw in the previous characteristic, this desperation is for God to move so that we will “experience his presence” or successfully “seek his face.” In Movement X, the idea of preaching propositional truths need not be rejected outright, so long as the main focus is to really experience the God we are preaching about. (This really goes to the heart of my concern with the movement. Simply affirming sound theology is irrelevant—what matters is having that theology impact your Christian life.)
The Brownsville Revival (and most of Movement X that I have encountered) did not emphatically endorse the “prosperity” preachers. While there are elements of their views here and there, the main focus is on a holy desperation to experience God: desperation to have an experience of God that will leave you saying, “More Lord.” People are urged to pray for hours and hours and hours, to fast, to cry out over and over again in order to have this experience. This desire is fulfilled, not when someone understands the truth about Christ and turns from sin, not when someone takes every thought captive to obey Christ, not when someone grows in their affection for Christ, but when one has a “powerful experience of God”—and remember from the previous post what constitutes this experience. One of Michael Brown’s messages at the Brownsville Revival characterizes this well.
Michael Brown’s message (aptly entitled “Holy Desperation”) is viewable on YouTube in eight segments. At the end of the final segment (Part 8), one can see the result of his message (and it is not people in their “right minds”). Prior to watching this, I naively wanted to hold out hope that some “Charismatics/Pentecostals” really did reject the excesses. After listening to Michael Brown’s radio program in which he talked with Phil Johnson (from Grace to You) and then with Sam Storms and Adrian Warnock, I held out hope that maybe, just maybe, this was someone who really did reject the excesses and yet remained a “Charismatic.” By using the example of Michael Brown I want to make clear that my concern is what he teaches and views as Christianity. How does he present Christianity? This is not about whether or not he is a Christian. In fact, I wanted to listen to Michael Brown’s preaching at the Brownsville Revival because during his talk with Phil Johnson he seemed to decry the “excesses” in the Charismatic movement. This was curious to me, because I wanted to see if he really did view Christianity like Phil Johnson, for example. Well, I listened to Brown preach at the Brownsville Revival and I saw what occurred there: it was simply more of the same. It was typical of Movement X. While Michael Brown may agree that Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar are teaching errors, he still heartily embraces the fundamentals of Movement X. The theme of desperation is constantly present not only in Brown’s message but in Movement X as a whole.
Would someone like Tope Koleoso reject the Brownsville Revival? Perhaps. But the issue is not mainly what kinds of physical experiences are acceptable, but rather the fact that Movement X wholeheartedly promotes the desperate seeking of physical sensations. Tope Koleoso, for example, speaking about a specific Sunday service planned at his church, talks about the event as a special time to not “just” preach the Gospel but to “seek the face of God.” The hope for these events, Koleoso says, is that “signs and wonders [would] be among us powerfully.”
Koleoso says the Bible dictates a Christianity that includes lame people walking, blind people receiving their sight, and other miraculous signs. He pushes his people to expect to see these things today because this is what the church is supposed to be. Koleoso, echoing the leaders of the Azusa Street Revival, talks about the concept of the “full gospel.” He doesn’t want a partial gospel (one that is not demonstrated by signs and wonders), but a “full gospel”—one that is, in his words, “not just propositional truths, but the power of God.” I disagree with Koleoso because we have drastically different meanings for the “power of God” in regards to the gospel being demonstrated. Koleoso says that God wants to shine the light by having the gospel preached and signs and wonders being done. He wants the “Gospel proclaimed and demonstrated” with signs and wonders. This, he contends, will bring about the conversion of sinners. This actually betrays a low view of the gospel. God does not use signs and wonders to bring people to faith in the gospel. The gospel itself is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. God used signs and wonders to validate the Gospel in the early days of the Church, not to save people.
Koleoso calls his people to have a desperate expectancy for these signs and wonders, this experience of “seeking God’s face.” If you watch Koleoso talk about this service, you will note that he mentions “reformed theology.” He gives lip service to preaching the gospel but constantly comes back to promoting this desperate expectancy to see “God move.” In fact, he actually says, “To extent that you come with expectancy and faith is the extent to which you will see God move.” This is extremely common in Movement X: Instilling in people a psychological expectancy to encounter physical experiences. Is it any wonder, then, that physical, sensual experiences occur, just as they do in pagan religious services with the same sort of suggestibility? As we have already seen, nothing is distinctly Christian about the “manifestations” in Movement X. In typical Movement X fashion, Koleoso defends his position from his experience. He says, “You can argue with my theology, you cannot argue with my miracle.” (He says other things, as well, such as, “I believe in healing, because I believe in a God who is able to do these things.” Whether God is able to heal is not even germane to the discussion: of course God can heal.)
In summary, the second characteristic of Movement X is a desperate expectancy to see “God move” (as defined in the previous characteristic). This push for expectancy must not be overlooked—it is just this sort of suggestibility that actually leads to many of the so-called “manifestations.” As I mentioned, this sort of “riling up” of people’s emotions and expectations is present in many pagan religions and it inevitably leads to extreme experiences which have nothing to do with Christianity, but are all too often claimed as being the work of the Holy Spirit.
Characteristic #3: The Push for the Apostolic Sign Gifts and the Experience of Non-Apostolic “Gifts”
We will now examine the final characteristic of Movement X. We will see that while there is indeed strange things happening (albeit not of the Holy Spirit, perhaps other spirits), there is a conspicuous absence of the biblical apostolic sign gifts in Movement X.
Movement X believes in the “apostolic” gifts—healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy. People in Movement X claim that God is doing the “same things” that he did in the time of the apostles. One question that immediately arises in the effort to define the movement is this: What are the apostolic gifts? I hope people in Movement X would agree with me on the following point: the gift of healing in the apostolic age meant that someone could heal someone at will, with a command. I know many in Movement X will disagree with the following: the gift of tongues was the gift to speak in a known language (although one that the speaker did not know beforehand).
I would like to briefly point out something that most people in Movement X are unaware of (and is important when considering the fact that nothing that defines Movement X is distinctly Christian): speaking in gibberish has been around for a long time in non-Christian circles. Millard Erickson notes:
A second aspect of the negative argument is the existence of parallels to glossolalia that are obviously not to be interpreted as special gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is noted, for example, that similar phenomena are found in other religions. The practice of certain voodoo witch doctors are a case in point. Further, the phenomenon was not unique to Christianity even in biblical times. The oracle of Delphi, not far from Corinth, made ecstatic utterances not unlike the glossolalia found in the Corinthian church. Psychology, too, finds parallels between speaking in tongues and certain cases of heightened suggestibility caused by brain-washing or electroshock therapy. (Christian Theology, p. 894)
The aforementioned fact that Movement X constantly promotes a sense of desperate expectancy fosters an environment in which, psychologically, speaking in ecstatic utterances is likely to happen.
The issue is confused because within Movement X there is not a good understanding of what they believe. Do they believe that God can heal people? I agree with that. Do they believe that God does heal people today? I agree with that. God does heal people. Every person whose cancer has “strangely” disappeared owes it to the sovereign mercy of God. God is not absent in any instance of healing, whether that of an atheist, Mormon, or Christian. But Movement X confuses people because it seems to teach that if we seek God’s face and attend some sort of service or revival in desperation, then God will be “more likely” to heal people. This is superstition and is not Christian. Praying for healing is one thing (and it is good), but gathering to seek an experience of healing is another thing.
Or do they believe that God is gifting people with the miraculous power to heal people today, just as he did in apostolic times? I think, in many cases, they believe this. And if they don’t go this far, they seem to think that God will at least powerfully work with healings at a revival or prayer meeting if people “seek his face” and “seek his presence.” The New Testament knows nothing of this. We can pray to God for healing, just as we should pray for all sorts of things (all sorts of supplications), but we are not called to seek God’s face and expect him to heal people and grant ecstatic experiences. This is pagan and not Christian. The early Christians did not have revivals to “seek God’s face” and see him move. They prayed for power and boldness to witness and God granted gifts as he saw fit to confirm his messengers.
Within Movement X many claim that people are still gifted with healing powers. I know I could possibly be accused of painting with a broad brush here by saying that some within Movement X believe that people have the apostolic gift of healing and others simply believe that God moves in services and revivals to heal people. But I think it is safe to say the difference is minor and does not eliminate the essentials of the movement. If this is true (i.e. that people are gifted with healing powers), it would be the easiest to verify. If someone had the power, like Paul in Acts 19, to simply heal someone at will, then lifelong paralytics should be getting healed left and right—hospitals should be getting cleared out. Justin Peters, speaking at the Strange Fire Conference, notes:
There is not a person alive today who has the apostolic gift of healing. Not one. There is not a person alive who has the gift of healing as what we see from the Apostles Peter and Paul. Nobody. The Apostles seemingly could go up to people and heal people at will with confidence, knowing that that person was going to be healed. Show me that person today. I want to see. And if that person does exist, why he is not in the hospitals? Why is he not clearing out Saint Jude [Hospital]?
I am still waiting for one single case of healing that even comes close to what Jesus and the Apostles did. Most people in Movement X like to cite Jesus when he said his followers would do “greater works” than he did (John 14:12). Interestingly, no one is even healing the same as he did (when it comes to miracles). Of course, I do not doubt that Jesus was right in what he said in John 14:12, but only that Movement X misinterprets what Jesus meant by assuming it is miraculous signs and wonders that he was referring to.
People paralyzed and deformed for life genuinely healed and restored; appendages restored; dead people being raised to life. Do we see this? No. Can the honest proponent of Movement X give us any verifiable evidence for such a healing? Can anyone? No. (Note that Jesus wasn’t against verifying miracles; see Matthew 8:4.) Now, if they want to claim that there are different kinds of healing going on now (like healing for stomach pain or back pain or cancer, etc.), then they should not claim that is on par with the gift of healing in the Bible. John Piper, for instance, in supporting Movement X, says, “God is sovereign and he is supernatural and he touches and he heals. . . it is something that goes beyond what doctors can do, though I love doctors . . . God heals, he heals cancer, he heals sore throats . . . so we should ask for the gift . . . I put my hands on people and I ask God then and there to do something.” This, however, is not the apostolic gift of healing. The gift of healing means that someone can heal people at will. In Acts 19, Paul was not praying for people to be relieved of sore throats, he was actually healing people—even aprons that touched his skin would instantly heal people. There is a huge difference between what the Bible describes as the gift of healing or the miracle-sign of healing and what John Piper is talking about. I would heartily affirm that God can and does heal people of all sorts of things—back pain and sore throats included—however, that is not a distinguishing characteristic of Movement X. The problem is that people are confused by the terminology.
Without even touching the issue of whether or not the Bible teaches these gifts will cease, I am faced with an existential problem: these gifts are absent today in Movement X. (Maybe they are present elsewhere; I am open to see it. And that is sort of the point with miraculous signs: you are supposed to see them.) It would be one thing to affirm the apostolic gifts and then honestly admit that they are not happening today. It is another thing to claim to believe in the apostolic gifts and then pretend that what occurring today in Movement X is the same.
What about tongues? The biblical gift of tongues was to speak in a known language. Even the earliest Pentecostals/Charismatics believed this. Today we have ecstatic speech and gibberish masquerading as the biblical gift of languages. (Not incidentally, the gibberish that is claimed to be the gift of tongues is present in a wide range of religions, including Hinduism and Mormonism—once again, there is nothing distinctly Christian about it.) The issue of prophecy opens another can of worms. I will refrain from getting into details here.
For the sake of our task of defining Movement X, what can we conclude about Characteristic #3? In summary, Movement X teaches a continuation of the apostolic gifts, while in practice the movement exhibits sub-apostolic “gifts”—such as people recovering from illnesses (as they do in every religion in the world), people speaking in gibberish (which occurs in other religions), and people claiming to speak for the Lord (once again, not unique). Of course, people in Movement X may disagree with me and say the biblical, apostolic gifts are in operation—that is, people are indeed being raised from the dead, blind people are truly receiving sight, etc. As I mentioned, I am still waiting for a demonstration of the biblical gifts: someone healing someone instantly. Recovering from an illness through the means of God answering prayers in not an example of the biblical gift of healing, at least as I see it in the Bible. Furthermore, it is not demonstrative. Atheists also recover remarkably from illnesses. While I am not saying God is not involved in that healing as well (I know he is), I am saying that such things are not “signs” or “wonders” because they are not unique to Christianity. God answers our prayers, but that is not the issue at hand. Movement X claims the gift of healing exists. As demonstrated above, it does not take a Missourian to realize the problem with this.
Summary and Conclusion
In our look at what I have called “Movement X” we have examined three salient characteristics. When combined, these three characteristics describe a movement which greatly troubles me:
- Characteristic #1: A Specific View of What It Means to “Experience God” or “Experience His Presence”
- Characteristic #2: The Constant Push for a Desperate Expectancy for “God to Move”
- Characteristic #3: The Push for Apostolic Sign Gifts and the Experience of Non-apostolic “gifts”
The initial error (in Characteristic #1) is at best an unbalanced view of what it means to experience God, and at worst a downright pagan view of spirituality. Stemming from this unbiblical view is a desperate push to “experience” these “manifestations” of what these folks claim to be the Holy Spirit. Finally, the movement cannot actually offer the sign gifts their proponents are so fond of praising.
Another key feature of this movement is a lack of any connection to a historic confession of faith. Generally, people within “Movement X” are Arminians. However, and unfortunately in my mind, more “reformed” folks are attaching themselves to this unbiblical movement. Perhaps most disturbing is a general resistance to talk about these experiences with a view to consider their biblical validity. “You can’t argue with my experience,” or so the reasoning goes. But the question is not whether you had an experience, but what that experience was, and if it has anything to do with biblical Christianity. Sadly, many within this movement will never bring themselves to examine their traditions in light of God’s Word.