The Supernatural for the Skeptic

So you label yourself a skeptic? If you believe in the scriptures, and you want to serve Jesus, then I am skeptical of your skepticism. I will challenge that label right now.

Noting that every time the music starts Sister Sally shouts and looks like she’s having an attack of appendicitis, does not make you a skeptic. It means you find distraction, distracting. Another famous Pentecostal, Paul, had no tolerance for people disrupting corporate worship. God is a God of order, not to put a leash on the Spirit but a leash on us so we don’t distract from a spontaneous move of the Spirit.  When the Spirit moves there is reverence, not craziness.

You are not a skeptic if you question whether “Miracle Mike’” is always right when he recounts his daily dealings in the supernatural. Mike’s a great guy with great testimony. He is open to the Lord using him. Good for Mike. Many people miss God working through them because they are totally unavailable to be used at all. But Mike is young in the Lord, and being right some of the time, doesn’t make him right all of the time.  So if your Christian dad is dying of cancer and you can’t reconcile it with Mike’s declaration that anything less than total healing is a sign of apostasy, you are not a skeptic. God is perfect, Mike is not.  People err but the scriptures never set us up for false expectations. The Apostle Paul whose handkerchiefs were used in miracles of healing, (Acts 19:2), was forced to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus. Paul fell ill in Galatia (and planted a church while he was at it), faced hunger, shipwreck, and loss. He even despaired of life (2 Cor. 1:8). I trust no one is going to questions his Pentecostal commitment. To be “Pentecostal” is to believe in and use the gifts of the Spirit as they are recorded in scripture: nothing less and nothing more.  We rely on God’s power to work miracles and we rely on God’s power to preserve us in persecution. We know that deliverance takes the form of signs and wonders and we know deliverance is provided when Jesus says,  “my grace is sufficient for you”. (2 Cor. 12:9)

You are not a skeptic to want something real and biblical.  “Real” looks like the scriptures: all of the scriptures, not just the exciting experiences we all want to have. A real experience includes: power and persecution, deliverance and death, triumph and tarrying. It is a balance experienced.

Avoid the Acceptable Error Zone

Unfortunately, the normal response to human error is human error. Frustrated in Pentecostal churches many seek safety by settling in the “evangelically acceptable error zone”.  If you attend a church where the worship music is straight up Hillsong and the preaching is expository, you are safe and can grow in the Lord. Just get comfortable ignoring large portions of scripture that explicitly instruct us regarding the Baptism of the Spirit and the corporate gifts. People can convince themselves this is OK because they’ll tell you, “We’re still open to the gifts”. This is code for, “We’re actually ambivalent toward the gifts but if  a rushing mighty wind sweeps through the building and we burst into glossolalia, we promise to hold a board meeting to consider incorporating gifts into our church culture”. *  Disregarding scripture is wrong no matter what form of error we choose. Chaotic meetings where people draw attention to themselves leaving no room for the Spirit to move are meetings where we’re disregarding scripture.** Ignoring the gifts of the Spirit is also willful disobedience to scripture. Could we consider another alternative, radical though it may be?

A Radical Alternative

“Follow the directions”.

Yeah. You saw it there in black and white. What if we read scripture and follow the directions?

A “real” experience should look like the scriptural model.  A good Pentecostal church is one where the preaching is meaty and the gifts are freely used. Gifts don’t interrupt the service but follow the flow of what the Lord is doing. I know this can happen because the Bible tells us what our gatherings should look like.  I was saved in an environment where the gifts were used properly, people were saved weekly, and the services were beautiful, moving and always in order. (In 8 years of revival, everyone was healed but not a single person was slain in the Spirit).  I was not afraid to bring an unsaved friend to church for fear the service might be crazy.  Anyone who drew attention to themselves was quietly invited to step outside where the deacons gave instruction.  Only once did I bring a friend who refused to return. Her reason: “God was in there and I don’t want God running my life. I want to run it myself”. She could sense God’s powerful presence.

Labeling yourself a critic is destructive to you and the Body of Christ. There is no “opt out” clause from membership in the Body of Christ. The best choice is to choose to become a “full gospel” Christian, where “full gospel” means you commit yourself to actively pursue all God has promised in His Word.  It also means you refuse to ignore any part of  God’s Word just because it stretches your comfort level.  You might not want to “seek the best gifts” but you will because it is a command. (I Cor. 12:31). By choosing to be a “full gospel” Christian, you can bring health to the Body of Christ, and restore joy to your own soul. We can’t afford to ignore anything the Lord said we need.  Lay down that skeptical label, pick up the scriptures and walk the truths of scripture, just as scripture tells us to.

We, God’s people, need revival. Let’s commit to live a New Testament life style, corporately and individually.  If we follow Him on good days and on days when we’re perplexed in the depths of our souls, will will see the glory of God.  The best cure for skepticism, is to follow God’s instructions and encourage others to do the same.

  • * AG churches that do not teach on or encourage the use of the gifts are not Pentecostal.
    ** “Pentecostal” churches that ignore Paul’s teaching on proper use of the gifts are also being unscriptural.

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A Deposit is Not a Dollop

I am writing this on the assumption that most of the readers of this blog believe the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, although it may occur at the time of salvation is, in fact, a distinct experience from being born again. As this is a blog, not a book, to those readers who do not believe that may I recommend the book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book, Joy Unspeakable. He does an excellent job of addressing the scriptural foundation for a distinct experience. His work is endorsed by the likes of J.I. Packer and other main stream evangelical theologians.

As a Pentecostal it is very important to me that young people trained at Pentecostal institutions do not adhere to any teaching which is inconsistent with scripture. “Intelligent Pentecostal” should not an oxymoron. Whatever we believe we should be able to address and demonstrate from scripture. This blog will be brief but vitally important.

Be Ye Baptist, Presbyterian, E-Free or AG

Everyone who confesses Christ is Lord and believes in his or her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, is saved. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is clear that the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. Every Christian on the face of the earth has the Holy Spirit residing in him or her in equal measure. If the Spirit of God does not live in you, then you are not saved. (Rom 8:9) The Spirit of God is given to each and every one of us as an “earnest” of our inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5, Eph. 1:14). This “deposit”, this “earnest” is God’s pledge, His absolute assurance that we shall inherit all that God has promised us. We are eternal beings and as surely as the Spirit of God indwells us, everything God has promised in His Word, all that we shall eternally enjoy in His presence shall be ours. How do we know? We know because He’s given us the Holy Spirit whereby we call God, “Abba, Father”. The word “earnest” is used three times in the New Testament. The indwelling of the Spirit of God assures us of our incorruptible inheritance and long after debates about tongues and other gifts shall cease, we will, by God’s grace, forever bask in His presence with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Bad Foundations Make Bad Theology

One of the things many non-Pentecostals believe is that we believe they have less of the Spirit of God dwelling with in them than we do. That’s unscriptural and blatantly false. I always presumed it was a misunderstanding of what we believe but was caught off guard recently when a very reliable young man explained that he was being taught that the Spirit is a deposit for the believer who will get the full measure of the Spirit of God when he or she is baptized in the Holy Spirit. (This discussion occurred when our Calvinist-Baptist friends were visiting, making for lively discussion.). I reread the current AG position paper today and I am baffled how something could be remotely misconstrued to sound like we believe we have more of the Spirit of God living inside us than anyone else. It dawned on me that we just live in a day and age when so many people are in debt that they associate the word “deposit” with purchasing a new vehicle, or getting a stereo system and buying on the installment plan that the word “deposit” sounds like installment payments are sure to follow. While in the world of finance, that is what “deposit” may mean that does not transfer over to scripture. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. He indwells us in equal measure. Period. That is what the scriptures teach and that is what we believe.

And all this matters because the Baptism of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, praying in the Spirit, is so important we must lay a strong scriptural foundation.  Sound doctrine can only be founded on sound doctrine, not conjecture. I have no desire to believe what is not in scripture. However, scripture is clear, so let us intelligently, and with the Spirit’s guidance, rightly divide the Word of God.

Next: All Do Not Speak in Tongues
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The Great “Who Is”

Sundays come and go. We sing to the Nameless “You”. We sing of being ravished by love, wanting to shout it out, jump, freedom (x7), and other nice things that happen to us. We don’t sing using the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of the Son of God who shed His blood to ransom us back, nor the Holy Spirit who indwells us. We do not sing of the sin from which we are blood-washed, the joy of salvation by the grace of God Incarnate. Often I think we should just rename it “we-ship” since we focus on our feelings, thoughts, reactions and how well it is going for us. Today, a pastor friend expressed her feelings after a morning of service saying, “I was singing like Jesus is my boyfriend”.

I laughed but with a heavy heart. Neither of us were raised with any Bible knowledge but as the Bible says, through the “foolishness of preaching” and the proclamation of Christ in song, we were changed. I’m a 10 years + older than my friend and hymns were not our chosen genre (think Crosby, Stills and Nash for me and she’s so young I don’t know) but as much as we joked about tunes in 9/8 time, we sensed God’s Spirit’s present when the church sang about Jesus, the Lord Almighty, the Maker of the Universe, the Son of God Incarnate who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, music has modernized and we are glad for it. But we did not need to stop singing truth. Our God has a Name and His Name still makes my heart soar. We actually can sing “This I Believe” and we should.

NEWSFLASH: WE ARE NOT UNITARIANS

Unitarians have no name for God. They are lovely people who believe that it is possible but not mandatory that there exists a Nameless Great Gender Neutral Someone/thing/force who can’t really be known except as we/you/me/they/he/she/ze/e* perceives said Being. Unitarian optimists hope, in the wishful sense, that when someone dies they go to a better place. Unitarian pessimists just let people live on forever in their hearts. There is no assurance of anything since nothing can be known. They normally meet in very nice landmark churches with rainbow flags out front. They are not more welcoming than we are, but the one thing they firmly believe is that should A Great Who-Is exist then He/She/It welcomes you to that house of faith (or doubt) depending on your faith or faithless orientation.

Their music is as pallid as their belief: God has no name.

Our God Has a Name

Our God has a Name. We should sing it. We should proclaim it. We should shout it from the roof tops. We live in a post-Christian era when people simply cannot be expected to guess their way into the gospel. They don’t need to guess if we spend our services proclaiming Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are called to ascribe worth to Him. It is not a 45 minute sing-a-long led by a coach who tells us how to act like we are blessed. We don’t need to pretend if God is really there. We need to sing the truth and proclaim it clearly and with the joy that truth still resonates within my heart 40 years after I first heard it.

As my friend shared, she spoke of a teen, for whom time on earth would seem quite limited. He came to church for hope. When she asked him the subject of the songs, he replied that he presumed the songs were about God but had no clear idea they were about Jesus. Forty-five minutes of what might have been joyous song-filled proclamation of Christ, gave way to “singing like it was to a boyfriend” and this young man still had no clear hope.

Young People Change This

Each of us is called to reach our generation and train the next. I can’t sing or write like I am 20-something. Someone 20-something can and must create music that sings the unashamed, unabashed truth that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. If He is not lifted up we and all who hear us will be bored to numbness. Don’t blame your pastor or worship leader. Fix it. Write songs worthy of the Son of God. Stop rolling the dice with visitors. Stop rolling the dice outside the church with other people’s souls. We are saved by One who deserves that we sing with beauty and power and promise. When a lost person meets you he or she should not leave without hope. May we always be ready to share the only name given among men by which we might be saved: The Name of Jesus.

*ze/e are new alternatives that a famous university is providing so students can choose their own pronouns

(Yes, I will pick up on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I just had to get this out of my system).

When Azusa Street Makes Bad Theology

I chose that title to grab your attention. Before anyone panics: I am an ordained AG minister who whole-hardheartedly adheres to the fundamentals of our faith. I do not question the validity of the Azusa Street revival, nor do I question the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. But I chose this title after a number of young people told me that the foundation for their understanding of the doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit was based on the events at Azusa Street. That misunderstanding deeply concerns me. Our beliefs are not based on any extra-biblical historical experience but on the only authoritative source for faith and conduct: the Bible. The moment we use experience as the basis for our beliefs, we open the door to deception. All our experiences should be evaluated in light of the Word of God. The Baptism of the Spirit is not something that was born out of a revival in 1906. It can and must be evidenced in scripture. If you hold firmly to that which is not found in scripture, lose it ASAP.

We are Christians, Not Existentialists

Azusa Street was a great revival prompted by the Spirit of God. I know this because that which was experienced was in accordance with the teachings of the scripture. As Christians we evaluate all experience in light of the Word of God. When John Wesley was so overcome by God’s presence in prayer that he slipped into “ecstatic utterances” we do not wonder if John somehow forgot how to speak his mother tongue or briefly lost his mind. He “prayed with the Spirit and not with (his) understanding”. (I Cor. 14:15)  Scripture interprets his experience for us. The world does not use the scripture to discern what is genuine and what is not. The world determines what is true and what is not based on experience and the end result is a subjective mess. Those who judge truth by experience are “existentialist”. Christians can determine personal preferences by experience (hazelnut, or caramel latte?) but we are never, never to determine truth by our experience.

Why is this Crucial?

I chose Azusa Street because it touches on a “distinctive” of our faith: our belief in the Baptism of the Spirit. It is vital. It is true. It is biblical and we should be able to demonstrate that from the Word of God. In the next several posts I will do my best to answer the questions I am most frequently asked regarding the Baptism of the Spirit.  At the same time, my prayer is that everyone reading this will remember that is is crucial that we evaluate everything through the lens of the Word of God. The fact that something “can occur” does not mean that it is from God. The magicians of Egypt were able to replicate some of the miracles that Moses performed. Scripture repeatedly reminds us that power is not the same as truth. Truth is powerful but not all demonstrations of power are truth.

False prophets will come. Deceivers will work signs and wonders that seem so powerful that were it possible they would deceive even the elect. (Matt 24:24)  People will cast out demons, prophesy and do mighty works in Jesus Name but they will still not be people sent by the Lord (Matthew 7:7). How will we discern what is true from what is false? Only by an excellent knowledge of the Word of God and discernment by His Spirit.

Next: A Deposit is not a Dollop

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