Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
II Corinthians 2:11 (KJV)
VOICE — …for we don’t want to be naïve and then fall prey to his schemes.
ESV — …for we are not ignorant of his designs.
As a student (and sometimes a teacher) of Church history, it amazes me how gullible some Christians seem to be to the same old tired tactics the enemy of our souls has employed for millennia to distract and deceive the people of God. As George Santayana noted, “Those who refuse to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.” One need only to look at the past to discover that the seemingly “new” theological aberrations of today are, in fact, not “new” at all. Rather, they are rehashes of the same errors that have been around for ages, endeavoring to infiltrate the minds of believers. It would seem to the studious observer that error indeed seems to travel in cycles. I have lived long enough now to have seen some of the same dangerous doctrines that we thought we “new” decades ago, reappear yet again. According to what I’ve witnessed, it appears evident that each “new” extreme goofy doctrine emerges from the shadows again every 25-30 years, as yet another dupe receives a “fresh revelation” in addition to the written Word of God. I can remember, for example, hearing a prominent Charismatic teacher, over three decades ago, endeavor to address and correct the gnostic “hyper-grace” teaching that was deceiving believers back then. And here we are, 30 years later, and the same damnable doctrine has resurfaced yet again.
Please don’t misunderstand me. As a Pentecostal/Charismatic, I firmly embrace the Biblical concept that God is both imminent and active in our lives today. He still speaks to His People. He still offers His Wisdom and His Direction to those who are more passionate for His Purpose than they are for their own selfish human agendas. Yet, we must never forget, that ALL spiritual experiences, doctrines, and revelations MUST be held up to the brilliant Light of the infallible Scriptures. Anything contrary to what Scripture plainly declares, must be rejected (Is. 8:20). The written Word of God is THE only sure standard (II Pet. 1:19).
I have recognized two primary tactics that the devil has used over and over through history, to keep precious believers out of the mainstream of the Move of God. First, the devil will endeavor to influence some sincere believer to take some valid Biblical Truth and push it beyond its Scriptural boundaries into extremism and error. The second tactic plays off the first. If the devil cannot influence YOU to take some Biblical Truth and push it into an unhealthy extreme, then he will influence you to reject that Truth altogether because you see someone ELSE who went to an unbiblical extreme and was deceived or otherwise harmed or hindered. Never forget that the devil is NOT a “creator,” but only a perverter. All error began somewhere with a seed a Truth that was twisted or otherwise misused. And most of the doctrinal errors we have seen in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles resulted from pushing a valid Biblical Truth to an unscriptural extreme.
In the twentieth century Pentecostal Movement, we saw this in relation to the precious Biblical doctrine of speaking with other tongues. Now there is nobody I know who holds more strongly than I do to the importance of other tongues in the life of the believer. And I will say, with no apology, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ and do not pray in other tongues in your personal devotional time with the Lord, then you CAN, and you SHOULD! However, some fringe Pentecostals began (around 1913 or so), possibly in an endeavor to emphasize their own uniqueness, began to proclaim that nobody could be saved and go to Heaven UNLESS he or she had spoken in tongues. The mainstream Pentecostal Movement NEVER embraced that doctrine, and continued to recognize a clear distinction between the New Birth and the Baptism in the Holy Ghost. Although they certainly MIGHT occur simultaneously in the believer’s life (Acts 10:44-46), it is not necessarily automatic that they will. There might possibly be a period of time between a person’s receiving Jesus Christ as Lord, being baptized in water, and being baptized in the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:15-17). Yet, even though the vast majority of Pentecostals and Charismatics reject the “tongues or hell” doctrine, many non-Pentecostals have the mistaken idea that’s what we all believe and preach. There have been many times I have shared the blessed experience of the Baptism in the Holy Ghost, and the powerful principle of praying in other tongues, with a non-Pentecostal believer, only to have them respond, “Don’t tell me about tongues. I KNOW I’m saved. I can take you to the place and tell you the time that I KNOW I was Born Again!” Wait a minute. I never implied that the person was not “saved.” I never told the person he was going to hell unless he immediately spoke in tongues. Yet, these precious believers had rejected a valid Scriptural Truth because somebody ELSE associated it with error.
Again, there is nobody who preaches the marvelous Biblical Truth of Divine Healing any stronger than I do. Yet, there have been fringe groups who have taught that going to the doctor or utilizing medical “means” indicated either a lack of faith, or outright rebellion against God. Mainstream Pentecostals/Charismatics have generally NEVER denounced valid medical practice, seeing it as a fulfillment of God’s original command to “subdue the earth,” to harness the resources of the natural realm for the good of humanity (Gen. 1:28). As a result of a cultic anathema upon medical practice, fifty-two people died (many of them children) in just one church in Indiana in the 1970’s, from conditions most of which could have been easily and effectively treated had they sought or accepted medical assistance. Since that time, there have been several who have responded to my offer for prayer, with laying on of hands, with the comment, “Oh no. I believe in going to the doctor.” I never implied that they shouldn’t utilize medical assistance. We should certainly take advantage of all that is available to us in the natural realm. But the point is, they rejected the Biblical Truth of Divine Healing because some extremists were hurt or died.
We have seen the same diabolical pattern in the areas of faith, confession, and “prosperity.” While we Charismatics have certainly not cornered the market on error or extremism, we also must sadly admit that almost all of those who have perverted Biblical teaching on money for their own enrichment on so-called “Christian television” have, by and large, identified themselves as Charismatic. Just a decade or so ago, I remember a senior Charismatic leader whom I greatly respected, both speak and write in an attempt to correct errors and extremes, many of which had been wrongly and unfairly attributed to his teaching by unscrupulous anti-Pentecostal “heresy hunters.” Again, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I strongly affirm the absolute integrity and trustworthiness of Scripture. I strongly affirm that if God has said something in Scripture that pertains to me, then I can and SHOULD say (“confess”) the same thing. Linda and I are living testimonies both of God’s Healing Power, and of God’s Provision for His People. Yet, how many thoughtful seekers and believers have been turned off by the self-seeking, self-promoting, money-grubbing that has gone on in some of our Charismatic circles?
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, one big controversy revolved around “discipleship,” certainly a sound Biblical concept. Many of the Truths taught were not only legitimate and valid, but sorely needed in the emerging Charismatic Renewal. However, some took these valid Biblical Truths to unbiblical, even cultic, extremes, and for several decades, some Christians became afraid of words like “discipleship,” “authority,” and “submission,” not even wanting them mentioned in their presence.
For two years of my early ministry, I refused to yield to the Holy Spirit in meetings when He would prompt me to release prophetic gifts. I would preach the Word, give an altar call, and lay hands on the sick (with many visible miracles), because I knew I was on solid Biblical ground to do so. But because I had seen and known of so many manipulative abuses (some too scandalous for me to report here) in the name of “prophets” and “prophecy,” I was not open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting in those areas, not wanting to be associated with such utterly destructive foolishness. But God, in His Merciful Goodness, caused Jeremiah 23:28 to one day seemingly leap off the page at me:
“The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.”
“What is the chaff to the wheat?” Those words began to resound in my heart, and I found myself repenting before God for shutting myself off from any area through which He might choose to move on behalf of His people. We cannot allow ourselves to reject something that is right, valid, and Biblical, just because someone else misused or abused Scriptural Truth.
I remember hearing an older minister say, many years ago, that God wanted us to be smart enough to not “throw out the baby with the bath water.” Yet, I see the same trend beginning to emerge yet again today, as we hear more and more about “spiritual fathers” and “apostolic alignment.” One recent article I read denounced the whole concept, not by pointing out specific areas where Scripture was actually violated, but simply because some had misused these ideas for their own aggrandizement. While we certainly do not want to be caught up in error, we also should not overtly reject an idea that may well be Biblically based, simply because it was misused or abused by some self-seeking charlatan.
Since there are many others who have taken in hand to address these issues, and who are doing so ably, let me close simply by affirming that, no matter who we are or how God has used us in the past, we NEVER outgrow the necessity to be accountable. Accountability “structures” may not always “look” the same to the outward observer, but the fact remains that we ALL MUST be accountable. Most of the doctrinal error and flagrant abuses, and even most of the lapses into immorality that we have seen in the ministry, can be traced to a lack of submission to God’s discipleship process, and a lack of actual ongoing accountability to valid God-ordained authority.
It is possible, through Godly Wisdom and prayerful discernment, to fully embrace Biblical Truth in these and all other areas of understanding, while not becoming extremist ourselves, or rejecting Truth because of other extremists we have seen. Let us determine to keep the Baby and only throw out the bath water. Be Blessed!