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Letter to Dr. John MacArthur, Jr.,
regarding his book Charismatic Chaos

Excerpt from letter sent May 15, 1996. No response has been received. I still invite one.

Dr. John Mac Arthur, Jr.
c/o The Master's Seminary
13248 Roscoe Blvd.
Sun Valley, CA 91352

Dear Dr. MacArthur:

This letter is written in response to your book Charismatic Chaos. Since I am an assistant pastor at Topeka Faith Center, an independent charismatic church, you might expect this to be a hostile letter. But this will not be a hostile letter. While I disagree with you about several points, I also observe and am distressed by many of the same things which alarm you.

By way of background, I state that, if there is a "normal" route into the charismatic movement, I did not take it...

With regard to the material in your introduction, I fully agree with you that the lack of any coherent body of charismatic doctrine, and the apparent unwillingness of many charismatic leaders to give attention to this area lest unity be destroyed, is a serious problem. For the most part, the public leadership of the charismatic movement consists of a group of individuals each of whom has his own two or three pet doctrines and his own personal ministry organization; in each organization, the emphasis is on the founder's pet doctrines, with little attention given to either coherence of the pet doctrines or the other doctrines of the Scriptures. There are a few charismatic leaders who give attention to the whole Bible and try to achieve a coherent position (one who comes to mind is Andrew Wommack), but they tend to reach positions outside the charismatic "mainstream" and to be rejected by many charismatics. An attempt by someone in our movement to publish a coherent, systematic theology would be a very constructive thing.

I also agree that greed is a serious problem - that some of the more visible leaders in the movement seem to teach that God will give healing and prosperity in exchange for contributions to their ministries. I even occasionally receive mail from an organization in Tulsa which promises financial miracles and health if you will read their printed "sermon," do some weird ritual (the one I remember clearly because it was so silly was putting a paper "wallet" with your offering enclosed under your pillow that night, then mailing it back to them first thing in the morning), and give their suggested offering, instead of going to a local church. (Yes, Christian, as long as you give our suggested offering, the only fellowship you need is our church by mail!)

The question posed by Chapter 1 is "Is experience a valid test of the truth?" You are quite correct in pointing out that Scripture, rather than experience, must be the final test of the truth. But it is not the only test... [W]hile you may deny that experiences which I report to you actually occurred, I generally must accept the fact that the experiences in my [own] life actually occurred. Personal experiences, therefore, are valid evidence of the truth of their occurrence.

However, we appear to agree that simply stating that an experience occurred does not explain or interpret it. Most events are not self-interpreting, and many charismatics get in trouble by assuming that their experiences are self-interpreting and need not be checked against Scripture.

I can give one very important example: the baptism of the Holy Spirit experience. I had this experience in 1992, through laying on of hands. There was an emotional experience, [some manifestation of] tongues [ultimately] followed, and positive things started to happen in my life and in my family. The experience was presented to me as one which God wanted me to have in which I would get "more" of the Holy Spirit. However, my study since 1992 has convinced me that the explanation I was given of the experience in 1992 could not possibly be correct — since I received the Holy Spirit when I was born again in 1971, and the Holy Spirit, as God, is one, indivisible, I could not have received some of the Spirit in 1971 and "more" in 1992, but must have had all there is in 1971. (This also means, my brother, that you have all of the Spirit, and that your objection to those who say that you have no right to say anything in this area because you haven't had the Spirit baptism experience is well taken).

Having reached this conclusion, I must search for a consistent scriptural explanation for the experience, but I am not free to deny the occurrence of the experience. I think that you are also correct in saying that the confusion in this area started at the very beginning of the Pentecostal movement, at the College of Bethel right here in Topeka, but not for exactly the reasons you state.

Logicians and linguistic philosophers cite, as the classic example of one type of nonsense sentence, the question "Is the present King of France bald?" (I think this example is properly attributed to A.J. Ayer). It is nonsense because it has no responsive answer ("yes" or "no"), since there is no present King of France. Charles Parham and his students were asking a nonsense question of a similar type. Having equated the baptism of the Holy Spirit with Wesleyan entire sanctification in its more radical form (less radical Wesleyans teach that entire sanctification cleanses only the heart or the intentions), what Parham et. al. were really asking was by what sign they could recognize that God had zapped someone else into a state of sinless perfection. The problem with this is that the "entire sanctification" experience does not exist. I Thessalonians 5:23, the Wesleyan proof text for entire sanctification, is a prayer that God would continue to sanctify the Thessalonians and would keep them blameless until Jesus' return, not a prayer that he would zap them with a one-time experience after which sin becomes impossible. (If it's a prayer for a one-time experience, why would God be asked to "preserve" them blameless?).

So asking what the sign of this one-time entire sanctification/ Spirit baptism experience is was like asking "how shall we recognize the present King of France?" It has no correct answer, but it also has no wrong answers, because it is logically indeterminate. The answer Parham's students gave — by manifestation of speaking in tongues — is as good as any.

So Parham's students sought tongues as a sign of a nonexistent entire sanctification experience, and they manifested tongues. The fact that they did not understand what they were doing has led to great confusion since. But their lack of understanding does not by itself prove that the manifestation of tongues which they received was phony or demonic. In I Corinthians 12-14, Paul clearly speaks of the charismatic gifts as tools (spiritual things, the word "gifts" in 12:1 being inserted by the translator) which the Spirit uses to build up the Body of Christ. The emphasis in these chapters is on limiting the exercise of gifts to their intended purpose of building up the church, not on the imminent disappearance of the gifts. So it is possible that, in asking for tongues, Parham and his students were asking for something that at least some of them were supposed to have, which would lead to the rest of the gifts also coming again into operation on more than a very small scale, so God obliged them in spite of their misunderstanding about the purpose for the gift. However, subsequently, their error about tongues being the sign of a one-time Spirit baptism/ entire sanctification experience led to three other errors: 1) the emphasis on experiences which you discuss in your book; 2) the idea that a main purpose for tongues is to show others that I'm "spiritual;" and 3) the idea that I own my gift and may or should use it to enrich myself or build up my own private "ministry."

I agree with you about the anti-intellectualism of much of the charismatic movement. I have certainly seen it. There is teaching out there which says, essentially, don't study, don't think, just follow our formulas and life will go well for you. Even the music is a part of it. I don't think I've ever seen a slow, contemplative hymn used during a charismatic service. Instead, the music is almost always Christian rock or the "gospel" variant of country and western, loud music with an insistent beat that sounds (except for the words) exactly like musical styles found in the secular electronic media. Music in these styles is obligatory in the secular commercial media because the volume of the music and the beat in it inhibit thought and agitate the emotions, leaving the listener more likely to buy the products advertised after every other song to relieve their musically-induced emotional distress. (Ever wonder why commercial classical music radio stations don't last very long in most markets? It's because Bach relieves distress instead of creating it).

So, it's natural that a combination of anti-intellectualism and emphasis on experiences would lead to the use of distress-producing music — create the distress with music at the beginning of the service and relieve it with an "experience" at the end. Small wonder that the experiences induced in this manner often appear to have about as much eternal significance as a decision to call an 800 number to order a bottle of vitamins.

As a man who has decent intellectual credentials (my resume is enclosed) and whose favorite musical piece is Rachmaninov's Vespers, all of this bothers me. But I note that anti-intellectualism and the use of music to create an atmosphere in which people will be distressed and open to emotional experiences (a/k/a countable "decisions"), though more pronounced in charismatic circles, are not limited to charismatic churches. I have seen a Baptist book on church growth which recommends programming of only a few, "upbeat" hymns or choruses during a service and the total avoidance of slow, contemplative and minor-key hymns, in order to preserve a positive atmosphere for "decisions." So this is not just a charismatic problem.

In Chapter 2, I believe that you confuse two questions which, unfortunately, most of my charismatic brethren also confuse, namely — "is God still giving scripture?" and "can God speak to me?" The key to your argument appears to be found in the following paragraph:

"The truth is, there is no fresher or more intimate revelation than Scripture. God doesn't need to give us private revelation to help us in our walk with Him. "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture is sufficient. It offers all we need for every good work."

There are three problems with this argument. The first is with your treatment of the text of 2 Tim. 3:16. You interpret the verse as if it said "All Scripture is inspired by God and ... adequate ... for every good work." I'm sure you recognize that this reading omits many words. In this verse, the Scriptures are said to be inspired and profitable, not adequate. It is the man of God who has received teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness out of the Scriptures who is said to be adequate, equipped for every good work. The verse does not even imply that God will never speak to his children except through the Scriptures.

The other two problems with your argument can be summarized with the statement that it proves too much. First, if Scripture is absolutely sufficient, so that God will not communicate with me other than through my intellectual understanding of the words of the Bible after diligent study, why bother to seek God, to pray for understanding?

My intellectual functioning is a strictly natural process; I have studied many books without asking God's help and have received good grades for my efforts. And if God speaks ONLY through study of the words on the Bible's pages, through the natural intellectual process, He cannot possibly answer any prayer for understanding of the Scriptures, because, to grant the prayer, He would have to give supernatural understanding and thereby communicate something which is not limited to the printed words themselves. However, if God is no longer speaking to us to explain His Word, we are no longer able to understand it at all, because it cannot be understood by the natural mind. (I Corinthians 2:6-16).

But I assure you that God does speak to me — not audibly, but in the same kind of internal voice in which I perceive my own thoughts — to explain His Word to me as I study and meditate, even though you seem to argue that this is not possible. To state this proposition more simply, your argument denies the possibility of what is traditionally called supernatural illumination of Scripture. But I know from other portions of your book (for instance, chapter 4) that you believe God can illumine Scripture to us. Charismatic leaders have created confusion by including instances of illumination, of guidance (as discussed below) and of new revelation all within the same term — "revelation knowledge." But you have adopted their confusion of concepts by, apparently, excluding the possibility of new revelation in terms so broad as to also prohibit illumination and guidance.

The third problem with this argument is that there are in every life a good many personal decisions as to which Scripture does not unambiguously prescribe one and only one choice. In my life, they have ranged from trivial things like which route to take home from work or where to do the weekly grocery shopping to critically important choices like who to marry and what occupation to pursue. Even the trivial choices may have important consequences -- as when taking one route home would lead me into a wreck or when someone who needs me will meet me only if I do my shopping at a particular store -- yet Scripture says absolutely nothing about them.

And, while Scripture does speak to the more important life choices, the direction it gives is strictly negative and usually does not limit me to only one choice. Thus, while in my youth (when I still had this decision to make), Scripture told me I should marry only a believer who was not married to someone else, there were millions of single Christian women in the world and, out of these millions, there were two besides my wife with whom I reached the level of discussing marriage. The Scriptures didn't tell me how to make this choice. (However, I find it interesting that the second of these two other women, who believed that my wife was right for me and helped her decide that, is one of our closest friends 22 years later). Similarly, while I knew from Scripture that I should not seek an occupation as a pimp, bookie, bartender, drug pusher or professional thief, and it was clear from my natural aptitudes that I probably wasn't going to be a truck driver, carpenter, mechanic or professional athlete, there were available to me a broad range of honest occupations not forbidden by Scripture, and Scripture nowhere told me which of these to pursue.

Faced with this observation that there appear to be many choices which Scripture doesn't unambiguously make for us, there are only three internally consistent answers to the question of how a Christian should make such a decision:

  1. God still speaks to His children to deliver guidance where Scripture is silent, and I should ask Him for it; or
  2. Since God didn't prescribe any particular choice in the Scriptures and will not speak today to tell me which choice to make, He does not care what decision I make as long as my choice isn't prohibited by Scripture; or
  3. I need not concern myself with ascertaining God's will because He has predetermined my decision and the appearance that I have a choice is only an illusion.

These really are the only three alternatives. Some, e.g., Bill Gothard, have proposed what at first appears to be a fourth solution -- i.e., where the Scriptures are silent, God will speak through other people in human chains of authority (e.g., government, family, church), who will speak God's will ex officio to provide me authoritative guidance, and may also speak through my circumstances, but will never speak to me directly (although if I'm in authority over someone else, he may speak through me ex officio to them). However, this approach is not internally consistent -- it denies that God will speak to me directly beyond the words of Scripture because God doesn't speak today, yet requires God to speak today through the offices of people in authority. So this fourth approach is really an inconsistent version of the second approach, although if you remove the insistence that God won't speak directly it becomes essentially similar to the first approach.

I prefer the first alternative - both because there are numerous scriptures which appear to promise direct guidance or to sanction asking for it (e.g., Psalm 23:2-3; Proverbs 3:5-6; John 10:11; John 16:12-15; James 1:5) and because I have received it at times. None of this implies that, when God speaks to me to explain the Scriptures or to give me guidance for a decision, His words to me today are equal in authority to the Bible. The Bible is far superior. Indeed, I must be careful to compare what I receive today against the Scriptures to know whether it really is from God; otherwise, I can be deceived. But God certainly does still speak.

With regard to both chapters 2 and 3 of your text, I agree that God is no longer giving new scripture. When He gives direction in making a personal decision or in understanding scripture, He does not speak new scripture. He announces no new doctrines -- illumination explains only what is already in the Scriptures, and guidance is intended to direct present decision making and not to teach doctrine at all. (I do believe, however, that John 16:12-15 is still in effect, and that God does sometimes tell us of future events, for the purpose of guiding our present decisions rather than for the purpose teaching doctrine. An example of this is found in Acts 21:10-11).

And I agree with you that most charismatics' insistence that God is still giving new revelation, of authority similar to Scripture, is allowing great errors to arise. The individual personality cults which have arisen among charismatics could never have arisen unless their followers believed that God was still giving new doctrinal revelation to their leaders (but definitely NOT to ordinary followers). But the solution to the problem is not to insist that God is now mute, but to draw the correct distinction between illumination, guidance and new revelation.

With reference to chapter 3 of your book, I also agree with you that the marks of a true prophet must be the agreement of his message with the scriptures and, in the case of any claimed predictive prophecy, whether the prophet's predictions are fulfilled. Indigestion or the lack thereof is not a valid test.

With respect to chapter 4 of your book, I agree fully that it is important to study to seek a correct interpretation of the Scriptures. And I agree generally with the five principles of hermeneutics which you state. However, I disagree with your statement that it doesn't matter what scripture means to me, all that matters is what it objectively means. Within my frame of reference what a scripture means to me is very important - because it is only what I understand that I can act upon. I previously mentioned that my favorite musical piece is Rachmaninov's Vespers. This is an artistic setting of a particular Russian Orthodox service, and many of the words are quite scriptural (others are not, as I read the English translations). However, in listening to the piece, the scriptures sung are of no benefit to me, because they are sung in Russian. Clearly they have a meaning, but that meaning does not affect my life or relationship with God because they have no meaning to me. Therefore, I believe two other major principles need to be added to your five principles of hermeneutics:

  1. Scripture must be interpreted, not only in its proper literary and historical context, but also in the context of an ongoing, living relationship with God - first that of Israel, then that of the disciples, and finally that of our relationship with Christ as members of his Body. Ultimately, scripture must be brought into the context of my relationship with God and applied. [Jacques] Ellul's thesis that the Bible contains nothing which can be removed from the context of a relationship with God and stated as an abstract propositional truth may overstate the case a little bit, but it is surely not far from the truth. And the best example of this danger is undoubtedly the Old Testament Law. To be sure, it was given to Israel as the form of a theocratic government and as laws that all Israelites must obey, by which, if any of them should keep the whole Law, he would live. The Law is full of commands which appear, on their faces, to state universal moral law which can be generalized to Jew and Gentile alike, if taken outside the context of God's relationship with Israel. And many today attempt to do just that - generalize selected commands of Old Testament Law onto everyone regardless of their faith, either by preaching law or by lobbying for a statute [enforcing it on everyone by edict of the government]. But the New Testament, particularly Galatians, is quite clear in its statement that the purpose of the Law was not to provide a universal moral code that everyone should be made to live by, but to show Israel that they couldn't keep the Law and therefore needed a Savior. Therefore, caution must be used when converting verses of scripture into abstract doctrinal propositions or universal rules of conduct, even when the literal words appear to state those propositions or rules. How those verses fit into their recipients' (and our) relationship with God must be considered.
  2. The Old Testament should be interpreted in light of the New Testament, and unclear passages earlier in the text should be interpreted in light of later passages which speak to the uncertainties. I recognize that the traditional rule, the "law" of first reference, prescribes the opposite of this by insisting that the meaning of a term or concept is fixed by its first use, to which later occurrences must be conformed if possible. But approaching the Bible this way doesn't make sense. God was only very imperfectly revealed in the Old Testament, but was perfectly revealed in Christ. The Son was prophesied in the Old Testament, but not born into the world until the New Testament. The Holy Spirit was mentioned a few times in the Old Testament, and was seen in open operation in the earth in Jesus, but was not fully revealed until sent to the Church. It makes more sense to interpret earlier and incomplete revelation in the light of more complete later revelation, than the opposite. Perhaps you can explain to me the rationale for the traditional rule? (I understand the rationale for using this rule when reading a statute book, but the Bible is not a statute book).

The core of my disagreement with your book is found in chapter 5. I certainly agree that many things which are very trivial or even imaginary are wrongly called miracles today, and that much of the talk exalting miracles appears to have as its purpose nothing more than personal attention-getting or plain old greed. But this doesn't prove that miracles are not occurring today, and neither does your argument, which employs a definitional trick instead of a proof. Your argument starts by drawing a distinction between "miracles" and "acts of providence." You first define a "miracle" as an extraordinary supernatural occurrence which is "always designed to authenticate the human instrument God has chosen to declare a specific revelation to those who witness the miracle." Then, you cite quite a list of scriptures which show clearly enough that God has used signs and wonders to authenticate the message of the apostles and of some of the prophets, but none of them state that this is the only purpose for which miracles are ever permitted (which is the proposition your argument requires).

The only support you give for this proposition that God uses miracles only to authenticate new revelation consists of quotations from Augustus Strong, and, in a later section, B.B. Warfield (who were great scholars but no more inspired than I am). Then, after discussing some really weird modern "miracles" and affirming that you believe that the miracles in the Bible actually occurred, you classify all of God's supernatural work today into the category of "acts of providence," in which, you remind the reader, God never uses human agents. Since God only used human agents to do His supernatural work when He needed to authenticate before witnesses new revelation which those human agents were proclaiming, and there is no new revelation going on today, it follows that no miracles would be happening today, either.

The problem with your argument is that it begs the question. Essentially, it includes what it is trying to prove in its definition of a "miracle," a definition which permits only two categories of divine supernatural events to exist - 1) events in which God works a wonder through a human agent for the express purpose of authenticating new revelation, OR 2) sovereign acts of God in which he uses no human agents. By using this definition, you are able to declare without discussion that a third category does not exist: 3) events in which God uses a human agent to work a supernatural act for a purpose other than authenticating new revelation. However, because your definition is supported only by Strong and Warfield and not by Scripture, you have not excluded this third category of supernatural events, and your proof fails.

Moreover, where you cite no Scripture which states that God uses miracles only for the purpose of authenticating new revelation, I can cite instances in which this does not appear to have been the primary purpose of a biblical miracle at the time it was performed. Two of my examples are contained in I Kings 4 - the widow's oil and the Shunammite's son. The widow and the Shunammite woman already believed Elisha was a man of God; he needed no authentication to them. Yet God used Elisha to supernaturally provide for the widow's financial need, to announce to the barren Shunammite with an aged husband that she would have the son she desired, and later to raise that son from death.

A New Testament example is the raising of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. Paul was already recognized as an apostle in the churches of Asia, and didn't need to respond to Eutychus' accident at all to show his authority in the Church. Yet he responded to Eutychus' death by raising him. Where is your authority?

The closest you come to scriptural authority for the assertion that miracles were used only to authenticate new revelation is your argument from Hebrews 2:3-4. You are correct in saying that these verses state that God used signs, wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit to confirm the message of Jesus and the apostles, and that the verb translated "it was confirmed" is in the past (aorist) tense. Thus, the activity being spoken of - in context, the giving of new revelation - is clearly finished. But all these verses say about miracles is that miracles were one of the methods God used to attest to His Word as it was first given, not that this was the only function God ever had for miracles.

Checking the context, Hebrews 2:1-4 is an encouragement and a warning to avoid God's judgment by believing the words of the apostles; it cited the powerful signs which attested the apostles' words as a reason to believe those words. The signs were cited as positive evidence; the question whether miracles continue to occur was not even a part of the context.

Moreover, the reading of Hebrews 2:3-4 which limits miracles to times of new revelation proves too much unless the verses are read selectively, because verse 4 includes "gifts of the Holy Spirit" on the same list with "signs, wonders and various miracles." So, if these verses were intended to tell us that miracles no longer happen, they must also tell us that no gifts of the Holy Spirit operate any longer. I don't think I've ever heard anyone preach that the gift of helps or of giving no longer operates, however.

But there is another function for the gifts, including miracles -- the strengthening of the Body of Christ. None of the Corinthian believers to whom Paul wrote were, apparently, apostles, engaged in receiving new revelation of a permanent character. Yet in writing to the Corinthians Paul states three lists of gifts in the Body, each of which lists workers of "miracles" as something different than apostles (I Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-31).

And, in I Corinthians chapters 12 through 14, Paul does not declare that certain gifts existed only in the company of the apostles and not in the Corinthian church, which is the approach your argument would prescribe. Rather, Paul declares the gifts to be valid and still in use in Corinth, and proper if used in an orderly way for their intended purpose. The intended purpose of the gifts of the Spirit, as stated in I Cor. 12:7 and 14:5, was the common good, the edification of the Body. It is further explained in I Cor. 12:14-30 that each part of the Body is equipped for a different function so that it will recognize its dependence on all of the other parts of the Body (and, ultimately, the Head).

It will be recalled that Paul's main objective in I Corinthians was to combat the disunity in the Corinthian church that had come in from a number of sources -- factionalism, immorality, lawsuits, misunderstandings about marriage and food sacrificed to idols, abuse of the Lord's Supper, disorder in services, heresy about the resurrection and abuse of the gifts. Where the way to achieve this objective was to simply prohibit some practice that was current in the Corinthian church, the Holy Spirit did so - see, e.g., I Cor. 5:5, 11-13; 6:1; 7:11. But the Spirit did not inspire Paul to prohibit the use of any of the gifts by the Corinthians, but instead moved him to explain their purpose and importance and to give directions for their orderly use. This appears to be at odds with your argument for the demise of several of the gifts after the first century as occurring because those gifts were associated only with the apostles and their special designates.

Still, it is true historically that most of the "power" gifts had gone into nearly complete disuse by early in the Second Century, and that, by the Fourth Century, all of the gifts except helps, giving, mercy, and, maybe, exhortation were, within the official church, either considered no longer in use or formally limited to the upper clergy or their special designates. As Ellul points out, by sometime in the Fourth Century, the need to keep error and anarchy out of a mass church in which the leaders of local churches were often recent converts who were untrained and couldn't be supervised very well required that the official church deny most local clergy functions as prophets or teachers by prescription of a liturgy containing canned homilies. So it wasn't just the "power" gifts that were restricted. And even the "power" gifts may not have entirely disappeared - isolated reports of people who apparently manifested them to some degree are found in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions from the Middle Ages to the present. Nevertheless, what is the explanation of the disappearance or near disappearance of these gifts, if it wasn't because God took them away? I believe there are two explanations.

The most important explanation for the waning of the gifts is suggested by your observation that even Paul, an apostle, seemed to lose most of his access to "power" gifts by the end of his life, and by the body analogy in I Corinthians 12. Paul was not an independent actor. He was an exceptionally gifted member of the Body, but he was, nonetheless, a member of the Body. And, as his later epistles show, by the end of Paul's life a good deal of error and division had entered the Body, not just in Corinth, but everywhere. See, I Tim. 1: 3-7; I Tim. 6: 3-5; II Tim. 3:1-9; II Tim. 4:3-4; Titus 1: 10-11; Titus 3: 9-11. Is it to be supposed that even a very gifted hand will perform well when it belongs to a sick body?

The division of the Church has only grown worse since the first century. Even in periods when political power was able to maintain visible unity, that unity came at the expense of adopting doctrinal error and deep divisions remained under the surface. Moreover, on the occasions when someone has appeared with an ability or manifestation which his contemporaries regarded as miraculous, the tendency has been to either beatify him as a super-human Christian (a "Saint" in the Catholic sense), to burn him as a witch or heretic, or both (e.g., Joan of Arc), thereby creating more divisions in the Body. So one reason that "power" gifts have been mostly absent since the first century is that the Body of Christ has been sick, divided and unable to bear them.

The second reason that "power" gifts have been mostly absent since the first century is that the institutional church has rejected and opposed them. The Catholic church from an early time suppressed manifestation of some of these gifts entirely and made every effort to limit the others to occasional manifestation through specially authorized members of the clergy, since manifestation of any of these gifts was potentially subversive of hierarchical order. And the reformers, as far as I can tell, uniformly saw these gifts as something mythical which belonged to the Catholic clergy, something which the Catholic church used to deceive people with lying stories of Saints' miracles, and as something which, therefore, should be either actively rejected or ignored.

With regard to chapter 6 of your book, all I can say is that these Third Wave people sound weird. I had never heard of any of them before I read your book.

In large measure, I agree with what you have written in chapter 7. Repentance is vital to salvation, and often spoken of in the New Testament, yet repentance (metanoia) is a change of mind, not a change of feelings (which would be "regret," as that word is applied to Judas in Matt. 27:3). The process by which I permit God to take increasing control of my life is more than once described as the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23), and is never described as the bypassing of my mind. So, as you well point out, and as Paul clearly stated to the Corinthians, manifestations of the Holy Spirit in a church should speak to the mind, and not be mindless or confusing (I Cor. 14:12, 19, 33), as is often the case in Pentecostal and Charismatic meetings. Many of us seek ecstatic experiences — i.e., being "slain in the spirit," which I have never understood scripturally, and, for some people clearly also speaking in tongues -- for the purpose of allowing God to bypass our minds, a practice which you correctly state sounds like pagan mysticism. And there are all too many people in our movement who think that all the scripture they need is an occasional verse because God is guiding them supernaturally through emotional experiences without the need to put any of His Word in their minds. All of this is, unfortunately, too true. What we Charismatics as a group too easily forget is that the purpose for which the gifts are given is to edify the Church, not to help us individually to prove that we're more spiritual than someone else, to help us get power or the respect of others, to help us achieve more ecstatic-feeling experiences, or to help us get things.

I also agree with most of what you wrote in chapter 8 of your book. Obviously, as I've earlier discussed, if I believe that I received the whole, indivisible person of the Holy Spirit when I was saved, no room is left for a subsequent experience in which I receive more of Him. That by itself pretty well takes care of the doctrine of subsequence, although your demonstration that subsequence appears to have obtained only in Acts 2 and only as to the 120 is also clearly correct.

You also appear to have correctly distinguished between the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a one-time event which is the essence of being born again, and the filling of the Holy Spirit, yielding oneself to Him, which should happen many times in a lifetime. You are also correct in stating that, in Acts 2:1-4, tongues at Pentecost were directly associated, not with the baptism of the Spirit but with the believers present being filled with the Spirit. While the sign of being filled with the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit, not His gifts, and yielding to the Spirit will not usually result in a visible supernatural manifestation, every authentic instance of the gifts of the Spirit (even the ones that are not visibly miraculous like teaching, helps and giving) results from a people yielding themselves to the Spirit.

Obviously, I have the same problems with the first half of chapter 9 of your book that I had with chapter 5. Once the reader gets past the examples of Pentecostals and Charismatics who have taken healing to weird extremes, the first half of your argument that God no longer uses people who have the gift of healing is that the gift of healing was one of those miraculous sign gifts which God used only long ago and only to authenticate new revelation. This is the same argument you made with respect to miracles generally in chapter 5, and the same response applies.

The gift of healing is still in the Church today, but its manifestation tends to be weak and sickly because the Body of Christ is itself sick and divided. Moreover ... my wife and I have been healed by laying on of hands - at the very least, we've seen a fairly long-term cessation of symptoms in some very painful conditions. And we are acquainted with a man who was dead and was resuscitated by prayer many years ago. So, your assertions that there is no evidence that such things still happen do not convince me, although it is obvious that long-term healing of organic diseases remains rare.

Moreover, your argument that health is uncommon in the Body of Christ because God is involved in the causation of all illnesses - either because He sovereignly causes them, because He sends them as chastisement for our sins, or because He "allows" Satan to cause them -- is one that I had discarded sometime before I visited my first Charismatic group as being inconsistent with God's character. If you believe, as you state, that God causes many illnesses and "allows" all the rest for some good reason, isn't going to a doctor an act in opposition to the sovereign will of God, and, hence, a sin? You state that going to a doctor is not a sin, and cite biblical examples of medicine, but your assertion that every illness is sovereignly caused or permitted by God suggests that going to a doctor is a sin. However, I agree with you that healing is clearly a part of God's character.

With regard to chapter 10, I agree with you that attempting to "teach" someone to speak in tongues, as is often done, is both nonsensical and dangerous. It is nonsensical because tongues is a gift of the Spirit, the work of the Spirit, given as the Holy Spirit wills, and only authentic when the Spirit makes it operate. I Cor. 12:4-11. Like the other gifts of the Spirit, it is not my property, but the Spirit's gift to the Church through me. I Cor. 12:7, 12-30; Ephesians 4:11-12. So it follows that it can't be learned or produced by my own effort.

It is dangerous for the reason that you cite - "learned" tongues are almost certainly counterfeit. And I have heard some tongues speaking which was almost certainly counterfeit, although the people involved likely weren't aware of it. One especially memorable example occurred almost every week in a meeting we used to attend. One woman would get up at almost every meeting and give a message in "tongues", which the leader would then "interpret". The problem was that, while the message in "tongues" always consisted of the repetition of the same three syllables in the same order, and varied from week to week only in that the number of repetitions changed, the "interpretation" was different each week.

I have a degree in linguistics, and know something about statistical information theory, but I didn't need my training to figure out that what was going on in those meetings was not a "language" in any normal sense. Possibly a look-up table code, more likely a fake, but not a language. And I fully agree with you that attempting to learn or fake the gift of tongues in order to make myself look more spiritual defeats the purpose for which all of the gifts were given — the building up of the Body in love.

I also agree with you that tongues was never intended to be a proof of spirituality — none of the gifts were ever intended for that purpose. Indeed, listening to some of my Charismatic brethren I have sometimes wondered, if God really decided that a gift of the Spirit was to be a sign of Spirit baptism so the rest of the church would know whom to honor as "spiritual," why He chose one that is so easy to fake. I have a fair amount of linguistic ability, and was able to speak gibberish that sounded a great deal like a real foreign language even before I was saved. And, while subjectively I know the difference between that gibberish and the tongues I speak today, I am well aware of the possibility of counterfeit tongues. Requiring baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence of performing a healing or working a miracle would have been much more definitive. (Granted, people are able to fake healings and miracles, too, but it takes much more preparation). However, as I indicated earlier in this letter, the function of all of the gifts is the building up of the Body, and none of them are properly evidence of anything about any individual's spirituality.

On the other hand, I disagree with your reading of I Corinthians 13:8. It is true, as you say, that, at some future time (future, at any rate, when the verse was written), tongues will "cease," that the verb used, pauo, implies finality and, unlike the other verbs in the last half of the verse, is in indicative mood, implying that it will cease of its own volition. However, the verb used to describe what will happen to knowledge and prophecy, katargeo, implies no less finality - it can properly be translated "to render powerless, to make empty, to annul, to abrogate, to cancel, to annihilate", being a variant of the verb argeo ("done away") used in verse 10, strengthened by compounding with the preposition kata (Wigram's Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, pp. 50, 219) — and, being in the passive mood, implies that knowledge and prophecy will be finally done away with by a force outside themselves.

The fact that the apostle includes the cessation of tongues and the doing away of knowledge and prophecy on the same list implies that they will all be halted because of the same event. But predicting the time of that event is not the point of the larger passage (vv.8-13) — the point of the passage is that, when the gifts go, love will remain. Yet the indication from the passage is that knowledge and prophecy, at the very least, which are "in part" will remain until that which is "the perfect" comes. When "the perfect" comes, we will see face to face and know fully, even as we are fully known. I Cor. 13:12.

At that time, of course, gifts like knowledge, prophecy and tongues will no longer serve any purpose, because each of us will have full knowledge in Christ. But when that happens, we will have "reached unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ," at which time evangelists, pastors and teachers will also no longer be necessary. Ephesians 4:11-13. Personally, I don't think the church has arrived at perfection yet, or that any of us knows God as well as He knows us.

I totally agree with your chapter 11. There is no "zapping," and no shortcut — not tongues, not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, not being slain in the spirit, not subliminal tapes, not even the silly paper prayer cloths and "miracle" paper wallets I receive sometimes from the organization in Tulsa. God has provided no way for me to go my own way and do my own thing most of the time, yet occasionally to get "zapped" and be spiritual. I can only be spiritual by staying filled with — controlled by — the Spirit, and there is no shortcut to this.

I disagree with much that you have written in chapter 12 of your book. I have had considerable contact with the Word of Faith movement. After reading your book, I can see that some of what the "core" leaders of that movement have said is in error, and is based solely on private revelations outside of Scripture. I, too, am sometimes appalled by the blatant pandering to greed I see in some of the media evangelists on the fringe of the Word of Faith movement. However, I also believe that you are misrepresenting their position and that much of what they say has valid scriptural support. Major points discussed in your chapter 12 on which I disagree with you (although I don't necessarily fully agree with the dominant Word of Faith position either) are:

  1. The meaning of the "sovereignty" of God. I believe that, in Genesis 1:26-31, God gave man dominion over all the earth. Man then had the free choice whether to submit to God's simple command (do not eat of the tree) or to the devil's temptation, and chose the devil. Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-6; Romans 5:12-14. Sin came into the world, therefore, not by the sovereign will of God but by the free choice of man. Since then, death, sin's wages, has been active in the world through various mechanisms - war, crime, disease, famine, accident, natural disaster, poverty - not because it was God's will for us but because we chose it for ourselves when Adam chose sin. Even the forces of nature groan in agony, in bondage to the death that Adam brought to the planet. Romans 8:22. Sometimes death's agents can be attributed to the sins of individual people - like the Holocaust or the result if I decided to jump off a cliff - sometimes not. The writer to the Hebrews attributes the power of death to the devil, Hebrews 2:14, who was given power on earth by Adam's sin, and Peter attributed the illnesses which Jesus healed during His earthly ministry to devils. Acts 10:38. But they are all attributable to man in one way or another, and should never be attributed to God as His "will." Note, however, that I do not go so far as to say that, because God gave dominion to Adam, he is now prohibited from doing anything on earth except through a man, as some teach. God will never break His Word, but I am unable to locate any promise He ever made to anyone that would support the idea that He only works on earth through people. He almost always works through people - it seems to be His preferred method - but His hands aren't tied.
  2. God's will for his children is health. God created man to live forever, not to die; it was man who brought death into the world by sinning. Sickness was not a part of the original plan. Moreover, even pain is banished from the new Jerusalem, Revelation 21:4, and the leaves of the tree of life there are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:2. So it is clear that God's ultimate will for His children is health. Further, God sent His son to bear the burden of our sins, to bear the curse, so that I might become the righteousness of God in Jesus and start to walk free of sin and its wages. See, e.g., Romans 8:1-4, 10-14; 2 Cor. 5:14-21; Galatians 3:10-14; Hebrews 2:14-17. The final victory will not be fully achieved until the whole Body of Christ conquers death and receives resurrection bodies. But just because we have not been brought to the predetermined day of full victory yet does not mean we are still in defeat. There are a number of scriptures which directly indicate God's willingness to heal, and others which state that healing was one of the things Christ accomplished on the Cross. See, e.g., Exodus 15:26; Psalm 103:1-5 (physical healing, physical provision and forgiveness of sins are visible together in this passage); Isaiah 53:4-6; Matthew 8:16-17; Luke 4:17-21 (Jesus came to restore sight to the blind and to heal those who are oppressed -- crushed by their lives); I Corinthians 12:9 (gift of healing); James 5:14-16; I Peter 2:24. I see no reason to spiritualize or put off until after this life the references to healing in these passages. Physical healing was involved in Christ's atonement, although it was only one part of it and not the most important part. I agree with you, however, that the Ransom theory of the atonement cannot be correct — the whole idea of God paying a price to the devil is repulsive.
  3. I explain the fact that most Christians are sick, and, often, seemingly, sicker than the unsaved, in four ways: first, the devil is still actively opposing us, and uses sickness to keep people in his trap (Paul called his thorn the messenger of satan); second, everything God wants to give His children, including health, belongs to the whole Body of Christ, and will not be very fully manifested while that Body is sick and divided; third, many Christians harbor pet sins which interfere with healing; and fourth, some have no faith. But I totally agree with you that blaming the sick, and anyone who comes to a meeting without being healed, for not having "enough" faith, is totally wrong.
  4. God's will for His children is prosperity - that is, sufficient wealth to do His work. The Scriptures are full of conditional promises of prosperity, just as the Word of Faith leaders say. See, Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (to Israel); Psalm 37:4, 18-19; Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 8:8-9 and 9:6-11; Philippians 4:19. God is, by nature, generous. But the purpose of His generosity is not to make me a millionaire so that I can spend my wealth on my own desires. James 4:2-3. As I previously stated, God never does anything in order to help me go my own way; His purpose is to make me function as a member of Christ's Body. The solution to the tension created by the passages which promise provision and increase and the passages which warn against seeking to acquire wealth is not the traditional solution, which is to spiritualize the promises and beatify Saint Poverty. (I've never heard anyone spiritualize the encouragements to give generously in 2 Cor. 8 and 9 - these are always applied literally to the speaker's offering plate!) Rather, the solution is to recognize that the promises are literal but conditional, and the conditions stated limit the promises to obedient believers, not those who are just trying to get rich. Also, these promises of sufficiency and increase, like the promises of healing, are primarily for the benefit of the Church collectively (see 2 Cor. 8 and 9), and will not operate consistently or properly in a sick Body.
  5. Although I don't carry it to a magical extreme, I do agree with the Word of Faith teachers that our words are clearly important, and should agree with what the Word of God says.

I will be looking forward to your response to this very long letter.

Sincerely, Ian B. Johnson

Ian Johnson
Please do email me!

1996, 2002 Ian B. Johnson

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