The danger of rejecting the Spirit’s truth… and gifts

I do not believe the gifts of the Spirit were ever withdrawn from the Church. It is a doctrine without any Scriptural warrant whatsoever.

John Wesley, who certainly had no axe to grind in the debates surrounding modern Pentecostalism, said in a personal journal entry in 1750,

“I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected, 1. That the Montanists, in the second and third centuries, were real, scriptural Christians; and, 2. that the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well nigh lost; but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.”

The wide-scale renewal of spiritual gifts in the early 1900’s may well have been a gracious offering from the Father to all the churches to participate in the fellowship of the Spirit as it was enjoyed in Early Church life. Rejection by the more “mainstream” parts of the universal Church seems to have brought, over time, a number of consequences.

1. Blatant apostasy on the part of groups which ostensibly believed the Scriptures. Thus, the Episcopal Church has a homosexual bishop; the largest Lutheran body in the U.S. has also voted to allow non-celibate gays as clergy.

2. Ongoing rejection of the gifts by cessationist groups (i.e. those who believe the gifts have passed away) persists, though much progress has been made. While this is not a scientific study by any means, my own recent encounters with cessationists convince me that many do not even know what the Scriptures say on these matters. One brother said that the tongues-speaking Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 14 was not to God but “a god.” He said this could be demonstrated from any lexicon!  Sadly, the arguments of cessationists seem to be filled with straw men and caricatures, thinking that the pretenses and outlandish practices of some are representative of all who believe in spiritual gifts.

3. Groups which already stood in opposition to Biblical truth are further hardened. The Roman Catholic Church, which had its own pleasant charismatic renewal, saw it degenerate in our opinion into Mariolatry and subjectivism. Now in the news we see that body promulgating documents which call for the establishment of a world Authority. Are they now ready to play a part in world history which would not have surprised Calvin or Luther? Alas, largely rejecting the Spirit and the Word, Calvin and Luther’s heirs are powerless to raise an alarm.

In all these cases, rejecting the reality (and the voice) of the living Spirit has caused instead the spirit of slumber – or worse – to come upon established Christendom. We watch them completely fall away from the Word, and mock and patronize the spiritual children of their forebears in Africa and Asia as primitives. All that remains for them now is to accept the substitute the clever enemy of our souls will soon offer them – a man to embody their hopes and lust for godhood.

Why?

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and sent to lead us into all truth. To reject Him when He comes spotlighting a truth is to grieve Him – and to lose Him is to cause our house to be left to us desolate.  The Presence of the Spirit, welcomed and cultivated in their midst, would have honored the Word He authored and pointed them to the Christ of Scripture, not the faux Christ of our own invention.

This alone can keep individuals and entire church Communions from coming under judgment with the world, which judgment is soon to come.

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Author: Nick

I’m a pastor, a writer, musician, and recovering lawyer. Blessed to serve the people of Harvest Time Church as Associate Pastor. In my spare time I enjoy losing to my wife in Words With Friends.

5 thoughts on “The danger of rejecting the Spirit’s truth… and gifts”

  1. It’s so very true! As part of the denominational mainstream (Lutheran), I’ve likewise had discussions with brothers who won’t come right out and say it, but who’s operating theology is more or less cessationist–at least for any of the gifts that are challenging to their experience. I love your line: “Sadly, the arguments of cessationists seem to be filled with straw men and caricatures, thinking that the pretenses and outlandish practices of some are representative of all who believe in spiritual gifts.” In a discussion several days ago, a pastor friend admitted that he doubted that all of the gifts were still in play because he “hasn’t seen anyone raised from the dead,” which is one of the signs which follow Christians (Mk 16ff). Because he hasn’t seen or experienced it, it must not be happening, and if that isn’t happening anymore, then who’s to say what else isn’t functioning anymore. Anyway, I just posed on this topic as well.

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    1. Right… this was one of the reasons why Jack Deere (more charitably than me) said that the reason why most people don’t believe in these things is that they haven’t seen them. But many people say things like your pastor friend. I admit to being a little shocked at how quick they are to mock and many still consider you a heretic – literally- – if you speak in tongues.

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  2. I agree the gifts are still in operation today. Good bible interpretation – and well rounded Christian experience – is testimony to that. I do have a few quick points to add to the discussion, however:

    First, it is impossible to prove that the rejection of “Pentecostalism” is the reason why many mainstream denominations have really degenerated from a biblical standpoint. I think it would be easier to make the case that these denominations bartered their commitment to an authoritative bible for the promise of modernism.

    Second, you did not mention any degeneration of churches that were “accepting” of the pentecostal experience. There always have been some who “go off the deep end” and barter their commitment to an authoritative bible for the promise of new and exiting religious experiences.

    Third, while “cessation” is unbiblical, do you think there are times and places where the Holy Spirit HIMSELF chooses to move more dramatically than others?

    Fourth, I think we give cessationists ground to make their case when we lead them to expect the level of rapid-fire charismatic phenomena that we read in the pages of Acts. They don’t see this, they get turned off, and make up a fiction about cessation. Without trying to limit what God can do if he chooses, I think we need to realize that Luke wrote the book of Acts by selecting “great moments” covering the span of about 40 years and across the entire Roman Empire. Not all meetings were astounding. Remember the meeting in Acts 20 in which Eutychus fell asleep “as Paul talked on and on”? Probably not untypical of many meetings of the early Christians. And we only know about this one because the young man fell out the window and was miraculously healed. Otherwise Luke would not have chosen to record it.

    Thanks for your thoughts Pastor Nick.

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    1. Hi Dr. Ray,

      Thanks for your words which, as usual, are wise. I would add a few thoughts by way of friendly reply.

      1. I agree with you that it would be easier to demonstrate that those denominations degenerated by abandoning their commitment to the Word of God. However, my post is meant to suggest that we look one level further back in the chain of cause and effect. Without a personal commitment to the Author, we can never expect to find commitment to His Word. The first step in wisdom is, after all, the reverent fear of Him. I think of J. Gresham Machen’s words, “When a group forbids what God allows, its next step is to allow what God forbids.” (I may be the only Charismatic to ever quote Machen, by the way.)

      2. I don’t excuse groups that go into enthusiasm. But here I’m only speaking of a certain type of degeneration – rejecting the charismatic gifts. You’re raising a different set of issues which I didn’t think was germane to my discussion of religious communions which came to openly deny the plain mandates of Scripture.

      3. There are many times and places where the Spirit Himself will choose to move differently than others. Thus, the concept of an “outpouring” (and its likely opposite of “grieving the Spirit”) in a certain locality or church body. However, we live in the “age of the Spirit,” a time of the general effusion of the Spirit on the people of God. So I would reject as unbiblical the idea that any individual Christian did not have as his birthright the right and ability to move in the gifts of the Spirit. It would be a denial to Him of the incidents of the covenant we are standing in, things which we possess as a direct result of Christ’s glorification and His pouring out of the Spirit on the Church. Peter tells us in Acts 2:38-39,

      “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.

      4. Your fourth point has a couple of different subpoints, I think. I’m not sure what we lead cessationists to expect, unless you mean by way of braggadocio, but certainly many have constructed a theology of spiritual gifts which claims they operated at will and with total success in the Apostles. This leaves no room for any failures or any process of growing in grace in such matters – the idea that one can learn to become more proficient in the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit is looked upon, if at all charitably, as an oddity.

      I also don’t think all meetings were astounding, but I don’t think what the Holy Spirit has selected for inclusion in Holy Writ is the “highlight reel” of the charismatic experience in the Early Church. I would agree that there is an important purpose to showing the various “Pentecosts” among the different groups in Acts 8, 10 and 19, but the purpose is apologetic, meant to support the full inclusion of Samaritans and Gentiles in the new faith community. So Peter in Acts 10:47:

      “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (NKJV)

      While we do have impressive accounts of the miraculous ministries of non-apostolic figures such as Stephen and Philip, I don’t think that Acts gives many representative slices of congregational life. Where it does, however, as in Acts 13, the picture can be very charismatic indeed. The Epistles contain a number of references to spiritual experiences, and I think charismatic gifts were widely distributed and exercised.

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      1. Pastor Nick: There is no one I would rather rather “bump heads” just a little bit with. I leave wiser and a better man. Just a few brief additional thoughts on our numbered topics:

        1. Chronologically I think the embrace of modernism in the mainline churches (and particularly skepticism about the inspiration of the bible) came before the rejection of pentecostalism and the gifts of the Spirit. Modernism was well on its way by 1900. But I suppose it could be argued that the rejection of God happened even prior to the embrace of modernism, so we may never get to the bottom of this.

        2. Nothing to add. We’ve solved this for all time – or until the next post!

        3. I asked if there are times and places where the Holy Spirit HIMSELF chooses to move more dramatically than others. At first you seem to agree but then you contrast “outpouring” with “grieving the Spirit.” But “grieving the Spirit” is a human posture that would seem to stifle the activity of the Holy Spirit. Are you saying that the proper human posture arouses the activity of the Holy Spirit? If so, I don’t disagree – but it did not really answer my question of whether there are times when the Holy Spirit HIMSELF chooses to move more dramatically than others.

        The difference may be important. For example, we go to a meeting and our gathering is accompanied by signs and wonders and wonderful worship. We go to the next one – same congregation – and it seems much less so. Who is responsible? Do we congratulate ourselves on the first and punish ourselves for the second? Again I agree that our hearts need to be prepared, but at the end of the day The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going (John 3:8). If that is true of our meetings, the same may be possibly true of periods of time – and places – in the history of the Christian church.

        4. I think you are “right on” about learning to move in the gifts and power of the Spirit. That is one thing that good gatherings and good churches (like Harvest Time) allow their people to do. But I do think Acts is kind of a “highlight reel.” I mean, that’s that’s what written history is. And though it is clear that charismatic activity was widespread and even frequent (yes, 1 Corinthians 12-14 is certainly evidence of this from the letters), I submit that not all meetings were “barn burners.” There were many, many meetings where the highlights were prayer, an encouraging word from the Scriptures, and a shared meal. With an occasional parishioner falling asleep and falling from the window!

        Thank you my brother! – Ray

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