I believe the following are some of the chief reasons behind this delusion:
Not Testing Everything by the Bible Alone; Lack of Discernment
The chief reason people become deceived is that they refuse to exercise keen spiritual discernment; they refuse to test everything carefully by the Bible ALONE. Proverbs 14:15 says, “The simple believeth every word: but THE PRUDENT MAN LOOKETH WELL TO HIS GOING.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “PROVE ALL THINGS; hold fast that which is good.” The apostle Paul taught that the Scriptures are able to make the man of God “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:17).
This means that the Bible alone is the sole authority for faith and practice. Those who refuse to take the Word of God and measure every religious teaching and experience by it are on the road to spiritual delusion.
Charismatics give lip service to holding the Bible as the sole authority, but in practice they deny it.
Consider the dangerous counsel of Charles and Frances (the Happy) Hunters:
“Once you begin to walk in the supernatural you really have to be ready for anything and everything and NEVER QUESTION the way God does it! ... We always need to be completely open to the move of the Holy Spirit and never be so closed that we cannot see that God might possibly be doing something so fresh and new today. ... I have NEVER CRITICIZED ANY MINISTRY OR WORK of God!” (Charles and Frances Hunter, Holy Laughter, pp. 65, 103).
This is unwise counsel. It sounds spiritual, perhaps, to “be completely open to the move of the Holy Spirit,” but the Hunters ignored the Scripture’s warning that the last days will be filled with spiritual delusion.
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. ... And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. ... For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Mat. 24:4, 5, 11, 24).
We must be in submission to the Holy Spirit, but we must be careful at all times that we are not deceived by a false spirit.
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive ANOTHER SPIRIT, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him” (2 Cor. 11:3-4).
The apostle Paul feared that the Corinthians would “bear with” false teachers and deceivers. The carnal Corinthians were puffed up with their spiritual gifts and supposed deeper understanding of the things of God, and they were wide open for the devil’s delusion. They were tolerant of error and hungry for experiences.
This is exactly what is happening in the charismatic movement.
Dabbling with Error
Consider the following frightful example of how people get captured by error by dabbling around with it.
Charles and Frances Hunter were radical charismatics who promoted heresies such as the promise of physical healing, spirit slaying, ecumenism, and “holy laughter.” But they weren’t always charismatics. When they first began dabbling around with Pentecostalism, they felt in their hearts that it wasn’t biblical, but they ignored their conscience and the Bible’s warnings and were captured. The following is from an autobiographical account by Francis Hunter:
“...when Charles and I were married and we began TO NIBBLE AROUND where the Holy Spirit was concerned, we saw 'those' people with both hands raised! ... Whenever you begin to nibble, however, sooner or later you're going to get caught! ... We began to hear a lot about a woman named Kathryn Kuhlman. ... What was this peculiar, unspiritual thing that made her push them all down ["slaying in the Spirit"]? We rejected it, of course, but our hungry little 'SPIRITUAL PIG' HEARTS drew us to one of her [Kathryn Kuhlman] meetings the next morning after the experience at the Charismatic Conference. I [Frances Hunter] stepped into the aisle. She merely said, 'Jesus, bless my sister,' and bless me He did! Faster than you can blink an eye, I was lying on my back on the floor of the First Presbyterian Church in my very best dress. ... All the arguments I previously had about the baptism with the Holy Spirit and speaking with other tongues disappeared instantly! (Charles and Frances Hunter, Holy Laughter, pp. 13, 19, 20).
”We went to a Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship banquet in Houston. ... The man [the speaker] said, 'Well, Jesus, bless Frances!' Down I went faster than you could blink an eye, followed one second later by my precious husband! ... I tried to get my hands off of the floor, but nothing happened. I couldn't believe what had happened to me, because it was physically impossible for me to move. ... I felt as though someone had given me a divine alka seltzer because way down deep in the very center of my being I began to feel a most peculiar type of 'bubbling.' ... then it abruptly came out of my mouth in the form of the loudest laugh I have ever heard. ... no pressure on my mouth could keep the laughing back. I laughed, laughed, laughed and laughed. ... I stopped laughing just as quickly as I started, and suddenly I was released from the bed of Holy Ghost glue in which I had been resting!” (Holy Laughter, pp. 21-23).
This has been repeated countless times when people have ignored the warning of God’s Word and dabbled with error. The Hunters should have known from 1 Timothy 2:12 that Kathryn Kuhlman was not called of God to preach. They should have known from 1 Corinthians 14:33 that the disturbing confusion of charismatic meetings is not of God. They could have known from 1 Corinthians 14:20-22 that tongues were a sign to Israel. They should have known from the book of Acts that genuine tongues speaking is not something that can be learned and is not mere gibberish. They should have known from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that women are not to exercise ministry gifts in the services in the presence of men. They should have known from Matthew 12:39 that we are not to seek after miracles, because “an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.”
The Hunters ignored the clear teaching of the Word of God in these matters, playing around with error and blundering into the world of charismatic chaos and spiritual delusion.
Mr. Hunter should have obeyed the Word of God and rejected error when he was confronted by it, and Mrs. Hunter should have followed her husband in that wise decision. Instead, they made themselves gullible, ignored the clear teaching of God’s Word, and pursued an experience.
This is a sure formula for deception.
The Desire for Holiness
Another reason many are drawn into charismatic confusion is a misguided desire for holiness.
The born again child of God yearns for holiness. He wants to be like Christ. He despises the indwelling sin nature and desires to be free from the struggle with the flesh.
We must be careful, however, that we are following Bible holiness, for there are many false substitutes.
“Holy” means to be set apart for God. The Old Testament tabernacle was holy because it was consecrated wholly for God’s service. Bible holiness for the Christian is two-fold: It is positional and it is practical. Positionally, the believer is eternally set apart in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2, 30). He is “in Christ.” It is a new position before God because of Christ’s atonement, and it is an eternal position. In a practical sense, though, the believer is to “put on Christ” daily. He is to die to self and grow in grace and knowledge. The book of Ephesians presents a simple outline of Bible holiness. Chapters 1-3 present positional holiness. The theme of these chapters is grace and the key phrase is “in Christ.” This describes the believer's unchanging position before God. Chapters 4-6 present practical holiness. The theme here is obedience and the key word is “walk.”
Ephesians 5:8 brings both aspects together: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but NOW are ye light in the Lord: WALK as children of light.” The believer has been given a perfect position of holiness in Christ; he is NOW light in the Lord, and he is to live up to this position in his daily life.
Bible holiness is a WALK not a FLIGHT! The Bible does not promise an EXPERIENCE whereby the Christian can be placed into a perfect plane of spiritual life in this present world. There is no “Second Blessing” or “Entire Sanctification” promised in the Word of God. Don’t be deceived by false promises of holiness.
Many of those who have been deceived by charismatic error have gotten involved out of desperation. They were undergoing some severe trial and were on the brink of an emotional and physical breakdown, and as a last resort they attended a charismatic meeting to “give it a try.”
Randy Clark, one of the fathers of the “Toronto Blessing,” testified that as a pastor of a Vineyard church he “felt empty, powerless, and so little anointed emotionally, spiritually, and physically, I knew I was burning out.” In that condition, he ignored his conscience which told him that the Word-Faith movement was patently unscriptural. He did not agree with the doctrine of Kenneth Hagin and the Rhema movement, but he attended a Rodney Howard-Browne meeting at Rhema anyway, out of desperation, and he was deceived.
Guy Chevreau, a former Baptist pastor who has become immersed in the most radical aspects of the charismatic movement, says that he also first attended the meetings in Toronto as a failure in the ministry and “too desperate to be critical.”
It was out of this same sense of desperation that former Southern Baptist evangelist James Robison allowed a charismatic to lay hands on him and allegedly cast demons out of him.
I have heard the same testimony from many others who have become entangled in the charismatic movement.
This is a loud warning. No matter how desperate you get, do not ignore the Word of God and your conscience. Do not break down the walls of biblical separation that God has commanded that we erect against doctrinal error. To do so is to invite spiritual delusion.
God has not promised that the Christian life will be smooth sailing. It is filled with every sort of trial and difficulty.
Psalm 119 is the record of the man of God who loves the Word of God. Note that this long psalm is literally filled with difficult experiences, of affliction, of dryness of soul.
“My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word” (Psa. 119:28).
“This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me” (Psa. 119:50).
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psa. 119:71).
“I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Psa. 119:75).
“Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me? For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes” (Psa. 119:82-83).
“Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction” (Psa. 119:92).
“I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O LORD, according unto thy word” (Psa. 119:107).
“My soul is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget thy law” (Psa. 119:109).
“Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights” (Psa. 119:143).
“Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget thy law” (Psa. 119:153).
“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments” (Psa. 119:176).
Romans 8:18-24 describes the same thing.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?”
The true Christian life is replete with suffering (Rom. 8:18), waiting (Rom. 8:19), vanity (Rom. 8:20), bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:21), and “groaning and travailing” (Rom. 8:22-23).
This is the normal Christian life. It is a walk of FAITH NOT SIGHT (or feeling). Don’t allow the devil to promise you a quick path to that perfection that will be experienced only at Christ’s coming or at our departure from this evil world and out of this sinful body of death.
Leaning on Fallible Men Instead of the Infallible Bible
I have read and heard the testimonies of dozens of people who have accepted the charismatic movement, and a common thread is their immersion in the sermons and writings of Word-Faith teachers.
Chip Brogden, who was once a follower of Benny Hinn, testifies that as a young Christian “it wasn’t long before my library contained books written by Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Savelle, Lester Sumerall, Charles Capps, and other leading faith teachers” (Brogden, “New Move of God, or Old Move of Man?” Contemporary Pentecostal Issues, 1997).
In a zeal to “find the blessing,” many immerse themselves in the teachings of such men. It is no surprise that they are led from error to error.
The Lord Jesus Christ promised to lead us in the truth if we continue in His Word.
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
It is the Word of God itself which is a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). It is the Word of God by which we are sanctified (John 17:17) and through which we grow (1 Pet. 2:2).
God uses ministry-gifted men to protect the churches (Eph. 4:11-14; Titus 1:5-11), but the believer is to go directly to the Word of God for his light and sanctification. If I am spending more time focusing on the words of men than on the Words of God, I am setting myself up for spiritual delusion.
The man who led me to the Lord Jesus Christ was very wise about these matters, and I am thankful for his help. He taught me to test everything--absolutely everything--by the Bible. He taught me to be suspicious about man’s teaching. While we were traveling together prior to my conversion, he took me into a Christian bookstore and explained that there were many books there that would lead me astray. He told me that God has promised to lead me in the truth if I stay in His Word (John 8:31-32) and if I obey Him (John 7:17). He taught me not to trust in my heart (Jer. 17:9) or in any type of religious experience, no matter how seemingly real or impressive, but in the Word of God alone (2 Pet. 1:16-21).
Leaning on Experiences Rather Than Living Strictly by Faith in God's Word
The root error of charismatic confusion is to put experience above the Word of God. Very few will admit to doing this, but examples abound in practice.
The Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International was not established strictly upon the testimony of the Bible but upon a vision that its founder allegedly had. The Church of God of Prophecy was similarly founded on a vision. So was Youth With A Mission and countless other Pentecostal and charismatic organizations.
I have received probably hundreds of letters and e-mails from people trying to convince me that the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement is founded in truth. Almost invariably they will tell me about their experience.
Charismatic women preachers have told me that they know they are called to preach, because of their alleged experiences with God, in spite of what the Bible plainly states (1 Tim. 2:12). God spoke to them; God encouraged them; God led them. It is all experiential.
In Nepal, I met a pastor who had three wives. He owned three pieces of property and had his three wives and their children lodged in these places. He spent most of the time with the youngest wife and visited the other two from time to time. When I confronted him that God’s biblical standards forbade him to be a pastor (“the husband of one wife,” 1 Tim. 3:2), he argued that God had called him through a vision, and he refused to quit the pastorate. Many other Nepali pastors, more impressed with his visionary experience than the Word of God, supported him in that unscriptural decision.
When Charles Parham, often called the father of Pentecostalism, was challenged about his false doctrine of sanctification, he sought refuge in what he believed to be an experiential sign from God. William Durham, another early Pentecostal leader, denounced “the doctrine of a second work of grace” for sanctification. Durham rightly taught that sanctification is two-fold in nature: the child of God is sanctified once-for-all positionally and he is also sanctified experientially as a growth process that is appropriated over the entirety of one’s earthly life. When Parham heard this challenge to his doctrine of sanctification, he declared: “If this man’s doctrine is true, let my life go out to prove it, but if our teaching on a definite grace of sanctification is true, let his life pay the forfeit” (James R. Goff, Jr., “Pentecostal Quilt,” Christian History, No. 58, 1998).
Durham died later that year and Parham claimed vindication for his doctrine because of this experience, but be not deceived. Durham’s death did not prove that his doctrine was wrong.
Many have become convinced of the truth of the charismatic movement through “personal prophesies,” which are actually soothsaying. “Prophets” such as Paul Cain and Bob Jones could describe the secrets of people’s lives, and this convinced many that they were true prophets of God, but their heresies revealed the truth of the matter for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. For example, God’s Word doesn’t promise a miracle revival at the end of the church age, which was one of their chief doctrines.
Before I was saved, I threw out some “fleeces,” but the answer was confusing, to say the least. For example, in the summer of 1973, I was riding in my automobile with the man who eventually led me to Christ. I had studied Christian Science, Hinduism, communism, and other religions and philosophies, and I did not know what to believe. So as I was driving along in my automobile I prayed, “God, I am confused; I seek your help. If the Bible is true, let there be a bird on the second telephone pole after we go around the next curve in the road, and if the Bible is not true let there not be a bird.” Well, there was no bird, but that did not prove that the Bible is false!
Fleeces and mystical experiences are not certain, but the Word of God is.
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:29-31).
No matter how unusual or miraculous it appears, it is not an experience that determines whether or not a doctrine is true. There is only ONE thing that determines if something is true, and that is the Bible rightly divided!
Brethren, do not be deceived by end-time wildfire that is posing as a powerful move of the Holy Spirit. We need the power of the Spirit of God in our lives in these evil days, but the manifestation thereof will not be drunkenness or uncontrollable laughter or strange shaking and weird noises or strange gibberish and mutterings or falling to the floor or soothsaying.
The Word of God tells us precisely how to have spiritual revival:
”And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:11-21).
Note that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not some weird charismatic experience; it is a way of life for those who are saved through faith in the finished atonement of Jesus Christ and who obey the Word of God and walk in fellowship with Christ.
Read both Ephesians 5 and 6. The command to be filled with the Spirit is in the context of a passage that instructs us in how to please God in the ordinary affairs of our daily lives. The filling of the Spirit is the simple yielding to God’s control over our everyday lives, the simple obedience to the Bible’s commands through God’s power.
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