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Charismatic Chaos: Sermon 6 - "The Third Wave, with all of its excesses"

By John MacArthur


      It is a somewhat difficult task that falls to me this evening, to discuss with you, in the series on "Charismatic Chaos," some of the matters with regard to a movement known as the "The Third Wave." I cannot, by any means, consider all of the issues, nor can I speak of all those who represent that movement. But I do want to give you some perspective so that you can be alert and aware in regard to what is happening.

      Of all of the elements of the Charismatic movement, that are contemporary to us today, this one is getting the most press. Of all the questions that are asked to me by people who write and call with regard to issues facing us in the Charismatic movement, this is the most commonly discussed one. The main figure in what is known as the "Third Wave" is a man by the name of John Wimber who is pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim. He is the major figure in this movement that has come to be known as the "Third Wave of the Holy Spirit." It is sometimes called the "Signs and Wonders" movement. And this latest Charismatic tide seems to have swept across the globe in the last decade. It is literally everywhere in the English speaking parts of the world.

      The term the "Third Wave" was coined by C. Peter Wagner who is a Missions professor at Fuller Seminary and the author of several books on church growth. He is really the leading proponent of the Third Wave philosophy and methodology. According to Wagner, he said, "The First Wave was the Pentecostal Movement, the Second Wave was the Charismatic Movement, and now the Third Wave is joining them." And by that he means an inundating wave of the power of the Holy Spirit manifesting itself in visible ways. And while acknowledging the Third Wave's spiritual ancestry, that is, that it is the third of those three, Wagner nonetheless rejects the label "Charismatic and Pentecostal." In fact, most of the people in the Third Wave don't want to be identified in that way. Wagner says,

      The Third Wave is a new moving of the Holy Spirit among evangelicals who for one reason or another have chosen not to identify with either the Pentecostals or the Charismatics. Its roots go back a little further but I see it as mainly a movement beginning in the 1980's and gathering momentum through the closing years of the 20th century. I see the Third Wave as distinct from, but at the same time, very similar to the first and second waves. They have to be similar because it is the same Spirit of God who is doing the work. The major variation comes in the understanding of the meaning of "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" and the role of tongues in authenticating this. I myself, for example, would rather not have people call me a Charismatic, I do not consider myself a Charismatic, I am simply an Evangelical Congregationalist who is open to the Holy Spirit working through me and my church in any way He chooses.

      He refuses the label "Charismatic," not primarily because of any doctrinal distinction, but primarily because of the stigma attached to the name. It's important for me to mention that to you because if you talk to someone in the Third Wave they might endeavor to distance themselves from classic Pentecostalism or more contemporary Charismaticism, but the fact is that they are basically the Third Wave by their own admission of the very same kind of theology. It is accurate then to see the Third Wave as part of the whole Charismatic movement as we know it. While it is true that many who identify with the Third Wave will avoid using the term "Charismatic" and they'll even avoid using Charismatic jargon when writing or speaking about Spirit Baptism or other issues. Basically, the theology is the same. The terminology may change; the theology is for all intents and purposes identical. Most Third Wave teaching and preaching that I have listened to, that I have read, echoes standard Charismatic theology, and therefore in evaluating the Third Wave, we would assume that it is safe to say that the other issues that we have been discussing, that we find unbiblical in the Charismatic movement, are generally true of this movement as well, although there may be some individuals in the movement who would vary from that.

      So at its very core it is an element of the Charismatic movement. At its core is an obsession with sensational experiences, a preoccupation with the "Charismata" that is, tongues, healings, prophecies, words of knowledge, visions, and ecstatic experiences, and that is, of course, where we find the indisputable link between the Third Wave and the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. In all three movements there is a major absorption with these supernatural, sensational kind of power encounters or power displays as they like to call them. They de-emphasize what you and I would know as the traditional means of spiritual growth: prayer, Bible study, the teaching of the Word, and the fellowship of other believers. They don't intend to do that and they wouldn't do that in statement or even in print. But because of the very surpassing emphasis on the sensational experiences, those matters tend to get pushed significantly, if not all together, into the background. Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wavers, all will affirm that any Christian who is not experiencing some supernatural events, some supernatural giftedness, some kinds of healings, some kinds of prophecies, words of knowledge, or manifestations of the Spirit of God, in visible tangible ways, is really stuck at a low level of spiritual progress; is denying the full power of God and denying himself the blessing of God.

      Now, while those in the Third Wave would like to distance themselves from the first and second wave, because of its excesses. The truth of the matter is, the third wave has not managed to avoid any of the excesses that are characteristic of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. In fact, there are some in the Charismatic movement who want to distance themselves from the Third Wavers because they feel that they go to excesses that even those Charismatics wouldn't go to.

      A visit, for example, to the Vineyard, would reveal to you all the commotion of many people speaking in tongues at the same time. It would reveal to you intense kind of emotional experiences going on where people were falling on the floor and laying in prone positions for as long as an hour, some people with their limbs extended. It would reveal to you people giving multiple prophecies, some of them rather bizarre, and some of them with poor grammar, and yet claiming they come from the Lord. There would be likely an experience in which they would clear the floor of chairs and they would be dancing around in a completely liberated fashion in any form that they would choose to do that, with people again perhaps falling over, climbing on chairs, dancing on the top of chairs, and doing all the things that once were associated with what we used to call, "Holy Rollers." In fact, Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, told one researcher, "John Wimber has absorbed every abhorrent teaching developed by the Pentecostals into his teaching."

      Now, all I want you to understand is that the Third Wave people very often want to see themselves as mainline evangelical. They want to distance themselves from the Pentecostal, Charismatic excesses, and yet it seems to be true that the excesses that occurred in both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements are very characteristic of the Third Wave as well. What makes them a bit different is that they can line up some teachers and leaders that appear to have more academic credentials than has been true in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement. That may mean, that in the future, there will be some correctives that will come to some of those excesses, which as of yet has not taken place. But despite all of their claims to the contrary, Third Wave apologists have had astonishing success in selling their movement as a non-Charismatic phenomena. Unsuspecting churches, and I think unsuspecting denominations have opened their doors and their pulpits to Third Wave teachers, I think because of their academic credentials and because they claim not to be in the line of the Charismatics, but in fact, they are.

      If you look very closely at the Third Wave you will see in it the very same kind of things you see typically in the Charismatic movement. And so I want to do a little bit closer inspection, and as I said we can't by any means exhaust this in the next half hour or so as we examine it, but I will try to put you in touch with some of the issues that need to be addressed in a much more comprehensive way than I'll be able to do tonight. But I hope that I can give you enough information to set you in the right direction.

      I want to just consider maybe four of the promises that the Third Wave makes that need to be inspected rather carefully. The first promise they make is that they are experiencing supernatural Signs and Wonders, and that these Signs and Wonders come at a rather proliferated rate. That is to say they are not abnormal, they are not uncommon, they are not few and far between, but rather they are normal, common, and very often come in a flurry. They believe that fantastic Signs and Wonders demonstrate the genuineness of their movement. The fact is that we cannot turn our back on it because supernatural things are happening all the time. Miraculous phenomena is at the very heart of the Third Wave credo and experience.

      Third Wave people are persuaded they are having miracles, they are having visions, they are speaking in tongues, giving prophecies, predicting the future, reading peoples minds (that is, they can stand up in a meeting and tell you your home address, your mother's maiden name, your father's mother's maiden name), and all of those kinds of things that we have always associated with people like the "Amazing Crescan" (sp.) who purvey a certain kind of magic, a certain kind of con art or whatever you want to call it. But they are into these very same kind of things. In fact, it was interesting to me that one of their leaders said that the key to his really "buying into" and believing this whole thing was when one of their prophets stood up and told him, and told the whole audience, his mother's maiden name and the true first name of his father who was only known by a nickname.

      And so they believe that these kind of things are happening, that there are healings; that there are resurrections from the dead, and they frankly view Christianity without those things as impotent and adulterated by the western materialistic mindset. And [they believe that] unless we can escape the western materialistic mindset and catapult ourselves into the Third World paradigm, and begin to think in terms of mystical phenomena, we are going to be locked into a very shallow kind of Christianity. Signs and Wonders also would be the key, they believe, to Third Wave evangelism. Third Wavers say that unbelievers must experience the miraculous in order to be brought to full faith. Merely preaching the gospel message, they believe, will never reach the world for Christ.

      One of their leaders has said, "That we cannot evangelize the world with the simple gospel, apart from Signs and Wonders." This, in spite of the fact, that Paul, in Romans 1, says that the simple gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. But merely preaching the gospel, they believe, isn't going to do it, it'll never reach the world for Christ. Most people will not believe without seeing miracles, they say, and those who do will be inadequately converted, and therefore stunted in their spiritual growth. John Wimber, himself, cites Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, as a classic example of power encounter, where the power of God vanquishes the power of evil.

      Similar Signs and Wonders, say third wave gurus are the chief means we will be using to spread the gospel. And so what they are doing is traveling all over the world endeavoring to teach the Church how to do Signs and Wonders. And you will hear them openly confess, even the leaders at the highest level and those that are kind of developing into their next generation of leaders, that they are learning how to do miracles. They are learning how to heal the sick, raise the dead, read minds, tell people their address and phone numbers, and their names of their parents. They are learning to do that, they are learning to call out healings, they are learning to read behind somebody's face and see the sin that is in them. They are learning to do that, because that is very essential if they are going to convince the world that the message is from God.

      Modern miracles workers have yet to call down fire from heaven as did Elijah, but they may be working on that as well. Third Wave officials tell of some fantastic Signs and Wonders, Wimber, for example, reported an incident where a woman's toe, which had been cut off, supposedly grew back. He described another woman in Australia whose cleft palate closed up miraculously three days after God him a "word of knowledge" that she would be healed. Wagner recounted a report from an Argentine faith healer, who's in the movement, by the name of Carlos Anacondia (sp.), who said, two particular manifestations of the Holy Spirit seem to impress unbelievers more than anything else in his crusades, "falling in the power of the Spirit" and "filling teeth." On a fairly regular basis, decayed teeth are filled and new teeth grow where there were none before. Interestingly enough, according to Anacondia, most unbeliever's teeth are filled and very few believers get their teeth filled. Now, I don't why he said that, or even why that's supposedly true, but I have another question, "Why does God fill teeth instead of just giving them new teeth as long as He is going to do it?"

      But, nonetheless, whether you are talking about Wagner or Wimber, they are convinced that these miracles are happening. They are at least trying to convince us they are happening. Both of them are convinced, for example, at least from what they say, that many dead people are being raised from the dead. Many of them, not just some, not just a few, but many. And it is really difficult to resist the conclusion that these are either utter fabrications, that have just grown with the telling, or that these people are so caught in the wish that these things come to pass, that they have convinced themselves that in fact they do. In the two cases that I mentioned to you from John Wimber, he maintains that medical doctors witnessed the events, yet he offers no documentation.

      And you have to ask the question somewhere along the line, "Why don't they publish proof that these events really took place?" It would seem to me that if people are being raised from the dead, at a fairly regular clip through the year, some of these people could show up somewhere and there could be some evidence. Particularly if they had been in the grave for several days like Lazarus, because somebody would have been there to see them put in the ground. And we wonder why they don't publish the proof of these things, phenomena such as digit and limb replacement, the healing of birth defects, supernatural dentistry, and raising the dead. It seems to me that it would be rather easy to document. It would certainly help bring about the kind of world wide response the Third Wave people say they are hoping to have.

      To borrow from one of them, you can only imagine if they could take four quadriplegics and instantly heal them of their quadriplegia. Four who were well known by many and been known for years to be in that condition, and they could step out of the wheel chair and be absolutely 100% whole. It wouldn't seem too difficult a thing to present the evidence for that. And it would seem to me to be quite a powerful statement.

      But a pattern has begun to emerge from the Third Wave literature, and that is this, the truly spectacular miracles always seem to involve nameless people. Real people's miracles tend to be mundane and hard to prove: cures involving back pain, inner healings, migraine relief, emotional deliverance, ringing in the ears, maybe some internal problem that is stated but not verified. The only time you get a detailed, step-by-step, carefully laid out description of a healing situation is an occasion when the healing doesn't happen. You hear rather oblique references to the healing that did happen, and rather detailed descriptions of the ones that don't.

      A prime example is Wagner's account of his friend Tom Brewster, a paraplegic, who believed in healing. Brewster was so hopeful that God would heal him that he even distributed a "Declaration of Expectation" to his friends--an expression of his faith that he would one day walk. That faith never wavered, Wagner says, though it had been almost thirty years since a diving accident left him confined to a wheel chair. But the miracle never came. Brewster died after unsuccessful bladder surgery. It's difficult to read that account without noting how markedly it contrasts with the many supposed miracles that these Third Wave people account. The most dramatic miracles come with only sketchy details and are almost nearly always anonymous. Rarely do they ever involve people who are known personally to those who report the miracles. You understand that? They are not first hand. And whenever you hear the story told about the first hand it seems to have a sad ending.

      Perhaps the most significant man in the life of John Wimber was a British Anglican who died of cancer, much to the great dismay and concern and sorrow of John. A group of five medical doctors, Christians, attended a recent conference the Third Wave had. These men were hoping to establish the truth of the claims that miraculous healings were taking place. One of them, Doctor Philip Seldon (sp.) reported,

      The fact that John Wimber knew we were present and observing may have served to tone down the claims which we understand were made at previous conferences. Mr. Wimber, himself, referred to bad backs and indicated that people could expect pain relief but no change which could be documented by a doctor. He admitted that he had never seen a degenerated vertebrae restored to normal shape. And as I suspected, most of the conditions which were prayed over were in the psychosomatic, trivial, or medically difficult to document categories. Problems with left great toe, nervous disorder, breathing problems, barrenness, unequal leg lengths, bad backs and neck.

      The doctor concluded, "At this stage we are unaware of any organic healings which could be proven."

      Now, what explanation is given for people who are not healed, because we know that many people must go there who have real problems. Right? I mean, if you hear that miracles are being done and you are looking for that to happen in your life--you are going to go. And people do not get healed--obviously. The reasons given are: some people don't have faith in God for healing; another reason, personal unconfessed sin creates a barrier to God's healing power; another one they say is persistent and widespread disunity, sin, and unbelief in bodies of believers and families, inhibits healings in individual members of the body.

      In other words, they will say, one, "You don't have enough faith to be healed. Your lack of faith is hindering God." Or they will say, "You have unconfessed sin in your life and you put a barrier between you and God." Or they will say, "You are going to a church that doesn't believe in healings so you are not going to get healed as long as you are in that environment." Or they will say, "Because of incomplete or incorrect diagnosis of what is causing your problem, you do not know how to pray correctly, and if you don't know what your problem is you can't pray correctly to get it fixed, it won't get fixed, or it might not." "And some people," they say further, don't get healed because they assume that God always heals instantly, and when they don't get instantly healed they stop praying, so they don't get healed.

      Oddly enough, John Wimber, himself, said, "I never blame the sick person for lack of faith if healing doesn't come." That's a contradictory statement. And eventually he is still trying to piece together the theology of this. He struggles, because he said also, "I have a continually expanding group of disgruntled people who have come for healing and don't get it."

      Now, the reality is, with the Third Wave, with all of its emphasis on signs and wonders, it has produced nothing really verifiable that qualifies in the New Testament sense as an authentic sign or wonder, at least nothing that they have made available. Jesus' miracles must, after all, be the standard by which we make an evaluation. Right? No one before Jesus or since has performed as many signs and wonders as He did during His earthly ministry. His miracles were strikingly different from those produced by the modern signs and wonders movement. None involved psychosomatic infirmities, all were visible and verifiable, they were, in short, true signs and wonders.

      We learned some other things about the miracles from our Lord's ministry, chiefly that miracles do not necessarily produce faith in an unbelieving heart. Let me say that again, they do not necessarily produce faith in an unbelieving heart. I don't want to say that there aren't times when God can use or has used the miraculous to produce or to assist in producing faith. Faith is a gift from God but it is possible that a miracle has been a component in God bringing about that faith. But that is not necessarily what happens, and that certainly cannot be guaranteed to happen. In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus did many signs and many wonders. In fact, He proliferated that entire nation of Palestine with signs and wonders. And the people were able to see them and even to participate in them, such as in the feeding of the Great Multitude.

      The net effect of all of that tremendous, tremendous, miracle working enterprise could be summed up in the words of John 12:37, "But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him." There is no guarantee that because there are miracles there will be saving faith. It is true that as I said, God may use miracles to bring about faith. In Acts 9, you might want to look at it for a moment; in Acts, chapter 9, in verse 32, "Peter was traveling through all those parts," writes Luke. "He came down to the saints who lived at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. And peter said to him, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; arise, and make your bed.' And immediately he arose. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord."

      If you were to read into the next section, in Joppa, there was a woman there named Tabitha (or Dorcas). She died and Peter was used to bring her back to life. And in verse 42 it says, "And it became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord." We don't want to say categorically, that there would never be a time when God wouldn't cause some miraculous act to be a component in the producing of faith. But that seems to be the minority effect. The majority seem not to have such a response. In spite of all of Jesus' miracles, raising the dead, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, having authority over demons, the people rejected Him, the people crucified Him, and at the time of His death there were only about 120 followers gathered in the Upper Room, and that after several years of miraculous acts.

      The gospels contain numerous examples of people who witnessed Jesus' signs, who witnessed His wonders, and yet remained in utter unbelief. He rebuked the cities where He performed most of His miracles: He rebuked Korazim, Bethsedia, He rebuked Capernaum, because they didn't repent, and because they had seen so many miracles. And He even says that they were even worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah, because Sodom and Gomorrah, as bad as it was, would have repented if it had seen as much as they had seen. John 2:23 tells us that, "Many believed in His name, because they saw the signs," yet that kind of belief was not a saving belief. Jesus didn't consider them true believers, according to verse 24.

      In John, chapter 6, verse 2, the record says that, "A great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick." And yet, in verse 66, when He began to teach them, and He began to speak about the spiritual issues that confronted them, it says, many of the same crowd "withdrew, and were not walking with Him any more." So there are times when, whatever kind of believing they did, was not believing unto salvation. In John, chapter 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, a monumental miracle. Absolutely monumental! Even His enemies couldn't deny it, according to John 11:47. But far from believing in Jesus, that simply accelerated their desire to plot His death.

      Things really weren't much different than that in the Book of Acts, in the early Church. In Acts 3, Peter and John healed a man who had been lame from birth and again the Jewish religious leaders didn't deny the miracle had occurred, according to Acts 4:16. They couldn't deny it, but their response was far from saving faith. They ordered the Apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. Go back into the Old Testament and you can examine the record of Old Testament signs and wonders, they didn't produce saving faith either. Pharaoh's heart was hardened despite the powerful signs and wonders God did through Moses. The entire generation of Israelites who witnessed those same miracles, died in unbelief in the wilderness. It didn't seem to lead them to any great spiritual level of devotion.

      Despite all the miracles performed during the time of Elijah and Elisha, and those times when God acted miraculously at other seasons, both Israel and Judah failed to repent and were ultimately carried away into captivity. In fact, the very account that John Wimber cites as Biblical justification for power encounters, Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal, is an example. The revival produced out of that amazing act by which God sent fire from heaven and burned up stones and water, the amazing, amazing miracle produced a very short lived response, and within a few days Elijah was hiding for fear of his life, and Baal worship continued until God finally judged Israel.

      Now, that is not to say that signs and wonders were not important when God used them. It is not to say that they never were used by God to be a part of the production of faith. But that was not the normal result. They often attracted people's attention so the gospel message could be [preached], and people hearing that message were saved. But, miracles and signs and wonders, in themselves, do not produce saving faith. And so when they say they promise "signs and wonders" it's questionable whether the "signs and wonders" are really legitimate, and it's questionable whether the "signs and wonders" are necessary for producing saving faith, since that is not their purpose in the Scripture generally.

      Secondly, they make the promise of "Powerful Evangelism," "Power Evangelism." What they are really doing (and this follows the first point) is being powerful in terms of turning people to God. My conviction on this, however, is that what they say is "Powerful Evangelism" lacks, very often, the very necessary element of evangelism which is a clear proclamation of gospel truth. The saving message gets badly corrupted and sometimes even omitted. Third Wave books and Third Wave testimonies are filled with anecdotes about people who supposedly became Christians on the basis of some miracle they saw; some supernatural wonder they saw, with little or no mention of the gospel having been proclaimed to them.

      In fact, in the book, Power Evangelism, which was John Wimber's main book and sort of set this thing in motion (it's the main textbook on evangelism), there is no reference in that whole book to the cross of Christ or the doctrine of the atonement. I understand, now, that some are endeavoring to instruct him in that matter so that he can understand that, and that there is a revision of that book coming out which will delineate a clear doctrine of the atonement and the true gospel. But, up until now it hasn't seemed to be necessary for the expansion and explosion of the movement. Soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, an accurate gospel message, can hardly be considered as a major thrust of this movement. In all the fuss about the signs and wonders, the content of the gospel seems to have been given second place.

      One report goes like this,

      A serious consideration by observers in one of the seminars, was that there was no gospel in the so-called evangelistic meeting. The cross of Jesus was not central, the atonement was not explained, and mankind's need and the provision of redemption not even cursorily treated. Believing himself to be following the example of Jesus and the Apostles, John Wimber called out for those who needed to be healed: bad backs, short legs, neck pain, and a whole host of diseases. People were asked to stand and team members dispatched to pray for them while on the stage John demanded that the Spirit come, and after a few minutes of silence several screams were heard and people sobbing. A little later it was declared that people had been healed and God had given a token as a sign to those who did not believe. In short, they were asked to base their decision on what they had seen, or rather the interpretation of what they had seen, and the sacrifice for sin through Christ didn't even get a mention. I left wondering what faith people would have been converted to that night? It didn't seem to resemble New Testament Christianity.

      Now, I realize that this may be but the observation of one individual, but it seems as though in reading the material, this is a somewhat common thread. Peter Wagner says that he marvels that Argentine evangelist, Omar Cabrerra (sp.) has people saved and healed before he starts preaching. It's a question to me, how can you get saved before you hear the message? But [it is] not a question that seems to bother some of them. Most of the Third Wavers believe that miracles are more effective than the gospel message preached, that preaching is limited, and I shared some of that with you a few weeks ago. That somehow preaching is a very poor way to get people to come to Christ, the least of all ways desirable. Wagner further writes,

      Christianity began with 120 in the Upper Room, within three centuries it had become the predominant religion of the Roman Empire. What brought this about? The answer is deceptively simple, while Christianity was being presented to unbelievers in both Word and deed, it was the deed that far exceeded the Word in evangelistic effectiveness.

      That's a remarkable statement: "That the deed is more powerful than the Word," seems to me to "fly in the face" of Hebrews 4, which says that, "The Word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and is able to pierce to depths that nothing else can pierce." The Anglican, Michael Harper says, "Miracles help people believe." The question is, "Believe what?" Is the gospel being clearly, carefully delineated? In fact, it has been said that those of us who don't do signs and wonders, and perform miracles, are doing what they call "Programmatic Evangelism," instead of "Power Evangelism." It is insipid, it is powerless, vapid, kind of evangelism. What is needed is "Power Evangelism," supernatural encounters. Those are the things that bring people to Christ.

      Two fallacies, at least, lurk in that kind of thinking; both render it utterly ineffective in winning people to genuine faith in Christ. When modern miracles become the basis for an evangelistic invitation, the real message of the gospel somehow becomes incidental. And you would have to be in a meeting where you would see the "swept away attitude" of people who are so deeply lost in an emotional experience, and this may not always be the case, but often the case, that a clear message might not come through. There is often a mystical, ethereal Jesus who replaces the historical, Biblical one. And the focus of faith becomes faith in the miraculous, rather than faith in the Savior Himself. Those who put their trust in modern miracles are not saved by that faith no matter how earnestly they may believe they are. You are only saved by putting your faith in Jesus Christ.

      Secondly, Power Evangelism seems to me to be an unbiblical concept. "Faith comes from hearing," doesn't it? "And hearing the Word of Christ." It is the gospel, not signs and wonders, that is the power of God unto salvation. And do you not remember what Luke 16:31 says, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though someone rises . . ." what? "From the dead." Despite the many signs and wonders that Jesus performed, Jesus didn't practice that kind of Power Evangelism. In fact, He repeatedly rebuked those who demanded signs, (Matthew 12, 16; Mark 8; Luke 11, 23; John 4). He rebuked the "signs seekers."

      The emphasis of Jesus' ministry was not miracles but preaching. He often preached without doing signs, without doing wonders. And then in Mark 1:29-34, we read that Jesus did many miraculous healings in Galilee. Verse 37, tells us that Peter and the others found Him the next morning and excitedly said, "Everybody is looking for you. They want to see more of this. They want to see more signs and more wonders." And Jesus said this, (Mark 1:38) "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for." He came to preach, therein lies the power. Preaching the Word was more important than the Signs and Wonders, and I believe the Third Wave is advocating a different approach and is out of balance with the Bible in that regard.

      Well, there is more to say. Just briefly, let me share two thoughts with you. They also promise a Biblical orientation, but I am very much afraid of the fact, and by their own admission, that they have many errors in their theology. And as I spoke to several of them this week, I asked the question, "If God is giving Signs and Wonders, is it to authenticate His message?" Which the answer has to be yes. "Then would you explain to me why the people who claim to be doing the Signs and Wonders are the ones who have an errant theology? Why would God be authenticating error?" It would seem to me that if God was going to give somebody the ability to do Signs and Wonders, thus to draw people to His message, He would give such a gift and ability to one who was most capable of articulating accurately the proper message. And by their own admission they realize that there are many theological inaccuracies, Biblical inaccuracies, in the movement, and that poses the unanswerable query as to, "Why in the world would God want to be using miracles to authenticate those who, as of yet, don't even have their theology straighten out?" John Wimber would be the first to admit that they are still accumulating a theology. He made the statement that, "We are drawing together our experiences so that we can frame up a theology." And it seems odd to think that God would be vindicating such and authenticating such.

      Furthermore, they are committed to the fact that the Bible is not enough, that there must be further communication from God. One of their leaders says that, To believe that the Scripture is the end of God's revelation is a demonic doctrine. In order to fulfill God's highest purpose for our lives, we must be able to hear His voice both in the written word and the word freshly spoken from heaven. Satan understands the strategic importance of Christians hearing God's Word, so he has launched various attacks against us in this area. Ultimately, this doctrine, that is, believing that the Scripture is the end of revelation, is demonic, even though Christian theologians have been used to perfect it. So Christian theologians who have perfected the idea that the Scripture is the end of God's revelation, have perfected a demonic doctrine, because God is still speaking. And there is a great thirst for new revelation, that I believe imposes upon the movement a low view of Scripture's sufficiency.

      Well, let me just give you a final note. There is much more to say about that, you can read it in my book [Charismatic Chaos] when it gets here in a few months. There is just one other thing to note, and so much more that I would like to say. They claim also an evangelical heritage, they claim also an evangelical heritage. If you listen to them, you would believe that they are in the mainstream of evangelicalism, that they are committed to a traditional, Biblical theology. And yet that is not true. Statements of faith and creeds are just not a part of that movement. John Wimber's Vineyard is typical, I am quoting from one writer,

      Another disturbing aspect of the Vineyard's ministry is their lack of any written statement of faith. Because Vineyard members come from a variety of denominational backgrounds, the leadership has avoided setting strong doctrinal standards. This de-emphasis of doctrine is also consistent with the leadership, whose backgrounds, theologically include association with the Quakers, who typically stress the inner experience of God and mimimize the need for doctrinal expressions of one's understanding of God.

      That's from the Christian Research Institute. There is no way that they can connect up with historic, traditional, evangelical, orthodox theology, because they don't codify doctrine. They don't develop creeds and theological statements, so how do they know where they stand? And yet in spite of that, they want to position their movement in the mainstream of historic evangelicism. They want to emphasize conservative, even fundamentlist roots, but that does not bear out under examination. The movement is broadly ecumenical and cencredic. There is an evangelical veneer but the wide embracing of all kinds of experiences. Now, it is possible that this could change. There maybe some winds of change, there may be some doctrinal direction and structure coming, but at the present time this is true. To reinforce that, may I say, Wimber is as comfortable with Roman Catholic dogma as he is with evangelicism. He himself defends the Catholic claims of healings through relics. He advocates a reunification of Protestants and Catholics. A former associate said,

      During a Vineyard Pastors Conference, he went so far as to apologize to the Catholic Church on behalf of all Protestants. In his seminar on Church Planting, he said, the Pope, who by the way is very responsive to the Charismatic movement and is himself a "Born Again" evangelical, is preaching the gospel as clear as anyone in the world today.

      You can see that there is some confusion. In their book on Power Evangelism, he gives a catalog of individuals and movements. When he wants to seek to establish Signs and Wonders, he reaches back and He identifies himself with a whole list of people, Helleron (sp.), a fourth century hermit, Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great, Francis of Assisi, the Waldenses who opposed the Pope and were persecuted by the Dominicans, Vincent Ferrera (sp.) who was himself was a Dominican, Martin Luther, Ignatius of Loyola, John Wesley, and the Jansenists, a Catholic sect. It's a hodgpoge of all kinds of things. In a booklet published by the Vineyard, he adds the Shakers. They were a cult that demanded celibacy and thus went out of existence for obvious reasons. He puts himself in line with Edward Irving, a discredited leader of the Irvingnite sect in 19th century England. He also identifies himself with the supposed healings and miracles worked by an apprition of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. So you can see that the heritage is not at all evangelical, but quite confused. Even Wagner wants to link himself with contempory, positive, possibility thinking as well as with the Fourth Demensional thinking of Korean Pastor Paul Yongee Chow (sp.). It's a hodgpog of many, many things.

      All of this to say we need to be alert. We need to be aware. We need to test all these things by the Word of God. My only hope and prayer for these people is that someone may come to them, someone who can lead them to a proper understanding of the truth, pulling them away from this tremendous preoccupation and domination that comes to them from experiences. Experiences can be so deadly because they cannot always be certain that they come from God.

      Well, much more to be said. I guess what I can say in conclusion is, "Don't be swept away by the Third Wave." And remember this, the only true test of whether a person or a movement is from God is not Signs and Wonders. A true test is, teaching in conformity to this Book. And the highest expression of God's power in the world today is not some spectacular, unusual Sign or Wonder. The highest expression of God's power in the world today is the transformation of a soul from darkness to light, from death to life. And equally wonderus is the tranquil godliness of a Spirit controlled believer.

      Let me just say this in closing, I don't believe for one moment that we have ministered here at Grace Church for 22 years without the Holy Spirit. And I don't believe for one moment that we have never known the Power of God. I shared with these gentlemen, with whom I spoke on Friday, that we see the power of God, again and again. We saw it tonight, didn't we, when we heard the testimonies, week in and week out. I see it in the trasformatioon of your life. I see it in the transformations of your marriage. For the last several weeks I have been praying for a marriage in our church. It was coming apart at the seams, really sad, grieving. And I saw, apart from anything that I did, apart from any intervention by me--God put that marriage together in a glorious way. We've seen that again and again. I talked to a mother and a father who had prayed for a wayward son and God brought that son back to the point where that son embraced Christ and embraced his family in Christ.

      I don't for one moment search because I have never known the power of God in this ministry, and I just affirm that, not for my own sake, not to bring credit to me, but that no one would discredit what Christ has done here and what His spirit has accomplished. Nothing that happens in the supernatural dimension happens because of me or you, that's out of our league. But I will not yield to any who would assume that what we have experienced here is a cheap version of the real power. Many of you have come to faith in Christ here. Many of you have grown in your knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and been used of God in many ways in spiritual service, the benefits of your own spiritual growth and maturity, because of the ministries here. Many have gone out of this place and conducted powerful ministries all over the world, and they go on even today. And I guess, all of that to say, to be real honest with you, I am not looking for anything, because I have already in my life lived through Ephesians 3:20, and I've seen God do, "exceedingly, abundantly, above all I could ask or think." And to be honest with you, my faith is strong enough to accept that this is the evidence of the power of God and I don't have to have more proof. Some people say they have the faith for all of that, but I think they have doubt looking for proof--very often. And I want to affirm tonight my gratitude to God and to the Holy Spirit, and to the Lord Jesus Christ for what They have accomplished in this place, and what They have accomplished through the teaching of the Word and the faithful ministry that God has given to this church, here and around the world. And I want to give God all the glory for all of it, and I want to acknowledge along with you that He has done it, and we have never ministered for a moment feeling that He wasn't here in the fullness of His power accomplishing His work for His own glory. And He has done it in an orderly way without chaos and without confusion, and we praise Him for that.

      Father, thank you for our time tonight to consider these things. Help us Lord to be able to evaluate everything by the Word. We know that in this movement there are some who, of course, are our brothers and sisters, who love the Lord Jesus Christ, and we would pray for them, that your Spirit might lead them to bring Biblical direction where they are able to this movement. To confront its errors and excesses. We pray Lord too that no one would be led astray and led away from the simplicity that is in Christ and into chaos and confusion of emotional experience, and find it to be a substitute for true regeneration. Father, we pray too that you would allow us with grace and love to speak to folks who perhaps are in these kinds of groups and to bring them the help that your Word and your Spirit would want them to have. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Back to John MacArthur index.

See Also:
   Sermon 1 - "Are experiences a valid source of truth?"
   Sermon 2 - "Does God still give revelation today?"
   Sermon 3 - "Does God still give prophecies?"
   Sermon 4 - "Proper Biblical Interpretation"
   Sermon 5 - "Does God do miracles today?"
   Sermon 6 - "The Third Wave, with all of its excesses"
   Sermon 7 - "How do spiritual gifts operate?"
   Sermon 8 - "What was happening in the Early Church?"
   Sermon 9 - "Does God still heal?"
   Sermon 10 - "Speaking in Tongues"
   Sermon 11 - "What is true spirituality?"
   Sermon 12 - "Does God promise Health and Wealth? (Part 1)"
   Sermon 13 - "Does God promise Health and Wealth? (Part 2)"

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