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Charismatic Chaos: Sermon 7 - "How do spiritual gifts operate?"

By John MacArthur


      As a preface to our study tonight, I want to just mention to you that we are going through this study on the Charismatic movement, its contemporary form. And I am unable in this particular study to cover every relevant passage of Scripture, and so I would just encourage you that you will find a series of tapes on all of the relevant passages that I have already preached on in years past, out of the Book of Acts, out of 1 Corinthians, which are the primary ones. You will also find in the bookstore and the tape room, a study guide of about 300 pages on the issue of spiritual gifts; in some great detail I cover that. I also have written a book on Tongues, and speaking in Tongues, and all that is involved in that. And then we have the commentary on 1 Corinthians, which is a verse by verse discussion of those passages, and particularly focusing on chapters 12 through 14 that deal with Spiritual Gifts. So there are some supplemental materials that would be very helpful for you in filling out your understanding of this subject. What I am endeavoring to do in this series is not go through every single passage in great detail, but to take a kind of overall look at the contemporary Charismatic movement and compare it with what we know to be true out of the Word of God. We are looking at it more from the doctrinal side then we are from the expositional side.

      Now, I want you to turn in your Bible tonight, to a passage of Scripture that I think sets a good context for what I want to say. Matthew, chapter 7, and I want to begin reading in verse 15, and just read down a little ways, and I think that you will catch the flow of what we find here. Jesus, here, is bringing the Sermon on the Mount to its conclusion, and in so doing, this is what He says, beginning in Matthew 7, and verse 15, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." By the way, sheep's clothing is wool and it was the garment of the prophet. The prophet wore wool and so they are coming, not as false sheep, but as false shepherds,

      "You will know them by their fruits" (verse 16). "Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."

      What Jesus is saying is, "Don't listen just to what they say; look at the character of their life--the product." And then He says, in verse 21,

      "Not everyone," and still in the context of false teachers, "who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"

      An amazing passage, warning us about false teachers. These particular false teachers appear to say the right thing--they speak about the Lord. "Lord, Lord," they say. They even seem to do the right things--they prophesy or preach in "The name of the Lord." "In the name of the Lord," they cast out demons. "In the name of the Lord," they perform many miracles. But they don't know the Lord, and the Lord does not know them, and we are to be aware of that reality.

      So as we come to any examination of the Charismatic movement that takes us into looking at the phenomena of the movement, we have to very aware of the fact that Jesus warned us already that even though they speak in the Lord's name, and even though they cast out demons in the Lord's name, and even though they do miracles and claim to do them in the Lord's name, they may be false. They may say all of the right things but you have to look at the fruit of their lives; you have to compare them with the divine standard of good fruit.

      This examination and this test must be held up in the issues of spiritual gifts. As we look at these people who say they are prophesying in Jesus' name, and casting out demons and doing miracles, we want to be sure of two things: one, that their lives back it up, and two, that what they do is consistent with the Word of God.

      So I want to help you to evaluate that, if I can, tonight. And I want to refer to some of the more well known of these Charismatic leaders today because they're so very public, and they represent the kind of thing that is going on that has to be tested.

      In Orlando, there is a preacher in the Orlando Christian Center, named Benny Hinn. Benny Hinn slays people in the Spirit. When Hinn feels the anointing come upon his hand, he touches his followers on the forehead, or simply waves an arm at them, and they fall down in a faint. If you've ever seen him on television, then you have witnessed that. He has a nationally aired television broadcast in which people are slain in the Spirit nearly every week. In fact, the other night I was watching him and he slew everybody in the entire auditorium--one section at a time. He waved his hand over this section and they all fell down, and then he waved his hand over this section and they all fell down, and he waved his hand over that section and they all fell down, and then he waved his hand over the balcony and they all fell down.

      And the question comes to mind, of course, "Is Benny Hinn's ability a unique spiritual gift? Is this God? Is God knocking all these people down? Or is he simply using the techniques of mesmerism and the power of suggestion? In fact, isn't it fair to say that he may even be using demonic power?" Surely in the light of the warnings of Scripture (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22, 2 Thess 2:7-9), demon inspired people are going to do "lying wonders." And so that possibility must not be ruled out.

      One thing is certain, Benny Hinn or anyone else who knocks people over, is doing something that is never described, never discussed in the Bible. Nothing like it is listed in any list of spiritual gifts, and no apostle, and no early church leader ever did anything like that. The Charismatic practice of slaying people in the Spirit, yet, has become so commonplace that many Charismatics may be surprised to learn that Scripture is utterly silent about such a gift. There is no record that anybody ever did that. The only time anybody ever fell over was when Jesus spoke in the Garden when the soldiers came to arrest Him. Yet the practice typifies the Charismatic movement's obsession with some kind of strange and bizarre phenomena. There is no indication that in the early church anybody had the power to knock people in to some kind of spirit-filled catalepsy.

      But there is a preoccupation today with the paranormal, the same fascination, I think, that leads people to reading avariciously [greedily] as they do the books of Stephen King and others like him. From the earliest days of Pentecostalism the quest for more unusual and more spectacular manifestation of spiritual gifts, has in effect, sabotaged rational thinking so that you have people that are turning away from what is reasonable and rational. And, as I have noted throughout the series, reports of inexplicable things, even unbelievable things, mystical phenomena, are just rampant in the Charismatic and Pentecostal tradition. And it doesn't matter what it is; no tale seems too bizarre, too fantastic, too far out, to get a following. Peter Masters and John Witcomb (sp.) have written a book called, "The Charismatic Phenomena," and in it there is a quote that might be worth your listening too,

      There is no doubt that Charismatic teaching results in a considerable lowering of the credulity threshold of all its adherence. The practice of tongues, the relegation of the understanding to a minor place, the diet of miracles, and the extreme subjectivity of Charismatic thinking, all combine to produce this effect, quickly and inevitably. Once people have been mentally conditioned by a Charismatic environment, they are able to take seriously such amazing ideas as Oral Roberts claim to have seen a vision of Jesus 900 feet tall! Charismatic practices loosen up the mind in such an unhealthy way that people will believe almost anything.

      You see, once you disconnect people from rational thinking, they are fair game. In fact, many appear to believe that God's power can be displayed only in ways that are irrational, unearthly, eerie, and somewhat preposterous. Some Charismatics disdain logic, as we have noted, disdain reason, disdain common sense in an eagerness to embrace these kind of things. Worse, the entire Charismatic movement has absorbed the erroneous notion that whatever is truly spiritual, whatever is truly of the Spirit must somehow transcend or bypass a person's rational senses. They would, for the most part want us to believe that anything that is rational, sensible, reasonable, is not supernatural. Spiritual gifts supposedly operate by somehow suspending the faculties of human reason. And you would think that the strongest evidence of the Holy Spirit's working is when everybody goes into a stupor! And then you are really seeing the power. When everybody falls over in some kind of stupor, you are really seeing God at work. And so the lore of the Charismatic movement is filled with outrageous accounts of behavior that resembles trances, seizures, subliminal messaging, hypnosis, suspended animation, frenzy, hysteria, and even dementia. And these are often cited as evidences of the power of God. Churches where people think reasonably and rationally, sensibly, discern with their minds the things of God--"Do not know," they say, "the power of God."

      Kenneth Hagan, another very popular leader in the movement, for example, claims that one night while he was preaching, a cloud of glory enveloped him, and he lost track of where he was and what he was saying,

      I didn't know one word that I had said for 15 minutes. I had been the "Glory Cloud." When I found myself walking around the altar, I got so embarrassed. My face got red and I ran back on the platform, got behind the pulpit, and said, "Amen, let's pray" and gave the invitation. Sometimes when I am preaching (Hagan writes) the Spirit of God comes on me, arrests my attention, and I can't say a word in English. He goes on to tell an incident when he was ministering with Fred Price, who is down here in the Crenshaw area, and he said he was struck with what he believed was an anointing in the church service. Hagan said that he was unable to communicate in English for hours.

      Now, the point is that this is to evidence the real power of God, when you completely out of touch with reality! In a similar vein, Hagan relates this story, and I am quoting from his writing,

      Sister Maria Woodworth Edder (sp.) was an evangelist during the early days of the Pentecostal movement in this country. I read the newspaper account of what happened in Saint Louis sometimes before 1920. She was in her 70's preaching in a tent which was full, when right in the middle of her sermon, with her hand up uplifted to illustrate a point and her mouth opened, the power of God came upon her. She froze in that position and stood like a stature for three days and for three nights. Think about that, all of her body had to be under the control of the Spirit of God! She had no bodily functions for three days and nights. She stood there! According to the newspaper account, it was estimated that more than 150,000 people came by to see her in the three day period. The third night the Spirit of God released her. She thought it was the same night and the same sermon and she went on preaching at the same place in her sermon.

      It completely escapes me, why anyone would assume that such behavior manifests God's power! Nothing remotely like it can be found in Scripture, except Lot's wife. Still, whatever sermon she was preaching she never completed. Still, Hagan tries to eclipse that tale with even more bizarre ones, he says,

      One night a sixteen year old girl was filled with the Spirit, spoke with other tongues, went into a spirit of intercession, then with her hands raised, stood in one spot for eight hours and forty minutes. She never batted an eye, never shifted her weight from foot to foot. It was January and she was standing away from the stove. Her mother, concerned about her getting cold, asked it if would be all right to move her nearer to the stove, which was in the center of the room. "I don't know," I said, "I have never seen anything like it." The pastor who weighed 250 pounds said, "Brother Hagan, you get under one of her elbows and I will get under the other and we will scoot her closer to the heat." But she couldn't be moved--it was as if she was nailed to the floor!

      On another night, when we gave the altar call, I sensed the power of God was upon one of the women. She began exhorting people to be saved. I said, "Sister, go ahead and obey God." With her eyes closed she stepped upon the wide altar and began walking from one end to the other, exhorting sinners to be saved. She would walk right up to the end of the altar and you would think that she was going to step off! But, each time she would turn. Folks started coming to the altar, her eyes were shut, but every time one would come her spirit would know it and she would dance a little jig for joy. Then she would go right back to exhorting. When the twentieth person had come, (every single sinner was saved that night, God is my witness, my wife is my witness, and each person in that building is my witness) she began to dance right off of the end of the altar! She stood in midair dancing! Her feet were not touching the floor, everyone saw it, I could have reached out and touched her, then she turned and danced back on to the altar, down the altar to the other end and stopped, opened her eyes and stepped off.

      Frankly, that seems like a scene from a bad horror movie, more than [it does] a true miracle. Levitation, altered states, feet nailed to the floor! That is the apparatus of the Occult--not genuine spiritual gifts. You say, "Well, you have chosen some isolated and atypical examples." Not so! And it is not just provincial and old fashioned Charismatics who report such spectacles. Virtually every major segment of the Charismatic movement feature stories like those. Even the newest, the Third Wave movement, which we discussed some last Sunday night, despite strong ties to the academic community, exhibits a definite bias towards signs and wonders in which human intellect is disengaged. Carol Wimber describes the watershed experience that launched her husband's church into power evangelism (her husband being John Wimber),

      It was Sunday evening, Mother's Day 1981, and a young man whom John had invited to preach, gave his testimony. At the end of his message, the guest speaker invited all those under the age of 25 to come forward. None of us had a clue as to what was going to happen next. When we got to the front the speaker said, "For years now the Holy Spirit has been grieved by the Church, but He is getting over it. Come Holy Spirit!" And He came. Most of these young people had grown up around our home and we knew them well. We had four children between the ages of 18 and 24. One fellow, Tim, started bouncing! His arms flung out and he fell over, but one of his hands accidentally hit a mike stand and he took it down with him. He was tangled up in the cord with the mike next to his mouth. Then he began speaking in tongues, so the sound went throughout the gymnasium. We had never considered ourselves Charismatics and certainly never placed any emphasis on the gift of tongues. We had seen a few people tremble and fall over before and we had seen many healings, but this was different. The majority of the young people were shaking and falling over. At one point it looked like a battlefield; bodies everywhere, people weeping, wailing, speaking in tongues, much shouting and loud behavior. And there was Tim in the middle of it all--babbling into the microphone!

      Can you tell me that, that kind of chaos is to be accepted as proof that God is at work? Even John Wimber at first seemed uncertain: "He spent all night reading Scripture and historical accounts of revivals," Mrs. Wimber reports, "He was afraid of doing anything that wasn't explicitly outlined in the Bible." That's a healthy fear. But apparently that all night study didn't yield him any conclusive answers, and so Mrs. Wimber goes on,

      By 5:00am John was desperate. He cried out to God, "Lord, if this is You please tell me." A moment later, the phone rang and a pastor friend of ours from Denver, Colorado, was on the line. "John," he said, "I am sorry I am calling so early but I have really something strange to tell you. I don't know what it means but God wants me to say, 'It's me John!'" That was all John needed. He didn't have to understand the trembling, or why everything happened as it did, all he needed to know was that the Holy Spirit did it.

      And how did he know the Holy Spirit did it? He got a phone call from Denver. That's how he knew. If John Wimber had continued reading Scripture he might have come to 1 Corinthians 12:13-14, and he might have seen the Apostle Paul reprove the Corinthian Church for just such a scene. In verses 23 and 40 of 1 Corinthians chapter 14, it says, "If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner." And of course, you don't determine God's will by a phone call from anywhere. God's Word is the only reliable test of such things, and it seems clear that an honest reading of Scripture would have given the plain answer. How can you take counsel from an unexpected telephone call? But that's the mystical again. It must be God, because it seems so extraordinary. I guess John Wimber decided that he didn't need to make sense of what was happening in the church. He didn't need to reconcile it with Scripture. He didn't need to understand it, he only needed a phone call. He had a mystical sign and that was enough, so he put aside his fear about extrabiblical phenomena, deciding and opting out, for the proof of a phone call.

      Now, these are simply illustrations of what goes on in the movement. The Charismatic tendency to suspend the intellect and let mysticism run amuck is the essence of what Paul wrote against in 1 Corinthians 14. There Paul condemns primarily the misuse of the gift of tongues, but he also has other things in mind as well. And he was bringing order to the very chaos which has come back to the Church. And yet it is so true, that in the modern Charismatic movement, chaos and confusion are typical, very typical.

      Several of our elders from Grace Church attended the Vineyard, a few weeks ago, to see this very kind of chaos. People lying on the floor prostrate for a prolonged period of time with all their limbs sticking out, as if they were in a catatonic state. People babbling in tongues and being incited to do that by the leader. People pushing chairs off the floor and dancing all over the floor and jumping up and down on the chairs. The same kind of hysteria.

      Norval Hayes (sp.) describes an incident when he supposedly healed a man of deafness,

      The man fell straight forward, face down on the floor. You would have thought all of his teeth would have been knocked out, but they weren't. Then he bounced and fell back down again. The impact could have broken his nose but it didn't. Again he bounced up off the floor and fell back again. This time he laid there real quiet for 60 seconds, then his mouth opened and a little squeaky sound like a mouse began to come out. It got louder, sounding like a big rat, and finally sounded like a screaming hyena. In a little while the man shook his head and pushed himself up off of the floor. He acted as if he had been hit in the head with a stick, but both ears had popped opened and the knot in his stomach was gone. People jumped out of their seats and started running towards me and saying, "Pray for me." As I reached out and began to pray, it was as though the wind of God had come into my hands. People were lying all around on the floor, including denomination pastors. God baptized them in the Holy Ghost and the moment they hit the floor they started to speak in tongues.

      Kenneth Hagan tells us of incredible tales about unusual healings that he has done when peculiar anointings have been manifest in his ministry,

      Several times the anointing has come on me to do unusual things while praying for the sick. Sometimes I go along 5 or 6 years between times. The first time it happened to me was in 1950. I was preaching in Oklahoma, a woman came forward for prayer, she said she was 72, she looked like she was about to give birth to a baby, of course, she had a tumor. I started to lay hands on her to pray, when the Word of the Lord came to me saying, "Hit her in the stomach with your fist!" On the inside of me I said, "Lord, you're going to get me in trouble, going around hitting women in the stomach with my fist. I don't believe I much want to do that." "Well, if you want argue about it, the anointing will leave you. It will lift from you just like a bird flying away after sitting on your shoulder." It left me.

      When it left me, I thought, "Well, I will go ahead and minister with laying on of hands." I laid hands on her again and the anointing came again, and the Word of the Lord came and said, "Hit her in the stomach with your fist!" I decided I better stop and explain that to the crowd before I started doing it. So I told them what the Lord said and I punched her in the stomach with my fist, and God and hundreds of people are my witnesses that that stomach went down like you'd stuck a pin in a balloon.

      Hagan tells of another man he was told to "Hit in the head!" And a young female college student he was to hit in the Kidney!

      Now, all I am doing is reading you the testimony of these people. The words are their words. And such tactics, apart from being dangerous, especially with 72 year old people and other people who are under physical duress, leave me dumbfounded, to say nothing of their foolishness. And recently, you might be interested to know, that an 85 year old woman came forward for a healing touch from Benny Hinn. And while she was in line, he slew someone in the Spirit, who fell over and crushed the woman's hip and she died. And there is now a $5,000,000 lawsuit against Benny Hinn. That kind of ridiculous chaos that ends in the death of an elderly woman is not the power of God. Charismatic chaos is usually not so physically fatal, but it is spiritually fatal for many.

      Some concerned parents wrote our church, and I get letters about this quite regularly, my file is fairly large, but their daughter had become involved with a spiritual gifts workshop in a large well known Third Wave church. The mother wrote this,

      In December of 1989 she began (speaking of the daughter) speaking in tongues. Shortly thereafter she began to see angels. An angel in armor always stands outside the front door of her home and another stands inside her living room. He has large wings. She says she asked God to send her angels for protection while her husband was on a business trips. A few months later she began to see demons also. A monkey like demon sat on her husband's head one night and hissed at her. She sees others riding on tops of cars or standing on rooftops and some in battle with the angels. She sometimes sees darkness around people. She believes seeing this is a God given gift. When I told her to test the spirits, she got angry. She said the Lord said, "Yes, it is I the Lord." I believe they are all demons. I told her to read the Bible. She said she only reads the Scripture numbers the Holy Spirit puts in her mind.

      We visited her and attended one of her group meetings. A prophet from Kansas City came (one of the Kansas City Prophets. That's a group that I have mentioned); he said something about the past, present, or future of nearly everyone in the room. Somethings were incredibly true and other things haven't happened yet. Our daughter now wants to develop this gift in herself and can now sometimes see a person's sin written on their forehead. She will then expel a demon. Since I told her to test the spirits, as the Bible tells us, she will not tell me what she's seeing anymore. I feel there is a wall between us.

      I listened this week to five tapes of one of these prophets, who supposedly can tell you your phone number, your address, and so forth. And by doing those kinds of things, which can be done by chicanery, little different than the Amazing Crescan (sp.) does them, or could be demonic, he thus convinces people that, indeed, he is a prophet. And once the convincing is done by the people who are already are under the power of suggestion, and are already "setup" to buy into anything that is supernatural, whatever the person then says is taken as truth. Like so many Charismatics, that young woman has come to believe that her experiences obviate Bible study and spiritual discernment. Why should she listen to her mother when God talks to her? I've seen marriages break up. I went through the breakup of a marriage of a wife who had no reason to listen to her husband because God talked to her. These people believe that they have some kind of a superior relationship with the Holy Spirit. They don't need Scripture, except an isolated verse or two that supposedly the Holy Spirit brings to mind.

      You see, the Charismatic movement breeds this kind of catastrophe in marriages, in families, in churches, because it discourages people from discerning the truth from Scripture. It discourages the people from using the mind. Instead, truth is appraised subjectively, through signs and wonders and mystical means. Kenneth Hagan again, who really is the Patriarch of the Signs and Wonders movement, explains his criteria for judging between true and false spiritual gifts,

      When God moves everybody will be blessed. If something is of the flesh, everybody will have a sick feeling. If something is of the devil, it seems like the hair will stand up on neck. That's a simple way everyone can judge whether they've got any spiritual discernment or not.

      You mean to tell me that I can know if I have spiritual discernment by whether I feel sick or whether the hair stands up on the back of my neck? There it is, as explicitly as it can be stated, by a leading Charismatic. That's how you determine spiritual discernment. And he is defining there exactly what is wrong with Charismatic mysticism. Spiritual discernment, from the Biblical perspective is unnecessary. It's really a very simple system of biofeedback. Again and again Charismatics hear the same message, "Put your mind on hold, ignore your reason, listen to your feelings." That kind of extreme mysticism contradicts everything Scripture teaches about true discernment.

      Spiritual gifts are not supposed to produce mindless chaos and mindless pandemonium in the church, nor are they to be a way that a person can show off his spirituality before the crowd. They are never to be used selfishly; they are never to be used in some kind of performance; they are never to be used to cause you to lapse into some kind of spiritual coma or put other people in a state of unconsciousness.

      Kenneth Copeland, a rather comedic child of Kenneth Hagan, in terms of having the same theology, writes, and this is a quote, "Believers are not supposed to be led by logic. We are not even to be led by good sense. The ministry of Jesus was never governed by logic or reason." That's just not true. Now there is so much that we can learn and look at in 1 Corinthians. Let me just give you a little bit of a feeling for how Paul dealt with this. I don't want to take much time, so listen very carefully. Very brief.

      The Charismatic gifts as we know them, were operating in the early church, for God had purpose for them at that time. And in the book [Charismatic Chaos] there will be a chapter on the matter of tongues and I will deal with it a little later in our series so I don't want to get into it in detail now, but simply to say, there was a time when all the spiritual gifts were operative, but they had become misused and abused and counterfeited in Corinth. And we would have to say that the Charismatic Chaos of today is very much like the Charismatic Chaos of Corinth. Some of the factors differ. In that day all the gifts were operative, today they are not. But there were abuses then and there are abuses now. The situation was so abusive that Paul writes 1 Corinthians to correct it.

      They had a lot of problems in Corinth: divisions, personality cults, cliques, moral compromise, and other desperate ills in the church. Carnality outweighed spirituality; sexual perversion, fornication, incest, adultery were being tolerated. Worldliness was there, materialism was in the church, church members were suing each other. There was rebellion against apostolic authority. There was marital conflict going on. The role of single people was misunderstood and misrepresented. Liberty was being abused. Idolatry was being practiced. Selfishness was rampant. Pride was widespread. Demon worship had come in. The church was abusing God's intention for the Lord's Table and the Love Feast. And in the middle of all of this, spiritual gifts were being perverted, misused and prostituted.

      This is one corrupt church. The problem wasn't that they lacked spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul said, "You are not lacking in any gift." It was how they fouled them up. So a major segment of that first letter, 1 Corinthians 12:13-14, directs itself at this terrible, terrible misuse of spiritual gifts. The Corinthians, like the Charismatics today, had tended to equate the Holy Spirits work with ecstatic involuntary frenetic and mysterious activity. And if it was inexplicable from the human level, they would say it was the Holy Spirit, even to the point that some people were cursing Jesus and they were saying it was the Holy Spirit because the phenomena seemed so bizarre. The wilder and the more agitated the person was, the more godly and spiritual he was supposed to be. They got to the point where in order for them to say it is the spirit, it had to be bizarre. Then there was the desire to be seen and the desire to appear as being spiritual. People were exploiting and perverting the gift of tongues particularly, and counterfeiting it with ecstatic babble that came out of their past paganism. They were confusing the work of the Holy Spirit with mystical practices they had known from their former pagan religion.

      You see for over a thousand years that part of the world had been dominated with the mystery religions. The pagan mystery religions. They can be traced all the way back to Babylon. But they cultivated, all of them had this in common, they cultivated a magical, sensual, communion with deity. The assumption in the mystery religions and their cultic kind of form of worship, was that you get yourself in some kind of state, a mindless kind of state, a transcendent kind of state, an irrational, not logical, not reasonable kind of mystical state, and when you get into that you will then commune with the deity. You can do it through drunkenness and so they got drunk in the pagan religions. You can do it through the passion of sexual involvement, and so there were priestesses who acted as temple prostitutes, and you could come in and throw yourself into an orgy. And in the euphoria of that orgy, and in the stupor of being drunk, in the stupor of that whole event, supposedly you were to commune with deity.

      Paul has that in mind, certainly in Ephesians 5, when he says, "Do not be drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." If you really want to connect with God, be filled with the Spirit, don't be drunk. They would do almost anything to get into a semiconscious, hallucinatory, hypnotic, or orgiastic spell, because they believed that somehow that got them in touch with deity. This is not very far different than going back into the 60's in the drug culture, and the things Timothy Leary tried to say about how you transcend this world and touch the divine, and what the Eastern Mystics were saying, as they were advocating the same kind of stuff. Whether from literal intoxication, or some kind of emotional hysteria, or exhilaration, worshipers falling into some kind of euphoria assumed they were then in union with the deity.

      According to S. Angus, once professor of New Testament and Historical Theology at Saint Andrews College at Sidney, the ecstasy experience by the mystery religion worshiper, brought him into

      A mystic ineffable condition, in which the normal functions of personality were in abeyance, and the moral strivings which formed character, virtually ceased or were relaxed, while the emotional and the intuitive were accentuated.

      In other words, the worshiper would get into a state where his mind would go into neutral and his emotions would take over. The intellect and the conscious would give way to passion, sentiment, and emotion. This was ecstasy. Angus further said,

      Ecstasy might be induced by vigil and fasting, tense religious expectancy, whirling dances, physical stimuli, the contemplation of the sacred objects, the effect of stirring music, inhalation of fumes, revivalistic contagion, hallucinations, suggestions and all other means belonging to the apparatus of the mysteries. One ancient writer speaks of men going out of themselves to be wholly established in the divine.

      It is exactly what happened in Corinth and it is still going on today. As the mystery worshiper experienced such ecstasy, he believed he was lifted above the level of his ordinary experience into an abnormal sense of consciousness and therein he could really see God. And according to Angus again, he says, "Ecstasy could range anywhere from nonmoral delirium to that consciousness of oneness with the invisible, and the dissolution of painful individuality which marks the mystics of all ages." The person literally became irrational, unreasonable, out of touch with reality. I don't think it is too far afield to say that there are testimonies by Pentecostal Charismatic believers that seem to me to sound very much like this. They explain their various states of euphoria as engaging in communion with the Holy Spirit, but is it that? Certainly not by Biblical definition. Is it only an emotional high? Is it only some kind of psychological self-induced hypnosis? Is it only falling under the spell of the power of suggestion? Or is it demonic? In any case it is not Biblical. It certainly isn't, "Come now let us reason together, says the Lord." It certainly is not, "Let everything be done decently and in order."

      The problem Paul dealt with in Corinth is the same problem he deals with through his letters in the charismatic movement today. The problem is this: "How do you tell the real from the counterfeit?" And the only answer I have to you, Beloved, is to take it to the Word of God--and if it isn't there, it isn't real. That's the only place we can go. You certainly can't believe experience. Why? Because "Many will say, 'Lord, Lord,'" and they will prophesy in His name, and they will cast out demons in His name, and they will do miracles, at least what appear to be miracles, in His name. But He will say "Depart from me, I never knew you. Who are you? You workers of iniquity." We need to warn the true believers in the Charismatic movement that Satan is having a field day counterfeiting, because you're not checking with the Word, and because you are not using the mind that God has given you to understand His truth. Christ is being dishonored.

      Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:2, he said to the Corinthians, "You are being led astray, just like you used to be. You used to be led astray to dumb idols, led astray like a prisoner. You were just led astray to your false gods. Now, that you have become a believer, you can't let that happen. You can't just throw yourself open and be carried away by demons in the ecstasies of these events." The truly spiritual person is not someone who sweeps away into trances, ecstasies, emotional frenzies, who falls over in a dead faint. The true spiritual person isn't somebody who goes into a glory cloud for 15 minutes, can't speak English, comes back and doesn't know he has been gone. When a person is out of control, it is never the Holy Spirit! The fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Galatians 5). No where in Scripture do we see the real gifts of the Spirit operating when somebody is out of control, or when somebody is under a supernatural seizure.

      And so Beloved, as we look at this movement, we have to be concerned and literally sad in our hearts because of so many people being led astray in the Name of Christ. But I guess that we should expect it. My dad used to say, "Nobody counterfeits brown paper and sticks, because brown paper and sticks aren't worth counterfeiting. They don't have any value. Wherever you see a counterfeit," he used to say to me, "just be sure there is a real, because people only counterfeit what's real, and they only counterfeit what's valuable." Counterfeiters copy what's valuable and what is priceless in the Church. Listen to me, what is priceless in the Church is the true work of the Spirit, and the true gifts of the Spirit, and the true ministry of the Spirit. And how tragic it is that a whole generation of people are cut off from the reality because they bought the counterfeit. Many of these people have been saved but they are part of a system that cuts them off from the true working of God's Spirit. The Church will be built up when spiritual gifts are used properly; when the Scripture is understood properly, taught accurately; and when the believers are walking in the Spirit with self control, obeying the Word of God.

      Well, let's bow in a word of prayer. Father, even as we have talked about these things tonight, we have been brought back again to the great foundation of your Word, where we must test everything. Help us to know that it is not enough that someone lifts up your name and says, "Lord, Lord," and claims you. It is not enough that they preach and cast out demons and do wondrous things. They could be false prophets. They could be sheep dressed up in prophet's garments, and the fruit of their life wouldn't support their claims, and someday you'll bring it to light. Lord, give us discernment. There are many that you love, that belong to you who are swept up in this movement, tragically exposing themselves to error, demonic activity, confusion, and on the other hand, cutting themselves off from the true path of sanctification, the true work of the Spirit, and the true interpretation and proclamation of your word. Lord, how tragic that they would be dispossessed of that and think they've come to a higher level of spirituality, when, in fact, it's a lower one. And what they think is something more is really something less.

      Father, I pray that you will bring clarity and sanity and the true work of the Spirit to bear upon the confusion, that you true Church may be delivered out of that confusion into the light of the true work of the blessed Spirit, whose task it is to move us from one level of glory to the next, evermore into the image of Christ. In whose name we pray. 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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