PART 1: Pentecostalism: What Is It?
Prof. David J. Engelsma
The movement that this booklet examines is a powerful and popular force in the Christian churches today. It is known as the Pentecostal movement, because it claims to be a “second Pentecost” at the end of history. It is also known as the charismatic movement, because it claims to recover and practice the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit that are mentioned in Acts and in I Corinthians 12-14 (Greek: charismata).
In 100 years, it has spread from a handful of people in Topeka, Kansas and in Los Angeles, California to hundreds of millions throughout the world. The latest estimate is that half a billion people are involved in Pentecostalism. The movement is regarded as a “third force” in Christendom, with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Pentecostalism is found in almost all churches. Many churches are founded on Pentecostal teachings and exist for the purpose of engaging in Pentecostal practices. Many of these churches are large and growing. But other churches approve Pentecostalism and welcome it within their membership and life. The Roman Catholic Church has embraced the Pentecostal movement. Rome has hundreds of thousands of charismatic members. Among the Protestant churches and preachers that have approved the charismatic movement are Reformed churches and influential evangelicals. In 1973, the Christian Reformed Church responded to the then exploding charismatic movement by adopting a report that said in part:
We call on the church to recognize the freedom of the Spirit to bestow His gifts according to His will, and that the Scriptures do not restrict the charismata spoken of by the apostolic witness to the apostolic age. Let the church be open to an acknowledgment of the full spectrum of the gifts of the Spirit (“Neo-Pentecostalism,” in Acts of Synod 1973, Grand Rapids: Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, p. 481)
Among the influential evangelical ministers and theologians who have put their stamp of approval on, and warmly welcomed, the Pentecostal movement are J. I. Packer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In his book, Joy Unspeakable: Power & Renewal in the Holy Spirit, published in 1984, but consisting of sermons preached in Westminster Chapel in 1964 and 1965, Lloyd-Jones declared that he “believed passionately in the baptism with the Holy Spirit as a distinct, post-conversion experience”; that all the gifts exist today; that the experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is the only thing “that holds out any hope for us today”; and that whoever denies the baptism with the Holy Spirit is guilty of quenching the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1984, pp.13, 54, 278).
So popular and powerful is the charismatic movement, blowing all before its mighty wind, that it is difficult to find a denomination of churches that has resisted it. In the recent book, The Pentecostals and Charismatics: A Confessional Lutheran Evaluation, after the author has mentioned a number of Protestant churches that either have embraced the movement or have caved in to it under pressure, he mentions one denomination, and one only, that has rejected it: “Not all Protestant bodies have extended a welcome to the charismatic renewal. The Protestant Reformed Churches’ reaction to it has been bluntly negative” (Arthur J. Clement, The Pentecostals and Charismatics: A Confessional Lutheran Evaluation, Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 2000, pp.52, 53).
The influence of the movement has been enormous. First, it has shifted the center of gravity of the gospel from faith’s reception of the forgiveness of sins on the basis of the cross of Christ to the Christian’s ineffable experience of God and power for ministry, especially witnessing, on the basis of a post-conversion event known as the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Second, Pentecostalism has radically recast and revised the public worship of the church. No longer is the pure preaching of the sound doctrine of Scripture and the proper administration of the sacraments the heart of the service. Rather, the exuberant praise and the exercise of various gifts by the congregation under the influence of a freewheeling Spirit are the main things.
Third, Pentecostalism has promoted ecumenicity. It is a trans-denominational, trans-confessional movement. The authoritative Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (ed. Stanley Burgess, Gary McGee, and Patrick Alexander, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988) states that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement is “one worldwide trans-denominational outpouring of the Spirit of God” (p. 159). Members of virtually all churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic, Calvinist and Arminian, Baptist and covenantal, share this one “Spirit,” regardless of doctrinal differences. Therefore, there are high-level talks and conferences with a view to organizational union; ecumenical gatherings of scores of thousands for praise and worship; and weekly meetings of members of virtually all churches for Bible study and fellowship—the “grass roots ecumenicity.”
The Pentecostal movement has influence even where its main doctrines and practices are officially rejected. The Pentecostal movement is the cause of widespread dissatisfaction with the preaching of the doctrine of the cross and of the shrill clamour for more emphasis on the Christian life and religious activities. There is boredom with the structured Reformed worship according to the regulative principle of worship and agitation to change the public worship, to make it more lively, to involve the people more. As for ecumenicity, people from many different denominations freely join in the praise and fellowship of Promise Keepers, which is strongly influenced by the charismatic movement in its most radical form, Wimber’s Vineyard Fellowship.
Men and women are openly participating in the warm fellowship of Bible studies that are explicitly and insistently non-doctrinal (as though this were possible!) and that involve the communion of Protestants and Roman Catholics, Calvinists and Arminians, Baptists and Reformed, and, indeed, charismatics and noncharismatics.
The growth, popularity, and influence of the movement are not decisive, however, as regards the fundamental, and necessary, question, “What spirit is the spirit of the Pentecostal movement?” The popularity of the movement does not preclude the question, nor does it decide the answer automatically. For, first, Scripture forecasts great apostasy in the last days, apostasy accompanied by “all power and signs and lying wonders” (II Thess. 2:3, 9). Second, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament Scripture holds up the despised “remnant,” the “little flock,” as the true people and church of God (Is. 1; Luke 12:32). Third, Scripture requires us to examine, or test, the spirits, whether they are of God (Deut. 13; I John 4:1). Deuteronomy 13 warned Israel that the false prophet might produce a “sign or a wonder” on behalf of his religious movement (vv. 1,2).
This is what we are doing in this booklet: testing the spirit of Pentecostalism in obedience to the command of Scripture. The chapters that follow will test Pentecostalism’s spirit regarding specific, important doctrines and practices of the movement. This opening chapter tests Pentecostalism’s spirit in connection with the distinctive nature of the movement and with regard to its history.
Characteristic Teachings and Practices
Pentecostalism, or the charismatic renewal, is the recent movement in Christian churches that teaches a second, definite, and keenly experienced work of God in Christians after regeneration, or conversion, that is known as the Baptism in, or with, the Holy Spirit (hereafter, BHS). This event has as its purpose to give the Christian a wonderful experience of God and power for ministry, especially witnessing to others. The evidence, or sign, of this baptism is speaking in tongues, understood by Pentecostals, not as the ability to speak in foreign languages without formal, academic study, but as the ability to speak unknown, heavenly languages.
This is how authoritative Pentecostals define their movement. The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements describes the Pentecostal movement this way: “Pentecostals subscribe to a work of grace subsequent to conversion in which Spirit baptism is evidenced by glossolalia (that is, speaking in tongues)” (p. 1). The Dictionary describes the charismatic movement as follows: “The occurrence of distinctively Pentecostal blessings and phenomena, baptism in the Holy Spirit with the spiritual gifts of I Corinthians 12:8-10, outside a denominational and/or confessional Pentecostal framework” (p. 130).
Pentecostal preacher and writer Don Basham describes the BHS, which is the heart of Pentecostal teaching and practice, this way: “The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a second encounter with God (the first is conversion) in which the Christian begins to receive the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit into his life” (A Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism, Monroeville, PA: Whitaker Books, 1969, p.10).
In further explanation of the fundamental Pentecostal teaching of a BHS, first, Pentecostals hold that in this act of God one receives the Holy Spirit Himself, so that he is filled with the Spirit. The Spirit Himself indwells the man or woman who is baptized. One is baptized, not by the Spirit but with the Spirit.
Second, the BHS is distinct from, and later than, the first saving work of God in a sinner, namely, regeneration, or conversion. It is basic to Pentecostal teaching that there are two distinct works of grace in one’s life and experience. The first work is performed by the Holy Spirit and gives one Jesus Christ and His salvation, especially the forgiveness of sins. The second work of grace, upon which Pentecostalism puts the emphasis, is performed by Jesus Christ and gives one the Holy Spirit.
Because the first work—the work of salvation—is signified by the sacrament of baptism with water, Pentecostalism teaches two baptisms. This at once raises the question, “What about Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:5 that in the church there is ‘one baptism’?” The seriousness of this question for Pentecostalism is that Ephesians 4:5 makes “one baptism” the basis of the unity of the church. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, has a church is which some have only the first baptism, while others have also the second baptism, which is supposed to bestow on them more wonderful experience and much greater power. In addition, Pentecostalism as an ecumenical movement makes the second baptism the ground of the unity of the church, whereas Paul made the baptism with water the basis of the unity of the church.
According to Pentecostalism, the second work of grace—the BHS—is for all Christians. God wants all to have it. It is available to all, but we must seek it and fulfil certain conditions in order to obtain it.
Only the teaching of a first and second baptism is the ‘full gospel.” Whatever message omits the BHS as Pentecostalism conceives it is less than a “full gospel.” Only Pentecostalism has the “full gospel.”
Third. the BHS is a mysterious, wonderful event in one’s own experience. Often, there are physical effects and manifestations, such as a feeling of tingling all over the body, or falling down “slain in the Spirit,” or laughing uncontrollably (the “holy laughter” of the Toronto blessing), or making noises like an animal.
Fourth, the purpose of the BHS in modern Pentecostalism is three-fold: more wonderful experience of much closer union with God, more desire and ability to praise God, and power for witnessing. Emphasis falls on the feeling of union with God. Not an unlettered “holy roller,” but Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “It is the most wonderful and glorious experience a man can ever have in this life. The only thing beyond the experience of the baptism with the Spirit is heaven itself” (Joy Unspeakable, p. 141). The BHS does not increase one’s holiness, or strengthen one’s faith, or give one growth in doctrine, or deepen one’s knowledge of his misery, redemption, and gratitude.
Fifth, the invariable and necessary evidence, or sign, is tongues: the utterances of peculiar sounds and noises, which are said to be unknown, heavenly languages. In view of Pentecostalism’s claim that the BHS is for all Christians and in view of the fact that tongues are the necessary evidence of the BHS, all Christians can and should speak in tongues. But the apostle asks in I Corinthians 12:30: “Do all speak with tongues?” clearly implying that even in the apostolic age not all the saints spoke in tongues, or were intended by God to speak in tongues.
The BHS is one fundamental Pentecostal doctrine and practice. Another teaching that obviously is essential to Pentecostalism is that all the gifts of the Spirit that were present in apostolic times are present in the church still today. Pentecostalism rejects the classic Christian and Protestant position that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were for the time of the apostles only and that they ceased after the death of the apostles. This was the position of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and the Lutheran and Reformed churches. B. B. Warfield argued this position convincingly in his book, Miracles: Yesterday and Today, True and False.
Plainly, there were in the apostolic churches the gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, miracles of healing, casting out of devils, and the like. I Corinthians 12-14 establishes the presence of the extraordinary gifts in the church at Corinth beyond any doubt. Pentecostalism argues that since the special gifts were present in the church then, they must also be present today. This argument is an implication of the still more basic Pentecostal belief, namely, that there can and must be a repetition for churches and Christians today of that which happened on the Day of Pentecost according to Acts 2. Just as there were two distinct saving events for the apostles, conversion to Christ prior to Pentecost and the BHS on the Day of Pentecost, exactly so must our experience be today. Pentecost must be repeated over and over for churches. Each believer must have his own “personal Pentecost.” Whatever happened in Acts can and should happen now.
The biblical basis for these two main teachings of Pentecostalism with their corresponding practices is the book of Acts and I Corinthians 12-14. If these passages are not the exclusive biblical text for Pentecostalism, they are certainly the predominant and decisive text.
One other passage is of great importance: Joel 2:23. Joel 2:28-32 was quoted by Peter in Acts 2 to explain the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh,” etc. In verse 23, a few verses before the passage that Peter quoted, the prophet said, “[The Lord your God] hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month.” Pentecostalism has to explain why the Christian church did not teach or experience Pentecostalism’s BHS from the time of the death of the apostles until about A.D. 1900. Pentecostalism explains this by appealing to Joel 2:23. The rain of Joel 2:23 is symbolic of the BHS and the extraordinary gifts accompanying the BHS. Pentecost was the “former rain,” and the present-day Pentecostal, or charismatic, movement is the “latter rain,” just before the end of the world.
This raises the question: ‘What is the history of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement?
The History of Pentecostalism
The history of the Pentecostal movement is history that many of us have lived through and been eyewitnesses of. When I was a college student in the late 1950s, one Sunday evening several friends and I paid a visit to a Pentecostal church in the area of Franklin and Eastern in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The church was an exclusively black congregation meeting in a ramshackle storefront building. Today, the same worship-shouting, arm-waving, falling to the ground, dancing in the aisles, speaking in tongues—that fascinated us as college students goes on in the mainly white, well-educated, sophisticated Assembly of God Church in its multi-million dollar building on 44th Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I was pastor of a Protestant Reformed congregation in Loveland, Colorado during most of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s in the midst of Protestant churches that exploded with the charismatic movement. I had to struggle to understand and judge the movement, whether it was friend, foe, or neutral to the Reformed faith.
Later, in the second half of the 1970s in South Holland, Illinois, I witnessed in the village the dramatic playing out of a valiant effort to combine the Reformed faith and the charismatic movement. Circumstances dictated that the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland take a stand on the question, whether the Reformed faith and the charismatic movement are compatible and whether a Reformed Church may accept charismatic members. (The valiant effort in South Holland to combine the Reformed faith and the charismatic movement was a failure. The gifted Reformed minister began by insisting that he would complement Reformed orthodoxy with charismatic fervour. He ended by offering his “dusty books of Reformed doctrine for sale cheap” and by trying to raise the dead.)
The history of Pentecostalism is astounding. Whether one is for the movement or against it, he must be amazed at the fact that a movement that began only 100 years ago among a handful of lower-class people (I intend no disrespect; I am deeply conscious that God always delights in the base and no-account) has engulfed Christendom, has become the “third force,” and has captivated Roman Catholic cardinals and evangelicals such as Packer and Lloyd-Jones.
The history of Pentecostalism is not only interesting and informative. It is also decisive for determining whether the movement is of God. This is not sufficiently reckoned with in analyzing the movement. The history of Pentecostalism—the history!—is decisive, whether Pentecostalism can possibly be accepted as a movement of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as it claims, or whether Pentecostalism is of the devil. This, it must be remembered, is our concern in this booklet in obedience to the command of the apostle, “Try the spirits, whether they are of God.”
As I relate the history, the reader should keep in mind my assertion at the outset, that the history of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement decides our judgment of the movement. To paraphrase the German philosopher, the history of Pentecostalism is the judgment of Pentecostalism.
My account of the history is not controversial. It is based on the accounts given by Pentecostal scholars themselves, including the Dictionary of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Donald W. Dayton, Vinson Synan, and others.
The Pentecostal movement was conceived in the womb of Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas on New Year’s Day, 1900. The movement was born into the world on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California in 1906.
Conception is first. Late on the last day of 1899, or early in the morning of the first day of 1900, the itinerant preacher Charles Fox Parham laid hands on Agnes Ozman, so that she would receive the BHS as a second work of grace. Agnes received the baptism and spoke in tongues as evidence of it. This is known in Pentecostal circles as the “second Pentecost.”
Birth followed six years later in revival meetings in a dilapidated building on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. The preacher who brought Pentecostalism to the birth—Pentecostalism’s obstetrician—was the Rev. W. J. Seymour. He laid his hands on the people in his little group, and they received the BHS and spoke in tongues. Seymour was an amusing fellow. The revivals went on night after night for several years. Seymour would mostly sit behind the pulpit with his head in an empty shoebox as the lively meeting raged in the room before him. The meetings were wild: tongues, rolling on the floor, falling and lying prostrate, crying, laughing, convulsing, and even levitation. Vinson Synan, himself a Pentecostal and a historian of the movement, gives this description of the meetings on Azusa Street, and of the peculiar behaviour of Rev. Seymour:
A visitor to Azusa Street during the three years that the revival continued would have met scenes that beggared description. Men and women would shout, weep, dance, fall into trances, speak and sing in tongues, and interpret the messages into English. In true Quaker fashion, anyone who felt “moved by the Spirit” would preach or sing. There was no robed choir, no hymnals, no order of services, but there was an abundance of religious enthusiasm. In the middle of it all was “Elder” Seymour, who rarely preached and much of the time kept his head covered in an empty shoe box behind the pulpit At times he would be seen walking through the crowds with five- and ten-dollar bills sticking out of his hip pockets which people had crammed there unnoticed by him. At other times he would “preach” by hurling defiance at anyone who did not accept his views or by encouraging seekers at the woodplank altars to “let the tongues come forth.” To others he would exclaim: “Be emphatic! Ask for salvation, sanctification, the baptism with the Holy Ghost, or divine healing” (The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, pp.108, 109).
The relation between the conception of the Pentecostal movement in Kansas in 1900 and the birth of the movement in Los Angeles in 1906 is that Seymour had learned the BHS from Parham at a meeting in Texas.
Soon, people were flocking to Azusa Street from all over Los Angeles, from all over California, from all over the United States, and from all over the world, to get the BHS and bring it home. The direct result was the formation of the Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) Churches in 1914 and the worldwide spread of Pentecostalism.
From 1900 to about 1960, Pentecostal teaching and practices were confined to Pentecostal churches. The established churches looked down on these Pentecostal churches as “holy rollers.” This would change in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The 1960s saw the spread of Pentecostal doctrine and practices into all the established denominations: Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and even the Roman Catholic Church. This is the charismatic movement, or charismatic renewal, in distinction from Pentecostalism. The charismatic movement is simply Pentecostalism in the previously non-Pentecostal churches. The name “charismatic,” which the established Protestant and Roman Catholic churches prefer, suggests that in these churches the special gifts, the “charismata,” are emphasized more than other aspects of the old Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism in the established churches is also known as “neo-Pentecostalism.”
Largely responsible for the penetration of Pentecostalism into all the churches were a man and an organization. The man is Dennis Bennett, Episcopal clergyman in Van Nuys, California, who told the story of his own BHS in the book, Nine O’clock in the Morning. The organization is the extremely influential Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI). One effective method of FGBMFI to spread the message of Pentecostalism and gain converts to the movement has been their breakfast meetings. Professional people and leaders in various churches are invited to a breakfast at which a charismatic pitches the message of the charismatic movement.
Pentecostalism became respectable. It crossed all doctrinal and ecclesiastical boundaries and divides. All the churches accepted Pentecostalism and approved the Pentecostal spirit as the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
One later development of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement demands mention: the “signs and wonders” movement of John Wimber and his new denomination, The Vineyard Fellowship. This phase of the charismatic movement claims to possess the power to perform mighty miracles, which promote “church growth.” Related is the infamous “Toronto Blessing,” characterized by “holy laughing” for hours on end. Wimber’s church and movement are not an unseemly aberration. They are part and parcel of the Pentecostal movement as the movement develops the extraordinary gifts. Pentecostals call this development “the third wave” of Pentecostalism.
If the history of Pentecostalism following the birth of the movement in 1900/1906 is astonishing, the history leading up to Pentecostalism’s birth is decisive for our judgment, whether Pentecostalism is of God. Pentecostalism derives directly from the theology of the 18th century English preacher John Wesley, particularly from Wesley’s teaching of a “second blessing” in the life and experience of the Christian. According to Wesley, there is a second work of grace in the Christian after conversion that brings one to a higher level of salvation: the level of “sinless perfection.” This second work of grace is a dramatic act in one’s experience at a certain moment. The second blessing is more important than the first, which “merely” gives the forgiveness of sins. Wesley taught that this second blessing, which he also referred to as “entire sanctification,” must be sought by every Christian. If the Spirit is to grant this glorious experience, the Christian must fulfil certain conditions.
Wesley’s teaching of the second blessing resulted in the “Holiness Movement” in the 1800s both in North America and in England. Revival meetings were held at which the Spirit would grant this second blessing of perfect holiness and a higher Christian life. One of the leading evangelists preaching up this supposedly more wonderful work of the Spirit was Charles Finney. At these revivals, the reception of the second blessing was accompanied by all the strange phenomena that later attended Pentecostalism’s BHS.
All that Pentecostalism did was to call Wesley’s second blessing the BHS and to insist that the one necessary evidence is tongues, with one notable exception. When Pentecostalism baptized Wesley’s second blessing, that is, took it over as the BMS, it changed Wesley’s second blessing in one, fundamental respect. Pentecostalism denied that this second blessing, now known as the BHS, consisted of holiness, indeed perfect holiness. Pentecostalism teaches that the BHS has nothing to do with holiness at all. The BHS has instead to do with mystical experience and with power and gifts for ministry. Wesley would have been appalled at this hijacking of his second blessing.
This history, which is Pentecostalism’s own account of its history, conclusively proves that Pentecostalism is not of God, proves that the spirit of Pentecostalism is not the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
The Pentecostal/charismatic movement is proved heretical by the simple fact that it is the fruit of the theology of Wesley, and Wesley’s theology was the false gospel of salvation by the will and work of the sinner himself (Arminianism). Wesley taught that God loves all alike, that Christ died for all alike, and that the Spirit wants to save all alike, but that salvation depends upon the sinner’s choosing to be saved by his own free will. In his passionate commitment to this gospel, Wesley hated the truth of salvation by God’s free, particular, sovereign mercy. Wesley is guilty of the worst blasphemies against the gospel of grace that have ever been uttered. His doctrine of the second blessing, which in Pentecostalism has become the BHS, was in perfect harmony with his basic gospel of free will. Whether one received the second blessing depended upon a person’s own will and effort.
The theology of Charles Finney, who as a leading preacher of the “holiness movement” was the link between Wesley and Pentecostalism, was the same as that of Wesley. Finney was originally a Presbyterian. But he detested Calvinism. Deliberately and aggressively, he went up and down the land preaching salvation—and the second blessing of perfect holiness—by the free will of sovereign man.
Pentecostalism is the natural outgrowth of that gospel. It is the fruit on Wesley’s tree of salvation by man’s will. In every respect, Pentecostalism is a message and movement of free will. The first baptism in Pentecostal-charismatic teaching—the saving of a man from sin, his conversion—is due to one’s accepting Jesus by free will. The second baptism—the BHS—likewise is dependent upon a man’s will and work, for he cooperates with the Spirit by fulfilling the necessary conditions.
That Pentecostalism is Arminian through-and-through is the open, clear, unashamed testimony of the Pentecostals themselves. Don Basham has written:
The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He works in our lives only to the extent that we are willing. He prompts and leads and woos and persuades but He does not force. To become a Christian a person must will or want or accept Christ, and he can. To be filled with the Holy Spirit a Christian must will or want to receive, and he can. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is available for every Christian (Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism, p. 35).
Vinson Synan, one of the most respected and influential Pentecostal teachers and leaders, summed up Pentecostalism this way:
Although the Pentecostal movement began in the United States … its theological and intellectual origins were British. The basic premises of the movement’s theology were constructed by John Wesley in the 18th century. As a product of Methodism, the holiness-pentecostal movement traces its lineage through the Wesleys to Anglicanism and from thence to Roman Catholicism. This theological heritage places the Pentecostals outside the Calvinistic, reformed tradition…. The basic pentecostal theological position might be described as Arminian, perfectionistic, premillennial, and charismatic (The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States, p. 217).
This is why Pentecostalism is acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church. The gospel—the message of salvation—of Pentecostalism is Arminianism, and Arminianism is semi-Pelagianism, which is the gospel—the message of salvation—that Rome proclaims.
But the gospel of free will is a false gospel. It is another gospel that is no gospel. Scripture declares it so in Romans 9:16: Salvation “is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” The one, true gospel is the good news of salvation by God’s grace alone, apart from man’s will, which is in the bondage of sin. Ephesians 2:8 clearly proclaims the gospel of grace: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” The source of this gracious salvation is God’s eternal election, as the apostle teaches in Ephesians 1:3, 4: “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.”
This one fact, namely, that Pentecostalism is the development of Arminian theology and is itself consciously, avowedly, and thoroughly Arminian—this one fact all by itself conclusively proves that the entire Pentecostal/charismatic movement is not of God and of Jesus Christ. For Jesus Christ will not give His Spirit as a fruit of the lie of the false gospel. The Spirit Himself will never work a grand, glorious work of salvation in history (as Pentecostalism claims that it is) by means of a false gospel. The Spirit will not honour a movement that hates the gospel of God’s grace and glory and that promotes a gospel exalting man, by gracing that movement with His presence and power.
Can the Spirit who inspired Romans 9:16 work a work in the world that stems from, and proclaims, a gospel of salvation by man’s own will? Can the evil tree of a false gospel bear the good fruit of a genuine movement of the Spirit of Christ?
To judge the Pentecostal/charismatic movement, it is not necessary to explain why the believers who lived through the event of Pentecost did have two distinct spiritual experiences, namely, conversion to Christ prior to the day of Pentecost and then the BHS on the day of Pentecost. It is not necessary to debate whether the extraordinary gifts ceased with the apostles or continue to the present. It is not necessary to carry out a careful exegesis of I Corinthians 12-14. This is not to say that these things should not be done, or that they are unimportant. I have myself explained why there were two distinct works of grace in those who lived through Pentecost and demonstrated that the extraordinary gifts have ceased in my booklet, “Try the Spirits: A Reformed Look at Pentecostalism” (South Holland, IL: The Evangelism Committee, repr. 1988).
But one thing is necessary, and every believer can do this necessary thing: knowing the gospel of the Bible, compare Pentecostalism’s gospel with the gospel of Scripture. If the gospel of Scripture is the message that man must save himself by his free will, Pentecostalism may possibly be a genuine movement of the Spirit. If the gospel of Scripture, however, is the message of sovereign grace—Calvinism—Pentecostalism is a spurious religious movement. Since the gospel is, in fact, the good news of grace, Pentecostalism is exposed as part of the great apostasy at the end of history that unites all the false churches and leads to Antichrist (II Thess. 2; Rev. 13).
The Spirit of Christ, who gives Himself to His own, through the gospel of God’s grace, does not demand faith of us as a condition for salvation. Rather, He gives us faith as a free gift on the basis of the death of Christ that earned faith for us. That faith, the apostle says in Ephesians 2:8, is “not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Through this faith Christ gives us Himself in His indwelling Spirit. This saving work of Christ by His Spirit is the biblical baptism with the Holy Spirit, which all believers have and the sign of which is baptism with water.
Faith in Jesus Christ does all the things that Pentecostals look for in their BHS.
Is tongues-speaking supposed to be the evidence of Spirit baptism? Faith and its confession that Jesus is Lord is the real evidence of salvation and Spirit-baptism (I Cor. 12:3).
Is Pentecostalism’s BHS regarded as wonderful communion with and experience of God? Faith is the real communion with and experience of God (Eph. 3:16-19).
Is Pentecostalism’s BHS desired as the power for witnessing? Faith is the real power that loosens our tongue, to confess and witness (Rom. 10:9, 10).
Is Pentecostalism’s BHS boasted of as the ability to do wonderful deeds, for example, laughing for hours, barking like a dog, or falling on the floor? Laying hold as it does on the risen Christ, faith is the real power to perform truly wonderful works: repenting of sin, enjoying peace with God through pardon, lighting sin in one’s own life and in the world, obeying the Lord, bearing one’s burdens patiently, enduring trials, and overcoming the world (Heb. 11; I John 5:4).
Let the Pentecostal repent of his confession of a false gospel and, by God’s grace, believe the true gospel. In this way, he will enjoy peace with God and possess power to carry out his Christian calling.
Let those who are tempted by the charismatic movement test Pentecostalism’s message, its gospel, by the standard of Scripture’s teaching, not primarily on gifts and experiences, but on the gospel.
And let us who do believe the gospel, and thus believe in Jesus Christ, be assured that by faith in Jesus Christ, by faith alone in Jesus Christ, “we are complete in him,” for “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9, 10).
Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma
I was deeply involved in the sermon I was preaching. It seemed as if the congregation was too. What happened next came without any warning. I was cut off mid sentence by what sounded like the howl of a dog that was being choked to death. I stopped and looked toward the back corner of the church, from which the strange noise was coming. My family, which was sitting in the front row, had come close to jumping off the bench. No one else in the congregation seemed too disturbed by the sound. They were used to it. But this was the first time I was introduced to the gifts of the Spirit in that small, back-hill church of Jamaica. It happened once or twice more during the service, each time interrupting my preaching.
After the service I asked the lady who had interrupted our worship with her outbursts why she had done this. She told me that she could not help herself. The Spirit had taken hold of her heart and voice and she could not hold the loud shrieks in. Incidents of this sort led me to my first earnest study of the Holiness and Pentecostal movements and their influence. This also led me to examine more carefully the particular incidents of speaking in tongues, healings, and revelations recorded in Scripture in order to come to a biblical understanding of them.
The gifts of the Spirit (charismata, which is Greek for “gifts”) are vital to the Pentecostal religion. The bestowing of these gifts of the Spirit on the members of the church is the one, outstanding tenet of Pentecostal thought and worship. Though Pentecostalism claims to believe in all of the various truths of the Bible, nevertheless the overwhelming emphasis in its teaching and in its worship is baptism in or with the Holy Spirit. This baptism results in many different “charismata,” gifts. Anne S. White, a writer, teacher, and counsellor in the charismatic movement during the 1960s and 70s, in her book Healing Adventure uses I Corinthians 12:4-7 to enumerate what she believes to be the nine essential “gifts of the Spirit.” “… St. Paul described the nine gifts (or manifestations) as: the utterance of wisdom … the utterance of knowledge … faith … gifts … gifts of healing … the working of miracles … prophecy the ability to distinguish between spirits … various kinds of tongues … the interpretation of tongues.”
Out of these nine “charismata,” Pentecostals place the most emphasis on three: speaking in tongues, gifts of healing, and prophecy or on-going revelation. There is a proliferation of writings on these gifts and their attainment, and they are available everywhere. Most of these books use personal experience as the foundation for their claim that these gifts of the Spirit are yet present in the church of today. Though many Scripture passages are quoted by these authors, none of the passages are carefully exegeted to discover the validity of the “charismata” today. Rev. James Slay, a minister and teacher in the Church of God, has written a book entitled This We Believe, in which he attempts to prove from Scripture the presence of the gifts of the Spirit in the modern church. Some of his arguments we will be considering.
I. The Gifts in Pentecostal Thought
A. Speaking in tongues
We mentioned that there are three gifts of the Spirit that the Pentecostal movement emphasizes above all the others: speaking in tongues, faith healing, and on-going revelation. Of these three, speaking in tongues is the most prominent.
The first recorded incident of speaking in tongues is found in the events that transpired on the day of Pentecost. In fact, it is in this event that the presence of the Spirit and speaking in tongues are linked. This is also why those who today yet maintain the gift of speaking in tongues are often referred to as Pentecostals.
We read of this event in Acts 2:1-4:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come; they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting, And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and ii sat upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
It is to this third sign of the Spirit’s presence in the church, viz., speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, that the Pentecostal calls our attention. He does so because, of these three signs, this was the only one that continued after that day of Pentecost. The miracle that was performed that day is easily explained: when the Spirit entered into the hearts of the disciples of Christ, they began to speak in “other tongues,” that is to say, in foreign languages. These men, who were simple Galileans and not scholars in foreign languages, suddenly by means of the Holy Spirit began to speak in many different foreign languages so that many who were present from other countries could understand what they preached on that day. Neither did this sign of the outpouring of the Spirit cease upon that day.
The Pentecostal directs our attention to what he believes are four other instances in Acts that speak of this.
The first is found in Acts 8:14-17, where we find the church of Jerusalem sending Peter and John to Samaria, where the evangelist Philip had preached.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as of yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”
Although it is not explicitly stated, it is argued, and that reasonably so, that, when Peter and John laid their hands upon the Samaritans, the Spirit came upon these Samaritans so that, as a result, they spoke in other tongues. This is why Simon the Sorcerer wanted to buy the power to bestow this gift on others.
The second instance of the pouring out of the Spirit on someone which resulted in speaking in tongues is that of the apostle Paul himself and his conversion in Acts 9:17. “And Ananias went his way and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” This verse does not necessarily establish the claim of the Pentecostals that Paul spoke in tongues at that time, but it does establish the fact that the Holy Spirit was poured out on him. Later too, in I Corinthians 14:18, Paul testifies to his speaking in tongues.
The third instance of speaking in tongues is recorded for us in Acts 10 and 11, where we read of Peter’s preaching the gospel to the household of Cornelius, a Gentile centurion. In verses 44-46 of Acts 10 we read:
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
In this instance there can be no debate. The miracle of speaking in tongues indeed took place upon the conversion of Cornelius and his household.
The fourth and final instance recorded in Acts is found in chapter 19:1-7 where twelve Ephesian men, who had heard the preaching of John the Baptist and were baptized by him, now heard the gospel of Christ by the mouth of Paul. Paul explained that John had already then preached and baptized in the name of Christ. These men were then baptized by Paul, and the Spirit fell on them, and we read that they spoke in tongues.
These are the only instances we read of in Acts. But attention is also drawn by the Pentecostal to Mark 16:15-18.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Our attention is drawn to the undeniable Word of our Lord Himself: this miracle of tongues would take place with the coming of the Spirit. Tongue-speaking, therefore, was an activity that definitely took place in the early church. This is evident, too, in I Corinthians 12-14, where this whole subject is addressed by Paul. Obviously, in the churches established by Paul on his missionary journeys, speaking in tongues also took place.
Concerning these proofs of speaking in tongues, Rev. James Slay writes (p.90):
Of such spiritual endowments were to be for only those who lived in Apostolic times, why would the Holy Spirit allow such information to be included in His word? Why should we be told, in such precise terminology, about the regulation of a gift if it were not in the plan of God for us to be given such? Why tell the children of a pauper how to spend the inheritance of one who has left them nothing?
Again Slay writes (p. 91):
The Holy Spirit baptism and the tongues phenomenon have an affinity that is unmistakable. This experience is not the “uprage of the subliminal” nor is it “babblings” of an ignorant population segment. We have scriptural evidence for this remarkable spiritual manifestation, and of late the cloud of witnesses, testifying to its reality, is becoming of such moment as to elicit the attention of national press.
The argument that is adduced by the Pentecostal therefore is simple: unless proof is brought to the contrary, the Bible teaches that this gift of the Spirit is in the church today. There is no reason to believe that this gift has disappeared. The reason it cannot be traced into the church after early times is simply that the church apostatized and neglected this gift.
B. The gift of healing
The same reasoning is applied to the gift of healing. Jesus Himself, it is reasoned, spent the majority of His earthly ministry healing people. From His example to us it is evident that He came to heal not only our souls but our bodies too. It was this gift of healing He has promised to His church after Pentecost. Again, we read of that in Mark 16:17-18 (quoted above). Several different instances of healing are recorded for us in the New Testament. Peter was given power to heal (e.g., Acts 3:1-11; 5:15). The deacon Philip, when he preached in Samaria, healed people who were sick of the palsy (Acts 8:5-7). We read in Acts 6:8 that to the deacon Stephen was also given the power to perform miracles and wonders among the people, though we are not told just exactly what these were. The apostle Paul on many different occasions healed the sick and cast out demons (e.g., Acts 14:8-10; 19:11-12).
Just as with the gift of speaking in tongues, so also with this gift of healing, the Pentecostal reasons that if Scripture does not explicitly state that this gift has disappeared, we certainly may not erroneously reason that it has. This gift Christ yet gives to men today. Not everyone receives this gift, however only those who are able to exercise themselves mightily in the faith.
In fact, together with this gift the charismatic has developed his whole idea of the power of prayer, an idea that has taken the church world by storm. He claims that if only one believer who has been given the special power of faith and prayer by the Holy Spirit prays fervently enough he can heal another. Or if this does not work, then believers can band together in prayer groups or in prayer chains and storm God’s throne with their prayers that as a result they will be able to heal the sick! Faith healing and fervent effectual prayer go hand in hand with the charismatic.
C. The gift of on-going revelation
Finally, there is also the gift of on-going revelation. This particular gift of the Holy Spirit is based on the prophecy of Joel which Peter quoted in his sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2:17-18:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy …
Here, too, is a gift of the Spirit, it is emphasized by the Pentecostal, that existed in the early church. Although the instances of it are not as frequent as with the other gifts, they are there. For example, in Acts 21:8, 9 we read of the four daughters of Philip who prophesied concerning Paul’s capture by the Jews. Likewise, it is pointed out that the church in Corinth (I Cor. 12-14) was deeply involved in prophesying. From these passages and a few others, we can assume that the gift of prophecy still continues in the church today. Nowhere does the Bible inform us that this gift is no longer present with the church.
Neither is this gift to be equated with the preaching, in the mind of the Pentecostal. This custom of some churches leaves no room for the spontaneous work of the Spirit. There are those in the church, however, who by spontaneous utterance of the Spirit speak words that are extra-scriptural. They can still today predict future events by means of the Spirit. The Spirit takes hold of the heart and tongue of a person who is exercising himself in the Spirit and leads him to speak things that he cannot control, just as did the prophets in the old dispensation.
D. How these gifts are acquired
These are the charismata, the gifts of the Spirit. And it is on the acquiring of such gifts that the worship service in Pentecostal churches focuses much of its attention. Frederick Dale Brunner in his book A Theology of the Holy Spirit, writes (pp. 132-133):
The Pentecostal church meeting has been described as pew-centered, and the description is apt. In contrast to generally pulpit-centered Protestantism and altar-centered Catholicism, Pentecostalism finds its center in the believing community. The Pentecostals are concerned, as one put it, that “we never reach the point where our congregations are composed of on-looking spectators rather than participating worshippers. To avoid this deflection Pentecostals attempt to offer every believer an opportunity actively and personally to participate in the church’s life. The paramount focus for this participation is the church meeting. Here the gifts are to find their most proper and prominent sphere of operation.
There is a certain excitement about the Pentecostal worship service. Everyone in the church is led to feel a certain anticipation or readiness to receive one or more of these gifts.
All kinds of means are used to evoke this high level of emotion: soul-stirring music, a powerful speaker, testimonies, shouted hallelujahs and amens, even laughter. Then it begins to happen. The souls are stirred and the Spirit is said to enter the worship of the church. People break out in tongues, others mount the pulpit and claim to be interpreting the tongues, while still others bring a word that God has told them personally. Some sing a song or get up and dance. Some may fall on the floor and shake uncontrollably. At times there is even special time that is set aside when certain men are given opportunity to heal the sick.
This then is the Pentecostal experience. These are the charismata—the gifts of the Spirit.
II. A Biblical Analysis of the Gifts of the Spirit.
A. In general
It is important that we analyze the arguments of Pentecostals on the basis of God’s Word. The Word of God is the objective standard according to which every teaching must be tested to see if it is true. This means that we do not merely in a superficial way read a few passages of the Bible that seem to say something they do not. It means that we examine the Word of God to see what the Spirit truly says to the church.
This booklet does not intend to analyze every aspect of the Pentecostal’s teachings on the gifts of the Spirit. This would, no doubt, take a book. What constitutes proper speaking in tongues by the Pentecostal can be criticized; what is behind the so-called “supernatural” healings can be exposed; the improper use of prayer can be refuted; the abuse and misuse of the worship service can easily be critiqued. But the aim of this booklet is specifically to analyze positively the biblical position on the gifts of the Spirit.
There are two criticisms of the charismatic movement’s undue stress on the acquiring of the gifts of the Spirit.
First of all, the emphasis that this movement places on the gifts of the Spirit robs God’s people of the necessary knowledge of the Scriptures. This is not to say that the Pentecostal movement does not quote and use many different passages of Scripture. Their writings are full of them. Neither does this mean that there is no time at all (though it is little) spent on preaching in the worship of the Pentecostal church. But the stress which is placed in worship and life on the acquisition of the gifts of the Spirit discourages any careful study of God’s Word. In the foreword to James Slay’s study in doctrine the admission is made:
The Church of God knows what it believes and preaches, and prints what it believes, but to this point the Church has not systematized it in a definitive work. That such a work has not been completed does not represent a lack of interest in the theology. Rather it probably comes from our historic dependence upon the sheer Word as our doctrinal guide.
That is quite an admission for a Pentecostal denomination that had been in existence for over seventy-five years at the time of the writing of that book! There is no emphasis on objective knowledge in the Scriptures. The Old Testament Scriptures are virtually ignored. The New Testament is used, in the main, as a means to prepare the members of the church to receive the gifts of the Spirit or the joy of rebaptism. That this is true is manifest in the almost total lack of biblical proof for their contention that the charismata still exist today! It is also evident from the total disregard for the true work of the Spirit taught in Scripture. Truly, what the prophet Amos spoke in Amos 8:11 characterizes this movement: there is a famine of hearing the Word of God!
A second critique that can be levelled against this movement, generally speaking, is that it is man-centered rather than God-centered or even Christ-centered. The worship of the Pentecostal does not center in the preaching of the Word. Again, not that there is not occasional preaching. But there is little stress placed on hearing the voice of God through a careful exposition and explanation of His Word by one who is called and trained to do so. The worship of the Pentecostal is, rather, caught up in trying to prove to others that one has the gift of the Spirit in him. Attention is called to the man who has the ability to speak “off the cuff,” so to speak, in front of people. It is drawn to that singer with the most beautiful voice or that one who is experienced in making sounds that might seem like he is speaking in an unknown tongue. This breeds disappointment and despair in the hapless souls who are trying still to find the Spirit. They begin to feel like second-rate Christians!
There are other criticisms that can also be made of the stress that the charismatic places on the acquiring of the gifts of the Spirit, but we wish at this point to analyze positively the biblical position on these gifts.
James Slay identifies correctly the point of disagreement between the Pentecostal and those who deny his claims. He writes (p.92):
Of this experience (speaking in tongues – WB) was to have been for only the Apostolic period, there must have been some logical reason for its not being extended to the rest of the church. Did the apostles, who had all known the Lord, need this special enduement to shore up their faith? Had the contemporaries of Jesus need of this extraordinary sign to convince them, in spite of the fact that they too had seen and heard our Lord?
These are rhetorical questions that Slay intends to answer with a “no.” Our answer to these questions, however, is “yes”! Both the apostles and the church of Christ at that time did need this extraordinary sign to convince them of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church! This rests in the fact that speaking in tongues is a sign! A sign! Here is the one term that very few pay attention to in this entire discussion.
A sign is, in the very nature of the case, something that disappears when the reality comes. When we see a sign along a road advertising that a restaurant is coming at a certain exit, then that sign points us to the reality that is coming. When we pass that exit, however, there is no more sign. Why? Because when the reality comes, then there is no more need for the sign. That is the nature of a sign. It disappears when replaced by the reality.
Well, speaking in tongues and faith healing were both signs. Is that not what Jesus said about them in Mark 16, that “signs” shall follow them that believe?
This is true, first of all, of the gift of speaking in tongues. Paul writes in I Corinthians 14:22, “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” The question is, of what was the speaking in tongues a sign? Certainly, it did not simply point to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Then either this third sign of Pentecost would have ceased on Pentecost with the other two, or the other two would still be prevalent in the church today too. The meaning of the sign of speaking in tongues is found specifically in this: it was a sign that the Spirit was poured out on all nations, peoples, and languages of the earth! This sign of speaking in foreign languages was meant to prove conclusively to every one that God would now gather His church from all peoples and kindreds of the earth. Salvation in Christ through the Spirit was no longer going to be limited to the Jews but was going to be given to people of every language, race, and nation under heaven. Of that, speaking in tongues was a sign.
The apostles who had known Christ, and others who had seen and known our Lord, needed this extraordinary sign to convince them that salvation was no longer of the Jews! Why did the disciples of Jesus speak in different tongues on the day of Pentecost? In order that Jews from all over the world, Jews out of the various nations of the world, might be brought to faith and repentance by the work of the Spirit.
Why did the Samaritans in Acts 8 speak in tongues after Peter and John laid their hands on them? To prove, to the sceptical Jews who had had for centuries ingrained into them that salvation was only of the Jews, that the Samaritans now also shared, with the Jewish converts, in the blessings of Christ which the Spirit pours out upon His church. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews as foreigners to the covenant. Now God proved that the Samaritan would be a part of that church and covenant. How? Who could deny the existence of the Spirit in their hearts if they spoke in tongues as on the day of Pentecost?
The same was true when Peter went to Cornelius and his household and preached to them and they were saved by means of that preaching. Who would believe that the Gentiles could be a part of the church, could be the objects of the Spirit’s work in their hearts? But when the Spirit worked in them, then they too spoke in tongues the sign of the presence of the Spirit. And when the Jews in Jerusalem contended with Peter about this, Peter simply said, in Acts 11:17, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” To this word the Jews then responded in verse 18, “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
This sign no doubt accompanied the preaching of Paul in other places too. It did evidently in Ephesus, where the twelve Ephesians who were first baptized by John the Baptist’s baptism were now clearly shown that they too were incorporated by that baptism into the blood of Christ. How was the church of Ephesus, as well as Paul, assured of this? These men spoke in tongues. Obviously, this same sign was used in the church in Corinth. This is indeed evident in I Corinthians 12-14. When Paul writes to this church, however, it was to admonish them for their abuse of this once good gift. “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not!” Tongues are a sign to prove, to those who did not believe, that the Spirit could be poured out upon the Gentiles, not to those who indeed believe that it is. Paul’s point in I Corinthians 14:22 then is this: why are you, who believe that the Spirit is among you, still using a sign that is meant to prove this to those who do not believe this fact?
In chapter 12 of I Corinthians, Paul places this gift on the bottom of his list, in importance. In chapter 14 Paul places strict limitations on the use of the gift—the women may not use it in the worship service, neither can one use it unless there is another who can interpret what is said. In chapter 13 Paul states literally (this does not come out in the English translations of the Greek) in verse 8: “whether there be tongues, they shall cease of themselves.” Why? What is the logical reason for their end? They were but a sign that God would now gather His church from out of all nations of the world. Once that fact, once that reality, was established, there was no more reason for the sign. It slowly vanished. The church now knows that the Spirit works in the hearts of all believers from every nation and kindred and kingdom of this world. That is why there are no more tongues today. That is why they were needed only during the apostolic period.
What about healings? Jesus tells us that these were a sign too in Mark 16. Of what were they a sign? Well, they clearly did not signify the same thing as did the sign of speaking in tongues. The gift of healing was not a sign used on Pentecost to prove that the Spirit was poured out. Paul does, however, reveal to us of what they were a sign. Notice: II Corinthians 12:12, “Truly,” Paul writes to the Corinthians, “the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” In Acts 4:29, 30 the apostle Peter asks God to confirm the apostles by means of the sign of healings: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak the word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.” Here was a sign that indicated to others apostolic authority and power. Paul used this to prove to those in Corinth who vocally questioned his apostleship that he was an apostle.
It was to the twelve disciples, and a little later to seventy men who followed Him, that Jesus during His earthly ministry gave authority to cast out spirits and heal people of their sicknesses. After Pentecost we no longer read of these seventy men. We read only of the apostles performing the work of healing others. There are only two other men who were not apostles, Stephen and Philip, who were given the authority to heal. We read of no one else receiving this power to heal people. This was given strictly to those men who were appointed by God to the work of establishing the New Testament church. it was given to the apostles only, and then given by them to two others who were instrumental in establishing the church. When these men died, this special authority and power to heal died with them. It did so because it was a sign! There was no more need to prove the authority of these men and their special office in the church since they were now gone. The church was established. Ministers of the gospel were ordained to carry on the work of the ministry. Apostolic authority was no longer needed. The sign was no longer needed.
3. On-going revelation
What about the gift of on-going revelation? It is not difficult to prove the fallacy involved in the claim that men still have this gift today. Some months ago I received in my e-mail the writings of a man who claimed that God had spoken to him by direct revelation. He was then burdened by God, so he explained, to share this all important revelation with others. So, he sent me the first installment with the explanation that the second one would be coming shortly. I could not help but chuckle when I read some of what he wrote. Grammatically his writings were horrific! Strangely enough, he also tried to write in the old English, as if this lent an air of authority to what he wrote. Evidently, God had spoken to him in old English. Besides all of this, what he wrote was nonsense, some of it hardly understandable. I wrote him back and told him I was not interested in the second installment.
Some years ago a Pentecostal radio pastor declared to his audience that God had appeared to him. He said that God had told him that if his followers did not come up with some exorbitant amount of money (the amount escapes me) God was going to take his life. The man soon after was able to raise that money and then some! Do you see where the foolishness of on-going revelation leads us?
Revelation was not a sign of the work of the Spirit in the early church. Revelation, however, was indeed given to a man by the Spirit. The Spirit used revelation in order to establish the objective record of God’s Word. Once that canon of God’s Word was established, revelation ceased. There is no longer any need for it today. We have contained in the Scripture, according to its own testimony (II Tim. 3:15-17; II Pet. 1:19-21), the infallible standard of all truth. We have there all that is necessary to know for salvation. We do not need any on-going revelation of men.
We live in the last days. John tells us that in these days there are going to be false prophets claiming that what they say is the truth. John tell us in I John 4, the first few verses, that we must try these spirits! How do we do that? By judging what they say over against the objective Word of God.
III. An Admonition Concerning the Gifts
There are two warnings that we must heed when considering the error of Pentecostalism. First, it is not enough to know what is not the work of the Spirit. In this booklet we have only exposed the error with respect to the work of the Spirit. As believers we are also obliged to know what the proper work of the Spirit is. Take time out to study that. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ who reveals to us the work of Christ for us on the cross. It is that Spirit that works in our hearts, quietly and powerfully, the blessings of salvation that Christ has merited for us in His death and resurrection. Study these blessings!
One other warning: let our worship and our lives in this world be theocentric, God-centered. Much of the church world has caved in to Pentecostal influence. Perhaps many have not embraced the extremes of this movement, but many have given in to the reasoning behind this movement. The face of worship is changing, the idea of prayer is altered, the need for doctrine is belittled. Feeling has replaced objective truth! We must be careful that these trends not creep into those churches where we are members! May we stand on the Word of God. May God’s name be glorified. May He be the beginning and the end of all our lives and of our worship. To God, who sent His Son to die for sinners, be the glory.
Charles J. Terpstra
The movement known as Pentecostalism continues to be very popular and powerful in this country and, indeed, throughout the world. It is considered to be part of mainstream Christianity and has been accepted as such by most churches and Christians. Pentecostalism has had its critics, but it seems to have weathered the storm of protest that initially came against it. It still has its critics, at least of its extreme forms, but by far the majority of the church world approve and even laud what it represents and has brought to the church.
But we in the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) are not part of that majority. We belong to a minority that is still highly critical of this movement and its fundamental teachings. We find Pentecostalism seriously defective, not just in its practices, but also in its principles; not just in its doings, but also in its doctrines. We posit that it is at odds with the Scriptures and with the historic Christian faith, with Protestantism and the Reformed faith. Hence this series of papers.
Pentecostalism is as varied and diverse as Protestantism and modem Evangelicalism. It has many sub-streams running off its main river. Yet some basic themes and teachings have been established. Some of these have already been dealt with in the preceding papers. In this presentation, we want to examine a few more of these as they relate specifically to Pentecostalism’s view of the Christian life.
Pentecostalism has developed a distinctive view of the Christian life too. That stands to reason. Doctrine and life, principles and practice, always go together. What one teaches by way of Christian doctrine will always produce a certain way of life, a form of practical Christianity. That is certainly true of the Reformed faith. The doctrines of sovereign grace we believe and teach bear the fruit of a distinctive view of the Christian life. So too does Pentecostalism. Because of her emphasis on the Holy Spirit and special gifts and blessings, Pentecostalism in general promotes a Christian life that is marked by spiritual experience—deeper, higher, fuller, richer spiritual life. In a word, Pentecostals crave more through the Holy Spirit. And the life Pentecostals live is marked by the seeking of and the striving for that “more” of the holy Spirit.
There are many areas we could go into in connection with this subject of the Christian life: charismatic worship, prayer, spiritual warfare, guidance, etc. But we will limit ourselves to three areas: First, the idea that there is a special post-salvation blessing called the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which Christians are to seek and strive for. Second, the element of perfectionism, i.e., that Christians should be and can be perfectly holy (sinless) in this life. And third, the Pentecostal concept of what true Christian joy is. We will put these in the form of three questions, which we will then answer in the light of the holy Scriptures, and in the tight of the historic Reformed, Christian faith as summed in the church’s great creeds.
I. Should Christians Seek the Second Baptism?
The first matter to consider is a vitally important one. It lies at the very heart of Pentecostal teaching. It controls and colors their whole view of the Christian life. It is the doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. According to them this is the blessing to be sought, the experience to strive for, the greatest and highest achievement of the Christian man and woman.
What is this great spiritual blessing? It is a special post-conversion gift and experience in which the Holy Spirit is poured out on you in all His fullness, with special power to enable you to have things and do things you cannot have and do otherwise.
Pentecostals teach of course, as we do, that all believers have the Holy Spirit. You cannot be saved without His indwelling and inward work (cf. Rom. 8:9). According to them, all Christians are regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit when they are converted.
But there is something better and greater than this for the believer, a blessing higher and deeper— the baptism of the Holy Spirit! A special outpouring it is, like that which came on the disciples at Pentecost, filling them and empowering them in a special, unique way.
It is then a tremendous spiritual experience, available to all who seek it and strive after it. And according to them, that’s what you must do. As one Pentecostal has put it, “Most Christians have the pilot-light burning; I want to run on all the burners.” The problem is that only some actually attain to and receive this blessing. And according to them, the initial evidence of this baptism is speaking in tongues.
It would be good at this point to quote from some Pentecostal documents on this supposed great “extra” blessing which some believers obtain. Let us hear first from the Assemblies of God Churches, a major Pentecostal denomination. This is taken from their home page (www.ag.org), Point 7 on “The Baptism of the HG”:
All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all in the early church. With it comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry.
Second, we quote from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, as also set forth on their web page:
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience in which the believer yields control of himself to the Holy Spirit. Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5; Eph. 5:18. Through this he comes to know Christ in a more intimate way, John 16:13-15, and receives power to witness and grow spiritually, 2 Cor. 3:18; Acts 1:8. Believers should earnestly seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4,8. The initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance, Acts 2:1-4, 39; 9:17; 1 Cor. 14:18. This experience is distinct from, and subsequent to, the experience of the new birth, Acts 8:12-17; 10:44-46.
The Pentecostal arguments defending this special blessing are interesting and important. They refer first of all to the biblical passages that speak of this baptism, namely, John the Baptist’s words about the work of Christ, Matthew 3:11 (cf. the parallels in Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33): “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”
Then they go to the book of Acts and the promise Jesus gave His disciples just before His ascension. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (1:5). From there, they point to the accounts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the 120 disciples on Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and on various people after Pentecost (8:1 4ff., Peter and John with the Samaritans; 10 & 11, Peter and Cornelius; 19:1 ff, Paul and about twelve Ephesian believers).
In all these cases, Pentecostalism argues, people received the baptism of the Holy Spirit after believing, as a separate, special gift and experience. And in addition it says that all these cases are normative for today. This is still the way the Holy Spirit works. This is what every Christian may receive, i.e., if certain spiritual conditions are met.
In fact, Pentecostals even argue from the life and experience of Jesus Himself! They say that He too received His special baptism after He trusted in God, prayed, and obeyed (cf. Matt. 3:16,17). Besides, they also make appeal to the experience of the believers in Corinth, namely, to the special blessings these Christians received even after they were already converted. And for further proof they refer to Ephesians 5:18, “… Be filled with the Spirit.”
Therefore, because this is its teaching, this is what Pentecostalism tells its followers to seek. They are really taught not to be content with “ordinary” salvation. “Seek this, pray for this, do all you can to obtain this baptism of the Holy Spirit! Get to the next level of blessing and experience! If you truly want to have it all, go after this!”
Now this teaching concerning what is to be expected in the Christian life has gained wide acceptance in Protestantism, even in the Reformed camp. Most of the mainline churches endorse and allow this view: Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist; even the Roman Catholic Church. And some Reformed denominations have shown great sympathy for this position.
The family of the Rev. Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not do the Reformed faith any favour either when they published his defence of this doctrine in Joy Unspeakable (Shaw, 1984). That has proved to be very influential in many Evangelical and Reformed circles.
What must we say about this doctrine by way of evaluation? Should Christians be seeking this second blessing, this baptism with the Holy Spirit? Is there something more for us? We say a resounding no! This is emphatically not something to be sought, because it is not a blessing God has promised His people! This Pentecostal teaching is a deception of the most serious sort! It has confused, misled, and shaken the faith of many. It is to be condemned and rejected, categorically!
Why? First of all, because the Bible simply does not support this position. What John the Baptist promised in connection with the work of Christ was promised to each and every believer, not to a select few. When the elect are saved, they are all baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. That is their one and only baptism with the Holy Spirit. At that moment they are purified and empowered to lead sanctified lives and to serve God for whatever He calls them to do and wherever He places them. At the moment of conversion, believers are filled with the Spirit, fully equipped with all they need for living the Christian life of holiness. They are in need of no second blessing; no further, greater, better salvation; no other baptism to seek for. They are complete in Christ, Colossians 2:10; they are given “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3).
To be sure, they must “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), but that’s not to obtain something they do not have. That is to live in accordance with what they already have received through the Spirit of Christ. This is similar to every other admonition the believer receives. The imperatives of Scripture are always based on the indicatives. That is, we are admonished to do something based on what the gospel says we have been given in Christ. So we are called to be holy, because we are holy in Christ (cf. I Pet. 1:2 with vv. 15, 16). So we are called to walk in the Spirit, because we already live in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
But what about those instances in Acts? We must understand these in connection with the once for all event of Pentecost. Pentecost was the fulfilment of John’s promise concerning Christ, and of Christ’s own promise in Acts 1:5 (as well as in John 14-16). On Pentecost Christ baptized His church with the Holy Spirit. Through His other Comforter He filled her with all the blessings of salvation He had purchased for her. And that Holy Spirit and those blessings came on all; not on some only.
Let it be remembered, that that great baptism of Pentecost can never be repeated, any more than Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension can be. The things that happened to those special groups of people following Pentecost were simply further manifestations or applications of that once-for-all event. These were indeed special events, because it needed to be demonstrated outwardly and visibly that the Spirit had indeed come. And it needed to be shown that others besides the Jews were now to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the blessings of salvation (hence, the coming of the Spirit on the Samaritans, Cornelius, the Ephesians, etc.).
Therefore today, whenever a person is saved, the Spirit of Pentecost comes to dwell in him and fill him with all the blessings of salvation and service that are in Christ. Such a wonder of grace is not a repetition of Pentecost, but an application of it! And again we emphasize that this blessing is for all of God’s people. This is what the Scripture declares with unmistakable clarity in I Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Hence also Ephesians 4:5 speaks of the church receiving “one baptism.” This is all the experience and blessing they need!
Interestingly, the Christian Reformed Church at one time took this strong position too. In a 1973 Synodical Statement she declared,
Synod affirms and testifies that according to the Scriptures a believer receives the baptism in or with the Holy Spirit at the time of his regeneration-conversion, as the apostle Paul declares …, I Cor. 12:13, so that in Christ we all ‘have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Eph. 2:18) and ‘are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit’ (Eph. 2:22).
… Synod rejects, therefore, the teaching that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second blessing distinct from and usually received after conversion, and declares that this doctrine is not to be taught or propagated in the Christian Reformed Church.
In this connection, there are other points of argument we might raise against the Pentecostal teaching. For example, if this is just an important teaching, why is it not found throughout the epistles, which set forth all the fundamental doctrines of the church? Why are there no plain explanations of this second blessing and no clear admonitions to seek for it? The obvious reason is that this doctrine was not revealed to the apostles. It simply is not the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore our confessions say nothing of this either. Read the ecumenical creeds of the early church, and you will not find this doctrine. Read the great Reformed and Presbyterian creeds of the age of the Reformation, and you will find nothing of this teaching. It simply is not the historic teaching of the church.
Further, from a practical standpoint, consider what this two-level or two-tiered view of the Christian life results in! People searching and seeking for something that is not there! A chasing after the wind! Vanity of vanities! Such teaching also creates pride, envy, and competition among the saints. And it leads in many cases to false manifestations of the Spirit, as people pretend to get what they think is promised them.
What a different picture the Scriptures give to us of believers and the church! All baptized with the Holy Spirit of Christ, all equally blessed, all sharing in Christ’s great salvation, living together in love and humility and holiness to the glory of God. That’s the practical fruit of the truth concerning the baptism of the Spirit.
II. Can the Christian Be Perfectly Holy?
The next Pentecostal teaching we wish to examine is that of perfectionism. At first glance, this may not seem to be all that significant. And it must be admitted that perfectionism is certainly not stressed very much in modern Pentecostalism. It is not a foreground matter for them, and therefore we might be tempted to say that it should not be a foreground issue for us. This teaching has become buried under the rug of the baptism of the Spirit and the seeking with tongues and other special gifts.
But the fact is that perfectionism remains part of Pentecostal teaching, and it does surface in Pentecostal writings to this day. The writer also remembers a personal incident of this teaching in a former church member who became Pentecostal and within a short time claimed to go through periods of sinlessness.
This issue is important because it also touches on the heart of the Christian life, what we call sanctification or the life of holiness.
When we deal with this teaching in Pentecostalism, we must go back to its historical roots, because the doctrine of perfectionism was imbedded in Pentecostalism from the very beginning. Any historical study of Pentecostalism brings this out. Vinson Synan in his book, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) traces this quite clearly and extensively. He sees John Wesley, the eighteenth century Anglican minister and founder of Methodism, as “the spiritual and intellectual father of the modern holiness and Pentecostal movements” (p.1). This is significant because Wesley taught the doctrine of Christian perfectionism. As Synan sums his view, perfectionism was the second blessing or experience of the believer. The first was conversion, and the second was sanctification. The first blessing took care of one’s actual sins but still left him with “inbred sin.” The second blessing purified the believer of this indwelling sin and enabled him to have perfect love for God and the neighbour (p.6).
Synan points out what Wesley meant by this: not total sinlessness, but nevertheless “perfection of motives & desires.” “… The sanctified soul, through careful self-examination, godly discipline, and methodical devotion and avoidance of worldly pleasures, could live a life of victory over sin.” And this blessing could be achieved “instantly” by a second work of grace, or by “gradual growth in grace” (p. 7). This was known as “entire sanctification.”
This perfectionist doctrine of Wesley has been one major influence on Pentecostal teaching and practice. But it is not the only one with respect to this doctrine. Synan goes on to point out that this same teaching of perfectionism was brought into Pentecostalism by the American evangelist Charles Finney in the eighteenth century. According to Finney, “After a true experience of conversion a person could achieve the coveted state of Christian perfection or sanctification simply by exercising free will and cultivating ‘right intentions.’ Sin and holiness … could not exist in the same person” (p. 15). Interestingly, Finney is also the first one to tie this special blessing of perfectionism to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, Synan traces the Pentecostal roots of perfectionism to the Keswick movement, another eighteenth century holiness movement that stressed the believer’s ability to attain to full sanctification of life, to consistent and continued victory over sin.
This then is what has found its way into the Pentecostal teaching concerning the Christian life. And this stream of perfectionism is still found. For example, we find this in the Assemblies of God statement of faith: “Sanctification is realized in the believer by recognizing his identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, and by faith reckoning daily upon the fact of that union, and my offering every faculty continually to the dominion of the Holy Spirit (emphasis mine, CJT). This last clause at least implies that the believer is able to attain to this at times in his life here and now.
We find this perfectionist statement from the United Pentecostal Church International: “After we are saved from sin, we are commanded, ‘Go, and sin no more’ (John 8:11) … We must present ourselves as holy unto God (Rom. 12:1), cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (II Cor. 7:1), and separate ourselves from all worldliness (James 4:4) … No one can live a holy life by his own power, but only through the Holy Spirit. Ye shall receive power, after the HG is come upon you (Acts 1:8).” Again, it is at least implied, if not explicitly expressed here, that the Christian is able to live sinlessly in this life.
Out of this teaching, then, comes the practical pursuit of the people. For this perfectionism becomes something they must seek and strive for. Pentecostalism says to them, “Aim for this special blessing too. Seek perfection, for it too is within your reach! With special power from the Holy Spirit you can also attain to this level of spirituality! Surrender to the Spirit completely and be without sin; yield to His power and you can be perfect!”
Of course, those who held to this doctrine always claimed that they had biblical support. They argued from the examples of Noah and Job and Hezekiah, whom the Scriptures describe as “perfect” men. They reasoned from the commands of Scripture to be perfect (Matt. 5:48; II Cor. 7:1). And they claimed that the perfect work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit demanded it.
What must be said about this teaching on sanctification? This doctrine too we must reject as being unbiblical as well as contrary to the historic position of the church as expressed in her creeds. The perfectionism of Pentecostalism is nowhere taught in the Word of God.
It is true that there is a sense in which the believers are already perfectly holy. Because of the work of Christ and by virtue of their position in Him, the elect are indeed already made perfect. They may be said to have the full victory over sin in Jesus Christ. But they are not personally and practically perfect in holiness. The holiness we are given and are able to practice through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is always placed alongside of the sin that remains in us until we die. This remaining sin is what the Bible calls the “flesh” and the “old man of sin,” and it is with every believer to the end of his life.
For this reason our life of sanctification is always described as a great struggle, conflict, and battle (cf. Gal. 5:16,17; Rom. 7:14ff.; Eph. 4:22-24; I John 1:8-10; the Heid. Cat., LD 44, Q&A 113-115). And this is the real spiritual experience of God’s people as long as they live. Not perfection, but imperfection. Always fighting, fleeing, falling back, and then going forward. O, they long to be perfect! They strive to be! But they never can or will be here. Only when they die, and their sinful nature dies with them, will they be perfect. Only when they arrive in the perfection of the life to come.
It is also true that we find commands to be perfect in Scripture and examples of saints who were said to be perfect. But this must be properly understood. Of course God is going to set perfection before His people and call them to it—for the reason that He is perfectly holy and cannot lower His standard of holiness because of our imperfection. We are His children, recreated in His image through the Holy Spirit; we ought to be like Him. Therefore He calls us to this: “Be ye holy as I am holy.”
As far as the saints being described as perfect is concerned, the word itself does not point to sinlessness, but to their being complete, whole, sound; people who were true, sincere, and full of integrity. In addition, the word points to the maturity of their faith, something we must all seek to develop. Yet, let us not forget that at the same time the Bible records the sins of these saints, showing us that they were not perfectly holy. As our catechism puts it, “even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience” (Q&A 114).
III. What Is the Nature of Christian Joy?
The third and final matter to be dealt with in connection with Pentecostalism’s view of the Christian life is that of the nature of true Christian joy.
Most are aware that much is made of this fruit of the Spirit by Pentecostals. It is not too much to say that they elevate this virtue to the primary spot. For Pentecostals, as for Reformed Christians, joy is a deep gladness in the Lord because of salvation. There is joy in the assurance of what the Lord is to us and has done for us.
But, typical of Pentecostalism, the emphasis falls on joy being yet another spiritual experience and emotional state you reach in the Holy Spirit by working yourself up into it; another higher, special state you attain, not a normal everyday condition. And therefore the emphasis falls on the outward manifestations of joy. This is evident from the way Pentecostals act in their assemblies as well as in every day life.
For example, in worship Pentecostals display carefree exuberance, clapping, shouting, singing, etc., all supposed evidence of their joy in the Lord and their life in the Spirit. Some of them even have such joy that they exhibit “holy laughter” (the Toronto blessing)! But they also try to demonstrate this joy in their everyday lives. Pentecostals tend to be always smiley, apparently carefree, as they speak their “Praise the Lord’s” and “Hallelujah’s.”
Pentecostalism also applies this concept of joy to other areas involving the Christian life, for example, suffering. Many (not all) Pentecostals teach that God does not want His people to suffer, especially physical ailments. According to them, suffering does not come from the Lord but from the devil. Therefore believers do not have to be content and joyful in afflictions. Rather must they fight suffering and find joy in seeking to be delivered through some miracle of healing!
Prosperity is another area where this teaching is applied. Many Pentecostals argue that if you want to find real happiness, seek material blessings, because God wants you to have them and they are available for you. You can claim them in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Such is the health and wealth gospel promoted by many Pentecostal TV preachers, most notably Paul Crouch and his TBN network.
But with this Pentecostal teaching we must also take issue. We reject their concept of joy and its application to the Christian life. It is our contention that this is not true Christian joy, not the real fruit of the Spirit.
According to Scripture, the Christian’s joy is not in external things. It is not based on our outward circumstances. Nor is it a mere emotion and experience. Neither is it a special ‘high’ attained only by some believers. Rather, true Christian joy is first of all an objective state the believer is in because of the grace of God to him in Jesus Christ. And then secondly, this joy is a condition of his heart because it is given to him and worked in him by the Holy Spirit. And therefore, thirdly, this joy is also the Christian’s personal, spiritual, and, yes, emotional experience. It is so for all Christians. Galatians 5:22 shows this is a fruit (blessing) given to every believer. Every Christian has joy in the Lord because of his saved position in Christ.
This true joy then is the Christian’s state of being glad in the Lord because of salvation, because he is a forgiven sinner, a justified sinner before the face of God, an adopted child of the heavenly Father! It is the joy of the personal assurance of salvation. It is gladness in the comfort and peace of the sovereignty of God at work in all his life and walk, such that all is well with his soul because Father’s hand is always working all things together for his good.
Such joy is present and real no matter what one’s outward circumstances may be, whether he is healthy or sick, whether rich or poor. Just call to mind Paul’s beautiful expression of the believer’s joy in his epistle to the Philippians. As he sits in prison, withheld from the regular work of his ministry, he is not sad and gloomy. No, he is rejoicing because of what he has personally in the Lord and because the Lord’s work goes on through others! And he keeps instructing these believers to be joyful too, for the same reasons!
Because this is the nature of Christian joy, we must also criticize the Pentecostal practice of joy. True joy is certainly expressed in outward actions and words. But not by the out-of-control, wild, chaotic behaviour displayed by many Pentecostals. Nor is its true expression found in artificial smiles and superficial phrases. We must remember that joy is in harmony with all the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, including temperance (self-control). True Christian joy is expressed in the believer’s normal, sanctified activities as he lives and moves in the various spheres of his walk. He rejoices in his worship, in his singing to the Lord, in his prayers to Him, in his fellowship with Him day by day. The Christian rejoices in his daily work and service to the Lord. He is glad in his marriage and home life. And he shows this gladness in his godly attitudes, sanctified emotions, and holy speech.
In the midst of his great joy in the Lord, the Christian also experiences real sorrows. Joy and sorrow are often mixed together in this life. That’s reality too. And therefore he looks forward to the day of perfect joy when all sin and suffering and sorrow is past, when every tear is wiped from his eye.
In this series of articles, we have tried the Pentecostal movement in its basic roots and tenets. We have considered its history and origin; its emphasis on the special gifts of the Holy Spirit; and now its view of the Christian life. And in every case, having been weighed in the Bible’s balances, it has been found wanting. It fails the test of what constitutes orthodox Christianity.
Therefore our conclusion has to be that this movement is not a great blessing for the church, but a dangerous heresy. This we say not lightly or hastily, but carefully and humbly. For we know that there are many professing Christians deceived by and ensnared in this movement.
Yet we also state this boldly—so that we warn Reformed church members, including our own, to be aware of and flee from these serious errors. And so that we call those caught up in the movement to examine it biblically and confessionally, and to return to the historic faith of Protestant Christianity. May God be pleased to shed the light of His truth on all our hearts and paths.