Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Strange Fire: Sorting Out the Issues, Part 3: The Source of the Charismatic "GIfts"

Having said that I think it's important to characterize the Charismatics' beliefs in their own terms, as the Holy Spirit's speaking through the human spirit, if the Strange Fire Conference is right that is not at all what is going on.  However, I'm still not sure it's right to characterize the actuality as promoting extrabiblical revelations, seeking subjective impressions and ecstatic experiences as John MacArthur put it. 

I think this glosses over the fact that these things are usually experienced as just happening to the person without being asked for, and because that is the way they occur and because the recipient believes he or she is a saved Christian the question of their source just doesn't come up.  Or if it does it is immediately squelched by the constant refrain that it is dangerous to doubt the Holy Spirit.  That this attitude amounts to a mental bondage as tyrannical as that of any cult or dictatorship also doesn't occur.

In any case, if you insist on characterizing these phenomena in terms of subjective mental states you are going to miss the whole point, and miss an opportunity to make Charismatics aware of the problem you want to get across to them.


I'm glad to see the Pentecostal pastor I quoted in the previous post agreeing with John MacArthur about the Prosperity Gospel, and that's a big start, but he remains a Continuationist nevertheless, in opposition to MacArthur, while the Strange Fire Conference ultimately aims at the root of the whole thing, at the very idea that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit continue today.

And that gets us into the fundamental Pentecostal and Charismatic claims of miraculous healings from God, of genuine visions from God, of genuine prophecies from God, of a genuine gift of tongues from God. of a Baptism in the Holy Spirit that is separate from being born again, and so on. 

[Just heard on Pilgrim Radio an interview with Phil Johnson of the Conference, and tomorrow at the same time there will be an interview with Michael Brown for the Charismatic side, on the program His People. The program airs in Pacific Standard Time at 2:30 AM, 12:30 PM and 9:30 PM and can be heard online.]


On the radio show I just mentioned, Phil Johnson just described the phenomena claimed by Charismatics to be from the Holy Spirit to be in fact "learned behavior," and I've got to disagree with that quite sharply. 

I don't know if possibly some of it is, but I can guarantee you I never "learned" to "speak in tongues," it just happened to me one day while I was praying out loud during the few years I was in a charismatic church and a charismatic organization as well.  A whole stream of unfamiliar sounds came out of my mouth absolutely unbidden.  I don't remember what I was praying about but I wasn't even thinking about the gift of tongues, let alone asking for it, though I think I had asked for it from time to time before that.  At first I was elated -- Wow, it's true and I got the gift.  It turned out to be easy to just walk around letting my mouth produce those foreign sounds.  There was a definite pattern to them with repeating "words."  Sometimes they seemed to come out with an unidentifiable foreign accent too, even more oddly many different accents.  I even sang them.  It began to hit me as very odd that the tunes I was singing them to were nursery rhymes like Hickory Dickory Dock and Three Blind Mice and the tune Reuben Reuben.  This did bother me, I didn't know what to make of it, but I wasn't producing those sounds myself in any sense, they were being automatically produced as I simply opened my mouth and allowed them to come out.   I couldn't have imitated them consciously if I'd tried, though by now I can imitate many of them.  Years later I read that at least one other person quit the charismatic movement when he found his own "gift of tongues" coming out to the tune of a nursery rhyme.   Smart man.  I dragged on with mine for a few more years, very ambivalent about it but unable to get rid of it; and occasionally I discover it's still there though I try to suppress it.

So to MacArthur and Johnson and Company I have to say No No No, you are not going to get anywhere characterizing these productions of the mind and mouth that Charismatics experience as mere learned behavior or intuitions of any ordinary sort.   I'm not going to say there aren't any frauds but I know for a fact that these things can be produced apart from any normal mental process.   Michael Brown said on one of his shows that he "prays in tongues."  Well, from my experience it's quite possible to carry on for a long time producing these alien sounds and I suppose someone, taking his cue from a misread Bible verse or two, could assume they are "prayer."  My supposition is that they are about as far from prayer or worship as you can get, but the automatic nature of them may be enough to persuade a Charismatic believer otherwise. 

And if Cessationists don't recognize this they aren't going to persuade any Charismatics.

For this sort of phenomenon those are really the only two options.  Eventually I want to do a more thorough discussion of "soul power,"  which comes from a Continuationist corner of the Church although today's Charismatics haven't given it any thought that I know of.  The Strange Fire people are not likely to accept much of it either, although in many ways it supports their criticisms of the Charismatic movement.  

The idea is that there are "miraculous" powers that were given to Adam but lost at the fall, or at least "buried in the flesh" as Watchman Nee puts it, that can be revived under certain circumstances (such as repetitive singing of choruses).  He thinks they are probably discovered by people through promptings by the evil spirits.  They include such "parapsychological" or "paranormal" phenomena as psychic powers, clairvoyance, telepathy, telekinesis and that sort of thing.  Psychic powers can imitate prophecy.  Nee says healings of a certain sort are even possible through these powers, a sort of mind-over-matter thing such as Christian Science preaches and some Hindus and others practice.

This kind of thing would explain the kind of phenomena that are being exercised in the Charismatic movement, the "prophecies" and the "healings" and probably also the tongues speaking.  Some at Strange Fire did mention "psychic" phenomena as a possible explanation.  Nee also discussed the so-called "holy laughter" that was a major element in the supposed "revival" called the Toronto Blessing, that he'd witnessed in China before 1933 when he wrote the book describing these things.  How this automatic laughter relates to soul power isn't clear but Nee recognized it as a counterfeit phenomenon that did not come from God.   Nee, and Jessie Penn Lewis whose work he built on, accepted the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit but he also recognized a very large number of counterfeits of those gifts that were being expressed at the same time, something we don't hear recognized by today's charismatics who seem uncritically to accept anything that calls itself prophetic or miraculous. 

In his interview about his critics, John MacArthur goes on to such subjects as visions and tongues, which also need to be discussed as something other than ordinary human phenomena. That will be the next post.

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