I tend to steer clear of this area having spent a considerable amount of time studying it when I first came to faith and making a decision that ‘Cessationism’ was the most convincing position. I am not going to use this platform to argue or try to persuade others that this is what the Bible teaches. For those who don’t know, Cessationism is the belief that the sign gifts (tongues, prophecy, healing, casting out demons) ceased after the period of the Apostles and that individuals are no longer given these gifts. God may still answer prayer in relation to the latter two (healing/casting out demons) and perform miracles of healing/allow a person to be freed from demons but specific individuals no longer have these gifts to exercise.
I have decided to address this today because I believe that it has become one of the most controversial areas in church life and practice and has sadly resulted in serious confusion, discouragement and disillusionment for many professing Christians. Regardless of whether or not we believe the gifts have ceased, we are required to submit everything that takes place to the authority of Scripture. The Holy Spirit always points us to Jesus. The Bible is God’s Word to us and is reliable for every spiritual dilemma that we face. It follows that any experience that occurs outside the bounds of Scripture, or in some cases being totally against what God has said in His Word, cannot be from God. God does not and will not contradict Himself and He had given us His Word as a complete revelation. The conclusion must be then, that when these things happen outside His Word, as I know they do, they are either something that we have manufactured ourselves, maybe with prompting from our teachers/leaders, or something sent by the enemy to cause confusion in the church. And this it has done. God is a God of order not of chaos.
I recently read ‘The Charismatic Illusion’ It is a revised and expanded edition of ‘The Charismatic Phenomenon’ which has been around for several years. I was reminded of many good points that some Christians seem to have disregarded or forgotten with the passage of time. I am going to highlight a few of these here in the hope that it will help you as you seek to ‘discern the Spirits’ to see if they are from God. I was prompted to do this after having a discussion with a poor lady this week who had been told by her church leader that it was her fault that her son was ill and that he wasn’t healed due to a lack of faith on her part. She had been told that God always heals and that this is His desire. She then watched a drunk girl stand on the stage in her church whilst speaking in tongues, this girl then apparently became sober under ‘the power of the Holy Spirit,’ The lady was totally discouraged as she felt the experience may have been ‘fake’ but she wasn’t sure and then she felt that she was lacking the joy and excitement that others seemed to be feeling as a result of their ‘personal experiences with God’. She was thinking of walking away from her faith. Sadly, this is all too common.
Tongues were originally given to show that the church was authentic (God’s miraculous power) and to allow the spread of the Gospel (so that everyone could hear it in their language.) In the modern church it seems that mostly people are seeking this gift for personal fulfilment or spiritual one-up-man-ship. The purpose of any of God’s gifts is to edify and build up his church, they are not granted for selfish use. Tongues in Scripture were recognised foreign languages and there was a clear purpose for them. They were not taught or learned, they were given instantly and used immediately. Now, people are taught tongues by church leaders and through various courses in order to enhance their spiritual experiences. The tongues that are learned are not generally recognisable as foreign languages and there seems to be no discernible message for the church. They are often exercised without an interpretation which means that no one is edified as no one understands what has been said. It is widely accepted that anyone can learn to speak in ‘tongues’ and that this practice forms part of many pagan rituals, other religion’s worship and cult activity. As for speaking in tongues privately in prayer, this is, in my view, a strange practice. We are taught not to empty our minds and to worship in Spirit but also in truth. If we don’t understand what we are saying to God and only He understands, having granted the gift in the first place, then what is the point? It takes discipline to pray consistently and regularly and there are no shortcuts.
Prophecy was originally used for a similar purpose to tongues. It was used before the Bible was complete to demonstrate that God was in control and that He knew what would come to pass. We can see evidence of this due to many of the Old Testament prophecies having already been fulfilled in the New Testament. It was meant to encourage us and teach us to trust in God. It was widely known even in those days that if a Prophet’s word didn’t come to pass then he was a false Prophet and should be disregarded. The majority of contemporary ‘prophets’ have made at least one prophecy that didn’t come to pass yet they are still allowed to bring messages to our congregations. If God has granted the gift of prophecy to an individual do you think that He would really allow ANY of their prophecies to fail to come true? Surely this would then cast doubt on Him if He is truly speaking through this Prophet. Modern day prophecies sometimes tell people to do things that are not in Scripture or even to follow the ‘Holy Spirit’s’ leading away from Scripture. But these are clearly wrong. Why should we trust anyone who claims additional revelation that causes us to doubt the reliability of the Word of God? Prophecy is sometimes used to encourage someone or to affirm a Biblical message or a course of action. If this is found in Scripture and Godly counsel has already been received, then maybe it can be considered along with the other factors. But there are people making life changing decisions based on the ‘prophetic word’ of a person acting outside the bounds of Scripture. If Christians don’t have the Bible as their firm foundation they can end up absolutely anywhere….
Healing is probably the area that is causing the most suffering both in terms of physical pain from the illness and emotional pain due to charismatic teaching. In the Bible healings were always total, complete and irreversible. They were not of aches and pains or things that come and go. We see sight being restored, lame people walking, people being cured of leprosy and even some being raised from the dead. If there are modern gifted faith healers, why do they not spend all of their time in the world’s hospitals? Often these people themselves have illnesses which they cannot cure. What a terrible thing to tell an immature believer that they remain sick due to a lack of faith or that it is their fault that they are sick in the first place. Occasionally God may use illness to discipline someone but there needs to be clear evidence that this is what is happening before making pronouncements along these lines. It is cruel to suggest that someone’s level of faith can heal them of serious illness or disability. It is clear in Scripture that miraculous healings had already begun to die out later in the New Testament; Paul had a thorn in his flesh, Timothy had to take wine for his stomach and others were sick and not healed. Why not if God wants everyone to be healed? Surely Paul should’ve been able to heal those around him if not himself? Did Paul have a lack of faith? No, God clearly told him that He would not take away his thorn because it was used to keep Paul weak in order for God to be glorified. God uses sickness to draw us closer to Him and to teach us to trust in Him completely and totally. He doesn’t promise healing. We can and should pray for it but we need to learn to accept His will if we remain ill as there is always a purpose for our suffering.
Demon possession is not something we commonly see in the West but it is prevalent in other parts of the World. A true Christian cannot be possessed by a demon. I am always amazed by the number of people who think this would be possible but if Jesus is living in a heart by the power of the Holy Spirit then there is definitely no room for a demon there. People cannot be possessed by a demon accidentally, a door must’ve been opened. A door to the occult/satanic activity; maybe through tarot cards or Ouija boards or idol worship or even the use of some drugs/substances. Christians don’t need to be afraid that they will inadvertently be possessed. Even those who have dabbled in dangerous areas can pray for God’s help and protection and ask a Christian leader to pray for them. If there is real evidence of demon possession, then experienced church leaders should be called to pray for the person asking God to free them. It is not something that someone needs to be gifted to do, but I wouldn’t recommend dealing with it alone or as an immature believer, even the disciples were unable to deal with demons on one occasion (Mark 9.) This is a serious subject and shouldn’t be taken lightly, yet now we see people casting demons out of everything and delivering people from all kinds of imaginary bondages. Where does this even come from? It’s definitely not in Scripture, when people had demons it was obvious by their speech and behaviour.
To conclude, God is able to do anything and He does answer prayer. Believing that the sign gifts have ceased does not mean that God’s power is limited or that Christians who hold this position don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. It is a belief based on an interpretation of Scripture and how God chooses to work through individuals in our day. Regardless of our specific stance on this we should check everything that happens against the Bible and not allow our experiences to determine our viewpoint. A church leader once said to me that he was dubious about the gifts until one of his relatives was healed when she touched the television during a faith healing show. But surely this is the wrong way round. Our experiences should be submitted to Scripture; we shouldn’t try to fit Scripture around our experiences or take individual verses out of context in order to justify them. We also need to remember that the enemy can counterfeit these things and appears as an angel of light in order to deceive people. He prowls around like a roaring lion.
A diet of exciting charismatic experience can leave people feeling empty when they come down to earth. They are seeking fresh ‘words from the Lord’ or ‘words of knowledge’ rather than being satisfied with a daily personal devotion time which takes discipline to maintain. We are taught to walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5 vs 7.) Charismatic practice can also leave people feeling lost and alone if they don’t have the same type of experiences as their friends or people in their church. This type of competitive self-seeking is not what God wants to see and it is not loving. The main teaching on the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 has at its core the famous passage about love in 1 Corinthians 13. It reminds us that if we have/seek gifts but don’t have love we are like a clanging gong or resounding cymbal. My former Pastor made this point by entitling a sermon “The best teaching on spiritual gifts ever” thus drawing the crowds, but then preaching the whole sermon on 1 Corinthians 13.
Let’s remember this as we seek to discern the spirits and to live sincere lives for God. Let’s come back down to earth and focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection and the Good News of forgiveness of sins through Him and eternal life with God. Let’s take the focus off ourselves and channel our zealous energies into obedience to God and into fulfilling the Great Commission by telling others about Jesus so that they too might be saved!
John 14 vs 15
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments”
Matthew 7 vs 21-23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
1 Corinthians 1 vs 21-23
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[a] to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,”
2 Corinthians 11 vs 12-15
“And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”