Monday, May 30, 2016


In Untamed Christian, Unleashed Church, Terry Wardle, professor of spiritual formation at Ashland Theological Seminary, confessed “I am bored in church.” Although many of us feel the same way, he tries to justify his boredom by pointing to the deficiencies in the church. He is bored because most churches do not manifest the dynamic and miraculous presence of the Spirit:

·         We must have his Presence. We are little more than a tame imitation without his [miraculous] Presence…We will only be a force in the world when we are once again clearly, and dangerously [because the Spirit is supernaturally manifesting through us], the People of the Presence. The people…experience and manifest the power of the living God…I am desperate because I have tasted…and the power of the experience is beyond words. (17)

What should this look like? Wardle writes that “the supernatural should be natural for all Christians (24)”:

·         Not always proper, sometimes messy…Dangerous is what the church should be…the church should be un-tame to the core. (25-26)

Wardle believes that signs and wonders should be the standard diet for the Church, even if messy at times. And he is not alone. Bethel Church, Redding California, is devoted to a “signs and wonders” revival, which they claim that they are experiencing. One young woman, who had previously been a student at Wheaton College, claimed that her experience of the Lord had previously been very limited:

·         “I even felt from a young age that there was something more to God. I mean, Jesus went around and healed people. What is salvation actually about? Why am I only pursuing one shade of salvation?” (Christianity Today, May 2016, 34)

She now claims that she has a more direct experience of God at Bethel. However, is the miraculous the unmistakable sign that the Spirit is at work? Not always! Jesus had warned that we would be confronted with deceiving wonders:

·         Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:23-24; ESV)

Jesus was referring to the end-times. Paul also warned that these miraculous deceptions:

·         The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)

However, we’d be wrong to suppose that these signs and wonders would only be performed during the Tribulation. Even the Israelites had been warned about this danger:

·         “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

Here is a case of a false prophet performing a miracle to lead Israel astray. However, if his teachings did not coincide with God’s commandments and teachings, then Israel was not to follow. Instead, this was God’s method of “testing” Israel’s love for God. If Israel truly loved God, they would obey Him and not the worker of miracles.

Bethel congregants report many miracles, but what does Bethel teach? Martyn Wendell Jones reports that they tend to mix the occult with Christian teachings:

·         Bethel leaders have been said to practice “grave sucking” or “grave soaking,” purportedly a means of absorbing the spiritual anointing of deceased Christians by lying atop the graves. Accusations of mixing New Age practices with Christianity are also common.

Nowhere in the Bible is such a practice commanded. Well, perhaps the Bible doesn’t reveal to us everything we need for a relationship with God? Instead, going beyond the Bible is prohibited in these matters. Paul had warned “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Similarly, Isaiah had warned:

·         And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. (Isaiah 8:19-20)

Does Bethel go beyond Scripture? According to Jones, they do. Repentance is essential to revival and a healthy relationship with our Lord. However, one observer commented:

·         “There is never a call for repentance or faith in Christ [at Bethel] – never. It is all about experience and signs and wonders.”

Instead, as two of their leaders have gladly confessed, Bethel is committed to spiritual experimentation to learn what will best produce signs and wonders:

·         “ I do not know how to learn except to experiment.” (36)

Evidently, this leader pays little heed to Scripture:

·         All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for EVERY good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

It is Scripture that enables “the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,” not experimentation. Nowhere does Scripture advocate experimentation as a means of learning the ways of God. In contrast, another Bethel leader admitted:

·         “We celebrate creativity, revelation, invention, and innovation above comfort, safety, and security.” (36)

While there is certainly a place for “invention and innovation,” these are not scripturally encouraged to improve our relationship with God. Instead, the Bible is clear that our Lord requires faith, repentance, confession, and obedience to His Word and not our own innovations.

Interestingly, Wardle admits that there is a downside to these “revivals”:

  • I have experienced Christians moving in gifts in the absence of love. It can be a real mess. Spiritual pride, showing off, self-righteousness, a critical spirit – it all shows up, and when it does, it’s nasty…In the end, far more people are hurt than helped. (142)

  • What starts out as a fresh move of the Spirit ends in a confusing and unproductive free-for-all of unbiblical spiritual excess…There has also been more than a little immaturity evident in these movements, which has not always ended well for the people or congregations involved…Not all people or congregations who have “caught the fire” [of the Spirit] have survived the experience. Individual believers, and in some cases local churches…experience division and in some cases destruction. (152-53)

Perhaps these weren’t revivals at all but demonic counterfeits. Instead, when we walk in the Spirit, we should manifest the fruits of the Spirit:

·         But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

They also abide in the Word of God:

·         “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples… Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (John 15:7-10)

And what about the supernatural manifestations of the Spirit? Shouldn’t they accompany us? Not necessarily:

·         For we walk by faith, not by sight [of miracles]. (2 Cor. 5:7)

·         Now faith [not miracles] is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

In contrast to Bethel, we should not demand or expect miracles:

·         Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen [the miracle of the resurrection] and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

·         But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign.  (Matthew 12:39; Luke 16)

I certainly don’t want to miss out on any of God’s miraculous blessings, and so I pray in the manner of my Lord: “Not my will but thy will be done.” I don’t want my will anymore. I just want what He has for me. That might be the safe way, but the Holy Spirit promises to compensate for my failures to pray correctly:

  • The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8:26-27)

I’m therefore confident that I’m not missing out! He promises as much!

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