October 31 is almost upon us. It is the date upon which we celebrate the great Protestant Reformation within Europe many years ago, which shed light on the heresies within the Roman Catholic Church. On this same date our nation celebrates its own beloved candy-filled “holiday” recognized as Halloween. It is a day of costumes and spookiness, and along with ghosts, goblins, spiders, and the rest, it is a day very strongly associated with spirits. It is interesting to note then, the people of the Reformation, whom we remember on the very same day as this pagan holiday, had their own “spirit” issue. Theirs, however, was of an entirely different form. The Protestants faced teachings concerning the workings of the Holy Spirit within believers, teachings that are still prevalent yet today.
The teachings that arose back then in Europe are what we might label today as charismaticism or Pentacostalism. More important than knowing their “label,” is knowing what they teach and why, that we may know our own stance on the matter and have an understanding with which we may be able to respond properly and defend what we find to be true in Scripture.
With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes.
Charismatics, or those who believe in the modern day “gifts of the Spirit”, believe that the gifts that the church was given at Pentecost exist still today. This is explained and discussed both in Prof Engelsma’s pamphlet on “Pentecostalism: Spirit-Filled Blessing… Or Dangerous Heresy?” and in Rev. Angus Stewart’s debate with Rev. David Antwi on charismaticism (which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYl0KZuiwxI).
These “gifts of the Spirit” consist of those gifts given to the early church after the time of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They include healings and the working of miracles, the ability to prophesy, the power to cast out devils, and the speaking in or interpretation of tongues. They are spoken of in passages such as Mark 16 and 1 Corinthians 12.
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.
So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
Mark 16: 17-20
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11
1 Corinthians 14 alludes to such gifts as well, reading “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries (Vs 1,2).” Verse 5 continues, “I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”
It cannot be denied that such gifts were given to and performed by the church. As we read in Acts 2:43, “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” and we find record of this in Scripture. The prophet Joel had even prophesied of this in Joel 2:28-32:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.
Such passages are perhaps used as proof for the modern day existence and workings of these gifts of the Spirit. In accordance with this, though, is experience. I read the following on TheGreatBibleStudy.com, though, disappointingly, I could not find an author behind it. The writer gave an instance of just one such experience. He or she wrote, “I heard of one evangelist who was preaching in an area where their predominate god was Mohammad, and he did a demonstration up on stage… he took a woman who clearly had an evil spirit and a man who clearly had a need for physical healing. He said to them that he’s going to first try to use the name of Mohammad to cast out the spirit and heal the man, then he’ll use the name of Jesus and see which one works. He tried it with the name of Mohammad, and as you can guess, nothing happened. But when he used the name of Jesus, the evil spirit departed and the man was healed!” Others, too, around us in today’s world and throughout history have their own unique experiences.
However, there is a problem with such thinking, for it takes what scripture speaks of during the time of the apostles and the early church and applies it to the church throughout all history since then as well, while ignoring a few things. In 1 Corinthians 13: 8-10 we read, “Love never fails, but whether there are prophecies they will fail, whether there are tongues they will cease, whether there is knowledge it will vanish, for we know in part and we prophecy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” In the early church they did not have the fullness of the gospel. We do. We do not need then signs and visions to assure us and mature us, but God’s holy, infallible, and complete Word. God’s Word is our guide (2 Thessalonians 2:14, 15). Also, the passages previously stated concerning the gifts of the Spirit were spoken during the time of the apostles. The prophesy of Joel we know was a specific reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, when it was “demonstrated outwardly and visibly that the Spirit had indeed come” (see “Pentecostalism: Spirit-Filled Blessing or Dangerous Heresy?”), because we read in Acts 2:16-21 (which is, in context, an account of the event of Pentecost), “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon 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: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Last of all, we must consider that, while Scripture never flat out states that the gifts of the Spirit for the church ended with the end of the apostles (when we last hear record of them occurring and when the gospel reached its fullness), Scripture gives us much reason to hold to this case.
Over and over again Scripture warns us of the deceptiveness of signs and wonders, and not to be fooled by them. We are warned in passages such as Matthew 24:11, 23-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:3,8-11, Revelation 13:11-14, Revelation 16:14, and Revelation 19:20 that signs and wonders and boastings will be used by the devil and false prophets to deceive God’s church. This deception, we know, holds true even when such signs are done in God’s name, for we read in Matthew 7:21-24, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:”
One of the great reformers responded to those who cried “The Spirit, the Spirit!” by retorting “I slap your spirit on the snout!” We too, must be discerning and aware that we ground ourselves in God’s Word and not the great and deceiving works and wonders of men of this earth.
We have the amazing blessing of the Word of God and the faith worked by the Spirit within our hearts. By that faith we are saved and have assurance, and not by any works that we may perform (Ephesians 2:8,9). May we hold fast to Scripture and let it guide our path, and prove that which is right and true!