Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pentecostalism - part 3

I know I'm stepping on many toes by saying this but ...

... just because there are many anecdotal stories from developing countries of visions being seen and miracles taking place, doesn't mean they're true — the plural of anecdote is not evidence.

For example, someone who claims to have had an encounter with an alien may tell a vivid story, but this doesn't mean the encounter actually happened. Vivid, emotionally-charged anecdotes just seem more plausible, so they are given greater weight. This can also happen to large groups of people through what is called subjective validation.

Can't we trust our own senses, then?  Shouldn't we make them our final source of truth? Of course we shouldn't! We must test everything we hear or see against what Scripture says, just as the noble Bereans did in Acts 17:9-11. But sadly, many people make Scripture say what they want it to say — by pulling verses and passages from here and there or spiritualizing things meant to be taken literally — so that they can directly apply things to us today that shouldn't be. All these errors can be rectified by simply observing progressive revelation literally Scripture says what it means and means what it says.

The "signs and wonders" under our Lord's earthly ministry and at Pentecost* were signs — of the Messiahship of Christ to Israel (Is 35:4-6; Matt 11:2-5; Joel 2:28-32). When, despite these signs, the nation rejected Him, they ceased.

Some, however, have wrongly concluded that toward the close of this present age we are to expect a revival of these manifestations, but this isn't true.

Paul didn't say in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge would be done away UNTIL the closing days of this age.  He simply said that they were to be done away (i.e., in this age), and that "faith, hope and love" would "abide."  In fact, Scripture doesn't give even a hint of the manifestation of the sign gifts after the close of the Book of Acts period. Nor is there any indication at all in the Pauline epistles that the Pentecostal signs are to be restored at the close of this age.

Paul does say, however, that AFTER the close of this age of grace, the "lawless one is by the activity of Satan" will appear "with all power and false signs and wonders" (2 Thes 2:9).  Paul confirms what our Lord says in Matthew 24:24 about the same period of time:

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

During the tribulation period, then, AFTER the members of the Body of Christ have been "caught up" to be with the Lord (1 Thes 4:16-18), the ministers of Satan, from Antichrist down, will come "with all power and false signs and wonders," to deceive, if possible, "even the elect."

Then in the very same passage about Antichrist and his "power and false signs and wonders," Paul warns that "...the mystery of lawlessness is already at work..." (2 Thes 2:1-17).

So what does this say about all the miraculous manifestations we hear so much about these days: tongues, healings, prophecies, visions, witchcraft, spiritism, etc., not to mention false doctrine?  It sure seems to me that these things are not of God, but of Satan.

And yet to some, wondrous manifestations are the end of any argument.  So-and-so must be of God or he/she couldn't work these miracles, right?  But Scripture tell us differently.  A careful study of the latest of Paul's epistles give us the normal course of the Church during this age.  It is Satan's aim is to deceive men and draw them away from the truth of God's glorious purpose and grace.

Paul gives a stern warning regarding this very thing in 1 Timothy 4:1:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.

This is why he tells us to:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Eph 6:10-13).

Let me ask you then, is it the Spirit of God or Satan, who attempts to revive the sign gifts that were divinely retired after having fulfilled their purposes?  Satan is not a creepy-looking creature with horns, hooves, a tail and a pitchfork.  Paul warns us that he will operate through "...false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ."  He goes on further to say:

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 (2 Cor 11:13-15).

So don't fall for it!  The amazing stories we keep hearing only beguile us to take our eyes off Him, and cause us to walk by sight, rather than by faith.  Instead ...

... let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith ... (Heb 12:1-3)

*Note, too, that Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel's prophecy (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32). There was no blood, nor fire, nor columns of smoke; the sun didn't turn into darkness, nor did the moon turn to blood. Interestingly, the dreams and visions were also lacking.  But all these things will be fulfilled in the future — when Israel's last days resume (Rom 11).

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