In the 10 or more years it’s been since I left Pentecostalism (baptized Assemblies of God, 1991), and in pursuing Reformed thought since early 2000’s, I’ve been continually taken aback at the two hallmarks of charismatic/Pentecostal practice: Low regard for the scripture and the heavy role of neo-gnosticism (usually in extra-biblical revelation or superstition).
For those not familiar, “Gnostic” (pronounced “NOSS-tic”) thought and practice arose in the early centuries of the church. Central to their belief system—among other dangerous and heretical ideas—was the belief the true spiritual enlightenment came through so-called “special revelation” which was given outside of, and often in contradiction to, Scripture. Forerunners of today’s Pentecostals, the Gnostics and their schismatic offshoots proved especially damaging to the early church precisely because they challenged the Church from within.
So in the Fall of 2008 I popped in on a local church to see what was up. They’re a former Vineyard church (Arminian/Pentecostal) that had left the Association of Vineyard Churches over the issue of male headship in the Church (good for them!) and then joined Acts 29 church planting network founded by Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church. Having listened to Mark Driscoll for many years, I know he describes himself as “charismatic with a seat belt” and that Acts 29 is both charismatic-friendly while holding to Reformed understanding of key issues.
After the usual worship the pastor took the mic and invited something like the following:
“Now if there’s anyone here who has a vision or word form the Lord that they’d like to share, or, uh, even just a Scripture? Just stand up and…”
Wait. “Just a Scripture?” If you could have heard his tone it sounded like, “Does anyone have a vision? That would be great, and so would a ‘word’ from God… but, we’ll settle for a Scripture, too” (with the implied “if that’s all we can get”). I quickly figured that I was the only one in the room that understood what was so terribly wrong here: The precious, inspired, inerrant, Word of the Lord which we are entrusted to guard had been reduced to, “just a Scripture”; a second-class spiritual accessory, now upstaged by “visions” or an extra-Biblical (i.e., non-inspired) “words” from the Lord. This, my friends, is Pentecostalism.
But it gets better (or worse, depending on your take). Almost immediately a middle-aged gentleman stood up with an alleged “vision”:
“I have a vision of someone with a cast or, uh, injury to their right arm. Is there someone here with a broken arm?”
Silence fell as he looked around to no answer from his enrapt fellow audience members.
“Maybe someone here knows someone with a broken arm or something?”
“Ok, um, perhaps someone is just struggling with something, uh, perhaps feeling broken or, uh, something like that?”
So we’ve gone from a specific “vision” and interpretation to something as nebulous and common as “feeling broken.” The false prophet with an apparently meaningless vision went on about some pseudo-spiritual talk while I tuned out and zipped up my Bible to head out the door. As I left I thought, “Boy, if this doesn’t typify the Pentecostal experience, I don’t know what does.”
- Scripture, which has total inerrancy as the standard, is reduced to second-in-importance status behind personal, prophetic experience;
- The rock solid standard of “Thus saith the Lord” (the confidence demonstrated by Biblical prophets in the Bible) has been downgraded to vapid pronouncements of the all-too-common, for the unquestioning consumption of congregants who think nothing wrong of a spiritual life consisting of “God told me so… uh, I think.”
Want to see what it’s like when a real man of God hears from God? John Piper really did hear from God and wrote an awesome recounting of the experience (read his post, it’s great). About two-thirds into his post you realized that the soul-moving Word he received from God was, in fact, Psalm 66:5-7. Yet how many Christians today would have reacted in disappointment as I confess that would have muttered: “Psalms sixty-what? Huh? That’s just a Scripture. I was expecting…” Yeah, “just a Scripture” again. I, too, was one of the millions of Christians who felt a tidbit of let-down when expecting a “word” but “only” got Scripture. But Piper knows well that many would have just such a reaction to his pronouncement of hearing from God, and so he laments:
The great need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his word personally and transformingly in Scripture. Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God.
Chalk it all up to one more example of why I’m no longer Pentecostal.