During the week 19th to 26th June 1994 I was amazed to find that every day fresh unsolicited information was coming my way on a "new" phenomena in the British charismatic church. This was being referred to by some as "revival" and it seemed many were eager to experience this "awakening". I personally heard three references to these events on BBC's Radio 4 and it was the last of these ("Sunday" 26 June) that finally prompted me to write this Bible Study to encourage believers not to forget the apostle John's instructions which are quoted above.
I am very aware that reserve and scepticism can result in blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus, it seems, accused the Pharisees of this when they said he was casting out demons by a demonic spirit (Matt. 12:32). However, unless we are willing to test every spirit we will not know if they are from God. For some time there has in the Church in this country been an eagerness to experience the supernatural. Recently, at a national conference of prayer leaders I was disturbed to see that this for some had developed into asking THE LORD to perform signs in the sky. When this was prayed the phrase "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign;" (Matt 12:39, 16:4 etc.) came into my mind and since then Paul's warning (2 Thess. 2:9) that the antichrist would demonstrate "all power and signs and false wonders" has been on my mind. When we are desperate to see our God take action we have to carefully examine our own motives. A wrong self-centred desire can so easily allow us to seek signs from Him for our own benefit and not His glory! We know that many in the days whilst the New Testament books were being written were following after doctrines and experiences which were not of God. Dare we be that arrogant that we believe ourselves to be immune to the dangers many of that day were caught by? We need to learn the wisdom demonstrated by John and the other apostles when they counselled the believers to examine everything (1 Thess. 5:23).
What disturbed me about the Radio 4 item that Sunday morning was that Gerald Coates, a well known figure, brought a discussion about this phenomena to an end with a statement that would discourage the testing of any manifestation of the type that has become prominent in recent weeks. He predicted that this experience would spread throughout the country and that those who resisted it would be resisting God. I believe this to be a very dangerous approach which pressurises believers, particularly the immature, into not testing every spirit they encounter, because they fear resisting the Holy Spirit. Let me encourage you again not to be afraid to test every spiritual manifestation you come across.
What is this phenomena I am referring to? To date as far as I know it has not been given a name, but from what I have gathered it involves people spending extended periods rolling/lying on the floor laughing or crying. This takes place usually during meetings though it is not limited to them. Renewal magazine (No 218 July 1994) carried a stop press article on these events, in which it is clearly implied several times that those who experience this are not able to control it. That same article ("Spreading like wildfire" P.13) traces its source to the Airport Vineyard fellowship in Toronto, Canada. Independent reports have suggested however, that it first occurred in South Africa and contact with Canadian Christians resulted in its transfer there. In Britain it was originally passed on by those who had visited Toronto, mainly members of Vineyard fellowships or denominational churches closely linked with Vineyard Ministries. It is now reported to be happening in many different fellowships and is being commonly called revival. It was reported by the BBC that the leaders of the recent March for Jesus, believed it had come at the "right time" for that event so I assume, (I have only one vague report at the time of writing suggesting that I am right in this,) that it was positively publicised at that event.
What is the effect of this manifestation? At present reports from those who have experienced it are all enthusiastic. Besides "a great deal of extraordinary rocking and rolling", people are saying that they have been refreshed, have a new joy and vigour or a renewed sense of God's love for them. If I now express caution it is because I have still to become aware of the depth of these changes. I will consider how we should test spiritual manifestations later, but for now will express the concern that the reports to date do seem to highlight superficial results. A verbal account said that at one local meeting a woman said she had to "repent of everything." In my experience the Holy Spirit is far more specific than that. Before the week I referred to in my opening sentence I had only heard to vague accounts of events, the first asking me if this was the revival we are praying for. I asked THE LORD if it was and the reply I believe He gave me was that if it brought about holiness and obedience amongst His people it was - if it did not then it was not. I encourage you to ask THE LORD yourself if this is a test He would have you apply to these events and if it is then to wait with me and see what it produces in the lives of those who are experiencing it.
Before considering how else we should test such spiritual activity I want to examine why and when we should take notice of John and test the spirit behind people and phenomena. The why is very, very simple. Satan is a deceiver who readily presents himself as an angel of light to disciples of Christ (2 Cor. 11:14). He never rests from his accusations and attempts to lure believers away from Christ and we are told to be on our guard. Whilst THE LORD does protect us he does not wrap His children in cotton wool - we are clearly told that Job, Peter and of course Jesus himself were all subject to direct temptation sanctioned by the Father. His greatest desire is that we should become like His beloved son, and know how to discern good from bad (Heb. 5:14) - we learn by experience and so we cannot be sheltered from temptation and attempted deception. Only those who are as determined as Jesus was (is) to do His Father's will, will be happy living with that Father for eternity.
The simple answer to the question when should we test spiritual ministries and manifestations, is always! To some this may come as a shock. However, it cannot be assumed that just because a member of the body made a sound contribution on a previous occasion they are doing so this time. All gifts, ministries and "manifestations" should be tested on every occasion within the local church. The options for the source of activity are three in number, the Holy Spirit of God, demonic spirits and the human spirit. It is the latter that has dominated much of church life for centuries and needs to be refined out of us. We must be aware though that in the desire to experience the Spirit we should not grasp at every supernatural activity as being from THE LORD. Such grasping is the hallmark of those who want things for themselves. It resulted in Peter cursing one man who thought he could buy it with money (Acts 8:20). It should be obvious from the above that it is also wrong to assume that if a manifestation occurs in one local church and is adjudged "of God" there that it is the same spirit at work when similar events occur somewhere else. Every local group of elders are responsible for their own part of the flock and have to examine every ministry and gift carefully.
I believe that there is another way in which it is important to test teachings or experiences and that is whether or not it conforms to Biblical foundations. Those who teach that Jesus was not the divine Son of God incarnated on the earth need no individual testing in the local church - they should be excluded from the start (1 John 4:2,3). I believe that it is also helpful to carefully examine spiritual phenomena to see if they fall within Biblical parameters before seeking them for ourselves and our churches. When Peter explained the initial out-pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost he quoted Scripture to authenticate what the crowd was observing. While Joel made no specific reference to speaking in languages, the languages given to the disciples were understandable by the crowd and as such are adequately described as prophecy. I am not aware of any Scripture which suggests that "bodies lying all over the floor" or "extraordinary rocking and rolling" will be signs of the Holy Spirit at work. I ask you to examine the Scriptures carefully to see if you can find uncontrollable laughter even alluded to as the evidence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
I must admit though that if the fruit of this experience conforms to Biblical expectations then I will acknowledge that it is a work of God. But what fruit should we expect? I am not here looking at what people are saying they feel like after being overcome by this laughter. I am seeking to examine how they have changed their life-styles in the weeks and months afterwards. I commented above that I believe THE LORD emphasised to me that holiness and obedience are the true evidence of His work. In Acts 2:42-47 we see the life- styles that resulted from a true encounter with God. If current events are as some are calling them a "second Pentecost" then I am sure that those who have been so blessed will have the motivation to prioritise their lives exactly as the new believers of the Jerusalem church did. I also expect that church discipline will be of a similar nature (Acts 5:1-11) and have the same effect in producing the fear of THE LORD. It is repentance and refreshing of this extent that is needed in the western church of today if we are to be a people ready for every good work (2 Tim 2:21).
The apostle John was very clear about this test of genuine experience "The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;" (1 John 2:4). Earlier he had also written "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;" (1 John 1:6). A major factor in motivating the letters which we now know as the bulk of the New Testament was that the first century church found it all too easy to go off into wrong teaching and practices. Paul was very conscious of this and we find this warning in his letter to Timothy "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron," (1 Tim 4:1). I believe that this warning must be as relevant today as it was when Paul wrote it, after all we are nearly two thousand years closer to the return of Christ than they were. I do not believe therefore that this is a time for casting caution to the wind, for taking away the right or responsibility of any believer to examine every ministry, gift and spiritual manifestation for themselves, nor for calling revival that which has not yet proved itself so by bringing forth the fruit of repentance in those who are taken up with it. Whilst many are speaking of it as a "party" I will continue to remain cautious.
My purpose in preparing this study has been to encourage those who have found a check in their spirits about these events, not to feel condemned but to acknowledge that this may be the prompting of the Holy Spirit warning them that they should tread carefully. It is not possible in a study of this length to give detailed consideration of every relevant Scripture nor to every report of this phenomena. I encourage you to set time aside yourself to seek THE LORD and to search the Scriptures for yourself. Could I suggest that amongst others you look at 2 Chronicles 18 which illustrates how THE LORD sanctioned a deceptive spirit to mislead the prophets of Israel. My own growing conviction is that events such as these could not be happening without the permission of the Father, but that does not necessarily mean that they are a sign of His blessing. The following passage has very much been on my mind as I have considered these events before THE LORD, perhaps in the King of Assyria in Isaiah 7-10 we have a clue to what He is doing today?
"And again the LORD spoke to me further, saying, "Inasmuch as these people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, and rejoice in Rezin and the son of Remaliah; Now therefore, behold, the Lord is about to bring on them the strong and abundant waters of the Euphrates, even the king of Assyria and all his glory; and it will rise up over all its channels and go over all its banks. Then it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass through, it will reach even to the neck; and the spread of its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel. Be broken, O peoples, and be shattered; and give ear, all remote places of the earth. Gird yourselves, yet be shattered; gird yourselves, yet be shattered. Devise a plan but it will be thwarted; state a proposal, but it will not stand, for God is with us." For thus the LORD spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, "You are not to say, "It is a conspiracy!" In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary; but to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many will stumble over them, then they will fall and be broken; they will even be snared and caught." Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait for the LORD who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him." Isaiah 8:5-16
This study is aimed at providing a basic treatment of the topic, as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting THE LORD to the writer: Email Randall Hardy
© R Hardy July 1994. This paper may only be copied in
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