Sunday, July 28, 2013

Who Has Gone "Out of the Place that Christ Has Set Them In"?

I posted a response to comments made by Fred Butler on his blog.  I would like to re-post it on my blog with some additional comments.  Butler criticized Dr. Michael L. Brown's article in Charisma regarding John MacArthur's attack against the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement in his "Strange Fire Conference."

My main contention with MacArthur is his wholesale condemnation (and I don't believe that is too strong a word considering what was said) of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement quoted in CharismaNews.com by Dr. Brown. 
“The charismatic movement is largely the reason the church is in the mess it is today. In virtually every area where church life is unbiblical, you can attribute it to the charismatic movement. In virtually every area—bad theology, superficial worship, ego, prosperity gospel, personality elevation. All of that comes out of the charismatic movement.”
This is mere opinion largely based on bias rather than evidence. I have read many places where it is said  the Pentecostal movement is the largest and fastest growing Christian movement in the world.
See the following:
As a matter of fact, a news radio in my locale, reporting the Pope’s visit to Brazil, stated that while the population professing Catholicism has gone far down, the Evangelicals, especially Pentecostals, have grown large and quick.

Also, it seems as if MacArthur is suggesting that Pentecostals sin more than Non-Pentecostal/Non-Charismatic? I’ve witnessed a good share of moral failures and apostasy in non-Charismatic circles to think his remark is not only unfair but without warrant.

There are buffoons in every corner of each Christian box that we make for ourselves, nevertheless, buffoons do not prove something to be scripturally wrong, at least, or demonic, at worst. Are we to conclude that the doctrine of eternal security is heretical because there are those who live in blatant sin while still persisting in their profession of Christian faith? Should we condemn the Baptist doctrine of election as demonic simply because the WBC embraces it?

I don’t think so.

The excesses that others commit are in and of themselves no proof that the gifts of the Spirit (as practiced in the Book of Acts and taught in some places in the NT) have ceased.  Jonathan Edwards conceded that what seemed to be excesses during the revivals of his time, were no proof that they were not a true work of the Spirit of God (equally as well as no proof they were).

Can it be imagined that if MacArthur were anywhere near the Upper Room when the Spirit was given, he would denounce this new movement as “charismatic chaos”.  For certain, it was chaotic enough for those who witnessed it to mock the disciples thinking they were drunk. Apparently, it was not only chaotic but laughable!

It sure seems like there was a lot of chaos when Peter and John healed a cripple; it’s not like the Bible is describing everyone walking respectfully, piously, and calmly in orderly fashion to see the sight of someone healed from being lame. And what about the guy who was healed? He must have looked clownish to those around watching him “walking and leaping and praising God” and doing it in the Temple!

And who could have imagined what pandemonium ensued as described when Paul healed a cripple in Lystra!

I have read Dr. Brown’s books and, although he may not have rebuked the shenanigans amongst the Pentecostal/Charismatic naming specific persons, he has criticized the excesses and sins in general terms.  For example, concerning “many of our churches”, he writes, “We are more Spirit-frilled than Spirit-filled.” Not far from that sentence, he writes further, “What a shame! We believe in our exaggerated reports. We have been duped by our fabulous words…Our American ‘signs, wonders, and miracles’ are hardly worthy of the name” (“Whatever Happened to the Power of God?” p.59-60).

For MacArthur, someone outside and antagonsitic to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, to say that “largely” or “virtually” everything that is wrong with the Church “all” comes out of the Charismatic movement may be overstepping the boundary of wise and constructive criticism if not being outright reckless speech and the errors in judgment Jesus warns us about making.  Maybe Dr. Brown was overly “critical of John MacArthur and his conference” (personally, I don't think so); but MacArthur may have gone beyond his own proper bounds as a minister of the Gospel criticizing the movements of the Holy Spirit by such wholesale denunciations.

I leave it to readers to judge for themselves which one is the more dangerously culpable.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Experience and the Bible: AfterThoughts

After having posted my little essay on the Bible and experience, some more verses came to mind that, from my perspective, confirms experience as a means of discerning truth and gaining a better understanding of Scripture and its application in our lives.

1 John 1:1-3

The apostle John begins his first epistle by suggesting that his testimony of Christ, along with that of the disciples, rests on the basis of personal experience: "...what we have heard...seen with our eyes…beheld…and our hands have handled...concerning the Word of life; and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you..." (1 John 1:1-3, cp. John 21:24).1

In his commentary on the epistles of John, Marshall writes, "Our writer here wants to emphasize that the Christian message is identical with Jesus; it took personal form in a person who could be heard, seen, and even touched" and further asserts, "the life that God gives to men was revealed historically in Jesus. Indeed it is identical with Jesus, so that the writer can say that he has actually seen it. Because of this he is qualified to testify to it." Marshall contends, that the apostle's "emphasis is not on the act of proclamation but on the historical reality of that to which he bears witness."  As such, if I have correctly understood Marshall, he seems to suggest that emphasis is placed on John’s experience of Jesus Christ in history, which forms the basis for not only his faith but also the proclamation of the Gospel.  John proclaims an experience.

Barker states that the apostle John’s “witness was based on the immediate evidence of the senses,”3 which is to say essentially, the apostle’s witness was based on his experience.

Cox argues that against the claims of those who held to the “error of Docetism”, the apostle “John disposes of this heresy in quick, concise, and clear words…John is an authoritative witness.  John knew Jesus and had been with him in person…”  John was an eye-witness and thereby proclaimed the reality of a Savior as opposed to the imaginations of the deluded because he experienced the presence of Jesus the Messiah.  Cox continues, “Some people attempt to proclaim without a personal experience.  They try to declare truths about which they know little.  John knew what he was saying.  He was a witness and therefore he could declare.”4  The apostle derived his authority from his personal experience of the incarnate Son of God.
  
Blaney contends that

“God can be known only by experiencing Him.  Israel knew God by a sense of the Divine Presence in the great events of her corporate existence.  From Abraham to Moses, to the Red Sea to Sinai, across the Jordan and into the Promised Land, Israel saw God at work and realized herself to be His chosen people.  This did not come by sovereign announcement only but by the experience of entering into a covenant relationship with Jehovah.  Israel experienced election to a unique relationship with God."5

If the Apostle John’s first epistle was written for the purpose of challenging the false teachers of an incipient form of Gnosticism with claims of possessing spiritual knowledge that was deeper and superior to Christians6 and which opposed that handed down by the apostles, it only makes sense that John would begin his epistle, “You think these ‘teachers’ know Christ?  They have never met him!  I’ve been with him, walked with him, seen, heard, and touched him; and what I have received directly from the Son of God, I pass on to you.”

As I heard someone say once or twice, “You can’t argue with experience.”

Hebrews 1:2

The same claim is basic to the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews: “in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son” (1:2).

Although no firm scholarly consensus has arrived as to the author of Hebrews, nevertheless, whoever he is, he seems to lay stress on experience as a basis for witness and proclamation.  In 2:3-4, he writes:

“…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?  After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit…”7

I affirm wholeheartedly to what Lane states in his smaller yet excellent commentary on Hebrews:

“The opening lines of the sermon (1:1-2a) bring the audience face-to-face with the God who speaks.  The preacher confronts his ambivalent friends, troubled by the apparent silence of God in response to their desperate situation, with the indisputable fact that our God is the God who speaks.  He spoke in the distant past through the prophets (1:1); he has spoken in the more recent past through the Son (1:2a); and he continues to speak through the witness which has been given as a gift of love to that very community.  God is not silent, but vocal.  He has repeatedly taken the initiative to disclose himself because he wants to be known…The emphasis falls on the factual truth that God comes again and again into our human experience, disclosing his presence to us, precisely when we had suspected that we were alone in the world.”8

Lane further adds, “It is philosophers who speak about…the ‘hidden God’.  The Bible knows nothing about the hidden God but only of men and women who hide, and of God who comes to seek them out to engage them in a meaningful conversation as he makes himself known to them.”9

Although the Bible gives us information about God revealing his character and his aim in salvation, the Bible itself neither grants salvation nor mediates grace.  Since Jesus is the “one mediator” (1 Timothy 2:4) between God and man, it is only through an encounter with the risen Lord that men come to experience God.  The “Word of God” is not ink and paper but Jesus Christ of whom ink and paper speak (John 5:39; Revelation 19:13). 


This is not to denigrate the Bible but to put it in its proper place in God’s purposes for salvation.  I recently heard a pastor preach, although the intentions of his heart for God’s people is commendable, as he held up his Bible and pointed to it, “We put the ‘Word of God’ on a pedestal.”*  He was saying that Christians ought to place the Bible – the written word – above all else.  It seems to me that this is the very problem Ruthven addresses in his most recent book when he writes that Protestant theology wrongly focused on the “exposition of Scripture – which resulted in de-emphasizing the central mission Scripture proclaims.”  The “central mission”, as I believe Ruthven rightly contends, is that “Christians live by a messianic epistemology based on immediate revelation by the Holy Spirit as its ideal – even central – characteristic, as Isaiah 11:2-3 shows.”10

We find in Hebrews further evidence of the “immediate revelation by the Holy Spirit” as Scriptures “ideal” in the warning passages of irreversible judgment against those who have “tasted of the heavenly gift” and “tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” only to “have fallen away” (Hebrews 6:4-6a).  The word “tasted” refers to having a real and definite experience.11  There is a dire warning for those who, having experienced the Presence of God in their lives, yet turn away from God and fall back into disobedience.  It is this very “taste” of God, this wonderful experience of the Presence of God in their personal lives, that makes the apostate all the more blameworthy and his punishment all the more severe (Hebrews 10:28-29).

Mark 16:20

The objection is made that experience does not confirm Scripture but Scripture confirms experience.  However, Scripture itself contradicts this argument. 

“And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.”12

Note, it was not the word that validated the “signs” (i.e. the miracles), but the miracles – the “signs” – validated the “word”, i.e. proclamation of the gospel.  It was the experience of hearing the proclamation of the Gospel and encountering the accompanying power of God’s Presence, which proved that the word proclaimed was true.  In a Pentecostal study Bible on Mark 16:20, we read, “The Scriptures clearly teach that it is the desire of Christ for His followers to perform miraculous deeds as they announce the gospel of the kingdom…These signs (Gk. sēmeîon), performed by true disciples, confirm that the gospel message is genuine, that the kingdom of God has come to earth in power…”13

It is admitted that there are disagreements as to the legitimacy of the longer ending in Mark, nevertheless, the Book of Acts demonstrates that the “signs and wonders” performed by the Lord through the apostles did validate the message proclaimed.  Some passages as examples:

In Acts 2:1-21, Peter explained to all who saw and heard what was occurring among the 120 believers that this experience was in fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and confirms the words of the prophets.

In 2:22-24, Peter further proclaims that the man whom they crucified was their Messiah, proved to be so by the “miracles and wonders and sings which God performed through Him in your midst.”

In 2:32-33, Peter preaches that the resurrection of Christ was something they themselves had witnessed and this further demonstration of a miraculous wonder – the speaking of tongues – is what they witness now, an experience that validates and confirms both the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the kingdom of God and the proclamation of Jesus as the Christ (Heb: messiah), upon whose shoulders the government of God’s kingdom rests.

The message of the Gospel was inaugurated through an experience of the Presence of God.  It was the power of the kingdom of God, not merely in something read in paper and ink but in what was experienced that resulted in the conversion of some 3,000 souls!  It was the experience of the power of the Spirit that not only confirmed the word proclaimed but convinced the hearers that what was being said was true; it was real, it was their God visiting them again.  In his concluding note specifically on v.33 of Acts 2, F.F. Bruce states that God’s “present impartation to them (the disciples) attended as it were by sensible signs (i.e. by an experience of the miraculous), was a further open vindication of the claim that [Jesus] was the exalted Messiah.”14

The proof that Mark 16:20 belongs in the Canon of New Testament Scripture as a divinely inspired text is the historical accounts that follows in the Book of Acts.  As such, the last verse in the Gospel of Mark validates experience as an essential and necessary aid in understanding Scripture and its application in the lives of God’s people.   Both Mark and Acts, as well as the other Biblical passages noted above, demonstrate that by virtue of proclamation on the basis of experience, God is able to work for the salvation of many.






1. All Biblical quotations are from the NASB, 1977 unless otherwise noted.
2. I.H. Marshall, The Epistles of John, New International Commentary of the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 102-103.  Ephasis mine.
3. Glenn W. Barker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 12, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 306.  Emphasis mine.
4. Leo G. Cox, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, vol. 6, ed. Charles W. Carter (Peadbody: Hendrickson, 1986), 321.
5. Harvey J.S. Blaney, “Experience” in Beacon Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Richard S. Taylor (Kansas City: Beacon, 1983), 205.
6. I.H. Marshall, “John, Epistles of,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised, vol.2, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromily (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 1092.
7. Cp. Mark 16:20
8. William L. lane, Hebrews: A Call to Commitment (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1985), 29.  His emphasis.
9. Ibid., 30.  I admit that although Lane may not go so far as to interpret these passages in a way that bespeaks of an experience with God (as I understand it, i.e., God speaking directly to the heart or in an audible voice as was my experience explained in my previous essay) as a basis or catalyst for Christian fidelity, nevertheless, I find his comments valuable and interpret their significance as appropriate in explaining my position.
10. Jon Mark Ruthven, What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology (Tulsa: Word&Spirit, 2013), 2.  If anyone is truly interested in this subject, allow me to recommend Ruthven’s book:  http://www.amazon.com/Protestant-Theology-Tradition-Biblical-Emphasis/dp/098195264X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374970605&sr=8-1&keywords=what%27s+wrong+with+protestant+theology.  I have not read it all so I am not sure if he would agree with my view here in all points, however, just the first 24 pages was a thrill ride that is helping to enlarge my faith in God to move more powerfully in the world today.
11. In the New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the New Testament, we read that the Greek for “tasted” is a word that “expresses a real and conscious enjoyment of the blessings apprehended in their true character”, p.527.
12. Emphasis mine.
13.“Signs of Believers,” Full Life Study Bible, ed. Donald C. Stamps (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992),
14. F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, revised, New International Commentary on the New Testament,  ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 67.
* I must say in defense of the pastor who stated this that: (a) the content of his sermon did emphasize the need for the power of the Holy Spirit as witnessed in the Book of Acts, and (b) I understood his comment to seek correcting anyone who may have the impression that reading the Bible takes low priority. In that light, I may be a bit nit-picky but my real concern was what the congregation was actualy hearing.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Experience and the Bible

When engaging on the issue of the miraculous with those who are against the view that God works miracles (e.g. healing the sick) today in much the same way as those recorded in the Gospels and Acts, I have come across the accusation that we are basing our understanding of the Bible on experience.  One brother, who is a cessationist, contended the rightness of his view by saying, "I have a high level of confidence in my biblical study because my biblical conclusions are neither based on my experience or my theology. They’re based on the nouns and verbs of scripture."  Let alone omitting experience in the investigation of the Scriptures, I wonder which, if any, Biblical scholars would agree with the method of exegesis that omits personal experience wholesale from a study of Scripture.
I agree that experience alone should not be the basis of formulating "biblical conclusions", but is it sensible to reject it outright as a means of understanding Scripture and its application in our lives?  I don't think so.
Moses would have a hard time proving the "biblical conclusion" that it was the God of his fathers who commanded Egypt to let his people go precisely because he had no Bible.  Pharaoh said, "Who is God that I should let the Hebrew people go?"  How do you think Moses would respond?
"Well, Pharaoh, it says here in the Bible that God commands, 'Pharaoh, let the people go'.  Notice the nouns are 'Pharaoh', 'people' and the verb 'let go' is in the present immediate tense suggesting something that must be done now without hesitation; and the phrase, 'let my people go', has reference not to 'God' but to 'Pharaoh'; therefore, it is God commanding Pharaoh - and you are him - to let his people go...now!"
Not really.
As far as I know, Moses had no Scriptures to base his theology upon.  So, how did Moses reply?  It is recorded that Moses simply said, "The God of the Hebrews has manifested Himself to us" (Tanakh, Ex 5:3).  Moses based his "theology" of God, what little of it He did have, on experience (Ex 3:2-12).
How about the apostle Paul?  He had the Scriptures, the Word of God to formulate doctrine and practice.  Did he come to his "biblical conclusions" about God, especially in relation to the Messiah based on Scripture, solely on the "nouns and verbs of scripture"?  Did the Apostle Paul's intense and extensive learning lead him to the "biblical conclusion" that Jesus is the Messiah?  What did this great man of God say when he was being persecuted for his beliefs?
"I have studied Isaiah 53 for many years.  I have read day and night the prophets and in all my reading - studying the words, the nouns, the verbs, the adjectives and adverbs, as well as all the tenses – and, as a result, I have come to the conclusion that Jesus is Messiah.  No, I do not base this theological view on experience but only on what the nouns and verbs of the Hebrew Scriptures mean."
I don't think so.
But what did Paul say?  Although having the Hebrew Scriptures to fall back on, he said, in short, "Christ came to me!  He manifested Himself to me!  I experienced His power for he made me blind and then healed me!"  (See Acts 22:1-16).  It can be suggested that Paul's defense was likened to the words of John, the beloved disciple, who wrote, "That...which we have heard...seen...handled…and bear witness, and show it unto you” (1 John 1:1-3).
As with Moses, Paul's defense was...experience.  For sure, Paul may have resorted to the Hebrew Scriptures in confirmation that he had truly experienced the manifestation of the Hebrew God, nevertheless, when his beliefs were questioned, he replied by sharing what he experienced: "I received [the Gospel]...by the revelation of Jesus Christ."  Paul contends in defense of his apostleship and authority: "when it pleased God...to reveal His Son in me" (Gal 1:12,15-16).  Actually, it was precisely because Paul experienced God that he went to study the Scriptures, wrote his epistles, and had confidence in the divine appointment of his apostleship.
It was not his "great learning" that led him to believe in Christ, although, admittedly, it made it easier for him to test and confirm his experience as having been a genuine revelation of Yhwh, but it was the manifestation - the miraculous experience - of Christ to him that convinced him that Jesus is the Messiah.
I have come to Christ, not due to an intense study of the Bible (though many others have come to Christ in that way), but because He spoke to me in an audible voice, saying, "You're going to be arrested".  I instinctively knew it was God and asked, "What did you say?"  He repeated, "You're going to be arrested."  And, two minutes later I was arrested and spent the weekend in jail.  That experience led me to a park a week later where I saw people singing and, again, instinctively knew they were singing to God.  When someone came up to me and asked if I wanted to be saved, a window of understanding - of instinctive knowledge - opened up to me and I knew that it was in this man Jesus Christ that I must lay up all my hope and trust.  I experienced the Presence of the Spirit revealing Christ to me.
Am I advocating experience above the Scriptures?  No.  Scripture confirms and interprets what has been experienced, if it is a genuine manifestation of God or not.  Nevertheless, I am saying that to totally reject experience in one's exegesis of Scripture is not only denying an important and practical aspect of the human connection with the divine, it may also be denying the Spirit's activity and work among men as promised in the Scriptures.
Yes, let us run to the Scriptures to find, test, and explain what we have perceived to be an experience of Christ "in you, the hope of glory."  Let us rejoice and embrace the miraculous presence of God when it is manifested in our lives or the lives of others in the performance of signs and wonders.
Also, let us study the Bible; let us seek to understand, to make sense of what we read in the Bible and what we experience in life.  To do so is not to place experience above Scripture, although that may be a real danger (as it is also a real danger to place one's ability to rationalize - which is evidently a form of experience - above the Spirit teaching us the things of God through Scripture), but to bring the whole person into communion and service to God through Christ.
As he who was blind said, "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know for certain, whoever he is, whereas before I was blind, now I experience sight."



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See also: Experience and the Bible: AfterThoughts

If you are interested in knowing more about God's miraculous intervention today in the lives of his people, visit http://askdrbrown.org/, also his blog (http://askdrbrown.org/blog/) or check his FB page at https://www.facebook.com/?sk=h_chr#!/AskDrBrown?fref=ts.