What we see going on today in the charismatic movement needs to be critiqued on the basis of Scripture and never by our own experiences which are never reliable unless judged by the Word of God. We are so easily deceived and can so quickly look for proof texts to justify what we want to believe in the light of our experiences. People look at the claims, experiences, and phenomenal growth of the charismatic movement and see this as evidence of its genuineness but this kind of evidence is never valid in itself. We can see the same kind of phenomenon among some of the cults. In fact, some of the same kind of experiences seen in the Toronto Phenomenon, as one illustration, seems to be more an evidence of the demonic and even witnessed by missionaries around the world among the heathen.
Evaluating this phenomena becomes an even greater problem when a society like ours becomes so existential or subjective and experientially oriented. As a whole, our society has turned away from the Bible as its final authority in faith and practice and, as in Isaiah’s day (Isa. 8), it has turned to ecstatic experiences to confirm belief and find answers to human needs. Even many of our Bible believing churches have been negatively affected by this experiential mood that is so prevalent in our culture today. Instead of solid and sound verse-by-verse biblical exposition based on the context and the true focus and purpose of a passage of Scripture, I have seen many Bible believing pastors engage in what can be called agenda preaching. In other words, they have a personal agenda they want to accomplish in their people so they go to the Bible to find proof texts to support their agenda. Even the Apostle Peter who had the marvelous experience of seeing the transfiguration of the Lord, spoke of the Scripture as a more sure word of prophecy to which we must all look in view of its infallible nature as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
2 Pet. 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
This translation of the NASB suggests Peter considered his experience as that which made the prophetic word more sure, but note that the word “so” in verse 19 is in italics. In the margin, the NAS suggests another translation, and one which is more in accord with the Greek text. It reads, “and we have the even surer prophetic word.” This is also how the KJV and NIV translators understood the text. Peter goes on to explain that this is so because of the inspired character of Scripture. Of course, the account of the transfiguration became a part of the inspired record, but Peter’s point is a vital one that we need to heed today. From a study of historical background and along with the warnings and exhortations given to most of the seven churches of Asia minor, you can see how these churches were affected by the culture of their day. This is always the case. Our tendency is to be conformed to the world rather than to be transformed by the Word.
To a nation that, though still very religious, had turned away from the Word of the Lord Isaiah wrote the following:
16 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. 17 And I will wait for the Lord who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.
19 And when they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21 And they will pass through the land hard-pressed and famished, and it will turn out that when they are hungry, they will be enraged and curse their king and their God as they face upward. 22 Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness.
In place of the Word to which Isaiah and his disciples were committed, the nation was turning to experiences of the mediums and spiritists (subjective experiences) not only in search of religious direction, but to verify or give them some kind of experiential evidence. They were unwilling to just rest and trust in the Word of God as their authority. I recently heard about a Sunday School class where the teacher was trying to emphasize the importance of the Word of God. In the midst of this, a young mother commented, “Well, I’m not much of a theologian or Bible student. I find that very hard. I just love Jesus and share my experience with Him and with others.” Unfortunately, this is classic of the attitude and thinking of many believers today.
This kind of thinking and predisposed attitude toward the experiential and emotional is one of the reasons for the so-called success of the charismatics in church growth and evangelism. Our Lord warned us about seeking after signs rather than simply resting in the truth of God’s Word. To the religious leaders who asked Him for a sign, an attesting miracle, He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! (Matt. 12:39).
No question that some of the fruit seen among the charismatics is genuine, but much of it is false and misleading and focuses people more on experience than on the sure of Word of God. Furthermore, when the Word is used, it is too often abused or misused. What is done with Scripture is eisegesis, reading one’s ideas into the Bible rather than exegesis, the study of the Scripture according to grammar, context, lexical meaning of words, cultural and historical background, etc.
Here is a point that I think is tremendously important. Just a casual reading of the epistles of the NT, that which is written to the church, the body of Christ, is notably absent of an emphasis on signs and wonders as it is stressed in the charismatic movement. Rather the epistles stress the fullness of what we have already in Christ, complete in Him (Eph. 1:3; Col. 2:10). The only exception is 1 Corinthians, a church that was emphasizing the showy kinds of gifts, but it was also carnal, immature, and guilty of fornication, fan clubs, and divisiveness. That says volumes to me and should pose a warning to all of us!
Does all this mean that God does not perform miraculous things today? Of course not. He is a powerful God and occasionally heals miraculously, etc., but miraculous activity and gifts, as they are being promoted today, have always been the exception and not the general rule. Historically, these signs and wonders as seen in the early church just simply ceased. There were occasional occurrences, but this was not the norm. Even those giants of the faith, men like Spurgeon who experienced some phenomenal things, did not believe in the continuation of signs and wonders as they are seen in the NT.
I would encourage you to read the Chafer Theological Seminary Journal article, “The Toronto Phenomenon” by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum. Also check out the “Prof’s Soapbox” for articles by Dan Wallace.