Excited Utterances: A Historical Perspective On Prophesy, Tongues and Other Manifestations of Spiritual EcstasyRelated Media
On May 20, 1996, the Florida Baptist Convention’s state board of missions voted to “disfellowship” two churches and “further study” the beliefs of a third because the three churches taught “neo-pentecostalism.”1 (The third church subsequently resigned from the Convention.2) The pastor of the first church told Baptist Press that “the baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to salvation” and that tongues and prophesy have not ceased.3 The pastor of the second similarly declared that, “in most cases,” baptism of the Holy Spirit” is something that occurs after salvation” and “tongues are a gift and it is a valid gift and it is for today.”4 A spokesman for the third church expressed similar views, declaring that “the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were restored to the church” in the early 1970s, and “in the mid-1980s . . . the gifts of the prophet and the apostle in the local church was a restored truth that is being revealed.”5
The Baptist battle for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible may be over, but the battle for the sufficiency of Scripture may have just begun. When only Pentecostals preached the continuation of the revelatory gifts,6 we Baptists perhaps could afford to ignore them because they were perceived to be out of the mainstream. When Pentecostal doctrine spread to mainline denominations, we perhaps could still close our eyes to the growing movement since the charismatic renewal largely affected liberal denominations with which we did not associate.7 But we ignore at our peril the so-called “Third Wave” of “continuation” theology, for it has infiltrated many of our evangelical pulpits and pews.8 Since the late 1970s, charismatic tendencies have infiltrated en masse the more dispensational and Reformed evangelical groups that historically rejected the prior two waves. Over twenty million people now consider themselves a part of this “Third Wave” category.9 Charismatic doctrine has come to camp in our own backyard.
The validity of the charismatic movement and its accompanying “signs and wonders” raises serious and controversial issues. These include: Did special revelation cease with the close of the canon? Are tongues for today? Do physical manifestations of ecstasy have biblical warrant? Is experience an appropriate guide to spiritual fulfillment? These issues are intertwined with an issue already familiar to Baptists -- the nature and sufficiency of Biblical authority. Charismatic Wayne Grudem is correct in observing that “this is a large and interesting area of discussion, one of immense importance in the church today.”10 Obviously, these issues must be dealt with directly. Because of their importance, they cannot be glossed over in an effort to achieve unity at the expense of doctrinal purity.
This paper examines three essentially related issues concerning charismatic theology: (1) the relationship between the revelatory gifts and the canon; (2) the place of the revelatory gifts in church history; and (3) the role of related manifestations of spiritual ecstasy (and emotional experience in general) in revival movements. I have framed each of these areas of inquiry around a specific historical context. This approach is profitable because our forefathers wrestled with the same questions we now face, and we would be most unwise to ignore their accumulated wisdom. Hopefully, by reviewing the charismatic phenomena as they were seen in history, we can gain a more rounded understanding and better evaluation of today’s charismatic movement and the theology that informs it. It is said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. I pray that we may learn the lessons of those theological giants who came before us and on whose shoulders we stand. May God grant us the wisdom to walk with the wise!
Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us,
the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” 2 Tim. 1:14
Montanism -- The Fountainhead of Christian Ecstasy
The Phrygian region of Asia Minor was known in its pre-Christian days as “the home of a sensuously mystic and dreamy nature-religion.”11 Given this backdrop, it is perhaps not surprising that Montanism, Christianity’s first schismatic movement, first broke out there.
Montanism was a “prophetic movement” that began around 172 A.D.12 Its founder, Montanus, was a former “mutilated priest of Cybele.”13 Closely connected with Montanus were two “prophetesses,” Priscilla and Maximilla. The Montanists insisted upon the continuation of the gift of prophesy and the use of ecstatic utterances.14
Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla proclaimed a “New Prophecy,” which foretold that Christ would return to Pepuza, a small village of Phrygia, upon which the new Jerusalem was to come down.15
Recognition of the Holy Spirit in the New Prophecy was the touchstone of authority for the Montanists; they claimed that the New Prophecy claimed for itself a special place in salvation history.16 The followers of Montanus believed that the Holy Spirit spoke to them in the first person through his prophetic mouthpieces.17 As Henry Chadwick described it, Montanus, together with Priscilla and Maximilla delivered utterances of the Paraclete in a state of ‘ecstasy’, i.e. not being in possession of his faculties. It was the peculiar form of these utterances to which other Christians objected: this kind of ecstatic prophecy was not, like that of the biblical prophets, delivered in the third person, but was direct speech by the Spirit himself using the prophet’s mouth as his instrument.18
Indeed, Montanus said that a person in spiritual ecstasy was like a musical instrument on which the Holy Spirit plays his melodies: “Behold, the man is as a lyre, and I sweep over him as a plectrum. The man sleeps; I wake.”19 Thus, Montanus plainly taught that the close of the biblical canon was not the end of God’s special revelation to man.
Montanus taught that the Holy Spirit spoke through him in the same way as He spoke through the writings of Scripture. In Bruner’s words, he “fell into somnambulistic ecstasies, and considered himself the inspired organ of the promised Paraclete or Advocate, the Helper and Comforter in these last times of distress.”20 Eusebius records that Montanus “was filled with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a kind of trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved, and began to chatter and talk nonsense. . . . Of those who listened at that time to his sham utterances, some where annoyed, regarding him as possessed, a demoniac in the grip of a spirit of error, a disturber of the masses.”21
In connection with its holdings on continuating revelation, Montanism sought a “forced continuance” of the miraculous gifts of the apostolic age. As Chadwick noted, “The Montanists did not expect all the Lord’s people to be prophets, but rather required their fellow-Christians to ‘acknowledge’ the supernatural nature of the utterances of the Paraclete’s chosen three: to reject them was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”22
Montanism attracted a wide following for a time -- including the first significant Latin theologian Tertullian, who became a Montanist in his last few years. As the preeminent apologist for the movement, he was careful to affirm orthodox notions of God and Christ. Nevertheless, echoing Montanus, he conceived of Christianity as organic in nature, developing in four stages of growth, each superior to the preceding stage: (1) natural religion; (2) the legal religion of the Old Testament; (3) the gospel during the earthly life of Christ; and (4) the revelation of the Paraclete; that is, the spiritual religion of the Montanists.23
In essence, the Montanists were the first charismatics. Frederick Bruner rightly called Montanism “the fountainhead of all the enthusiastic or pneumatic movements in Christian history.”24 Its basic tenets have been recycled throughout church history by ecstatic sects, including today’s charismatic movement. Bruner noted the following central characteristics of Montanism that recur in today’s charismatic movement:
1. A fervent belief that the last period of revelation has commenced;
2. A distinctive emphasis on the Holy Spirit;
3. Generally orthodox tendencies apart from their doctrine of the Spirit;
4. An ardent expectation of the impending return of Christ; and
5. A strict morality.25
Hence, Bruner declared Montanism to be “the prototype of almost everything Pentecostalism seeks to represent.”26
Montanism eventually was condemned by synods of bishops in Asia and elsewhere.27 The church was clearly bothered by the movement’s ecstatic exercises, as demonstrated by Hippolytus’s declaration that “the supreme miracle is conversion and therefore every believer alike has the gifts of the Spirit; the supernatural is discerned in the normal ministry of word and sacrament, not in irrational ecstacies which lead to pride and censoriousness.”28
The orthodox church also declared the new prophesy “the work of demons.”29 In this respect, the repudiation of Montanism was especially significant. “It was the occasion for establishing the truth that the Scriptures were closed, that the work of the Spirit was illumination of the Scriptures rather than bestowing a new revelation apart from the Scriptures.”30 In condemning the Montanists, “the church early took its stand ‘that extraordinary gifts were never promised to the Church as a permanent inheritance.’“31 The “prophesies” of the Phrygian prophets were condemned as heretical because they were given “an importance which interfered with the sufficiency of the Scriptures.”32 Thus, Chadwick could say:
The chief effect of Montanism on the Catholic Church was greatly to enforce the conviction that revelation had come to an end with the apostolic age, and so to foster the creation of a closed Canon of the New Testament. Irenaeus is the last writer who can still think of himself as belonging to the eschatological age of miracle and revelation.33
The early church’s condemnation of Montanism heresy is under severe attack today. Pentecostals, charismatics, and adherents of the “Third Wave” all challenge the conclusion that the revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. In addition, even non-charismatics are beginning to espouse the view that God still speaks today apart from the Bible, through dreams, visions, and the like. In essence, proponents of these views reject the historical Christian conclusion that God has chosen no longer to speak to man through direct special revelation apart from Scripture, and they thereby must reject the church’s judgment on the Montanists.
The Cessation of the Revelatory Gifts
Space does not permit a full-orbed exposition of why the revelatory gifts have ceased. Nevertheless, the following points are in order:
(1) Jesus is the cornerstone of the church and the foundation upon which the church is laid (Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus is also the culmination and completion of God’s revelation to man (Heb. 1:1-2).
(2) Apostles and prophets were raised up in the 1st century as New Testament witnesses to Christ, appointed by Him to bear authentic witness to his resurrection and redemption of man (Acts 1:2, 8, 21-26; 1 Cor. 9:1, 16; 15:1-4, 8-11; Gal. 1:1, 15-16). Compared to Jesus, apostles were the foundation of the church only in a secondary and inferior sense. (Eph. 2:20).
(3) Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus for a unique missionary work (Mark 3:14-15; Acts 1:21-26; Rom. 1:1; 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11-12; Gal. 1:1). As a unique office and gift, apostleship ended in the first century A.D. (Cf. Matt. 19:28; Acts 12:2).
(4) In the 1st century, the gift of prophecy was closely related to the gift of apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12). The purpose of prophesy in the New Testament was to edify and strengthen the early church (1 Cor. 14:3-4; 14:22).
(5) In essence, then, prophesy served the church as a specific witness to Jesus Christ at a time when it lacked the written revelation of Jesus Christ in the form of the New Testament.34 As Gaffin has stated, “With this foundational revelation completed, and so too their foundational role as witnesses, the apostles and, along with them, the prophets and other associated revelatory word gifts, pass from the life of the church.”35
(6) Several Scriptural passages make this point:
a. Jude 3 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” The word “faith” refers to the body of truths taught by the apostles or the “things believed.”36 (See also Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 4:1). It is a reference to the propositional truth of the gospel -- a truth now found only in the written pages of Scripture. The word “entrusted” (paradidonai) is the word used for handing down authorized tradition in Israel.37 (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3; 2 Thes. 3:6). Moreover, the phrase “once for all” (hapax) indicates that the faith -- the objective content of Christianity -- was entrusted to the saints one time, conclusively.38 Once this process was completed, there was no further need for additional revelation beyond the apostolic age.
b. Jesus promised his disciples that, after His departure, the Holy Spirit would give them “all truth” (Jn 14:26; 16:12-13). 2 Peter 1:21 amplifies the method by which the Holy Spirit would give the apostles truth; Scripture is the result of the Holy Spirit’s carrying the authors along as they wrote.
c. The apostle John said that anyone who adds to the words of the book of Revelation would be cursed (Rev. 22:18). While his words apply specifically to the revelation given to him as recorded in the last book of the New Testament, inferentially, they equally apply to the canon of Scripture as a whole.
In sum, because prophecy and other “revelatory” gifts have fulfilled their purpose and are no longer necessary to provide a witness to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, they have thereby ceased to exist; it is Scripture that now takes their place as God’s special revelation regarding salvation. It is now the written Word of God that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, in short for life, to equip man for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). The view that God directly speaks to man today through the continuation of revelatory gifts seriously undermines this principle.
The Sufficiency of Scripture
Proponents of continuing revelation have moved beyond “tongues” and “prophecy” to say that God speaks directly to man today through dreams, visions, audible voices and other ways as well. A rapidly spreading teaching is that God speaks to his people today apart from the Bible, even though he never speaks in contradiction to it. In other words, proponents of this view assert the existence of “plus factors” -- God speaks directly to man through the Bible plus.
For example, in his book, The Word of God With Power, Jack Taylor has written that it is a mistake to believe that we have in the Bible all the revelation we will ever need.39 Although he readily acknowledges that the canon of Scripture “is complete and will never require addition,” he effectively contradicts himself (in the very same sentence) by declaring that God continues to directly speak to individuals through “impressions, messages, dreams and visions.”40 The Holy Spirit, in his view, “will use the written Scripture, but He is not bound to its pages in the issue of making His will known to us.”41
In his book, Surprised By the Power of the Spirit, Jack Deere similarly states that “God does indeed speak apart from the Bible, though never in contradiction to it.”42 Deere believes that God “speaks to all of his children” and “in amazing detail,” through audible voices, impressions, visions, dreams, and through angels.43 Deere has even gone so far as to say that “one of his [Satan’s] most successful attacks has been to develop a doctrine that teaches God no longer speaks to us except through the written word” and “this doctrine is demonic.”44
Yet the Bible tells us, in explicit language, that God, through his divine power “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” that we need (2 Pet. 1:3). Taylor and Deere and others like them are engaged in a frontal assault on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. In effect, they seek to reopen the canon of Scripture by postulating a continuing form of special revelation. In order to understand the gravity of their error, we must review the concepts of revelation, inspiration, illumination and Holy Spirit guidance, for the “Bible plus” teachings inappropriate confuses these distinct works of the Holy Spirit.
The word “revelation” means an uncovering, a removal of the veil, a disclosure of what was previously unknown.45 Accordingly, in theological usage, revelation is the communication of divine truth from God to man.46 It is God’s message to man. There are two basic types of revelation. Through general revelation (creation, the universe, nature), God reveals his character generally to mankind, though not sufficiently for man to find salvation. Everyone (at least in this debate) agrees that God still speaks to all humanity through general revelation. Special revelation, in contrast, does not come to all people. In the Old Testament, God revealed himself to specific people through dreams, visions, theophanies, angels, prophets, the lot, and the Urim and Thummim.47 In the New Testament, asa noted above, the incarnation of Jesus Christ as Savior was the culmination of God’s special revelation to man. The incarnation is “[t]he pinnacle of the acts of God.”48 As the author of Hebrews wrote: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb 1:1-2).
Inspiration is the means of God’s communication of his written revelation to man. The word “inspiration” is a translation of theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.”49 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is the primary witness of the Bible to its own inspiration: “All Scripture is God-breathed (i.e., inspired) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, God “breathed-out” what the sacred writers communicated in the biblical writings.50 In this sense, inspiration was completed when the canon of Scripture was closed.
Illumination, on the other hand, is fundamentally different from both revelation and inspiration. As Charles Ryrie has cautioned: “The experience of ‘illumination’ is not be ‘direct revelation.’ The canon is closed. The Spirit illumines the meaning of that closed canon, and He does so through study and meditation.”51 Taylor, at least, fails to appreciate this important distinction.52
The Holy Spirit’s leading and conviction ministries are also fundamentally distinct from revelation and illumination. John Murray has written wisely in this regard:
We must rely upon the Holy Spirit to direct and guide us in the understanding and application of God’s will as revealed in Scripture, and we must be constantly conscious of our need of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word effectively to us in each situation. The function of the Holy Spirit in such matters is that of illumination as to what the will of the Lord is, and of imparting to us the willingness and strength to do that will. . . . as we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doings of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions.53
Yet Murray cautions, “The moment we desire or expect or think that a state of our consciousness is the effect of a direct intimation to us of the Holy Spirit’s will, or consists in such an intimation and is therefore in the category of special direction from him, then we have given way to the notion of special, direct, detached communication from the Holy Spirit. And this . . . belongs to the same category as belief in special revelation.”54
Hence, “though the Spirit’s illumination and guidance may sometimes focus on phenomena such as promptings or impressions, those phenomena are not specifically interpreted as involving the biblical ministry-gifts of revelation, such as prophesy and tongues or their correlates (e.g., visions, dreams, auditions).55 God has finally and completely spoken to man through Jesus Christ His Son. He has accomplished his salvific purpose. As White has stated: “With the completion of salvation in Christ comes the cessation of revelation. Consequently, the church now lives by a ‘Scripture only’ principle of authority.”56
“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise.” Prov. 22:17
In an effort to show that the “signs and wonders” of the charismatic movement are not new phenomena, proponents of the movement frequently attempt to link the manifestations of today with allegedly similar manifestations in history. One group with which the Third Wave claims particularly close affinity is the Shakers. This is an interesting assertion given that the Shakers were a radical fringe sect that bore little, if any, resemblance to orthodox Christianity.
A small branch of radical English Quakers, the Shakers (also known as the “Shaking Quakers”) were founded in 1758 by a woman named Ann Lee. The sect was characterized by the practice of ecstatic utterances in worship; a belief in rabid millennialism, and a lifestyle of extreme piety.57 Interestingly, the Shakers felt a spiritual connection with the Montanists, considering them to have been the “forerunners of a new ‘dispensation.’“58
In their worship services, the Shakers did not engage in preaching, prayer or other regular form. Rather:
every one acts for himself, and almost every one different from the other: one will stand with his arms extended, acting over odd postures, which they call signs; another will be dancing, and some times hopping on one leg about the floor; another will fall to turning round, so swift, that if it be a woman, her clothes will be so filled with the wind, as though they were kept out by a hoop; another will be prostrate on the floor. . . some groaning most dismally; some trembling extremely; others acting as though all their nerves were convulsed; others swinging their arms, with all vigor, as though they were turning a wheel, etc.59
Worship services were not only characterized by singing and dancing, shaking and shouting, however. They also contained “speaking with new tongues and prophesying, with all those various gifts of the Holy Ghost known in the primitive Church.”60 As one observer wrote:
At other times some were shaking and trembling, others singing words out of the Psalms in whining, canting tomes (but not in rhyme), while others were speaking in what they called ‘the unknown tongue,’ -- to me an unintelligible jargon, mere gibberish and perfect nonsense.61
Eventually, the meetings were so intense that Lee was imprisoned for profanement of the Sabbath. While in prison, she had a series of visions in which she claimed to have conversed with Christ.62 Presumably, as a result of her “conversations” with Christ, she subsequently believed and taught that she was “the female aspect of God’s dual nature as the second incarnation of Christ.” She told her followers that “It is not I that speak, it is Christ who dwells in me.”63
Due to persecution in England, Lee and a small group of Shakers emigrated to America in 1774. They settled in isolated villages “away from the evils of the world,” and established “Millennial Laws,” which mandated an extreme separation of the sexes, even to the extent of dividing men, women and children into their own “families” and making men and women “leave through separate doors.” Property was owned communally. The distinctive craftsmanship of “Shaker furniture” is a result of the sect’s commitment to “a life of perfection.”
A “revival” in the 1780’s brought increased numbers into the Shaker community. Yet the sect reached its height of popularity during the Second Great Awakening, when there were between 18-21 Shaker villages and between 4,000 and 6,000 members. The sect eventually dwindled as a result of its celebacy beliefs; currently, only nine Shakers remain in two small towns in New England.64
The Disappearance of Spiritual Ecstasy From Orthodoxy
In Charismatic Chaos, John MacArthur observed:
[S]ince the canon of Scripture was completed, no genuine revival or orthodox movement has ever been led by people whose authority is based in any way on private revelations from God. Many groups have claimed to receive new revelation, but all of them have been fanatical, heretical, cultic, or fraudulent.65
MacArthur makes an important point. Between the demise of the Montanists in the fourth century and the American Great Awakenings in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, only a few instances of ecstatic utterances are recorded, and these were either by isolated individuals such as Quaker George Fox or among heretical sects such as the Shakers or the French Prophets.66 Andrews, who chronicled the Shakers, has noted the “little essential difference” among that group, Mormon Joseph Smith, and other sects who manifested “mystical experiences” and “physical phenomena of worship.”67
For the person who values history, this is most significant. For if the charismatic claim that its manifestations of spiritual ecstasy are from God is true, one wonders why those manifestations were limited to fringe groups and heretical sects from the close of the canon to the First Great Awakening. The usual charismatic explanation is that “[t]he Holy Spirit continued in control until the close of the first century, when He was largely rejected and His position as leader usurped by man” so that “[t]he missionary movement halted” and “[t]he dark ages ensued.”68 Indeed, one Pentecostal leader maintained that the signs and wonders of the New Testament era ceased because “the Church did not maintain its purity.”69
This is a serious charge. Unfortunately, it also is an irresponsible one. Over 60 years ago, Colgate University educator George Cutten undertook an extensive survey of whether tongues were present in the sub-apostolic age, and he concluded that “in the ancient church at least, the church of the fathers, there was not one well-attested instance of any person who exercised speaking in tongues or even pretended to exercise it.”70 In the fourth century, Chrysostom observed that tongue speaking had even ceased among fringe sects (presumably Montanists).71 Moreover, the two greatest Christian thinkers of all time (after the apostle Paul), Augustine and Martin Luther, never spoke in tongues or engaged in prophetic utterances. Nor did lesser lights such as Athanasus, Anselm, Aquinas, Melanchthon, Calvin, Beza, or Zwingli.
Even if we limit the discussion to Baptists, our own tradition is replete with godly men who rejected the notion that God’s special revelation continues apart from Scripture. Indeed, Baptists have been in the forefront of defending, not only the authority of the Bible, but also its sufficiency. This was the view of the Anabaptists, from which, to some degree, Baptists trace their roots. For example, in 1524, Balthasar Hubmaier, an early Anabaptist leader, wrote Eighteen Dissertations Concerning the Entire Christian Life and of What It Consists, in which he declared that “All teachings that are not of God are in vain and shall be rooted up. Here perish the disciples of Aristotle, as well as the Thomists, the Scotists, Bonaventure, and Occam, and all teaching that does not proceed from God’s Word.”72
This was certainly the view of the Particular Baptists (who were Calvinistic in theology). Articles seven and eight of the Baptist Confession of 1644 state:
The Rule of this Knowledge, Faith and Obedience, concerning the worship and service of God, and all other Christian duties, is not man’s inventions, opinions, devices, lawes, constitutions, or traditions unwritten whatsoever, but only the word of God contained in the Canonical Scriptures.
In this written Word God hath plainly revealed whatsoever he hath thought needful for us to know, believe, and acknowledge, touching the Nature and Office of Christ, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen to the praise of God.73
The Second London Confession of 1689 states that “the Holy Scripture is the only sufficient . . . rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith and Obedience” and “those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people [dreams, visions, etc.] being now ceased.”74 It emphatically declares that the “whole Counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Man’s Salvation, Faith and Life is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new Revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”75 John Gill repeated this precept in his confession which states that Scripture is “the only rule of faith and practice.”76 Scripture contains “the whole of God’s will and pleasure toward us.”77
The cessation of special revelation was even the view of the General Baptists (who were Arminian in theology). Thomas Helwys stated in Article 23 of his confession that Scripture serves “onelie” as “our direction in al [sp] things whatsoever.”78 Helwys’ successor, John Murton, similarly was of the view that Scripture is our sole authority in all matters of faith, conduct, worship, and doctrine.79
American Baptists also vigorously upheld the notion of the sufficiency of Scripture. Roger Williams said that the Bible is the “square rule” that determines “all knowledge of God and of ourselves.”80 John Broadus, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, wrote:
14. What authority has the Bible for us? The Bible is our only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. . . 81
Finally, an introductory statement to the 1925 Southern Baptist Faith and Message declared: “That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”82
Are we to conclude that these great men of God “did not maintain [their] purity?” That they “rejected” the Holy Spirit and His position as “leader”? My answer is a resounding “no.” It seems to me that Rene Pache got it right when he said:
If ‘miraculous’ gifts (healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues) have been absent at certain times, the probable cause has lain not always in man’s unbelief, but in the will of God. If it were otherwise, why should the Spirit unceasingly give certain gifts. . . while failing to bestow others?83
In order to walk with the wise and learn from the past, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture must be reaffirmed.
And Peter said to them, “Repent. . . Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38, 40)
“But you, be sober in all things” (2 Tim. 4:5)
Jonathan Edwards and The First Great Awakening
Along with the other great church luminaries mentioned in the last chapter, Jonathan Edwards also never spoke in tongues nor believed that the revelatory gifts continued past the apostolic age.84 Generally thought of as America’s preeminent theologian, this Calvinistic minister is perhaps best known for his role in sparking America’s first and greatest revival, the Great Awakening of the mid-Eighteenth Century.
In 1733 and 1734, Jonathan Edwards preached on “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence” and “Justification By Faith Alone.” As a result of these messages, in Edwards’ own words, “the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in and wonderfully to work amongst us,” so that souls began to flock to Christ, as the Savior in whose righteousness alone they hoped to be justified.”85 The Great Awakening had begun. Within a single year, in a town of some 200 families, about 300 souls were saved.86
The former “dullness in religion,” “night walking, and frequenting the tavern and lewd practices” were replaced by a focus on God’s redemptive work.87 The town “seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor so full of joy; and yet so full of distress, as it was then.”88 Revival rapidly spread to other New England towns and villages.
With regenerated souls came awakened emotions. At the time of conversion, the newly saved frequently manifested an extreme agony over their sinful condition. Edwards wrote that their consciences were “smitten” -- “as if their hearts were pierced through with a dart.”89 They experienced “awful apprehensions” about the depths of their corrupted souls, and a sense that God was just in condemning them. Upon conversion, there was often laughter, tears or loud weeping.90
Meanwhile, revival fires continued to burn. In 1740, George Whitefield visited Northampton and quickened the fervor. The manifestations accompanying conversion this time were “even more bizarre than the earlier ones;” parishioners “bewailed their sins aloud and groaned in fear and repentence.”91
Like Edwards, Whitefield was also a Calvinist who understood the role of emotions and experience in the Christian life. He decried the cold rationalism that infected the Anglican clergy of the day, emphasizing the centrality of the New Birth experience to salvation.92 He was himself prone to tears as he preached.93 When Whitefield preached in Northampton, the power of the Holy Spirit was present. “Few dry eyes were in the assembly.”94 Even Edwards felt “weak in body” and “wept during the whole time of exercise.”95 One account has it that “Mr. Whitefield had scarcely spoken for a minute on the same text when the whole auditorium could be seen to be deeply moved, to be in tears, and to be wringing hands, and the sighing, weeping, and shouting of the people could be heard.”96
Sometimes, however, the manifestations went beyond the emotions of repentence. Occasionally, enthusiasts heard voices and beheld visions, claiming that they had received revelations from God. Extreme manifestations of ecstasy also occurred during some of Whitefield’s sermons. As one account of Whitefield’s Scottish tour put it: “the Bodies of some of the Awakened are seized with Trembling, Fainting, Histerisms in some few Women, and with Convusive-Motions in some others.”97
Edwards strongly condemned these extreme manifestations. He discounted such “false signs” as crying aloud repeated mantras (“Hosanna, Hosanna”), bodily behavior, self-induced affections, and “all other signs testifying not to the faith of children of light but to ‘the presumption of the children of darkness.’“98 He denounced persons who believed that fainting, bodily tremors and “all manner of natural passion” were positive elements of revival.99 These signs were negative, in Edwards’s eyes, because they were unrelated to the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. and evinced no integration with the redirected heart.100
Yet despite Edwards’ strong condemnations of false affections, he did not fall to the other extreme of rejecting religious experience altogether. To the contrary, Edwards’ life-long theme was that true religion “is a matter of true affections that incline the heart away from self-love and towards God.”101 As Harold Simonson has stated:
It was not Edwards’ intrepid defense of Calvinism per se that made his leadership during the Awakening most notable; it was rather his profound conviction that Calvinist theology was experientially true. He was convinced that human experience corroborates Calvin’s insights. Edwards insisted that unless theology was rooted in experience, it could not be anything more than intellectual speculation.102
Put another way, Edwards was a Calvinist with a heart. He struck a careful balance between validating the very real emotions that accompany repentance and revival and false affections that distract from and do harm to God’s true work.
The Second Great Awakening
Unfortunately, the careful balance struck by Edwards was sometimes lost during the Second Great Awakening. The story of the Second Great Awakening must begin with James McGready, a Presbyterian evangelical Calvinist.103 It was McGready’s sermons contrasting the glowing beauties of heaven with the fires and miseries of hell that spread revival across north-central North Carolina beginning in 1791.104 When McGready and several of his converts moved to Kentucky in 1798, revival followed. As John Boles records it:
Under the ministrations of McGready and one of his North Carolina converts, the Reverend John Rankin, such a revival developed at a Gasper River sacramental service that many were quite overcome with emotion and fell to the floor, so deeply were they struck with “heart-piercing conviction.” The uninhibited physical responses to penetrating preaching and beliefs that were soon to characterize the Kentucky phase of the Great Revival here made their first appearance. The revival now gained momentum.105
At first, the emotions accompanying revival were closely tied to repentance. As McGready observed: “instantly the divine flame spread through the whole multitude. Presently you might have seen sinners lying powerless in every part of the house, praying and crying for mercy.”106 Yet, when the revival came to Cane Ridge in August, 1801, it was accompanied by more strange “exercises.” As Boles put it:
Many participants, in the midst of the totality of revival phenomena, seemed to have lost control of their emotions. Considering themselves in the very presence of God, many felt so remorseful for their sins (the horrors of which were usually intensified by the ministers) that they fell apparently senseless to the ground. Others who, perhaps seeking a sense of assurance that they were being saved, unconsciously generated a series of physical “exercises” as evidence of their conviction and justification.107
Camp meeting evangelist Barton Stone categorized these “exercises” into several groupings, among which were:
Falling: The subject would “generally, with a piercing scream, fall like a log on the floor, earth, or mud, and appear as dead.”
The Jerks: When the head alone was affected, “it would be jerked backward and forward, or from side to side, so quickly that the features of the face could not be distinguished.” When the whole body was affected, the person would stand in one place and “jerk backward and forward in quick succession, [his] head nearly touching the floor behind and before.”
Dancing: Dancing would often follow the jerks.
Barking: “A person affected with the jerks would often make a grunt, or bark, if you please from the suddenness of the jerk.”
Laughing: The subject would let out “a loud, hearty laughter, but one that excited laughter in none else.”108
Boles has noted that these “grossly exaggerated revival exercises” were “probably restricted to a comparative few” and that “except at the very start, they were never a significant factor in the camp meetings.”109 Professor Bernard Weisberger agrees: “Many stories of unusual transports of holy joy and anguish were undoubtedly stretched. Some came from supporters . . . Others were planted by opponents, who were trying to underscore the element of caricature in the meetings.”110 Thus, for most people, shouting, crying, and falling down were the only physical responses to passionate preaching.111 As Boles put it, “So desperate were many to secure their salvation that they called out in agony, ‘What shall we do to be saved.’“112
Behind the emotional outpouring, especially at the beginning of the Second Great Awakening, there was “a pervasive, strongly believed system of ideas about God and his dealings with men.”113 Early on, Calvinistic Baptist pastor Richard Furman said about the Awakening that it was “a blessed Visitation from on high.”114 Yet, as the camp meetings became more popular and the “convulsions grew more extreme,” opposition from orthodox Baptists and Presbyterians mounted.115
And as the more conservative churches abandoned the movement, its link to theological orthodoxy became more tenuous. The focus became Arminian, rather than Calvinistic.116 Many camp meeting leaders lapsed into heresy. Barton Stone, for example, eventually denied the substitutionary atonement, the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ.117 In addition, some participants began to believe that the jerks, and the other “spasms” were “new revelations of the Spirit.”118 Not surprisingly, the most extreme participants were drawn into the Shaker camp.119
The revival movement declined rapidly after 1805. Indeed, by 1804, the camp meeting had become almost exclusively a Methodist phenomenon, and in their hands, it became less a mysterious work of the Holy Spirit and more “a revival technique.”120 Baptist Edmund Botsworth disapprovingly wrote to Furman in 1803 that many fell “some say, on purpose.”121 By 1835, Charles Finney could say with relative impunity, “A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense” but that “it is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means.”122
The Place for Experience in the Christian Life
As Jonathan Edwards discovered during the First Great Awakening, the Christian life is like walking a tightrope: If we take one step to the left into undue emotionalism or one step to the right into sterile rationalism, we fall. We Baptists have a saying, that Christianity involves a relationship, not a religion. By that, we mean that we do not hold to the staid formalism or empty rituals that typify much of religious expression in our day. After all, even orthodox belief, devoid of a personal relationship with the risen Savior, is dead faith. On the other hand, revivalism is equally invalid. Spiritual ecstasy and mysticism may be exciting and psychologically fulfilling, but they are spiritual poison when devoid of Biblical content and truth. Accordingly, Edwards had it right when he insisted that true religious emotion must inexorably be linked to a sense of fear and trembling before a just and holy God and a fervent desire to repent of sins.
In other words, true religious affections derive from a mature love, an agape relationship, or at least, the friendship and devotion of phileo (cf. Jn. 21:15-17). They will derive from a heart of repentance, crying out to God, “Oh, wretched man that I am.” The spiritual ecstacies and excesses of the charismatic movement have a different type of “love,” a selfish storge, as their focus. Their principal concern is not a mutual bond of relationship with Jesus Christ, after repentance of sin, but a mindset of: “How will the Spirit bless me today?”
This distinction readily can be seen by contrasting the awakening experiences of Jonathan Edwards’ parishioners with the circus atmosphere of a modern charismatic rally. Edwards movingly wrote of the conversion of a young girl, Phebe Bartlet, in A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, describing her pre-salvation state in terms of “continued crying” and “anguish of spirit.” Contrast this to the state of Richard Roberts’ nine year old daughter at a Rodney Howard-Browne meeting. According to her father, after Howard-Browne laid hands on her, she fell to the ground and laughed for an hour and 45 minutes, and when her parents tried to put her to bed that night, she fell out laughing so hard that they finally had to put her in the bathtub to calm her down.123
Another contrast can be made. Although excesses certainly occurred during the Great Awakenings, revival came as a result of a steady diet of Calvinistic preaching by Edwards, Whitefield, McGready and others. It was the words that mattered, the words of the minister faithfully imparting the Word of God. Yet, in an interview with Christian Research Journal, Rodney Howard-Browne admitted that the message he is preaching is essentially irrelevant to whether people fall out in ecstatic manifestations.124 Thus, despite Third Wave claims to be the spiritual heirs of Jonathan Edwards, there legitimately can be no comparison between Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and the vain repetition of the words to a song led by Howard-Browne: “I am drunk. I am drunk. Every day of my life I am drunk. I’ve been drinking down at Joel’s place every night and every day. I am drunk on new wine.”125
What, then, are we to make of the prophecies, tongues and other ecstatic utterances of the charismatic movement? Certainly, we can assume that at least some of the more bizarre manifestations of ecstasy are Satanic in origin. However, we cannot ascribe all of the emotionalism to the devil. Much of it lies in us. For example, Theodore Barber has suggested that there is little difference between hypnotism and the “high level of suggestability” activated by strong motivational instruction (such as that orchestrated at a typical Toronto Blessing or Rodney Howard-Browne meeting).126 Vern Poythress has noted that free vocalization (speaking in tongues) can be learned and, in fact, “is easier than learning how to ride a bicycle.”127
We have no need, however, to characterize those things that we believe lacks biblical warrant. Rather, we have need of true and genuine revival of the type found in the Great Awakenings. Emotion is an important part of our spiritual life, but a genuine, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ is paramount. In fact, it must be paramount above either excessive emotionalism or sterile rationality.
This can be seen by another contrast, this one between two Dallas Theological Seminary teachers. Former Dallas Seminary professor Jack Deere described his life before he became a charismatic in his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit as follows:
I knew where I was going. My life was both comfortable and secure. I was in control and liked it that way. Most of the time I felt I knew what God was doing.
Over the years, [my wife] had watched my passion for God slowly drying up like the reservoirs in Southern California during a draught. I wasn’t conscious of losing any passion for God. I thought I had just grown up. But she was concerned that I had become complacent and self-satisfied. And she saw my attitudes as an enemy of God’s calling on our lives.128
Unfortunately, Deere’s solution to his spiritual “draught” was to gravitate to the Vineyard movement and fall into excessive emotionalism.
Current Dallas Seminary professor Daniel Wallace’s Christianity was challenged when his 8-year-old son was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. In a speech before a regional group of the Evangelical Theological Society, Wallace recalled:
Through this experience, I found that the Bible was not adequate. I needed God in a personal way -- not as an object of my study, but as friend, guide, comforter. I needed an existential experience of the Holy One. Quite frankly, I found that the Bible was not the answer. I found the scriptures to be helpful -- even authoritatively helpful -- as a guide. But without feeling God, the Bible gave little solace. In the midst of this “summer from hell,” I began to examine what had become of my faith.129
Out of this personal crisis, Wallace formulated eleven theses or challenges addressed to cesessionists that echo the themes of Jonathan Edwards:
1. Although the sign gifts died in the first century, the Holy Spirit did not.
2. Although charismatics have given a higher priority to experience than to relationship, rationalistic evangelicals have given a higher priority to knowledge than to relationship.
3. This emphasis on knowledge over relationship has produced in us a bibliolatry.
4. The net effect of such bibliolatry is a depersonalization of God.
5. Part of the motivation for this depersonalization of God is our increasing craving for control.
6. God is still a God of healing and miracles.
7. Evangelical rationalism can lead to spiritual defection.
8. The power brokers of rational evangelicalism, since the turn of the century, have been white, obsessive-compulsive males.
9. The Holy Spirit’s guidance is still needed in discerning the will of God.
10. In the midst of seeking out the power of the Spirit, we must not avoid the sufferings of Christ.
11. To what does the Spirit bear witness?130
As cessationists, we would do well to grapple with these issues.
Questions to Charismatics
At the same time, however, charismatics would do well to grapple with the following questions:
Issue 1: Is the canon of Scripture closed or open? This is the article on which the charismatic movement must stand or fall. It will not do to say that the canon is closed, but that God still speaks to man directly today through the same means and in the same way as He spoke, through special revelation, before the close of the canon. It also will not do to assert that God speaks today through “fallible” revelation (as opposed to the infallible revelation of Scripture). Either God’s revelation is capable of error or it is not.
Issue 2: Is primacy to be found in biblical authority or experience? This point is closely related to, but distinct from, the first. Put another way, is truth objective and propositional, or subjective and personal? Historical Christianity has always held to the belief that truth is objective and propositional, as found in the Word of God. However, the modern charismatic movement has drifted from that firm anchor, in teaching that truth can take the form of personal revelation. The resemblence to neo-orthodoxy is striking. Jack Taylor has written that “The Bible is the Word of God. . . only when the Holy Spirit who inspires it enlivens it. Only then does it have life and power. Until then it is document; document is letter, and letter kills.”131 Do charismatics agree with Taylor?
Issue 3: Is Scripture sufficient for faith and practice and, equally importantly, for life? 2 Peter 1:3 affirms that it is. Yet Jack Taylor has written that the traditional Baptist (really Petrine) doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is “the dung of meaningless tradition and unbiblical ideas.”132 Do charismatics agree? If they do affirm the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, what need is there for personal revelation to supplement what is all-sufficient?
Issue 4: Will our central focus be on the Savior or the Spirit? One of the cardinal Reformation principles was that of solo Christo. Should we keep that tenet, or change the focus to the Holy Spirit? Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would point to the Son. Can we do otherwise? If not, where is the condemnation of Rodney Howard-Browne?
Issue 5: Should we expect more to the Christian life? The charismatic movement (particularly, its Vineyard element) has attracted many Calvinists and professional theologians.133 Many of these individuals had previously embraced Christianity only “from the neck up.”134 Many of them have longed for something more than “cognitive Christianity.” This need for “something more” has always been there. It drove the Montanist movement in the early years of the church. As Griffith Thomas has noted, from a psychological standpoint, Montanism had its origin in “the recognition of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in a Church that was already tending to become too rigid in its intellectual conceptions and ecclesiastical organisation.”135 Its adherents wanted to experience “something more.”
We are responsible to offer “something more” than either sterile rationalism or destructive emotionalism. We must offer a personal, real relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship involves all the normal emotions involved in a love relationship (love, joy, peace). As Edwards said in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections:
There is no true religion where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things.136
Edwards got the balance right. Following in his footsteps is our challenge.
6 I adopt Richard Gaffin’s use of this term to describe prophesy and its assessment, tongues and their interpretation, the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. See Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “A Cessationist View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views ed. Wayne A. Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 42.
7 Since 1960, the charismatic movement has exploded beyond Pentecostal denominational barriers. It has infiltrated virtually every mainline denomination -- at first, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian, later, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. See Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1984), 205.
12 This date derives from Eusebius. Modern scholars believe this date to be too late, variously contending that Montanism originated between 126 and 180 A.D. See Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 418 n.1.
34 Parenthetically, the purpose of tongues was related, but somewhat different. Tongues were for unbelievers, specifically, as a sign to unbelieving Jews (1 Cor. 14:22; cf. Isa. 28:11-12). Their purpose was to assist in discerning whether the apostles’ message was from God or not, since the people did not have the written New Testament to demonstrate the validity of the message. See generally William G. Bellshaw, “The Confusion of Tongues,” Biblia Sacra 120, no. 478 (1963): 145, 148-150.
36 Walvoord, John F. and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Scripture Press Publications, Inc., 1983, 1985, Logos Bible Software edition); Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP/Eerdmans, 1987), 171.
44 Jack Deere, Vineyard Position Paper # 2: The Vineyard’s Response to The Briefing (Anaheim, Calif.: Association of Vineyard Churches, 1992, 22-23, quoted in R. Fowler White, “Does God Speak Today Apart From the Bible?,” in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, ed., John H. Armstrong (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 78.
52 For example, he quotes approvingly from Watchman Nee, who wrote that “revelation (what I have previously referred to as illumination) means that God again breathes on His Word when I read Romans two thousand years later. . . . Inspiration is given only once; revelation is given repeatedly. By revelation we mean that today God again breathes on His Word, the Holy Spirit imparts light to me. . . . What again is revelation? Revelation occurs when God reactivates His Word by His Spirit that it may be living and full of life as at the time when it was first written.” Taylor, The Word of God With Power, 49-50.
53 John Murray, “The Guidance of the Holy Spirit” in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 1: The Claims of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 188-189, quoted in “R. Fowler White, “Does God Speak Today Apart From the Bible” in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, ed. John H. Armstrong (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 87-88 (n.6).
64 Additional information about the Shakers may be found at the following Internet sites: (a) Steve Lim, “Shakers: History of the Group,” http://ctdnet.acns.nwu.edu/skul/”; (b) “Shakers and Shakerism,” “ http://www. nypl.org/” and (c) Karl Mang, “The Shakers - Another America,” “ http://www.shakerworkshops.com.”
66 It is recorded of the early Quakers that, as they sange and danced, “the Devil roared in these deceived souls in a most strange and dreadful Manner, some howling, some shrieking, yelling, roaring, and some had a strange confused kind of humming, singing Noise. . . about the one Half of these miserable Creatures were terribly shaken with violent Motions.” Andrews, The People Called Shakers, 137.
70 See George W. Dollar, “A Symposium on the Tongues Movement Part II: Church History and the Tongues Movement,” Biblia Sacra 120, no. 480 (1963): 316, 317; “Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., “The Gift of Tongues in the Post Apostolic Church (a.d. 100-400), Biblia Sacra 122, no. 486 (1965): 134, 135-143.
73 Ibid, 51. Bush and Nettles note that the phrase “contained in the Canonicall Scriptures” does not refer to a belief that God’s words are intermixed with other words, but could as well be stated “limited to the Canonicall Scriptures.” Ibid, 53. Indeed, when the confession was republished in 1651, it was accompanied by an essay against Quakers which declared that the Bible contains “the whole Minde, will, and Law of God, for us and all Saints to believe and practise throughout all ages.” Ibid, 56.
74 Ibid, 62-63. Significantly, the expression that the Bible is “the only sufficient” rule of knowledge, faith and obedience is an addition from the Westminster Confession of Faith, from which the Second London Confession is modeled. Ibid., 65.
103 John Boles records that McGready was “more interested in the salvation of his listeners than in constructing a formal creed” but that his sermons did “reflect the theological subtleties of evangelical Calvinism.” John B. Boles, The Great Revival, 1787-1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1972), 40.
104 Ibid, 40-41. As one observer described McGready’s sermons: “Father McGready would so describe Heaven, that you would almost see its glories. . . and he would so array hell and its horrors before the wicked, that they would tremble and quake, imagining a lake of fire and brimstone yawning to overwhelm them.” See Timothy K. Beougher, “Did You Know? Little Known and Remarkable Facts About Camp Meetings and Circuit Riders,” Christian History 14, no. 45 (1995): 2.
110 Bernard A. Weisberger, They Gathered at the River (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958), 35, quoted in Keith J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney 1792-1875: Revivalist and Reformer (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1987), 58.
116 For example, the views of revivalist Richard McNemar were considered, after examination, to have been “essentially different from Calvinism” but “clothed in such expressions and handed out in such a manner, as to keep the body of the people in the dark, and lead them insensibly into Arminian principles; which are dangerous to the souls of men, and hostile to the interests of all true religion.” Barton W. Stone, History of the Christian Church in the West (Lexington, KY: 1956), 4, quoted in Boles, The Great Revival, 150-151.
119 Ibid, 100. Upon reflection, Barton Stone ruefully acknowledged that circumstances were right for Shakers to gain converts: “Some of us were verging on fanaticism; some were so disgusted at the spirit of opposition against us, and the evils of division, that they were almost led to doubt the truth of religion in toto; and some were earnestly breathing after perfection in holiness.” Stone, Autobiography, 184, quoted in Boles, The Great Revival, 157.
129 Daniel B. Wallace, “The Uneasy Conscience of a Non-Charismatic Evangelical,” Speech before the Evangelical Theological Society, Southwest Regional Meeting, 4 March 1994, available on the internet: /docs/soapbox/estsw.htm>.