Friday, June 15, 2007

Pentecostal Power

I was shocked by a recent LifeWay Research study that reported 50% of Southern Baptist pastors believe in a “private prayer language.” The exact question posed to these preachers was:

Do you believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people the gift of a special language to pray to God privately? Some people refer to this as a private prayer language or the ‘private use of tongues.’

And 50% of the men in our pulpits answered, “Yes.”

Now let me try to clarify what they are and are not asking. They are not asking about the gift of speaking in tongues. You'll find that discussed in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14. Speaking in tongues was a way in which God revealed His Word to the early church. It involved a believer speaking in an unlearned human language... notice I said human language. Scripture never tells of anyone speaking in "angelic" or "heavenly" languages. Thus, speaking in tongues was not random jibber jabber; it was an intelligible, earthly language.

The early church needed this gift because they did not have the full revelation of God that we now have (the Bible). God does not still reveal His Word to us. If you believe that He does, then you are denying the sufficiency of Scripture.

LifeWay was asking about something different from speaking in tongues. Notice how the question places the emphasis on speaking this unknown tongue in private. Many, particularly among charismatics, believe that God gives us a language in which to pray to Him. One verse commonly used to support this idea is Romans 8:26, "For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." The doctrine of praying in tongues is a manipulation of the biblical teachings about speaking in tongues. Praying in tongues (and not speaking in tongues) is the question posed to these SBC pastors.

The findings of this study shock me for several reasons, but let me just share one with you.

The influence of charismatic doctrine is extremely powerful in today's church.

I've often wondered how the TV preachers and things seen and heard from today's popular Christianity have influenced the men and women in our church pews. Now I know. And now I know it's not just coming from their TVs and radios, it could just as easily be coming from their pastors!

Why is this type of Christianity so influential? It's exciting. It's different. It has the allusion of "deeper" or "higher" spirituality. Christians who are fed up with dry, monotonous, ritualistic Baptist churches go searching for something better... something deeper. Many of these seekers find themselves getting "filled with the Holy Ghost" and speaking in tongues. If you're looking for an experience, nothing tops that!

The charismatics have hijacked the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, turning the third person of the Trinity into a mysterious force that produces chaos. These days, Baptists hardly even mention God the Spirit because we're afraid of Him. We think the charismatics have dibs on the Spirit, so we avoid Him, lest we all start shaking violently and speaking in tongues. It's high time we get the doctrine of the Holy Spirit back to its biblical basis and away from these misguided spiritual thrill-seekers.

The precious Spirit of God revealed to us in the Bible is even more powerful than the erroneous Spirit of God revealed to us on TBN. The Spirit's power isn't seen in knocking people to the ground; it's seen in a new believer's eyes when he understands the Gospel for the first time. The Spirit's power isn't seen in one's private prayer language; it's seen in the change in one's private behavior. Only God the Holy Spirit can give new birth and only He can sanctify us, making us more like our Savior.

That's power. Just ask anyone who has experienced it.
I'd like to close with a word to LifeWay, the group that did the research. I appreciate the research that is now coming from this Baptist entity. But, with all due respect, you guys are not helping this problem by bombarding your customers with books by Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. Watch what you sell in the stores. While it may cut back on some of your profits, it will help the SBC tremendously.

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