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Try the Spirits – A Reformed Look at Pentecostalism – Part II by David J. Engelsma

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Charismatic Movement

The Reformed Testing of Pentecostalism’s Spirit

Pentecostalism replaces the Word of God in the Church and in the life of the member of the Church with experience, i.e., human feeling. This is one of its basic errors. Essentially, it is an attack on the Word, whether it replaces the Word completely, or whether it shoves the Word into the background, or whether it places experience alongside the Word. The movement runs down doctrine and speaks disparagingly of orthodoxy. Albert B. Simpson, the well-known Pentecostal preacher, expressed the Pentecostal attitude toward sound doctrine, when he called his Holy Spirit baptism, ‘the funeral of my dogmatics.’ Wherever it appears, Pentecostalism does away with the creeds. One of the ‘gifts’ which it has restored is that of special revelations given directly from God to certain ‘prophets.’ This is the denial of the sole authority and full sufficiency of Scripture–a deathblow to sola scriptura (Scripture alone). Hearing and believing the Word is no longer the central thing, but the experience of the Spirit baptism.

This replacement of the Word with experience identifies Pentecostalism as a revival of the ancient heresy of mysticism: salvation as immediate contact with God. Pentecostalism’s favorite words are ‘experience,’ ‘power,’ ‘ecstasy,’ and the like. This is its Spirit baptism; this is the nature of the Pentecostal meeting; this is its appeal to religious people; this is why women have a leading place in the movement.

That Pentecostalism is mysticism, indeed mysticism run amok, is readily illustrated from Pentecostal sources. The Full Gospel Business Men’s Voice (a Pentecostal magazine) of June, 1960 gives a description of his baptism with the Holy Spirit by a minister who, disturbed by his ‘lack of power,’ had sought the baptism in fire:

Directly, there came into my hands a strange feeling, and it came on down to the middle of my arms and began to surge! It was like a thousand-like ten thousand-then a million volts of electricity. It began to shake my hands and to pull my hands. I could hear, as it were, a zooming sound of the power. It pulled my hands higher and held them there as though God took them in His. There came a voice in my soul that said, ‘Lay these hands on the sick and I will heal them!’ . . . but I didn’t have the baptism . . . In an air-conditioned room, with my hands lifted…and my heart reaching up for my God, there came the hot, molten lava of His love. It poured in like a stream from Heaven and I was lifted up out of myself. I spoke in a language I could not understand for about two hours. My body perspired as though I was in a steambath: the Baptism of Fire! (quoted in Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, p.127)

Surely, this would have embarrassed Jacob Boehme, mystic that he was.

John Sherrill, a prominent Pentecostal, writes of seeing Jesus as a bright white light in his hospital room (cf. his They Speak with Other Tongues). Donald Gee, another leading Pentecostal, describes the Pentecostal baptism this way: ‘We are taken into God, and the soul will receive a consuming desire to ever more be utterly and entirely lost in Him’–the typical language of mysticism (cf. A New Discovery, p. 23).

A second fundamental error of Pentecostalism is its giving the Holy Spirit center-stage, while relegating Jesus to the wings, if not pushing Him offstage, entirely. It is forced to deny this, just as Rome is forced to deny that the cult of Mary actually replaces Jesus, but the fact remains. The truth of this charge is obvious on the very face of the movement. The Spirit gets the attention in Pentecostalism. The work of the Spirit, not that of the Son, is celebrated and exalted. The very name by which this movement calls itself gives it away: Pentecostalism–a name that has to do with the Spirit. Scripture, however, gives the people of God the name, Christian–a name that has to do with the Son, Jesus.

This disparagement of Jesus in favor of the Spirit is rooted deeply in basic Pentecostal doctrine. Pentecostalism teaches that the child of God must go beyond Christ to the higher level of the Spirit, must advance beyond ‘merely’ receiving Christ by faith to receiving the Spirit by the Holy Spirit baptism.

Pentecostalism insults Christ.

Whatever spirit replaces Christ, disparages Christ, or goes beyond Christ is not the Spirit of Christ, but one of the spirits of antichrist, for the Spirit of Christ reveals Christ, bestows Christ, calls attention to the work of Christ, and glorifies Christ. ‘But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me’ (John 15:26). ‘He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you’ (John 16:14).

A third, related error is Pentecostalism’s minimizing of faith. Flying straight in the face of the testimony of the Bible that in Jesus Christ nothing else avails anything at all, ‘but faith which worketh by love’ (Gal. 5:6), Pentecostalism insists that faith in Christ is not enough–not nearly enough. Something additional is required, which avails very much indeed, namely, Holy Spirit baptism. Ignoring completely Scripture’s gracious praise of the believer as the one who shall not be confounded and who belongs to the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, and the people of God’s possession (I Pet. 2:&9), Pentecostalism slights those who ‘merely’ believe, extolling instead those baptized in the Spirit. With the belittling of faith goes a stress on all kinds of human works. Pentecostalism puts a premium on certain works that are alleged to be conditions for receiving the baptism with the Spirit: praying intensely, cleansing one’s heart from all sin, yielding oneself completely, and the like. Most highly prized, of course, is the human work of speaking in tongues. Believing on the Son of God must take a back seat to this!

It is not surprising, then, that Pentecostalism practically ignores the one fundamental blessing of salvation for the child of God, the blessing received through faith: the forgiveness of sins. In the place of the gospel’s ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven’ (Rom. 4:7ff; Psalm 32:1), Pentecostalism pronounces its ‘Blessed are they who enjoy the ecstasy and power of the Holy Spirit baptism.’

Whatever belittles faith, whatever adds to faith, whatever goes beyond faith is of the devil, is another gospel; and whoever falls away to this heresy is fallen from grace. The first verses of Galatians 5 sound the clear, sharp warning that there may be nothing in addition to, much less beyond, faith. To add something to faith, for the reception of salvation, is utterly to forfeit Christ: In this case, ‘Christ shall profit you nothing’ (v.2); ‘ye are fallen from grace’ (v.4).

Sola fide! Faith alone! All of salvation is by faith only! ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith… not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8,9). Our salvation begins, continues, and is perfected by faith alone.

Pentecostalism is proud. It is arrogant in its attitude toward the Church of the past. Until about A.D. 1900, there was no such thing as the Pentecostal baptism with the Spirit within the Church. Athanasius and Augustine did not have it. Luther and Calvin did not have it. The Reformed saints of the Netherlands who died by the scores of thousands under the Roman Catholic persecution in the 16th century did not have it. On the contrary, they explicitly repudiated it. Augustine expresses the mind of the Church of the past:

In the earliest time the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues, which they had not learned, ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, and to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening and it passed away. (‘Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John,’ The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII).

What does Pentecostalism say about this? ‘Up till now the Church has been a very poor and lifeless Church. The full gospel, the full salvation, and the full Christian life start with us.’

Put all of Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism on a pile, and the whole heap is not worthy to untie the shoelace of one Luther, or of one Calvin, or of one Reformed saint who believes the gospel of Scripture, trusts in Christ for his righteousness, fears the Lord, keeps the commandments, brings up his family in the truth, and worships God in spirit and in truth.

Pentecostalism is also arrogant in its attitude toward the ‘mere’ believer. The Pentecostal is the elite in the Church, the super-saint; all others are ‘merely’ converted Christians. This arrogance is not so much a matter of the personal sin of the Pentecostal as it is of Pentecostal doctrine. Pentecostalism teaches two baptisms in the Church: the inferior baptism of the washing away of sins (of which the sign is the application of water) and the superior baptism with the Holy Spirit (of which the initial sign is tongues). All Christians receive the former; but only some receive the latter–the super saints. In its fundamental doctrine, therefore, Pentecostalism is schismatic. It does not endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, as Christ’s apostle beseeches in Ephesians 4:3, but rends it. Unity in the congregation is rooted in ‘one baptism’, according to verse 5 of Ephesians 4. To posit two baptisms is as destructive of unity as would be the positing of two faiths, or two Lords, or two Gods. Spiritual pride in every form is divisive; humility nourishes oneness. Elders only deceive themselves when they tolerate Pentecostalism within the congregation, but warn it to ‘keep the peace.’

The explanation of this pride is that Pentecostalism is a religion of man. It centers on man’s feelings and on man’s possession of power. It assigns to man the decisive duty of performing the works that are conditions for the perfecting of salvation in the Holy Spirit baptism. It allows man to receive extra-Biblical revelations and to bind the congregation by them. It empowers a man to exercise a sovereign headship over a congregation, or over a fellowship of congregations, and to regulate the life of the people according to his will. The spirit honored by Pentecostalism is not the Spirit Who glorifies Christ (John 16:14), applies Christ’s redemption (Heidelberg Catechism, ~ He (the Holy Spirit) is also given me, to make me . . . partaker of Christ and all His benefits…guides into the truth that Christ has spoken in the inspired Scripture (John 16:13), and gives Himself to all of Christ’s people through faith (Gal. 3:14).’ This One is the Spirit Who magnifies God. But the spirit of Pentecostalism calls attention to itself, bestows its own benefits of salvation, speaks of itself, and operates apart from the hearing of faith. This one is a spirit that caters to man.

Pentecostalism is not God-centered. For this reason, it can attack God’s Word (Scripture), disparage God’s Savior (Christ), minimize God’s way of salvation (faith), and ignore God’s fundamental blessing of salvation (justification). Basic to its being a gospel according to man (Gal. 1:11) is an error which, although often overlooked, even in criticisms of Pentecostalism, characterizes Pentecostalism wherever it is found. This is the error of free will, i.e., the doctrine that salvation depends upon the will of the sinner, rather than upon the sovereign, gracious will of God (Rom. 9:16). The roots of Pentecostalism are not in Calvin, Dordt, and Westminster, but in Arminius, Wesley, Finney, and revivalism.

This helps to explain both the popularity of Pentecostalism and its ecumenicity. Pentecostalism is ecumenical. It is obviously, admittedly, and aggressively ecumenical. It operates in all churches, with total disregard for confessional and doctrinal differences. It unites Protestants and Roman Catholics. All are made one by Pentecostalism–those who practice idolatry in the mass, as well as those whose confession is that this practice is accursed; those who depend for righteousness upon their own merits, as well as those whose confession is that we are to trust only in the alien righteousness of Christ; those who boast of salvation by their own free will, as well as those whose confession is that the ‘free will gospel’ is the error of Pelagius out of hell. So far from being abashed by their doctrinally indifferent ‘Spirit’, and then being roused to suspicion concerning a ‘Spirit’ thus disdainful of the truth, Pentecostal leaders herald their religion as the means of church union. The ecumenical nature of Pentecostalism was evident at the ‘1977 Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian Churches’ held in Kansas City. The conference was co-sponsored by Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Messianic Jews, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and United Methodists. Members from many other denominations participated.

One of the main speakers, the Episcopalian, Dennis Bennett, said that ‘he sees three streams of Christianity that are beginning to flow together: the Catholic stream with its emphasis on history and the continuity of the faith, the evangelical stream with its emphasis on loyalty to Scripture and the importance of personal commitment to Christ, and the Pentecostal stream with its emphasis on the immediate experience of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.’

The keynote speaker, the Roman Catholic, Kevin Ranaghan, ‘asserted that divisions among the various Christian churches have been a ‘serious scandal’ in the world. ‘For the world to believe depends on our becoming one,’ he said. It is the will of God, he emphasized, ‘that we be one.” He expressed his belief that there is a ‘real possibility of moving together toward some lasting form of Christian unity.’ (Cf. Christianity Today, August 12, 1977, pp.36, 37).

Because of its fundamental errors regarding the Word, Christ, and faith; because of its pride; because of its false ecumenicity –an ecumenicity apart from the truth; because of its heretical doctrine of salvation–the teaching of Holy Spirit baptism; and because of its fraudulent miracles, Pentecostalism must be rejected. It must be rejected by Christian discipline. Here, some are weak. They know the errors of Pentecostalism. They see it as radically different from the faith of the Reformation. They even speak out in criticism of the movement. But at the same time they speak of their ‘Pentecostal brothers and sisters’ and tolerate Pentecostalism in their churches.

The Pentecostal must be disciplined. He must be disciplined for his own good, that God may give him repentance unto the acknowledging of the truth. He must be disciplined for the church’s good, that the other members may learn to fear and that the leaven of Pentecostalism may not spread through the church. For the Pentecostal remains within the church, in order to gain adherents to his religion. ‘I would they were even cut off which trouble you’ (Gal. 5:12). ‘A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself’ (Titus 3:10,11).