A preacher in another country sent me an email recently. He said, “I am having a lot of ministerial challenges. I am in a congregation that has been in existence for 18 years without a trained teacher or preacher and also an area which is dominant with Pentecostal ideas. Members have been taken captive by the Pentecostal ideas that everything which happens in their lives must be because of some spiritual force behind it. They also attach spiritual meaning to every one of their dreams.”
Various forms of charismatic and Pentecostal religion have appeared in different degrees for centuries, but this movement has exploded in the last 100 years. These churches are some of the largest and most wealthy in the world. Why do so many people choose this belief?
One reason is that it emphasizes the hand of God in world affairs. We live in a secular age. People look to science, not Scripture, for answers. They depend on human wisdom to decide what the major concerns of life are and how to fix them. Evolution, atheism and skepticism are strong in European countries and they are gaining ground in America. Also, traditional denominations in many cases either minimize or deny the supernatural. They scoff at the virgin birth of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, and stories of Moses parting the sea or Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. The emphasis of these groups is more natural than supernatural. But many reject secularized religion.They cannot believe that the material world is all there is or that we must solve all our problems by ourselves. They are right (Rom. 1:20; Jer. 10:23). They are looking for hope and they know man cannot give it. This vacuum has given an opportunity for charismatic and Pentecostal claims to thrive. One extreme usually leads to the opposite extreme.
Another reason is excitement. Preachers say they have the same power to do miracles that the apostles had. They pretend to predict the future and heal the sick. People stand in awe of them and give them their money. They are desperate for some fire in their souls in a cold, unbelieving world. Worship in these churches also feeds this misguided enthusiasm. People by the millions are mesmerized by the big crowds, the loud music, the dynamic preaching, the thrilling performances, and the talented singers. They are so emotional about their beliefs that you cannot reason with them from the Bible. Zeal is good, but not when it clouds our thinking. Paul said some have “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2).
This kind of religion appeals to many people because it makes every person a virtual prophet. It teaches that God speaks directly to people today in ways other than the Bible. This is why so many pay little attention to what the Bible says. Why should they if God is talking to them and telling them what to do every day? They read the Bible, but when it goes against something they believe, they choose their beliefs over the Scriptures. But what happens when the message they claim to have received from God goes against what their pastor and church leaders say God told them? Of course the pastor and church leaders are right!
How can we combat this tidal wave in religion? With the Word of God. First, when Paul discussed miracles such as speaking in tongues and prophecy in the first-century church, he said these gifts were temporary. “But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away…But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (I Cor. 13:8, 10). When the New Testament was completed, these gifts were done away. Second, when Jesus and the apostles did miracles, people knew. Even the enemies of Christ could not deny them (Matt. 12:24; Acts 4:16). The evidence of miracles was that plain. Today’s so-called miracles have no proof. They are based on what someone says, not on evidence.
The Scriptures will guide us safely home if we follow them (Acts 20:32). Let us hold to the Word and contend earnestly for it.