About a month ago I was speaking with my pastor and he mentioned his disenchantment with today’s prosperity preaching. It’s not that he opposes prosperity per se as of course we believe that God wants his children to prosper, but he despises this message that believers are somehow less faithful if they don’t have a Lexus parked in the driveway or a $5000 suit on their back. This is decidedly not the gospel!
Then again last night I was speaking with a brother in Christ and just venting my frustration with the Charismatic ‘experience’ paradigm whereby personal experience is used to determine truth. I made the comment that experiences are at best subjective and at worst deceptive, therefore we need to judge them all according to Scripture. He quickly agreed. But all of this is based on nearly five years of observation in a Charismatic Pentecostal denomination where many times precedence is given to the gifts of the Spirit over and above the Spirit that gives the gifts. I’ve often likened our denomination to the Corinthian church that Paul so sharply rebuked and lovingly corrected.
Then this morning I came across an article written by Donald C. Stamps in the March/April 2001 Discernment Newsletter entitled, “Contending for the Faith of Historic Pentecostalism” in which he vocalized some of the same concerns. The article in full is available here, but I just wanted to reproduce a few portions here on the BLOG.
Historic Pentecostalism and N. T. Truth
Historic Pentecostalism began in the early 20th century with a doctrine and not with a religious experience. The early Pentecostals believed that in order to experience the fullness of God’s kingdom they had to return to the apostolic faith of the N.T. They believed firmly in the fundamentals of the faith, Biblical standards of holiness and righteousness, and that the N. T. promised a Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. It was this belief and a return to the N.T. truth that led them into a Book of Acts experience.
The Beginning of Error
However, as the movement gained momentum, some fell into the same error as the N. T. Pentecostals of the church at Corinth. There developed an unscriptural approach to religious experience, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and miracles (I Cor. 12-14). This led to a devaluation of the importance of love for truth and righteousness (I Cor. 13:4,6). In other words, religious experiences and spiritual manifestations began to take precedent over revealed Biblical truth and were considered, therefore, as valid for determining the will of God for His church as was apostolic teaching the New Testament.
Within Pentecostal, circles there arose a tendency to validate teaching, doctrine, new theologies, as well as the ministry of individuals not on the authoritative word of God, but based on professed religious experience or spiritual manifestations. Thus, prophecies, miracles, healings, speaking in tongues, a professed baptism in the Holy Spirit, inspirational preaching, ministerial success, and even church growth became the ultimate test of truth rather than authoritative Scripture. Many Pentecostals ignored the warnings of Christ and the apostles that certain religious experiences, spiritual manifestations, miracles, and successful ministries can and will be produced through powers other than God. We were told by God Himself to take heed lest we be deceived by various kinds of supernatural occurrences (Matt. 7:22; 24:5, 11,24). Christ and the apostles continually pointed to only one ultimate, final source of authority to validate both doctrine and experience – the inspired word of God (Matt. 4:4; John 15:7; I Tim. 3:15-16).
The tragic irony is that it was love for the word of God and N. T. truth that brought us into N. T. spiritual experience. Now it is our distorted love for spiritual experience that is leading us away from the same N. T. truth. A growing consequence of this error is a lack of respect for doctrine and theology, and, in particular, a little desire to defend, explain or even define the historic Pentecostal faith. The disastrous consequences of this failure to love the truth as we should has resulted in the following conditions:
1. Tolerance of False Doctrine. There are those in the Pentecostal movement who feel no need to defend the Biblical faith as did the N. T. apostles. Rather, they glory in their tolerance for all kinds of doctrines so long as those doctrines are accompanied by a professed experience with the Holy Spirit. They are attracted to successful preachers who openly scorn the apostolic faith. They lack sympathy and affection for the true spirit of the Bible, which rebukes and reproves false teaching. They seem ready to accept without challenge or protest nearly anything for the cause of “unity” or the success of their own ministry. It is tragic that their inability to recognize that the distortion of the Pentecostal-Biblical faith will result in millions of souls being lost for eternity.
2. Man-Centered Theology. A further result in emphasizing religious experience over N. T. doctrine has been the development within Pentecostal circles of a man-centered rather than a God-centered theology. The God-centered theology of Scripture emphasizes the truth that were created and redeemed by God to serve Him for His glory and that in doing this we are to enjoy His fellowship and love for eternity. The man-centered theology advocated today stresses those things that we can get from God, and what He is to do for us upon this earth. Preaching is centered not so much on the cross, self-denial, sacrifice, and the forsaking of sin, but on health, wealth, prosperity, happiness, self-esteem, positive thinking, and the satisfaction of human and even carnal desires. I am not saying that all of these things are wrong, but that we have failed to first love God, His kingdom, and His righteousness above all else. We have turned the gospel into a means of selfish personal gain and claim to have now found the way to save our souls and at the same time gain the whole world.
Among the tragic consequences of this man-centered gospel is that some will no longer “endure sound doctrine’ but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The man of God who faithfully follows the ministry of the Holy Spirit and preaches sin, righteousness, and judgment finds himself rejected by some of the very Pentecostals he tries to serve.
3. Inability to Identify Biblical Christianity. The lack of a sufficient understanding of N.T. apostolic spirit, attitude, and teaching led more than a few Pentecostals (even dedicated and sincere believers) into a tragic inability to discern when Biblical Christianity was being distorted. The classic example of recent days is the now discredited and fallen charismatic P.T.L. television program. There were those among both leaders and laymen alike who did not recognize that the program was in many ways not of the Spirit of Christ nor loyal to N.T. apostolic faith and Biblical standards of righteousness. The program portrayed permissiveness towards deviation from Scriptural truth and a conspicuous lack of concern for moral righteousness and holiness within the church. There was seen little manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. Pentecostalism was reduced to soap opera entertainment, and the fear of God and reverence for the sacred was destroyed in the process. The Pentecostal acceptance of the materialistic, worldly life-style of its leadership, as well as its tolerance of the unbiblical elements of this program, has resulted in shame, discredit, and untold harm to the Pentecostal cause around the world.
4. Accommodation to Charismatic Theology. A fourth consequence of the Pentecostal predisposition to value religious experience above N.T. doctrine resulted in its inability to sufficiently meet the challenge and need of the Charismatics in the 1960’s and 70’s. Many of them came into Pentecostal churches or established independent fellowships. They had received an experience with the Holy Spirit, but often fell short of a deep commitment to all the truth of Scripture, as well as a clear understanding of Christ’s demand for a life of holiness. Due to Pentecostalism’s lack of desire to adequately and forcefully define a Pentecostal apologetic based on Biblical revelation, it failed to guide the Charismatics into a more Biblical faith. Instead, historic Pentecostals themselves began to conform to the unscriptural theologies and lack of Biblical standards of some Charismatics. Consequently, old-fashioned Pentecostal theology, along with the Biblical cry against sin and worldliness commonly fell into disrepute. All types of theology, both old and new, which could not be validated by close examination of the Biblical text, entered Pentecostal fellowships.