The Prophet

The Prophet

Doesn’t the prophet foretell the future?

God gave to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, the words He wanted the people to hear. For example we find: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin'” (Isaiah 7:7). Here the God of Israel had a message for Ahaz, the king of Judah, spoken to him by Isaiah the prophet.

Prophets declared the word of the Lord to whomever the Lord directed. Many of these prophecies had to do with the coming of the Anointed One (or Messiah from the Hebrew mashiach, or Christ from the Greek christos). Here is another example by the same prophet: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

There are hundreds of prophecies in Scripture, found from Genesis to Revelation. My favorite is in Genesis where the LORD God spoke to the serpent (Satan) and said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring, he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). At this point in the early history of humankind, we find a prophecy of the final victory of the offspring of the woman, the son of the virgin, Jesus Christ Himself, over the serpent who had enticed Adam and Eve to disobey their Creator.

The prophets spoke of what was coming, that which was ‘new’, but in many ways little was really new since the basics of what God was going to do had already been made clear in Genesis and Exodus.

Here are the salient points of what the early biblical material said was going to take place: God made a covenant with Abraham which created a new nation of people starting with him. That nation became Israel. God later made a covenant with Israel through Moses, who led them out of slavery in Egypt. The covenant that the LORD gave at Mt. Sinai involved a set of laws, by which the people were defined for a long time. Every time they drifted away from following God’s Law, the LORD sent prophets to the people to remind them of that law and to tell them about what would happen if they continued to be disobedient.  Little that the prophets said was ‘new’, since God had already made clear the basics of what He was doing and was going to do in the future from early in Genesis and into Exodus.

One thing, however, that was clearly new was the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, in which he revealed that there would be a new covenant or testament: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write in on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). The Law of Moses was external; the new covenant would be internal, that is, it was the indwelling of each individual by the Holy Spirit, sometimes known as regeneration or the new birth. The arrival of the Messiah would institute this.

The Word become flesh

That which the Old Testament prophets spoke of was realized with the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem of Judea. Jesus was born of Mary the virgin, and now the Immanuel spoken of by Isaiah was actually with us – God in the flesh. As the Apostle John put it, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In Jesus, the prophecy and the prophet are made actual, and He spoke the clear and perfect Word of the Lord, because He was and is the Word.

This changed everything. The writer of Hebrews masterfully marked the extreme paradigm shift:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.                        Hebrews 1:1-3

Would the office of prophet disappear now that the Messiah had arrived? No, in fact the work of the prophet, though slightly different, would take on much greater importance.

The new prophets

There was no new truth, not even any ‘improved’ truth, but the truth that came with Jesus Christ must be told, and this is the ministry of the new prophets, who are the preachers, the forthtellers, of the New Testament era.[1]

Just prior to His ascension back to the Father in heaven, Jesus instructed His followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). In John’s Gospel, we have this: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). And then there is Luke’s commission: “And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

My contention is that those disciples, the sent ones and witnesses, were the prophets of the Messiah who no longer needed to foretell the future but received the command and commission to forthtell the deeds and words of the Word become flesh. And the company of prophets is not limited to the original apostles; indeed, every Christian of every era inherits the command and commission to witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave some to be prophets

In Ephesians 4, Paul speaks of gifts given to Jesus’ followers: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).[2] Some Christian commentators refer to the list as ‘offices’ in the Church, but the concept of ‘offices’ is merely imported into the text and not explicit.[3]

The apostles are the sent ones. Apostello is a Greek verb meaning “I send.” The sent ones may then be termed apostles. Missionary is a term derived from the Latin that is equivalent to the Greek for apostle. Apostles and missionaries are sent to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him. Therefore, when apostles carry the message of Jesus and proclaim Him, they act as prophets – forthtelling the Gospel rather than foretelling the future.

Apostles. The original apostles were those who knew Jesus personally in the flesh and whom He specially called and commissioned as His disciples. The question is, may there be other apostles? No and Yes is my answer. No, in that only the ones originally appointed by Jesus are the apostles on whom the Church is founded, but Yes, in that many are yet sent out to proclaim the Gospel and are, in a real sense, also apostles.[4]

Prophets. There are also prophets given to the Church, which is clear from Ephesians 4:11. What do these prophets do? They proclaim the message of the Gospel; the prophet is the preacher or forthteller.

A problem of identification

Prophet is a word often taken to mean foretelling the future and many automatically assume the same when the word is found in the New Testament. But mostly, almost entirely, the word prophet should be identified with preacher. The preachers of the Church are the biblical prophets. If I were to critique the commonly held charismatic/Pentecostal view of prophets from any other position than that which is stated above, I would end up in a quagmire, attempting to state that the future telling prophetic movement ended with the death of the Twelve Apostles and the publication of the New Testament. Let me explain what I mean.

We have all we need. We read of Jesus in the Gospels; we learn of what He did and what He said. Then, other apostles and disciples of apostles interpreted and applied what Jesus said and did in real life situations, which we find in the epistles or letters of the New Testament. Indeed, there are prophecies about the wrapping up of history, which we see much of in Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 4, and the Book of Revelation, but there are no new doctrines, theologies, or ideas that differ one bit from what we already have. Nothing else need be said of the future; the believer’s work is to watch and wait and tend to the harvest.

My testimony

I did not always understand the work of the New Testament prophet. During the days of the Jesus People Movement, roughly 1967 to 1972, I was impacted by the influence first of the Catholic Renewal, which was essentially charismatic, and the general charismatic movement that swept through America during that time. Though I resisted the charismatic/Pentecostal doctrines at first, I slowly fell in line. Toward the middle of the 1970s I began to regard what I saw as charismania and began to disassociate myself from it. Though it is painful now to admit, I prophesied over hundreds of people with words like, “God gave me a message for you,” or “I had a dream and you should…,” or “You are called to be a missionary,” or “You will be greatly used of God,” and so much more.

Many of my associates from that time have also distanced themselves from what can be called charismatic, but growth in charismatic practice has mushroomed, to say the least. In my opinion, this emphasis is decidedly off track, despite its popularity.

Many among us see the dreadful direction the charismatic/Pentecostal movement has taken. Perhaps the best statements challenging this are in John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire, published by Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, in 2013. However, there is a critique concerning MacArthur’s views that I would like to make.

Cessationism versus Continuationism

Cessationism is the view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit that are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 are no longer in operation. The supposition is that they ceased to be operative in the Church after the Apostolic period and the creation of the New Testament.

Continuationism is the view that the charismatic gifts, including the “power gifts” continue to this day.

Some in each camp have moved toward the center, to a moderation of each position, which considers that only the so-called power gifts, namely speaking in tongues, their interpretation, miracles, healing, and prophecy ceased, but that others such as faith, service, teaching, exhorting, contributing, leading, acts of mercy, wisdom, knowledge, and discernment (distinguishing between spirits) are still evident in the Church as normative and operative.[5]

Another view

I am not alone in holding the following view; however, it is beyond the scope of this essay to describe the details and nuances of other various views and the authors involved.

Briefly, my view is that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit continue just as they have since the Day of Pentecost but that we see them mostly or only in times of awakening and revival. In my book, America’s Awakenings and the Jesus People Movement, it is noted that there were various charismatic gifts in the first two awakenings, but few if any were evident in the third.[6] During the JPM (Jesus People Movement), I personally witnessed many miracles, among which were the multiplication of food, words of knowledge, healings, and other more common and mundane gifts.[7] Prior to the JPM I did not see or experience the continuation of charismatic gifts, and after 1972, a date which is often noted as the beginning of the end of the JPM, the charismatic gifts began to be less frequent until they ceased all together – in my experience.

This view may be termed semi-cessationist or semi-continuationist, though different from the moderation position described above. It is understood that these designations are not biblical categories; rather, they are philosophical constructs intended to describe theological views.

Out of respect for many in the Reformed tradition, where I do find myself since 1995, I have attempted to validate cessationism. I cannot help but report that I find nothing in the Scripture, which clearly and unequivocally proves that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit stopped after the Apostolic era and the publication of the New Testament. There are passages that are cited as pointing in that direction, but, in my view, concrete evidence that is necessary and determinative simply is not there.

Paul and prophecy

Paul has a great deal to say about prophecy in his first letter to the Corinthian Church, other than what we find in the lists of the charismatic gifts found in chapter 12. In fact, he has two lists in that same chapter. The second is 1 Corinthians 12:27-31:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, and then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

This passage is reminiscent of Ephesians 4:11: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” In 1 Corinthians 12:28 the word “appointed” (the transliterated Greek word is etheto) could be translated “placed” as well; in Ephesians 4:11 the word “gave” is used (the transliterated Greek word is edoken), and appointed and placed are essentially synonyms. It must be noted that the “gave” of Ephesians 4:11 is not at all the same as gifts (the transliterated Greek word is charismaton) found in 1 Corinthians 12:4 or the charismata of Romans 12:6.

“Prophets” appears in both 1 Corinthians and in Ephesians and are not designated as charismatic in nature. Many commentators over the centuries have designated the lists in Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 as offices or officers within the Church. My question is: What do these prophets do? Do we suppose an office or position so important that it is listed next to apostles in both places, to be nothing other than foretelling events? If so, where do we see this ministry in operation? The instance of Agabus prophesying that there would be a famine (see Acts 11:28) and that Paul would be made captive if he went to Jerusalem (see Acts 21:11), which were stereotypically prophetic in the Old Testament style, does not justify or explain the prominence of the office of prophet in the Church.

Furthermore, let it be pointed out that in neither the 1 Corinthians nor Ephesian passage is there any indication that the prophets’ work would be phased out or temporary. These ministries in the Church are universal and in operation until the second advent of Jesus. But what does the prophet do?

Peter is a prophet to the Gentiles

The account of the conversion of the Roman centurion Cornelius shows Peter acting as a prophet. In Acts 10 is the story of God calling Peter to Caesarea to declare the Gospel of the risen Christ to a Gentile, even a military officer in the hated Roman occupying army.

God used dreams and visions to accomplish His work in this seminal event (and notice there was nothing of a trance state involved for either Peter or Cornelius), but Peter simply arrives at the proper place, and Cornelius invites Peter to speak. Luke concludes the content of Peter’s message with, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).

The “him” the prophets bore witness to is Jesus, and here Peter is the prophet who declares the word of the Lord to Cornelius. Prophets remind people of what God has already said and done, and Peter does the very same thing.

All prophets declare the message and word of God; this is their work, and most “thus saith the Lord” passages in the Hebrew Bible are of this nature.

Paul and 1 Corinthians 14

Paul addresses the ministry of prophecy very directly in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. In the first verse he encourages the pursuit of love (agape love), and he said to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” One Greek word pneumatika is translated here as “spiritual gifts,” but it does not require the use of “gifts” but could instead be “spiritual things,” meaning the things of the Holy Spirit.

Paul goes on to show the greater value of prophesy over tongue speaking.

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.                                             1 Corinthians 14:2-3

What future event needs to be prophesied? The Church was already aware of the return of Jesus, the Day of Judgment, the great resurrection day, and more. What the Church needed, and always needs, is the proclamation of the words and deeds of Jesus. In verse 4 Paul then says, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.”

Paul does not prohibit tongues, and this is a controversy that I will not entertain here, since my focus is on prophesy, but he wanted more than anything for the Corinthians to prophesy (see verse 5).[8]  He even says in that same verse, “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

Paul simply wants the gathering of believers to be orderly and beneficial for both the believers and for those who are not. Paul is the one who is convinced of the priority of Gospel preaching. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Then in Romans chapter ten, he asks, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (verse 14). He succinctly states the supremacy of preaching when he says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

The last phrase in verse 17, “through the word of Christ,” uses a derivative of the Greek word hreima for the written or spoken word, with the implication that preaching is meant.

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29). The worship services may have been much longer than in many churches of our day, including the church that I pastor, but it might be that there were two or three sermons or words given by prophets.

Paul concludes his teaching on tongues and prophecy by saying, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). Here I am convinced that the tongues speaking was nothing approaching ecstatic utterances but was prophesy in foreign tongues. In any case, the emphasis on prophecy is unmistakable.[9]

The Command and Commissions of Jesus

All Christians are aware of or become aware of the commands Jesus gave to be His witnesses to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The witness will proclaim, testify, preach, declare, describe, and so on, the message of the person and work of Jesus Christ. This means prophets prophesying. Some are specially called to be preacher/prophets, and all are called to witness by virtue of just being a follower of Jesus.

There is nothing new to add to the Scripture; all has been revealed and we simply watch and wait for the final events. We know all we need to know, and faith carries us the rest of the way.

May it be that we all earnestly desire to prophesy.

The Prophet…The Preacher

[1] John 1:17 reads, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

[2] In verses 8 and 11 the words “gifts” and “gave” are found but the Greek words in the text and not associated with charismata, which word Paul does use in Romans 12:6 and 1 Corinthians 12:4 — the  lists of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.


[3] Some commentators speak of four ‘offices’ while others mention five. There are five titles, but the last two, pastors and teachers, are linked by the Greek coordinating conjunction kai and thus are seen as one ‘office’.


[4] Matthias replaced Judas and the Eleven became the full Twelve again (Acts 1:21-22). Paul and Barnabas are later referred to as apostles in Acts 14:4 and 14. James, the half-brother of Jesus, is also named an apostle in Galatians 1:19. Paul calls himself the apostle chosen “last of all” in 1 Corinthians 15:8. Some commentators include Silas (Silvanus) among the apostles (see Acts 15:22, 32; Acts 15:40; 1 Peter 5:12; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; and 2 Thessalonians 1:1).

[5] These gifts are found in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. It may be argued that the second description of cessationism, allowing for the non-power gifts to yet be in operation, is more properly called “semi-cessationism.”


[6] The first awakening, 1735-1742; the second 1798 to 1825; the third 1857 to 1859.


[7] The healings were apparent, lasting, and personal. Twice my son Vernon was healed right in front of me, and he still remembers these, though he was only about five years old at the time. I was healed, and remarkably so, one time that I am sure of. Some healings were verified by means of medical examinations. Not all who requested healing and had hands laid on them for healing were in fact healed, but some were. I was always skeptical of healings and did not trust the healing ministries of Oral Roberts or Kathryn Kuhlman for example; nevertheless, as time wore on, I came to admit and accept healings that I could verify for myself.


[8] My understanding of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 14 regarding tongues is that they were actual and known human languages.

[9] Speaking in foreign tongues might well have been essential in the first century, at least if not for many centuries, due to the fact that for long periods people speaking many and various would be present together in Christian churches.

Charismatic and Pentecostal: An Opinion

Charismatic and Pentecostal: An Opinion

I admit it; I am a charismatic and a pentecostal.

A “charismatic” is a person who believes in and/or practices or has one or more of the ‘grace’ gifts. The Greek word for grace as transliterated from the Greek is charis. The word charismatic, then, is an adjective turned into another noun built from charis. All but cessationists, who are those who deny the operation of grace gifts now that the New Testament is published and the age of the Apostles is over, would be classed as charismatics or at least persons believing that the grace gifts are still bestowed on believers today.

A “pentecostal” usually means someone who, in the tradition of the early part of the 20th century in the Azusa Street Revival (Los Angeles in 1908) to the present, speaks in tongues.[1] Early in their tradition, pentecostals believed that if a person did not speak in tongues they were not really born again, since the evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit was tongue speaking. (Some denominations still teach this while most do not.) Pentecostals generally hold that, even if tongue speaking is not evidence of salvation, it is at least something everyone will do if they are truly seeking after God.[2]

I myself spoke in tongues from 1968 to about 1990, with the frequency going steadily downhill until finally it ceased completely. During the Jesus People Movement I also received words of wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy, plus consistently had the gifts of discernment (distinguishing between spirits), healing, and miracles. This is no exaggeration; in fact, I am purposefully minimizing my experiences.

Let us look at the grace gifts:

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Romans 12:
utterance of wisdom Prophecy
utterance of Knowledge Service
faith Teaching
gifts of healing Exhorting
working of miracles contributing (in generosity)
prophecy leading   (with zeal)
ability to distinguish between   spirits acts of mercy (with cheerfulness)
various kinds of tongues  
interpretation of tongues  


Many contend, as do I, that Paul cites an additional grace charismatic gift, celibacy. 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 seems to teach this.

Let us take a moment to examine the charismatic gifts.

The cessationist ought to have a problem with the idea that the charismatic gifts are no longer operational, since many of these gifts seem to be in evidence today. Among them are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, distinguishing between spirits, service, teaching, exhorting (which means encouraging), contributing, leading, and acts of mercy. To look at one of these, acts of mercy, it is apparent to most pastors that some will have this gift while others do not. There are observable differences then and not with acts of mercy only. Others that I have seen are leading, contributing, encouraging, teaching, and serving.

What the cessationist actually rejects however are the so-called ‘power gifts’ – tongues, miracles, and prophecy; the others are ignored or accommodated in some way or another. Prophecy, in particular, is generally misunderstood. It is essentially a forth telling or proclamation of the Word and Truth of God, which, ever since the publication of the New Testament, is simply the preaching of the Word of Christ. In the Jesus People Movement we used to think prophecy was a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ thing, the prophet communicating new information. After long exposure to and experience with this form of prophecy, I concluded that the ‘prophet’ would tend to announce what was in his or her own mind, however sincerely. I thought and practiced in this manner for a decade, much to my regret now.

Being an actual pentecostal

Whether one speaks in tongues or does not is of no consequence. If such is necessary for proclaiming the glory of God, then God will supply it.

The real problem surrounding tongues speaking occurs in a congregational setting. As a senior pastor of a fairly large church during the 1970s I ignored the teaching about the necessity of interpreting tongues for the understanding and teaching of the congregation. I also turned a blind eye to the statement of Paul’s that there should be only a few tongue-speaking messages (see 1 Corinthians 14:27).

Another significant issue arises in a situation where many people, in a service, are speaking in tongues. Others who are new to the group may feel expected to join in. I suspect that whatever can be observed, that is, seen or heard, can be mimicked. Frankly, I have seen this hundreds of times. If one wants to be seen as spiritual and have a need to be approved by the group, he or she may well copy or mimic what the others are doing. Then the group will congratulate, approve, and welcome the new tongue speaker into the inner circle of the truly born again.

A kind of cognitive dissonance is operative. There is pressure to speak in tongues, the urging to do so, the prayers offered up for the gift to be granted, only to have nothing happen. Eventually, the tension must be broken, and the result will be either mimicry or abandonment of the whole effort.

I am pentecostal

This is my testimony: I am pentecostal. In has been decades since I have spoken in tongues, but it could come back. No, I will not carry on speaking in tongues with a whole group of others doing the same thing and without interpretation, as it is a complete violation of Scripture. (Carefully study 1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13, and 14, making every effort to set aside pre-conceived views. We must be more concerned about being faithful to the Word of God than to the traditions of men.)

At this present time, in September of 2013, I consider that many gifts of the Spirit abound in tens of thousands of congregations around the world, probably without many of these people even being aware of it. My experience has been that those who least suspect they are being gifted by the Spirit are, in fact, the most gifted.

Here is where I see the real evidence, the most biblically oriented evidence, of the working of the charismatic gifts: in proclaiming the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus set His agenda for the Church to continue until His Second Coming: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Indeed, when the day of Pentecost arrived, the Apostles spoke in tongues, to the effect that people heard them telling in their own languages “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). Three thousand converts came from the proclaiming of a dozen, less one, preachers.

What were the “mighty works”? They were the old, old story of Jesus and His cross and resurrection. Yes, the Messiah had come and died in the sinner’s place. Nothing has changed since then, but when the babbling goes on and on, confused and clamoring, it is not the Spirit of God. It is either human confusion or demonic imitation.[3]

Another kind of speaking in tongues – prayer language

It is characteristic of charismatics and pentecostals to distinguish between speaking in tongues as a prayer language and the speaking in tongues in a congregational setting. It is this latter form that demands interpretation. Let me repeat: if there is so-called speaking in tongues in a group of Christians with an absence of interpretation, then something is drastically wrong.[4]

“Prayer language” is what the lone Christian utters, words that are unintelligible to the human ear but which are supposed to be the indwelling Holy Spirit praying through the mouth of the believer. We are on murky ground here, because the material in support of a private prayer language is not perfectly clear but is open to interpretation. In 1 Corinthians 14:2 Paul writes, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” Now this verse is connected with Romans 8:26-27 by most charismatics and pentecostals:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Here I am not as certain as I would like to be. It was private prayer language in which I most often engaged and which slowly went away without return to this date. I must admit that I am still convinced that this type of spiritual prayer is genuine. The validity of this form of prayer I observed when casting out demons from people during the 1970s, during the Jesus People Movement. This form of prayer caused dramatic reactions from two different people on two separate occasions, about one year apart. These two raised their hands, covered their ears, and said, “Stop that perfect prayer.” However, I do not want to anchor the validity of private and personal praying in unknown tongues on the retorts of demonized individuals.

Whether or not the Spirit intercedes for the Christian in the form of private speaking/praying in tongues I cannot say for sure, but either way, it does not violate Paul’s concern that, in the congregation, tongues must be interpreted.

Of greater concern: Christian-oriented shamanism practiced by some pentecostals

The Shaman, while in an ecstatic state, can go to heaven or to hell and deal with angels, deities, demons, or the souls of the dead. Pentecostal Christians are also claiming to have met with angels, either in heaven or on the earth. Some describe taking a journey to heaven and conversing with angels. Some even claim to have talks with Jesus in the “throne room.” These assertions have been made for several years now. One wonders if this is not simply an example of one-upmanship – “I am more spiritual and closer to God that you” – since pride is a powerful motivator even in the broad Christian community. Or perhaps it is delusion; or trickery; or lying. Who knows, but it is reminiscent of the Shaman’s ‘soul journey.’ Talking with Jesus in heaven – how could this find acceptance with Bible-oriented Christians?

The rationale runs something like this: Since we are living in the last days,[5] God is doing something new. We are off the charts now, being so close to the rapture[6] and the years of tribulation. The Bible, while perfectly fine, does not cover the final period and so God is speaking with some specially chosen servants directly. God’s chosen anointed will communicate what God is saying to the Church. So, why be limited by the Bible when you can go direct? And the Church, the real and true last days Church, becomes those who listen to and obey the words of the chosen anointed.[7]

And if someone like me questions such assertions, the rejoinder is: “Well, how do you know God is not doing this?” Or, “Aren’t you in jeopardy of committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?”

Many would-be questioners will retreat if so confronted. They may even be cowed into accepting and joining in. I personally have been confronted with those exact statements, and I found it difficult to give a credible answer. It is like being asked, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” There seems to be no good, at least no direct reply to the accusations.

Taking a stand

It is not established in the New Testament that there would be a time prior to the Second Coming of Jesus that sends us off the charts, requiring direct communication with angels or deity. There is no passage of Scripture that indicates Christians will do this; nothing even close.

The Revelation of John, the last book in our Bible, details the very end of history. In the last chapters of that apocalyptic book are the accounts of the defeat of Satan, the victory of Christ, His return, the celebration of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. What began in Genesis is completed in Revelation. What more is needed?

The Holy Spirit has not been taken from the Church or individual Christians. When we gather in Jesus’ name, He is still in our midst, and He will be with us until the end of the age (see Matthew 28:20).

Then lastly, there are the words of John himself. He gives readers a warning not to add to or subtract from the revelation given to him by Jesus. Such warnings were not uncommon in that era; they served as a kind of an ancient copyright mechanism. John inserted it for a reason, and it is applicable to those who insist that we have moved beyond the Book:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

The role of feelings in the charismatic/pentecostal experience


Since 1968 I have been involved with those who are charismatic and pentecostal. While not a terribly emotional or feeling-centered person, still I enjoyed the rock and roll bands of my teenage years. My friends knew me as a rather even-tempered person without major highs and lows, emotionally speaking.

During my years as pastor of a charismatic church, increasingly I found myself the odd-man-out. In our services and other gatherings, the ‘worship time’ was the centerpiece and it was assumed to be the time when God showed up. Feeling good became identified with God’s presence. Quiet times, silent prayer, reflective listening to Bible portions, the repeating of creeds, and reciting of prayers we considered be ‘lame’ even sub-Christian. Over time I began to question these assumptions.

By way of my pastoral counseling efforts I found that people would be worried if they did not feel good. Sad, depressed, uneasy, discomforted – these were to be avoided. I began to hear, “Doesn’t God want us to feel good?” “If God is present shouldn’t I feel good?” “God wants me to feel bad?” “Doesn’t God care about how we feel?” “Aren’t praise and worship enhanced when we feel good?” And so on.

These are tough questions, especially for the generations that have grown up to think that everything has to do with feeling good. After all, sad is not the goal of life. But from a biblical perspective, both in terms of precedence and warrant, our feelings are pretty much downplayed if mentioned at all.[8] Yes, there is joy, real and legitimate joy, but upon further study it becomes evident that joy and feelings have little to do with each other. Joy can be present in sadness, even despair.

Sometimes I think that feeling good in worship is, or can be, an attempt at assuring oneself of salvation. I learned that healing was that way, too. If you are healed, it must mean you have God’s gift of salvation. Right? If you ‘feel’ good this must be a sure sign of genuine conversion? Right?

Paul, in Romans 8:14, speaks directly to the issue: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” This is what counts. Here there is a gentle but strong assurance of salvation that is not dependent upon feelings. We may be sad or glad, no matter; we may be struggling mightily or rejoicing with “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (see 1 Peter 1:8), no matter.

Growing up into Christ we learn to distrust our feelings and rely instead on the finished work of Christ, both for our salvation and our sanctification. Walking through the “valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil because God is with us,” David said in Psalm 23. We will endure times of distress, pain, and grief, until gladness appears and this may not come until we are in the presence of God in heaven. It is the inner witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we cherish. Feelings come and go, but Jesus is with us until the end of the age. To that I say, Hallelujah.

Concluding thoughts

Why we cling so tenaciously to that which is contemporary than to time honored points of theology and practice is not completely understood. We tend to embrace what is new and exciting, large and loud. If crowds of people are flocking in, this must be evidence of genuineness. Numbers, influence, popularity, and money are the proof of the pudding.

Charismatic and pentecostal – these adjective/nouns are still divisive and growing more so as people pray for and earnestly desire the authentic moving of the Holy Spirit in revival and awakening. There is a kind of desperateness apparent and along with it a rush to sanctify anything that looks like it is attended by miracles. The desire is a good and true one. But it is here in the hunger and the yearning where mistakes are made and well-intentioned people go off the charts, ignore boundaries, and depend on supposed power gifts and miracles as evidence of a fresh move of God. According to Jesus and Paul, we should expect demonically inspired signs and wonders (see Matthew 24:24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, among others). Maybe some of us who lived through the Jesus Movement and who had to deal with the dark aftermath of it may have a helpful word to speak here. This is what I am hoping to do in this essay.


Kent Philpott

September 2013

[1] This essay does not refer to any specific denomination with “Pentecostal” in its title.

[2] Paul made it clear that even in the Corinthian Church where there was tongue speaking, not everyone did. See 1 Corinthians 12:30.

[3] Based on Scripture it has been long understood that Satan is capable of counterfeiting the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. This sad, confusing, and alarming, but true nevertheless. The story of Simon the magician, see Acts 8:9-25, is a case in point.

[4] No one knows what speaking in tongues looked like or sounded like on the day of Pentecost. It is simply an assumption that what is seen and heard today is the same as what took place in the New Testament era. But it is only a guess, as there were no tape recordings made. The fact is that many religious groups, and non-Christian groups among them, claim to speak in ecstatic tongues. The phenomenon is not limited to Christianity. Some who so practice are as far from Christianity as could be. Considering the vast and confused spiritual marketplace that has overrun the world, critical analytical thinking is advised.

[5] We do expect Jesus to return, but no one knows when this will be. Some try to set dates only to find themselves embarrassed and Christians scandalized as a result. There is nothing in the biblical record that reveals even signs of a run-up to the Second Coming. A careful study of Matthew 24 makes this clear.

[6] A study of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 shows that the “rapture” and the Second Coming are the very same event and not two events.

[7] This is a formula for the development of a toxic faith, or to put it another way, this is how cults come to be.

[8] By ‘precedence’ I mean direct mention in the Bible. while ‘warrant’ refers to biblical teaching that clearly justifies a doctrinal position or practice.