How to react to different phenomena?
Are the phenomena in the church of the Holy Spirit, of man himself, or of the devil? Internal change is one criterion
Miracles and phenomena within a congregation can come from one of three sources: the Holy Spirit, the person him/herself (people who seek for attention may pretend a phenomena) or the devil. Thus, all phenomena and miracles are not of God; they may be coming from two other sources.
What should we do when miracles or phenomena occur? We should not make them our main focal point and allow them to steal our attention. If we focus too much on the phenomena, gifts of grace, revivals, people’s experiences and the Holy Spirit, we can easily be led astray. The Holy Spirit did not come to us to testify about himself, gifts of grace, or special experiences. The Holy Spirit came to testify about Christ. This is why we should try to get people to pay their attention on Him and what He did for us. This is the only way to stay clear of trouble.
Frank Bartleman discussed this in his book Azusa Street 312.He states that putting the Holy Spirit and gifts of grace above Jesus Christ will eventually lead to fanaticism:
At that time I wrote a tract, from which I have picked the following fragments: “We cannot even have a creed and we cannot search for an experience of faith in any other way than in Jesus. Many of us wish to scrape together ‘power’ from any source we can get our hands on, to do miracles and to get the interest and admiration of people on ourselves. In that way, they take away the honor from Christ and merely present human deeds. Most of the religious life today seems to need actual followers of the humble and gentle Christ. Religious enthusiasm easily spreads seed. (…) Activity that raises the Holy Spirit and gifts over Jesus will finally end in fanaticism. Anything that makes us praise and love Jesus is right and safe. The opposite destroys everything. The Holy Spirit is a bright light, but it is always directed at Jesus and His appearance. (1)
Powerful phenomena and miracles may occur in meetings and it is not always easy to determine their source. Are they of God, of the person him/herself or of the devil?
There is one criterion that can be used to test these experiences: the fruit. This means that internal change is shown in the fruits of a person’s actions. After all, Jesus said:
- (Matt 7:16-21) You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Why by their fruits you shall know them.
21 Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Therefore, the fruits should show whether or not something is of God. Unfortunately, this is not always taken into account. Instead, some things are immediately declared as being from God or Satan. For example, if someone falls down in a spiritual meeting or sees a vision of Christ on the cross, people might immediately say that it is from God or from the devil.
As stated above, however, such experiences could come from three sources: God, the person him/herself, or the devil. The latter two are highly likely if a person who has not been saved and does not believe comes into a meeting and Satan shows him or her a vision of Christ on the cross or he/she hears a voice. As a result, the person may consider him/herself saved even though God has not been able to touch his/her life at all. Writer Jonathan Edwards describes such experiences that happened during a revival 300 years ago. He states that it is not possible to always determine the source of an experience based on the experience itself or one’s feelings because a similar experience may be from different sources. Only time, internal change and fruits will show if it was of God.
People, including born-again Christians, may thus be deceived. This is why we should take miraculous stories, visions, dreams, voices and experiences with a pinch of salt. A person having such experiences should ask for advice from others who might see the situation more clearly. There are also teachers and shepherds in each congregation who can guide people to the right direction. Feeling infallible and failing to listen to others is one of the clearest signs of betrayal; this will lead a person astray and into fanaticism.
If the experiences are of God, the most important results will be internal change, the fruits and renewed life. This will show in the following acts:
What if a person brags about his wonderful experiences, visions or voices but there is no change for the better or no fruits? What does this mean? Jonathan Edwards answered this question in his book about this subject. He states, based on his own experiences, that only actions show that people have received an experience from God:
Writings stress actions more than any other proof of salvation. I hope this is clear by now. We must focus on this. It is dangerous to put too much weight on issues the Bible does not stress. We have lost our biblical balance if we focus mainly on feelings and experiences that cannot be seen as actual obedience. God knows what is best for us, and he has underlined certain issues because these are issues in need of being stressed. If we reject God’s clear focus in Christian practices and focus on other issues in testing sincerity, we are on the road towards deceit and hypocrisy. (2)
This means that it is possible for a person to speak like a Christian without actually having changed his or her life. There is such a case in the well-known book The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, for example. Bunyan writes about a person called Talkative who talked about rebirth, faith, love and other features of Christian life but who did not show them in his life. These were only on his tongue: no internal change had occurred. This is an important lesson in that phenomena and speech do not give any testimony of a person’s internal state. If we fail to see any fruits and the signs of internal signs in a person, the person has likely not been saved.
“The prince of preachers” Charles H. Spurgeon describes another case. He was also forced to note that even if people come forth, they have necessarily not truly converted. He noticed this in his work and also after having studied the activities of others. He warned us particularly of intentional attempts of to create deep outbursts of feeling because such conversions are short-lived. It is completely different if a person him/herself sees their sins in the light of God and feels contrition. This will surely affect his or her feelings in some way.
Do not try to create any sensations or “effects”. People may weep, sob or scream, there may be plenty of people in further meetings, there may be all kinds of disorder, and you must allow this if it is about actual feelings – in no case should you try to make this happen, however.
Very often those converts who were converted through a powerful upsurge of emotion die when the emotion passes. They remind me of insects which are born on a very warm day and die when the sun has set. (...) Christianity that needs or breeds deep emotion does not appeal to me. I’ll rather have the fear of God at the Golgotha than the fear of God on the Vesuvius.
(...) This action of mine did not stand the test. It did not stand even a regular test after the person who had influenced the man was gone. When you have left the village or town in which you were preaching, it is highly likely that some people who seemed to be born again will relinquish their faith.
(...) Do not count your fish before you have fried them, and do not count of your recently converted before they have been examined and tested. This may make your work a little slower but, dear brother, it will surely make it more certain. (3)
We will finally study a couple of references to phenomena: animal voices and a striving to make Christians act like animals. The writers state that such phenomena should not be considered the work of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is the spirit of holiness. They should not be favoured and immediately considered the work of God if they are not.
From this, we get back to the idea that all phenomena occurring in a congregation are not of God, as Jonathan Edwards pointed out 300 years ago. Even if 90% of all phenomena were of Him, there may also be activities that are not of Him. We already stated that this is possible if some people who are already tied come to meetings. It is possible even in the case of Christians because not all of us are automatically freed from our spiritualistic gifts, for example, that we may have as inheritance or that we may have obtained after having practiced spiritual healing, clairvoyance or occultist activities. We need to resign from these activities and pray God to take these imitation gifts away.
Another way in which demonic deception reveals itself is a striving to make Christians imitate animals. I call such demons “animal spirits”.
I described in Chapter 9 how different kinds of animal spirits expressed themselves in our meeting in Zambia. There have been similar manifestations also in churches of more “civilized” countries, and they have been considered the work of the Holy Spirit. I will quote a letter sent to me in 1996 by a friend to make my point clearer. He is a pastor in a Pentecostal church in South Africa where most people are white. He described a movement that had evolved in his area as follows:
Within a short time, a brother rose from this movement who with his church led the entire movement into bizarre, impure behaviour. (...) It was not uncommon to hear the brothers barking, to see them crawling on the floor like animals and to hear them making all kinds of animal sounds, all while moved by an uncontrolled force. Such phenomena were considered the work of the Holy Spirit. (4)
Sometimes people who receive the Holy Spirit may start to act very strangely due to his doctrine. For example, I was once asked to preach at a home mission congregation in a large city. When I was finished preaching, I called people to the altar. Suddenly I felt like I was in Satan’s pit. Someone started to cry and shake and flap his hands like a chicken. Another person started to bark like a dog. A third crowed like a rooster. The people thought that this phenomenon was of the Holy Spirit. I knew it was of demons. Because they had been praying to the Holy Spirit when this happened, they accepted these phenomena as coming from the Holy Spirit. They failed to use the gift of distinguishing between spirits and the gifts of grace from the Holy Spirit to determine what was happening. (...) If the body had used the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they could have driven the spirits away but they failed to do so because they believed that if the Holy Spirit descends upon you, you cannot have anything unholy in you. (5)
Being harsh, or behaving in a rowdy way, or acting zealously, can also be a sign of wrong religiousness. Such behavior can be an indication that people have not even been saved, even though they are members of a congregation, because Satan always wants to sow tares among the wheat (Matt 13:25,39). Also, during the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement, one problem was the zealots and spiritualists who tried to intrude into the revival, which greatly hampered the activities of the Spirit:
Extraneous persecution never causes damage to the work. What we need to fear most are those bad spirits that work from the inside. Even spiritualists and people who believed in hypnotism, came to try their possibilities of influence. Then all religious zealots and bastards and fanatics came to look for a place in the action. We had to fear them most. But this is a possible danger in every new work. Those people have no place of their own. This state of affairs caused a fear in the hearts of many people, and it was difficult to get rid of it. It caused a lot of damage to the action of the Spirit. Many did not dare to seek God, because they were afraid that the devil could take them. (6)
A suitable level of control. Many religious people may be annoyed by the fact that when different acts of God are experienced, people react emotionally. They may consider such behaviour upsurges of emotion, fanaticism or plain fuss. They can accept expression of feelings in other parts of life, such as in rock concerts, football matches or other events, but not in spiritual life. This is strange, because in these earthly activities people are enthusiastic and fuss over quite insignificant and temporary matters:
”I do not believe in any kind of religious ecstasy.”
Per built a defensive wall and blocked my words. Then his sister interfered in the conversation.
“Per, it is not fair to say that. People must indeed be allowed to show their feelings also in Christian events. Just look at people in sports events or theatres or various concerts! A couple of weeks ago, the curtain of the Dramaten Theatre in Stockholm was opened approximately twenty times after a performance. The audience stomped their feet and howled with delight. The applause was furious…”
“Okay. I was also there for the premiere,” Per said laughing and looking at me. He had already heard that argument. (7)
Even though gifts of grace should be used sensibly and other spiritual activity should also be sensible, this is sometimes not the case because people are imperfect. Excessively emotional behaviour is possible in a congregation, and such behaviour can hurt people who are more reserved. Some people have left their congregation in anger because of such emotional outbursts, saying that they never want anything to do with God again. Such people have erroneously interpreted such errant and childish excessive behaviour, and in some cases even phenomena coming from a wrong source, as phenomena caused by God. They do not understand that not everything people say is from God is truly from Him. In addition, they fail to see that we are all imperfect and not yet sinless. Anybody trying to find a perfect congregation where all actions are always perfect and no excessive behaviour occurs will continue looking all their lives. The only place where you can find such a congregation is in the cemetery.
It truly cannot be denied that some of these groups, which believe and practise the gifts of the Holy Spirit, can be guilty of significant malpractices. I have seen in many meetings outbursts of feeling, exaggeration and flashovers, elitism and prophecies, which have been used for manipulation and control. I have also taken part in meetings and got acquainted with movements that have perfectly lacked any biblical base and ground. I don’t claim, however, that this would be true in the majority of groups and meetings that practise the gifts of the Spirit. I also know that those leaders who I know personally inside these movements quickly interfere with flashovers and malpractices. (8)
How can we keep our spiritual activity on track? Sometimes people who are being blessed manage to ruin everything by behaving improperly. Perhaps they do not act lovingly, or they overly react (rowdiness, fierce eagerness and senseless actions), or they cause confusion. This careless behavior can damage others’ faith and estrange people from God.
The answer to the previous question is that we need, above all, to be followers of the humble and gentle Christ. In His service work, most gifts were at work but He also had the fruit of the Spirit. He was in no way fanatic, angrily enthusiastic or restless. He was quiet and humble at heart (Matt 11:29) and worked based on peace. The congregation should follow His example in spiritual life and when using gifts. This is what we should strive for.
George Jeffreys wrote about the same subject in 1933. He emphasizes that a suitable amount of control over phenomena is important for the congregation to stay intact. Control is not always a bad thing. It can be important, though we should keep in mind not to quench the Spirit, as Paul warned (1 Thess 5:19):
Revival has begun – The Spirit comes down from Heaven, the wonderful gifts are proofs of it, and everything is in motion. Then, we give up the good control, which shocks the wise, and allow power and gifts to spread freely. The equilibrium of the congregation, in accordance with the model of the New Testament, is shaking, and it does not take long before irrelevant emotionalism comes along, followed by excessive physical powers, and results in the congregation being broken to pieces over time. (…) The genuineness of dynamics cannot be questioned, for there is nothing bad in it. The problems started when no attention was paid to the need of control that so clearly appears in the Bible. Those in charge noticed too late that there is no slavery in control in accordance with the Bible, and neither is there any freedom in uncontrolled power. (9)
1. Frank Bartleman: Azusa-katu 312 (Azusa Street), p. 133,134
2. Jonathan Edwards: Oikea hengellinen kokemus (A Treatise concerning religious affections), p. 74,75
3. Charles H. Spurgeon: Sielujenvoittaja (The Soul-Winner), p. 12,13,27-29
4. Derek Prince: He karkottavat demoneja (They Shall Expel Demons), p. 172
5. Gordon ja Emily Binning: Olkaa Jumalalle alamaiset (Submit…to God. Resist The Devil And He Will Flee From You), p. 37
6. Frank Bartleman: Azusa-katu 312 (Azusa Street), p. 87,88
7. Stanley Sjöberg: Jumalan lasten lapset (Familjeträff i Pingst), p. 59
8. Jack Deere: Jumala puhuu ja parantaa (Surprised by the Power of God), p. 88, 89
9. Dave Roberts: Tuli on irti (The ’Toronto’ Blessing), p. 233
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life
Grap to eternal life!