strange fires

The Holy Ghost Straw Men: Full Gospel Excuses For Error

by Rev Rafael D. Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries

A straw man by definition is a weak argument or opposing view usually set up by someone as they press a point home which they can then attack and easily demolish, thus leaving their audience the all-important impression that they've decisively presented a solid case for their position. It also can refer to people who are used to carefully disguise the actual intents, activities and goals of someone else seeking to be hidden from discerning eyes. Straw men are the stuff of contentious arguments and heated discussions, and are readily, quickly created and then trashed by their creators - and occasionally, whole groups of people can, without even realizing it, be enlisted as straw men for a mass movement with it's own agenda that seeks cunning victory by disguise, misrepresentation or even outright deception.

All of us use this mundane form of argumentation at some point in our lives to prove our points and what we would contend for. From the bizarre ramblings of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf the former Iraqi "Information Minister" of the now defunct reign of Saddam Hussein to the vigorous fights between children in playgrounds, straw men arguments have come and gone, living momentary lives of twisted truth only to be shredded by their creators who tear them apart to emphasize the validity and truthfulness of their claims. Straw men may come and go, but the cultural ripples through the traditions and social circles they are meant to influence often reverberate unceasingly through them.

In the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds, not a few straw men have sprung into life over the years to serve the cause of their advance, created by innumerable preachers, "five fold" ministers, teachers and laity. But an amazing phenomenon has occurred time and again as the Pentecostal movement began to spread across America in the 1900's. Some of these straw men were created by Pentecostals and Charismatics to serve in their energetic defenses of their doctrines and teachings actually have gained lives of their own and have refused to die, finding themselves erected time and time again throughout their churches in a supportive role of their own beliefs. Incredible, but true: these weak arguments are offered over and over to support some of the most unbiblical and presumptuous claims I've ever heard in Full Gospel churches all over the world.

One thing is for sure: these "Holy Ghost Straw Men", as I call them, set forth arguments that literally need to have the stuffing knocked out of them in an effort to find out what they really are made of, to see if they really have any substance to them, indeed, any real truth in them. We will now examine 7 of the most popular Holy Ghost straw men that make up the army of phantom troops summoned by misguided Pentecostals and Charismatics to defend many an enticing and ear-tickling doctrine. So we may understand why, let me make it clear for my Charismatic and Pentecostal family: these straw men in essence erect excuses for the terrible errors and heresies we've too long defended. They actually do much to tear down and discredit the shining truths that Pentecost actually does offer to the Body of Christ.

I wearily yet resolutely have penned this essay knowing that I always will find an explosive mixture of knee-jerk reaction, rather than thoughtful response to what I say from the Christian community I am speaking to. These same Christians will cry aloud "stop causing strife and judging everyone! You're dividing the Body of Christ!" Yet, to remain shamefacedly silent when error is being called truth only contributes to the actual division of Christ's Body - I cannot allow such a travesty of Christian faith go unchallenged and unopposed. The heartcry of Paul the pastor found in Acts 20:26-31 voices so well the inner passion of any true shepherd concerning the subtle deceptions from within that confront the Body of Christ. In my own imperfect, stumbling, but determined way, such a zeal for the defense of the flock touches me as well. In this regard, as a minister myself, I cannot remain silent, either.  It is time for action.

Let me remind my fellow Pentecostal and Charismatic brethren who would oppose any of the "touching the anointed" that I will supposedly be divisively engaging in of a far greater point of view which will give them the proper perspective to view this in. I am fully aware that what I say here will be rehearsed before the Judgment Seat of Christ: and in the indescribable light of His face on that day, I will stand to give account for every word I have ever said. No more sobering a reality check can blitz the heart, soul and mind of any God-fearing man or woman. But, remembering that God is no respecter of persons, it is easy to see that the same personalities and positions that these same loudly protesting Christians wish to exempt from examination will not escape the same destiny that I will face.

If they are found sorely wanting by the clear standards of Biblical truth in this world, shall the Lord in that Day of days simply dismiss their "differences of opinion" with it in the same evasive and offhanded manner that we use to examine these contemporary Holy Ghost straw men with? What will any man or woman do then who lives their life now according to these erroneous principles should they be found following the mists of vanity that dissolve in the Light? Such a question as I pose here demands a response of the Pentecostal or Charismatic who would themselves demand of me my silence and my shame. Too much is at stake. I cannot be silent. The prophet within will not allow me to do so.

What I must call our attention to will be eye-opening and disturbing, for these are many of the most cherished couplets our fiery evangelists and silver tongued teachers would have us incorporate into our walk of faith. Each of these need to be explored in much greater detail than I can share on now, and many of the issues they raise are discussed in other articles on our site.

          1. "We Need A Fresh Word For Today"

At a tiny Pentecostal church here in Cleveland not too long ago, a lady stood up and loudly praised God that she didn't have to trust only in the Bible since "His truth comes to us in present day words, praise the Lord!" These "words" were "rhemas", revelatory utterance she viewed as divinely inspired and a regular source of direction she relied upon in a perfectly devoted fashion. This is a clear example of one of the most convincingly empty Holy Ghost straw men one can find in too many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches today that has cause untold amounts of grief, confusion and trouble for them.

Another variation of this kind of thinking sets yet another straw man to skip down the aisles and studies of Christian churches and homes whenever that “anointed” brother or sister stands up to admonish a gathering of believers to be wary of sticking too closely to a Bible-centered faith: "the letter killeth but the Spirit only brings life, saints, remember that!" Both make one very bold, if not often indirectly delivered, assertion that claims that the greatest need of Christianity today is to hear a "now Word," an utterance of a divine revelation from God's Spirit that speaks directly to a contemporary need of the hour concerning a direction, exhortation and instruction that the Church must have if it is to thrive and survive in an increasingly hostile and secularizing world dedicated to carnal materialism and surfeiting indulgence. The "fresh word" provides new insights and vision to the Christian church that direly must be followed, new "present truths" the Body of Christ is supposed to urgently receive. This belief preoccupies the minds of many Christians today, and, in terms of their lifestyle, always gets translated to a personal fixation upon oral directives for their lives said to be inspired by God and delivered authoritatively by those believed to be speaking for God.

Many of those dispensing them claim to be "apostles" and "prophets" who now are trying to share elbow room with popular pastors, teachers and evangelists in Pentecost. But "fresh words" can be delivered from the most insignificant and humble of Christians, and may even be recognized through their observation of the most mundane aspects of the world order. Usually, however, they are viewed as revelation sent directly from God. These "fresh words" can be dispensed on an infinite range of concerns from personal needs to national crises, and are popularly viewed by those whose attention is devoted to them as able to even change destiny itself.

But more often than not, however, the consequences of spiritually feeding upon a regular diet of such "fresh word" preaching, prophesying and teaching can be fatally flawed and enormously erroneous. We have seen this occur again and again. No matter how publicly committed those who dispense these "words" may be to the objective Biblical standards of established truth in Christian faith, their continuous involvement in relying upon the "new" and the "now" ends up - unintentionally or not - militating against the supreme authority of Scripture as the only rule for faith and practice. It is usually in the runaway Christian best seller that this kind of "cutting edge present truth" is exalted as far more relevant than the Bible itself, and one recent major example came in Tommy Tenney's unashamedly likening of Scripture to "dusty love letters that were written long ago" in his book The God Chasers:

Truth is where God's been. Revelation is where God is. Truth is God's tracks. It's His trail .. true God chasers are not content to just to study God's trail, His truths; they want to know Him. .. A true God chaser is not happy with just past truth; he must have present truth. God chasers don't want to just study from the moldy pages of what God has done; they're anxious to see what God is doing (1)

Attitudes such as this, for all of their craftily phrased zeal for God, render the teachings of the Bible, in practice, as a secondary source for spiritual direction, and subject to whatever reinterpretation that these "now words" will impose upon them. Ultimately, this always results in the exaltation of the "fresh word" at the expense of the Scriptures as the basis for a balanced Christian worldview. That is a presumptuously dangerous substitution of a "full gospel" tradition of man as superior to God's Holy Word. Worse of all, it actually is the prime vehicle used by by deceptive and counterfeit spirituality to introduce questionable and false doctrine, as well as individual biases and personal agendas that can confuse, divide and even spiritually abuse those these "fresh words" were meant to bless.

The Bible alone is all a Christian needs to hear God's voice and direction for their lives. Our Biblically illiterate Christian culture needs to hear this shouted from the rooftops again and again. God's very Words preserve holy principles for Christian living that transcend any and all of the loftiest expositions of spiritual wisdom you may hear today: the Bible alone equips the believer with all the wisdom, comfort and guidance they will ever need to live an overcoming, abundant life:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.  Psalms 19:7-11 (KJV)

 .. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.  John 14:26

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.     2 Tim. 3:16-17 (NKJV)

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

Ro. 15:4 (NKJV)

And no spoken "fresh word" will ever contradict or confuse the written Word of the Lord. I fully believe there is a place to the revelatory in the church, since some of the giftings of the Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12 clearly are meant to operate in that way, such as the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, prophecy and the operation of tongues and their interpretation. All Pentecostals and Charismatics whose faith is built upon the foundation of the Word of God and who revere it as the sole ground of spiritual authority in their lives know this instinctively and must firmly resist any attempts to raise up the words of man as the bread to live on (too many, however, do not). They know that any so-called "now word" will always exhort and supplement, but never replace and downplay the authority of all Biblical precepts. “Now words” are not Scripture, and all Christians committed to God’s truth will recognize this immediately (we’ll discuss this later).

The account of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 proves this. The "fresh word" the early Jewish church in its' infancy had to face was a sincere yet legalistic belief that all new Gentile converts should be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to stay in God's grace. The council was held to deal with the wildfire impact this teaching had. Both Peter, Paul and Barnabas declared and testified to the visions, miracles and divine promptings that compelled them to reach out to the Gentile nations in defiance of this teaching and their own Jewish bias (and these spiritual experiences also were "fresh words" that opened a whole new door to the preaching of the Gospel).  

But in the end, it was James' citation of the Biblical mandate on outreach to the Gentile world that "pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church" and settled the issue, resulting in rejoicing and true edification of the Body of Christ outside of Israel (Acts 17:7-31) and the emergence of the global Christian era. The Old Testament Scripture validated and sanctioned the bold journey out of Israel that the preaching of the Gospel was to take. In short, what we see is that it is the Word of God - the objective standard - that established the truth that all true prophetic, revelatory and experiential spirituality will always point to as validation for its claims. CLICK HERE to listen by Real Audio our teaching on Acts 15.  

“Fresh words,” therefore, are hardly the material that Jesus said all man should live by, but by every word out of the mouth of God alone (Matthew 4:4).The Scriptures are God’s eternal Words, timeless, eternal, “forever settled in heaven,” (Psalm 119:89) and their testimony is more than enough to spiritually thrive upon. That, sadly, isn't the view of too many in Christian circles where the demand and clamor by the restless Christian body politic, nursed on "rhemas" and “words” to draw upon in between meetings and personal crises, would insist on a "fresh word" to live by, thus stuffing this Holy Ghost strong man with more than enough dross to deceive thereby.

2. "We're Not Bound By Tradition"

Tradition, according to the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary is a "belief, principle or way of acting which people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a long time."  It is, very simply, the normal way that things are done among a social group. Christianity, as in other religions, has a longstanding and well-advanced history of developed tradition that involves the creation and preservation of doctrine, practice and divine revelation believed to be delivered from God. All contemporary forms of Christianity are, by nature, essentially modern versions of ancient Christian traditions drawn from a venerable church history spanning many centuries and cultures. 

Not all of the traditions that have been called Christian have been biblical or desirable, of course, and much has been even damaging and enslaving. It would be foolish, then to put blind trust in them alone apart from the Biblical principles they should embody. In and of itself, tradition is still an absolutely irreplaceable and essential part in the perpetuation of any social group's existence, yet the foundations of sound Christian tradition are drawn from Biblical precept. And yet this Holy Ghost straw man routinely dances all over the concept of drawing light from the wellspring of Christian tradition, skipping around in many a Pentecostal and Charismatic circle as a whirling dervish of popular scorn of the "traditional." Thanks to the songs of its' foremost advocates, who believe their proclamation of this cliche is a bold affirmation of the "liberty" that truly spiritual Christians have in the "full gospel," we can hear the clear intent in expressions such as "don't let your tradition trip you up," (2) when hissed by Kenneth Copeland in one of his famous "born again Jesus" sermons. Such sneers capture perfectly their disdain of relying upon the concept of established tradition in the practice of Christian faith.  To hold to Christian tradition, this straw man would argue, is to hinder the contemporary advances of the Holy Spirit through a practice of dead religiosity and surely are a sign of carnal bondage to stubborn rebellion against God's work.

"We have all come across people who are so steeped in religion, tradition or their own ideas that they are unable to receive truth or embrace anything new," explains Clarence McClendon. "These are often people who have not yet been immersed in the spirit of repentance .. such an immersion .. creates an ability to recognize and embrace God's progressive anointings and manifestation" (3).  So therefore, truly consecrated Christians who have fully repented of their sinful ways will readily  leave behind what McClendon says are "layers of tradition that have held us hostage" by “an ability to step out of traditions and dogmas that are killing us and stopping the flow of His power” by losing our "carnal minds (to) appropriate His mind." (4)  Such tradition, Ulf Ekman argues, is part of a Satanic strategy to "delay us and make us inactive or listless. Unfortunately, he's partly succeeded in distorting and watering down the Gospel, keeping it inside the four walls of the church and encumbering it with unbiblical traditions" (5). Therefore, in the name of presenting "the uncompromised Word" that is both timely and relevant, there must also be a simultaneous desire to sweep aside the carnal dependence upon

All of us would agree that there are many traditions and institutions in the modern church today based upon unbiblical, manipulative and even human design that rightfully should be rejected. I cannot agree more that there are traditions preserved in many Christian circles that are, as Jesus so well put it, the "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). A discussion of these as seen in full gospel circles is outside the scope of this article and is covered in other ones on our site.

But the fatal flaw to the Holy Ghost straw man argument that rejects tradition in the name of establishing new divine truths as its replacement lies in the fact that those Pentecostals and Charismatics who raise the issue all too often have less to do with a concern for Christ's teaching than the sanctification and exaltation of their own religious convictions that is often quite questionable, even heretical. Their clamor often is more concerned with ensuring a blanket adoption of a controversial teaching they cherish as a personal belief that, in their eyes, reflects revealed truth - and if they can claim the sanction of Jesus' words to cover a personal agenda, they have no qualms in doing so, especially if they are aware that their pet doctrine and practice will be stiffly opposed by established and sound traditional Christian understanding. The carefully qualified “present truth” they usually and loudly uphold is almost always some questionable or unbiblical concept that the established truth would illuminate and expose as false and fanciful.

A Bible-grounded tradition is the heart and soul of Christianity itself, contrary to those who would abandon it in search of some nebulous dream of “progressive truth.” The Bible itself bears witness to the Spirit-directed creation of a sound Christian tradition. The Scriptures themselves are a collected series of traditions passed down by word of mouth from Christ's apostles to the first disciples: the teachings of Jesus and the witness of the Old Testament were delivered orally first, than preserved in written form by various Christian scribes (John 5:46, 20:30-31, 21:24-25). All of the apostles' own doctrine was their teaching which was based upon the oral tradition they received from Jesus Himself (Acts 2:32, 39, 42): even the great masterbuilder Paul the apostle had to receive these traditions as a learner himself (Acts 22:12-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3). The fiery preacher Apollos drew deeply from the traditions of John the Baptist he’d been taught, and it was the Christian traditions (“the way of God”) shared by his own mentors, Aquila and Priscilla (who themselves were disciples of Paul) that powerfully transformed his ministry of teaching from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 19:1-3, 24-28).

All of the early church's entire spiritual light was received by preserved tradition (Acts 20:20, 1 Corinthians 4:7, 2 Timothy 2:1-2). And the apostles took enormous pains to ensure that they intentionally conveyed these traditions to the early church through their own teaching on what they'd seen and heard, admonishing that they be always “doers of the word” kept “always in remembrance” (1 Timothy 4:9ff, 1 John 1:1-4, 2 Peter 1:12-16, James 1:22-25, Jude 17-18). So the presumption that a reliance upon soundly established Christian traditions is somehow unspiritual, carnal and even part of a Satanic snare to keep Christians bound by the instrumentality of dead religiosity is a claim that is terribly short-sighted and ignorant at best and an outrageous attempt to twist Scriptural truth at worst.

Now, traditionalism for the sake of maintaining a status quo that does nothing to advance the Kingdom of God certainly should be exposed for what it is. The legitimately questionable aspect about any “Christian tradition” is just how Christ-centered, Bible-based and Kingdom-building that any given tradition could be. There is indeed a deadening leaven with following the “way it is” in Christian circles that stifles initiative, perpetuates pet theology, and sustains prejudice at the expense of a dire need to change beliefs and practices should long ago have been reformed, renewed or discarded outright. If this is the kind of tradition being targeted for examination and discerning, no one would agree more than I that such crippling doctrines, practices and perpetuated church-based inertia be speedily dispatched to the sea of forgetfulness. Surely none of us would object to the birth of a truly Spirit-breathed innovation to take its place that would empower the people of God to edify the Body and spread the Gospel far better than long-cherished and egocentric programs that sanctify a deceptive religiosity but stunt a dedicated faith.

  But to say that the sign of a far more enlightened Christian community would be to declare itself free of the “bondage” of any connection with Christian tradition of any sort for the pipe dream of the “new thing” is absurd. It simply falls apart when held up to the light of history and the very nature of the Body of Christ since the earliest days of Christianity. Simply put, it’s impossible: no Christian fellowship anywhere could exist without some kind of rudimentary Christian tradition to have given it any kind of form or pattern to start from. It would be like claiming to invent fire without heat and plant life without roots. Only the most self-deluded and short-sighted could believe that one can be without “tradition” in a Christian setting anywhere. It’s my observation that those preachers, teachers and Christians who loudly reject “dead traditions” are actually frustrated with their inability to persuade potential converts to their new truth to cast off the traditional restraints they’ve been wisely taught to hold fast to. As painfully bewildered that may leave many of them, it’s a good sign that discernment still hasn’t entirely broken down among Pentecost. For those confronted by strident advocates of "free" spirituality who press this Holy Ghost straw man into their service, Paul penned in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, 9 this bit of godly advice to follow:

  Now we command you brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you .. not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.

3. "God Offends The Mind To Reveal The Heart"

The Truth often offends: God offends the mind to reveal the heart.”  So goes the soft shoe of this Holy Ghost straw man as it dances, prophesies and manifests itself in an experientially preoccupied culture of Charismatics and Pentecostals. Dedicated to finding an appropriately  spiritualized explanation for the stranger, even bizarre practices and teachings that often arise among them in revivals, conferences and small group meetings, this is one of the most well worn you will hear. 

Personal religious experience is part of a healthily balanced Christian life (this is a debatable subject for many and we will discuss this more later) and it is this side of Christian piety that has far too long been riddled with excess and aberrance throughout Christian church history. While Pentecostal spirituality is hardly alone in the creation of spurious spiritual practice, it surely is more prone to it since it has a strongly experiential, subjective dimension to it. Sadly, strange experiences and practices ranging from the sublimely mystical to the carnally obscene that occur in these settings are then justified by pastors and church leaders as God's divine plan to jolt a tradition-bound church out of its slumber by their controversial nature meant to convict and revive. 

A close cousin to this straw man is the well worn saw cited by many willing to settle for some radical chaos for the sake of revived Christianity: "We'd Rather Have A Little Wild Fire Than No Fire!"

Mike Bickle leaves no doubt about his perception - and this straw man's argument - that God is the author of the objectionable:  “In contrast to the polite, shy, gentlemanly image we have of Him, He intentionally offends people. .. Throughout the Bible, God is revealed as One who offends and confounds those who think they have everything figured out, those who are bound by their traditions and expectations of how God operates." Reflecting on the Bible story of the thousands clamoring for His attention in John 6, he goes on: "Jesus knew their hearts .. that most of them loved their tradition more than God. He also knew that those who followed Him as told in John 6 did so with mixed motives. He revealed their hearts by intentionally offending their minds. By offending people with His methods, God reveals the pride, self-sufficiency and feigned obedience that lies hidden in people’s hearts" (6). The late John Wimber, citing Jeremiah 17:9-10 , provides further amplification on what and how these methods of God are to be understood:

On the surface the text sounds relatively harmless. After all, we are in harmony with the Lord, aren't we? And he has every right to search our hearts, to sort things through, and reward or discipline as the situation merits. Most of us think of God searching our hearts privately. But what if he chooses to do it in public? Sometimes he does shine his spotlight on our hearts through some public action. Something in his dealings with us embarrasses us or humbles our intellect. How we respond reveals what is in our hearts toward him.

Wimber further explains how these strange manifestations that occur in public are to be viewed as divine acts of God's dealing with his people to convict them of sin, pride or some other failing:

God's shocking interventions bring to light whether we are characterized by righteousness or rebellion. When the minds of the righteous are boggled by something God does, they seek him for under standing. They may have fears; his action may make them uncomfortable. But they are teachable. They patiently learn to cooperate with what they discern are God's initiatives. The rebellious use the same circumstance to justify their hidden desire to dismiss God's will and do things their own way.

He piously adds that "the offensive element in God's action exposes the antagonism in their heart toward him," (7) and therefore, claims divine sanction for congregationally beheld spectacles such as teenagers crowing like roosters, women who soil themselves because of their "birthing pains," and the giggling rambles of people under a stupor of supposedly spiritual drunkenness uttering silly platitudes, among many other things. And Wimber and Bickle are hardly alone in their contentions as a great army of defenders of this straw man actively take up for it in Christian circles worldwide. Listen to this clip by South African prophet Kim Clement make it dance to his bass-slapping tune during a 1998 TBN appearance: CLICK HERE to hear it. His contention is that God uses “the ridiculous” to establish divine communication with His people, and that this is a bold defiance of the orthodox established order to bring revival and reformation to the Church.

The Bible is hardly silent upon this issue: it speaks definitively to the belief that to critically reason and make value judgments on experiential spiritual phenomena that occur among Christians is a sign of carnal rebellion against God. Christians every day who are confronted by some startling practical and doctrinal excess wrought in the name of divine spiritual initiative should refuse to be intimidated as “unspiritual” when raising serious questions about them. This straw man’s lie is yet another full-gospel fabrication in light of both God’s revealed nature and Word.

God’s essential nature is both Love (1 John 4:8) and the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26), and both of these wondrous attributes of His are to be embodied in a Christ-centered Christian testimony that unflinchingly and continually engages in careful spiritual reflection. As we’ve pointed again and again on this website, this is a non-negotiable standard of Christian life, made manifest by the fruit of one’s spiritual discernment (Hebrews 5:11-14) which is balanced by a divine infilling of Holy Ghost-supplied love and mercy (Romans 5:5; Philippians 1:9-10). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself commanded that part of one’s passion for God is an intentional and equally ardent desire to love God “with all of your mind,” (Matthew 22:37): this is a human mind renewed by God’s gracious acceptance of it as part of the “reasonable service” or “spiritual act of worship” (NIV) of offering one’s very bodies up to Him (Romans 12:2) – a transformed mind and life that will “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will.” Despite the irrational belief that discernment is actually an unspiritual rationalizing away of God’s work, it is clear from Scripture that God mandates a reverential employment of sanctified thought that seeks to “prove all things” and to “hold fast to that which is good”, to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

So while this Holy Ghost straw man claims that one’s attempt to discern excess is a sign of stubbornly deep-seated rebellion, it is plain from Scripture that quite the opposite is the truth. In his best-selling book The Final Quest, Rick Joyner is told in no uncertain terms – in one of his innumerable “visions” - by an unnamed individual at the judgment of seat of Christ that “until we have been here, we will judge others through distorted prejudices, either positive or negative” because of our complete failure to “really know what is in the heart of others and whether they are performing good or evil deeds” (8). The ominous meaning of this narrative cannot be missed: one can never truly have the ability to weigh the merits of what others do because of the belief that to do so is to make a premature and illegitimate value judgment upon them personally “before the time”, that is, the time of Christ’s personal judgment. Therefore, we are to accept the insight of Joyner’s sensational oracle, where we additionally read that “very few Christians, even very few leaders” are even able to accurately discern a given situation because of their inherent spiritual dullness and blunted perception by virtue of being a fallen human being.

If this was truly the case, then Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian church to seek to be “perfectly joined” in the same frame of mind and discerning would seem to be a futile attempt to do what Joyner’s enlightened companion said couldn’t be done. We would reject that extrabiblical fable completely. Clearly focused thought, imparted by the power of God to all believers is part of the process of direly needed judgment, as 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 amplifies:

.. He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that He may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

An important contrast should be noticed here: Paul's challenge is to the individual who claims to walk on a higher spiritual plane than the others around them who corporately walk as those who have the "mind of Christ." Verses 9-12 also emphatically assert that such a visitation of God's grace is not limited to an elite few in the church, either: all Christians are to intentionally reason through any questionable practices and teaching in an interactive group setting, beginning with Christian leaders, this being a longstanding Biblical standard according to Proverbs 11:14 - "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." All believers must walk in the light of such guidance in our increasingly deceptive, nominalizing world and church circles of the last days.

While a Pentecostal believer can affirm that demonstrative and experiential faith as supported by Biblical precedents is a normative part of Christian living (Acts 8:14-17, Romans 12:20-21, 1 Corinthians 14:12-15, Colossians 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:8 among others), there are equally binding principles in the Word that compel any religious experience or claim to be tested within a purely congregational context involving all discerning Christians present (Romans 12:16, 1 Corinthians 14:12, 27-28; Ephesians 5:17-21; Philippians 3:15-16; Colossians 3:16-17, 23-25; 1 Timothy 5:21). No matter what you may see happening in a Pentecostal or Charismatic setting, it is clear from these verses of counsel that any teaching or practice you may behold is subject to examination when necessary. That includes any and all of those "extreme" forms of "offense" meant to convict and expose the works of men's hearts, as if the Holy Spirit was suffering a shortage of options in His conviction of men aside from the wielding of swords during worship services, peals of laughter by prostrate men doubled up on the floor, and the cryptic gesturing of "casting about." Pentecostals and Charismatics, open to the experiential in Christian faith, should firmly resist the indecent and the chaotic that infiltrates a full-gospel meeting and be always ready to test it, as the Word has commanded us. This straw man, in the full heat of God's Light pouring out of His Word, should then be sent ablaze to the tare heap .. 

4. "Touch Not The Anointed: Do His Prophets No Harm"

Perhaps the most well known Holy Ghost straw man today is the belief that one should not "touch mine (God’s) anointed" (that is, not criticize, disagree or oppose a Christian minister). It is one of the most effective cloaks used by unbalanced, aberrant or just plain immature church leaders and their allies who label any suggestion from those who may question or have misgivings about their leadership, doctrine or practices as blasphemous attacks on “God’s man” or even God Himself: CLICK HERE to listen to one typical "fivefold" pastor's warning.

While this irrational notion is hardly confined to the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds (9), there is within them one notable exception that magnifies a hundredfold the power such a straw man wields. That is the uniquely “full-gospel” concept of the so-called “five fold ministry,” which forms the most significant core of church leadership (but by no means are they the only ones, as the impact of institutions such as women's, youth and Sunday School ministries also wield great influence, as they do in other evangelical fellowships). Said to comprise the ministerial roles described in Ephesians 4:11 (pastor, evangelist, apostle, teacher and prophet), the "five-fold minister" is believed to be a literal ministry gift bestowed by God's Spirit in a calling that laymen do not have, being men - and women - ordained by Him to a high and sacred position. Their calling, it is claimed, enables them to walk on a spiritual plane and draw from an intimate communion with God supposedly far higher than the one walked by the common Christian body politic. So as a result the spiritual authority five-fold ministers claim is to be held in the highest regard by the common Christian over whom they are to act in a leadership capacity. And, operating from such an exalted position, the lead and direction of the five fold “ministry” are seen by many in the Charismatic and Pentecostal worlds as virtually above question.

To have any kind of difference with them, therefore, is to be the equivalent of the fearful sin of “touching” or doing actual harm to “the anointed,” or the minister of God, a sin that many point to as gravely forbidden by God in Psalm 105:15 where His stern warning is said to be recorded: “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”  To do this is to invite God’s divine wrath and judgment upon one – and multitudes of Christians have felt the leaden impact of this straw man’s Bible hammer deeply bludgeon them in a variety of settings, from the pulpit-originated public “calling out” to the haunting of inner conscience. And the context is always negative, always punitive. There is no place for honest concerns to find a hearing should the "five fold" find themselves being questioned: if you are found “fighting” against the “man of God,” woe be upon you! There is no calamity, disaster or personal downfall that cannot happen as a result of one's opposing or questioning him.

For example, an unknown speaker was heard one night in 1998 on the Trinity Broadcasting Network's "Praise The Lord" program citing just this principle with no little satisfaction:

In 2 Chronicles 16, verse 10 - and I like to read this - verse 10 and 11 and 12, the Bible says sickness comes when individuals attack preachers." He went on to explain that "the reason this man was struck with sickness is because he had been persecuting God's servant and oppressing the people of God. We see in the Word of God, God declares in His Word, 'Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm.' Now that was spoken concerning Israel, yet applies to the body of Christ today, and we must be so careful not to attack men of God even when these men of God are not living right (10).

Such rhetoric is all too common in an infinite variety of social settings among Charismatics and Pentecostals. Darkly voiced, frightening tales of financial penalties, lawsuits, mental breakdowns and even deaths as a result of "touching" an "anointed servant of God" are part of the lore attached to the assertion of this belief.

The vindictive, almost feral spirit that these tales are often delivered in says much about the true nature of their threats. Some of these are outright acts of religious terrorism aimed at nothing less than church manipulation and sanctified cursing. Unfortunately, their audiences are usually too intimidated to objectively consider responding in any other way then to be filled with fear. The "Preacherman" of Polk County, Tennessee, Oneness Pentecostal pastor John McCann, in his published biography, relates a story in which one of his early convert's family members became a target for God's wrath: 

When the boy said something negative about one of his sisters, the spirit of prophecy came upon me and I had to make a prophecy concerning the life of that boy. (People should never speak against the anointing of God. Man or woman, people should never speak against the anointing of God. When they do, they blaspheme God; and God always takes revenge) (11).

Self-proclaimed Catholic prophet Raymond Aguilera, in addressing pastors he apparently was contending with in 1992, voiced this amazing fulmination as an oracle of warning from God: "For I protect My Prophets, I protect My Apostles, and you don't fool around with the people I choose. .. Before you go against an Apostle, you pray and you better be Right, for My Wrath will be upon you, without Mercy."  If possible, his ominous accusations get even worse:

What do you do? You stone My Prophets, you mock them, you torture them, you kill them, and you blaspheme against Me. And you laugh and dance on their graves. .. See, you Pastors .. I know you're going to try to Crucify My Prophet. .. And you think you have a fight on your hands. You mess with him and I'll land on you so hard you wish you had never lived (12).

The paranoia and hateful rage dripping from these utterances would seem to be explanation enough as to how "inspired" such "oracles" really are. And yet for many Christians who are faced with more moderate, yet equally disturbing threats, these kinds of blistering chastisement are not at all unknown. We cannot emphasize this enough. Pastor X or Sister Y may be as sweetly shepherding as they can be when they warn of the consequences of questioning their lead, but they still can be making a clearly abusive threat in the name of God. Most tragically, the religious abuse this engenders is equally all too familiar, if not unarticulated, by those who are the target of it.

What does the Bible say about this notion of the "untouchable" anointed? It doesn't support it and instead teaches just the opposite. Scripture does mandate a whole-hearted deference to the authority of those who are in leadership positions in the Body of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:11-13 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but nowhere does it teach that the Christian leader is part of an exalted office above question by anyone except his leadership peer and whose carnally authoritarian spirit cannot be brought into open public accountability.  The Lord Jesus Christ himself modeled and taught that the truly great leader in the Christian Church will be a servant to all, excelling in humble service to all around him:

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

This lesson was never lost by the early church. Paul often referred to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1 and Philippians 1:1 are examples) and his deeply moving lament to the Corinthian church (“.. I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved ..”) in 2 Corinthians 12:15 spoke volumes about his willingness to devote his energies to serving that fickle, cantankerous community of believers. Peter never forgot his lesson of the ministry of Jesus the Slave and, as someone who could have made it an issue, chose to reckon himself as just one of the many elders of the Christian churches he wrote to in 1 Peter 5:1-4, elders who were specifically admonished not to be “lords over God’s heritage but .. examples to the flock.”  John must have been remembering the precious price of His Master, the Servant when he wrote that “hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his own life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Such self-sacrificing ministry is what 1 Corinthians 16:15-16 reveals in the Christian household of Stephanas of Achaia: these humble servants of the church are, says Paul in these verses, the true examples of the kind of leadership that the proud, self-righteously super-spiritual Corinthians should submit to (and it is this example that Jesus demonstrated at the Last Supper when he removed his robes and washed the feet of his disciples, as well as his signifying of their purification entirely by His grace: John 13:1-7)

The Bible also teaches that all leaders, even the most seemingly humble, must still be made accountable through their overall submission to the Christian community they are part of as fellow believers. 1 Corinthians 14:29-33 give us glimpses into the ministry of prophecy in the church  that can originate from any member present, but can also be judged by anyone in the congregation to whom it has been directed. In Hebrews 13:7, Christians are admonished by the writer to follow the example of the leaders of the church, those having “the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow,” and yet are also told to “considering the end of their conversation” (or, literally, in the Greek, “their lifestyle”) as they are submitted to. And Ephesians 5:18-21, a glimpse into the life of a healthy church family, ends with a memorable admonition from Paul that further shows how the church is to ensure that abuse of power never occurs, stating all be dedicated to “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”  Mutual submission one to another as equals and “fellowservants” truly embodies the old Christian saying that “the ground is level at the foot of the Cross for all.”

This, then, is the standard of Christian leadership the Christian church should strive to rise to, a depth of mature authority that too many of the “anointed” of these last apostate days appear to be entirely absent of.  It seems all too often unheard of in the churches where they enjoy their “training for reigning” as they bully the flock of God with their carnal manipulation of the pew through the abuse of the awesome responsibility their pulpits have given them. There’s a special place of judgment for such leaders, (Ezekiel 34:1-10) and unless the Holy Ghost strawmen being used by them are finally torn down and incinerated by the judgment that should begin in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), that dreadful day of ultimate and final justice will come for them, making the fulminations of men like Aguilera and McCann pale in comparison. The divine wisdom of Paul, in reflection upon the carnal wisdom of those false teachers around him who tried to divide the Corinthian church, gave a word of admonition about them, as to how they’d act and how truly insignificant they stood in light of the Lordship of the Father over His Body:

But they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves by themselves are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us - a sphere which especially includes you. 2 Corinthians 10:13.

5. "Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!"

There is perhaps no more overstuffed Holy Ghost straw man that exists in the circles of Pentecostal and Charismatic culture than this grotesquely bloated one: the pious yet utterly misguided belief that to openly question the validity of a spiritual truth claim is a flagrantly mean-spirited act of judgmental pride that violates Jesus' command in Luke 6:37. That verse is usually cited as the final word on the matter in an effort to squelch the question. Those who labor under this kind of mindset never quite seem to recognize or grasp the crucial need to examine teachings and practices both in and out of the Christian Church if there is a legitimate concern about anything questionable they may present. These folks would instead demand that no one be so narrow-minded as to "judge" someone else and thus risk divine judgment from God for being so judgmental to begin with.

One fascinating example of this came up when I was working at the Maytag plant one day, and noticed the T-shirt logo on a new worker next to me that came from Rod Parsley's "Breakthrough" product line. The worker confirmed to me he was a devotee to Parsley's TV ministry and followed his preaching closely. At that time, in 1999, Parsley had been one of the foremost advocates of a body of unbiblical and even absurd teachings dealing with a "Jubilee time" in 1998 - making claims of mass "household salvations," complete church-wide deliverances from sickness, wholesale cancellations of debt and complete resolution of long-standing family problems. This was based upon the popular notion that the year 1998 "in the natural" commemorated Israel's 50th year of existence, and also marked a special time of visitation from God, visitation that depended entirely upon how much "seed" (money) you could "sow" (send in) to the ministries making those claims. I told him all of this and asked him if he felt that it was Biblical. The worker looked at me a moment and then remarked "Well, who's to say he's wrong? We're not to judge. You know, judge not unless you be judged yourself, brother." And he turned and walked away, with an air of confidence that he’d made sure that questioning of his favorite preacher was properly dealt with.

As plainly evasive as this kind of reasoning is, this straw man's influence unfortunately extends way beyond the initial truth claim it was created to defend. It has helped create a compelling intellectual censor in the hearts and minds of many Christians which leads them to view as unchristian and unloving any kind of challenge to a teaching, personality or practice that may be called into honest question. This in turn has largely disabled, crippled or outright devastated the ability of generations of Christians to properly tell truth from falsehood by employing an empty argument that blusteringly avoids the real issue at hand. And this has resulted in an inconceivably vast breakdown in the Christian church's discernment, opening the door to the entrance of hordes of sincere, well-polished, yet horribly false teachings to circulate within its congregations. And many a Christian life has borne an untold amount of personal abuse, devastation, and betrayal by the influence of these unbiblical, irrational and even blasphemous interpretations of Christian faith and practice. And the greatest tragedy of this all is that this straw man is erected upon a misinterpretation of what Jesus meant regarding judgment that appears to be ignorant of any real understanding of what He was referring to - costing the Christian church dearly in ways beyond our ability to overexaggerate.

The verse cited by those pushing this straw man is found in Luke 6:37: "Judge not, and  ye shall not be  judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned." "See," they will say, "that's saying we are not to judge anyone or we might risk being judged ourselves .. see what it says?"  Now at face value it would sound as if Jesus is forbidding the practice of judgment, comparing it to the condemning people often will do as well, another practice that He also forbids. So what did Jesus mean here? Was He outright forbidding anyone to practice the Biblically based kind of discernment we have been advancing?

Let the Scriptures answer: look at John 7:24 for the answer, from the words of Jesus Himself: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." It is clear from this verse that what Jesus is actually forbidding are those judgments based solely upon shallow observations that don't properly examine the matter in depth. Jesus actually is giving us two commands which those who quote that Scripture often completely miss. He commands, first of all, that superficial criticisms based upon casual and ill-reasoned impressions be thoroughly rejected, but makes crystal clear the reverse, second one - that sound, reasoned, and balanced judgment based upon thorough investigation - is approved in his sight.

The word "righteous", translated from the Greek dikaios, literally can be translated "just" or "right" since the word is one that is derived from an ancient Greek legal vocabulary that deals with decision making made in judicial settings, where truth is arrived at through careful and rigorous examination. Jesus, therefore is commanding right judgment, not the shallow!  Indeed, “righteous judgment” is a direct command by Jesus Christ Himself phrased as a nonnegotiable imperative that would be an actual sin to disobey!

Christians are not to engage in a sloppy and superficial "checking out" of questionable things that we have for too many years done; rather, Jesus demands that godly judgment be actually done in a holy and sober manner. In Revelation 2:2, we actually find Jesus commending the Ephesian church for trying impostors who posed as apostles and were found to be "liars." Such an examination couldn't take place without a) a Scriptural mandate to "test all things", b) moral courage, and c) just plain obedience for the sake of the truth. Righteous judgment was done, and the Ephesian church was preserved from one deadly aspect of error, if not all. In this case, Jesus showed how "questioning authority" was a right thing to do. This was a church that "judged" but "judged" correctly, to the glory of God. So it is superficial judgment based upon shallow decision making that is actually forbidden by Christ, not the process of sound judgment itself!

This is the very mistake made by virtually all those who criticize discernment of the questionable teacher or practice as "heresy hunting" when demanding that we "not judge".  They who would criticize those who would call for discernment as being sinfully judgmental are themselves actually the ones guilty of judgment "according to the appearance," neither understanding much less appreciating the need to be discerning and thoughtful! This is one aspect of the dumbing down of Pentecost and the main reason why Pentecostal and Charismatic church circles have given birth to scores of frightfully aberrant and abusive teachings that have ripped the people of God within them mercilessly for generations. How ironic that this one straw man of them all, perhaps, has less substance than any of the others yet wields more clout then one can possibly imagine!

6. "Doctrine Is Just Someone's Opinion"

Yet another one of the grotesque Holy Ghost straw men that scuttle about the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds is one that upholds doctrine as the "wisdom of man" that quenches the Spirit of God.  From the earliest days of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements there have been innumerable men and women who've upheld this belief and helped it assume the persuasive and bloated form it has taken in present day times. It's not at all hard to find the "Spirit-filled" believer who confesses to walk in divine truth but who would, in the same breath, disdain any solid commitment to doctrinally defined truth at all. Most perplexing is the fact that these same people usually adopt some of their most cherished convictions by becoming fervent followers of a TV evangelist or local teacher because they are convinced he preaches the "uncompromised Word of God" and that "nobody tells it like HE (or SHE) does!" And the bizarre depth of acutely telling contradiction here is often lost upon them when the point is pressed.

There are probably several reasons why doctrinal formulation and adherence to a unified body of doctrinal truth have become such a major issue to many of these "full gospel" folk. The lamentably imbalanced direction of Pentecostal belief too often derived from the glow of fiery revival services where experientially oriented faith (the "good meeting") took precedence over sound Bible teaching is perhaps the major reason this straw man struts yet. Preachers and teachers who provide devotional oratories that do little to formally teach and preserve Biblical truth in an organized manner are largely to blame for this. But taking a very close second behind that, I feel, is the unwillingness of both those in the pews and pulpits of Pentecost to endure having their personal belief system tested by inquiry and found out to be sorely wanting, if not totally lacking. Beyond their ability to do "Jericho shouts" and a memory of what John 3:16 says (and not more than a couple of the Ten Commandments), their faith is actually quite shallow. This superficiality of many a Pentecostal and Charismatic in regards to personal spiritual foundations becomes a sore point when pressed by even the most innocent challenge to identify with and grasp a set of theological propositions such as doctrines on the Trinity or sanctification. Their indignantly sincere belief that doctrine is a confusing issue then becomes understandable, though hardly excusable.

Some of those who take a stand against doctrine also may be acting out of their sensitivity to the impact of divisive argumentation over it which they've personally experienced. They throw up their hands and refuse to take a stand or get involved. Aware of painful memories and times in which they saw this happen, they determine to not be involved in something that, in their view, only divides and never unifies. They seem to take their cues from those anti-creedal and anti-doctrinal sentiments that run deep among certain Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. "Doctrine is not the basis of fellowship among Christians," said the "healing evangelist" Jack Coe in 1954, at the height of the "healing revival" of the late 1940's and much of the 1950's. "The basis of fellowship is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ" (13). This sentiment was echoed by the "Brownsville Revival" pastor John Kirkpatrick in the mid 1990's in one of his books: "We argue and withdraw church membership over the slightest differences of church doctrine, forgetting that true disciples are to be known not by their doctrine, but by their love for one another" (14). Despite the sincerity of such conviction, however, it is still borne of intentionally evasive reasoning that emotionally dismisses the dire need to formulate Biblical principles of spiritual truth. And Pentecostal pioneer Charles Fox Parham could effectively counter doctrinal difference by cutting to what he saw was the chase: "Truly spiritual people do not quibble over tenets and points of doctrine; it is a sign of waning spirituality to do so" (15). Among too many Pentecostals and Charismatics, then, doctrine then becomes the equivalent of Spirit-quenching opinion, completely ignoring and rejecting established Christian truth that has been accepted for millennia.  This happens quite regularly because of the moral relativism that underlays a lot of Western democratic consensus. One's views are usually viewed as valid as another's, so how dare we think otherwise?

Therefore, when Christian doctrinal difference is recast as nothing more than a petty clash of equally valid opinions, as the product of personal friction of viewpoints that carry the same weight of truth, it is then dismissed by some supposedly "maturer" believers as part of the human frailty of the worldly-minded and carnal man. Such an attitude, then effectively undercuts any discussion - what Christian wants to be seen as so narrow-minded and unspiritual as to say they speak truth?  What might be the verdict of the Spirit-led among us on such "opinions"? "Prophet" Kim Clement responds: "We do not need an opinion, which is a belief without proof" (16).

So by the time such wisdom floats down to the Full Gospel masses, it's often heard using earthy and yet tired old clichés to express itself: this was overheard on a Christian bulletin board: "A wise pastor I know used to say, 'opinions are like armpits.... everyone has them and they all stink!' And had he not been a pastor, 'armpits' would likely not have been his word of choice!" (17) Doctrine is then ultimately portrayed as being little more than one man's opinion by this straw man with the not-so-subtle implication that differences of this kind of opinion are of no consequence, and if pressed, could be viewed as an act of full blown intolerance.

What does the Bible say about doctrine and the bad rap it has received from many a quarter among us? The concept of doctrine, quite contrary to how revulsed some are over it, is far from being the dirty word it is made out to be. It can be seen continually in the pages of the New Testament that taking heed to doctrine is a serious issue not taken lightly. The word “doctrine” itself is drawn from the Greek word didaskalia, which is literally defined as teaching and instruction. It also means that which is taught, and refers to precepts, principles of teaching with   content that is both substantial and authoritative. Those who would condemn doctrinal content, we’ve already observed, also regularly feed on teaching tapes, books and videos of popular teachers and preachers with a complete disregard for their grotesquely self-contradictory indoctrination. They fill their spiritual lives with collections of teachings that are clearly doctrinal in nature since doctrine is the heart of the pursuit of knowledge and growth: by its very nature, any kind of teaching produces doctrine in one form or another whether the teacher and students want to admit it or not, and they will pass it on among one another in some way or another. It may either be printed or even orally delivered, but it is not lost on the tongue-talking learner. We seek and are finding sources of doctrine in one way or another.

Doctrine in New Testament times was considered the foundation for true Christian formation and discipleship out of which the more intimate dimensions of Christian fellowship and passion for God were an outflow. There are those among us today would assert just the opposite, feeling that intimacy with God independent of a firm foundation of sound doctrine is the most spiritual thing to do. Yet the New Testament church’s rapt attention to the pursuit of apostolically expounded doctrinal truth would sharply rebuke them – and us – today: doctrine was considered to be of the utmost importance.

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.  Acts 2:42

.. God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  Romans 6:17

Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? .. When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.   1 Corinthians 14:6, 26 

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. 1 Timothy 4:16

Doctrine is not only an integral part of true New Testament Christian community, but it is seen to be a real source of salvation and transformation of the lost to the found, of the sinner to the saint. In early Christian communities, gatherings of believers included formal yet lively doctrinal teaching that was done to build up and strengthen the church, and while the operation of spiritual gifts was involved, so was a focus on the doctrine of the Faith. Paul’s admonitions to these early Christians he passionately and earnestly discipled, from Roman believers to the young pastor Timothy, are emphatic on that point. Doctrine indeed matters! It’s not “opinions” or the hearsay of the legalistic, but the Holy Ghost-led preservation of God’s truth.

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 2 Timothy 4:2!

This is the divine mandate of the Christian minister’s preaching that is overlooked by too many of them: their preaching of God’s Word is commanded to be done in a patient spirit that rebukes and corrects as much as it inspires and exhorts, and uses the instrumentality of doctrine to apply it! In fact, the Bible goes on to say that Christian elders whose ministries of teaching strive to produce solid Biblical teaching that brings spiritual growth and health to the edification of the Church at large are to be honored greatly. Indeed, Paul observes that the Church’s recognition of them should be a manifold “double” bestowal of loving respect and deference to them:

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 1 Timothy 5:17

How true this is! How greatly does the Pentecostal and Charismatic church owe the host of largely anonymous and underappreciated Bible teachers from cradle roll workers to Christian education directors in the local church and in every venue of life in between! How far could we ever hope to get without these who have presented Christian teaching to us that brings truth which enables us to mature? Without such teachers who creatively teach, as well as model before us, the doctrinal truths behind what we believe and what we practice, how could we ever hope to preserve the Faith among us? The so-called "fivefold" ministry alone cannot hope to do so. Clearly, in this increasingly apostate hour, their teaching of doctrine that roots children, teens and adults deeply in the truths of the Faith are no more sorely needed than today.

And yet today, there are far too many Christians, Charismatics and Pentecostals among them who, having jettisoned their anchors of sound doctrine, have allowed themselves to be blasted aloft on the winds of the spirit of the age and are now paying the ultimate price for what they believe is spiritual “growth”:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.  2 Timothy 4:2-4

7. "God Is Doing A New Thing"

All during my spiritual journey among the Pentecostals and Charismatics I have come to faith among since 1980,  I have heard these two proverbs repeatedly in our social circles over and over again. They are closely related statements that deal with the same subject - the belief that God’s divine workings among both the world and the Church are not only to be eagerly watched for but absolutely expected. Of all the Holy Ghost straw men that rise up among us, these two claims contain the most substance to them, meaning that we must more carefully consider what they say. In essence, these declarations are a judgment call on the goodness of the Lord in a given situation – they are sincere attempts to glorify God and proclaim His goodness to those beholding what He is supposed to be doing among us for our good. Unlike the other straw men we have looked at, these carry at face value the most appealing and convincing rationale to commend them to us. We must be very careful here in our discernment. This final portion of my article here will therefore be the longest.

These statements are usually applauded as the reasons for one of two conditions in the Church that as I have already noted are very closely related. The first condition is the heralding by anxious, expectant Christians that we need to watch for and expect God to bestow a “new move” of His power upon a needy and desperate Church longing to see “the Hand of the Lord” stirring among us again. So therefore, the second condition is the fulfilled belief that a certain exciting development in a Church circle is God’s “new thing” that has suddenly occurred. The new event has steadily escalated in magnitude and impact among believers and is viewed unmistakably as the fulfillment of their expectations. Both either are hoping for or have received from God what they  believe is His “move,”  His “new thing.”  They desire to hear or proclaim fresh reports of great spiritual and temporal blessings, miracles, and breakthroughs. And both are basing their respective attentions on the belief that these new levels of noteworthy spiritual progress would the result of God’s “doing a new thing” in their midst.

Many excited believers, trying to articulate their expectation or explanation of new seasons of apparent great blessing (however they define them), will point to the Scriptures they've heard preachers employ to explain what’s going on. Isaiah 43:19 is one of the most cited proof texts you will hear: 

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye put know it?  I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

Other verses quoted that further amplify this frame of thinking involve the prophecy of Ezekiel and the observation of Jesus concerning the transformation of both men and their cultures by the express intervention of God in their doings:  

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within your: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.  Ezekiel 36:26-27  

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.  Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.   Matthew 9:16-17

There are innumerable members of the Church who will unhesitatingly quote these prophetic declarations as mandates for what they see as “the next move of God.” For them, these verses support an unshakably confident belief that we can perfectly know what God will be or is doing in a given moment and plan our lives accordingly. It is crucial that this point be closely considered since we are speaking of the mission and direction of the Church in the Last Days, a season  in which we no longer have the luxury of time to waste.

Entire generations of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have given their best time, energies, strivings and attentions to those who cite these Scriptures as justification for new church initiatives and vision. The sacrifice and privation many of the early Pentecostal pioneers have endured has been enjoined of the Charismatics they've helped to birth. All may refer to some popular emphasis of a revival movement, the earnest ardor in which a new church planting is being pursued, or in a renewal of an existing church’s strategies resulting in their reform or even total abandonment for a new way of doing things. Their heralds - from church custodians to megachurch celebrities - use powerfully evocative and compelling word pictures of great need met by great supply, either yearning for or awash in what they believe to be new outpourings of God’s Spirit. This is then logically and consistently followed by their urging us onward to commit our resources and lives to the pursuit of vibrant Christian life as directed by the "new wine" or "new thing" they've so clearly identified. It’s singularly striking to hear how passionate, heartfelt and touching my Full Gospel brothers and sisters will become as they testify on the dire need for the Church to seek God’s “new move” or to embrace it.  Some of the most beautiful and touching expressions of contemporary faith by the Church, heard in certain songs and prayers of her members, give voice to this very longing, a sigh and shout to the Lord that wants His very best for His people.

How can anyone in the Church today possibly not want the same? Surely I cannot but wholeheartedly agree that we need God to work powerfully among us. Certainly, I would also affirm that God should be looked to for new blessings and that He does do new things among us since He is truly Lord over His Church. He can and does do things that are often completely beyond our ability to explain but which are undeniably wonderful and gracious acts of His divine power. We want to be careful to certainly make room for God’s sovereign work among us.

But I am also aware that the desire to make room for God to do as He would in our lives is a well-meaning mindset that has been exploited by those with less than pure or balanced motives who would have us convinced that they can infallibly define what God’s new things are for us. We don’t like to think about the twisted fervor of such people, but they are a very real problem in the Church today. They are among us in more places than we want to admit and they do not stop for a moment to advance their own religious agenda, biases and convictions as the "next move of God,” often very deliberately and intentionally.

Good though their intent may be, the social focus of the idealism of these people is often intrusively, presumptuously or even abusively revealed so plainly before us. It ends up leaving millions in spiritual confusion or offense at the hands of Christian leaders who would manipulate and dominate the Church. Sadly this happens more often than not out of the best of intentions tragically misguided by imbalanced zeal. For that reason, great caution of such Holy Ghost straw men as these must be upheld, for they are two dimensions of a double edged argument that has to be carefully weighed with the spiritual destiny of many souls in the balance.

It is double-edged because its’ precept can be pressed in disconcertingly contradictory directions depending on who uses it. It is easy to point to a new initiative and cry aloud that it is a “new thing” from God but the undefined nature of the term (when taken out of the original context of the verse in Isaiah it came from) lends itself to all kinds of interpretations and applications that can be wildly at odds with one another. Pentecostal minister Dave Wilkerson’s perspective on the “new thing” that God is doing among His people is unmistakably prophetic and holiness-centered: “Dear saint, God is doing a new thing right now. He's calling his people once again to forsake every idol and make their habitation the Rock, Jesus Christ. I urge you, be ready to obey his cry: ‘Let the inhabitants of the Rock sing!’” (18) But among many Protestant communities, particularly those of a more liberal extraction, the concept that “God is doing something new” within their churches has long been a popular justification for their positions on social justice, and has also been cited as the reason why the affirmation of homosexual unions is part of God’s will (19). 

Christian history, particularly that of American Evangelicalism, is punctuated by many schisms due to innumerable denominational and fellowship innovations cited as “new moves of God ” but which instead resulted in new divisions and splinter groups within their churches.  These factions, following what they deemed was the leading of the Spirit of God didn't hesitate to claim that they were “new moves” as well, returning to a lost orthodoxy or reforming a horrid apostasy. Discussing this truly paradoxical and painful angle of these Holy Ghost straw men as they have presented themselves would take us completely outside the scope of this article: the point I am pressing is that it is easy for those wanting to claim God’s divine mandate for a “new thing” materializing among us by simply saying so. With the other Holy Ghost straw men marching in lockstep with these claims, (such as the “Touch Not The Anointed” and “Doctrine Is Your Opinion” arguments), and with Biblical discernment at all time low, the die is cast and the “new thing” soars out among us virtually unscathed. The implication is that whether you believe in them as God-inspired or not, no further validation concerning the legitimacy of a claim would seem to be necessary and that to resist or question them is viewed as questioning God’s Lordship and grace.

To Charismatics and Pentecostals, this is a very popular way used to explain as divinely inspired many of the innovations in practice and doctrine that emerge among us, but not all truly can be called as such by a long shot. Indeed, the more controversial the “new thing,” the stiffer the defense those advocating it will rely upon, citing this very straw man as the pious pronouncement that should end all discussion or dissent from any legitimate questions about it. We do not deny that God is willing to send unto us such gracious works that rightly can be called “new wine” and “new things”. I have seen God’s Spirit send visitations into situations and church circles that truly can be called as such, and so have many others, so that is not the question at hand. The issue that must be kept firmly in view is how these arguments are pressed into service as blanket justification that provides an infallible, untouchable defense for what could rightly be considered as questionable doings: we are told that God is at work and we must not resist what He is doing. One example of how God’s “new things” are understood by certain Charismatics and Pentecostals is stated below by a teacher at a “prophetic school”:

Jesus is doing something NEW! Do you sense it in The Spirit of God these days? God is doing something new in our midst! (20)

This all too familiar to generations of us in Pentecost who have heard this conviction trumpeted by those among us heralding the latest revival or the most recent “refreshing,” or by those loudly advising us to look for God in “The Next Great Work Of God.” Born out of a passionate conviction that we should be subjectively “sensing” a supernatural quickening in some area of church life that is plainly self-evident, we should be also seeing God’s overall purpose for it. We’ve been told God moves in definitely predictable fashion and that we should expect “new things” from Him that are always explained as being just around the corner, just ahead of us. It is held that God is going to raise up or is at work putting in place new perspectives, techniques, and leaders with divine mandates for radical restoration, reform or renovation of the church wherever “stony hearts” and “old wineskins” have too long interfered with God’s plans for our lives.

Whoever and whatever these hearts and wineskins are personified through is typically derided as being dead forms of religious belief and institution that God is sweeping aside for new life in the Church. In a day and age with many a so-called “Spirit-filled” church languishing in lukewarm formalism where spiritual giftings are viewed as old hat and visitation from 11:00 to 12:00 on Sundays is a ritual done as surely as brushing one’s teeth at night, those desperate with longings for renewal and revival are usually quite likely to seek any kind of justification for whatever comes along and seems like “a new thing.”

It is precisely this kind of reasoning that has provided the cloaking for the entrance into the Charismatic and Pentecostal cultures the kinds of excess, extremism and eccentricity that teach questionable, false and even heretical teaching and practice. I have heard this straw man used to defend the most extreme forms of aberrance and abuse I’ve ever seen in the Full Gospel galaxy. I don’t wish to belabor the point, but it is one that is very routinely missed, overlooked or more often ignored by those who support error whether intentional or not. The end remains the same. While God does indeed do new things among us, there’s a lot of these “new things” that aren’t necessarily of God at all, but are drawn from religious flesh that actually may hinder or even cut off the work of the Spirit in the world today.

So let us consider what the Word of God is saying here in these verses about “new things” that are popularly viewed as “new wine” poured into “hearts of flesh” in context with those verses that speak about how to discern truth from error. We'll follow this with some consideration of the reasoning that accompanies this as well.

The three Bible passages we’ve referred to – Isaiah 43:19, Ezekiel 36:26-27 and Matthew 9:16-17 – do indeed contain divine truth that God would certainly intend for us to receive. These deal with gripping references to new things supplied by Him for all to behold, new hearts and spirits he would set into His people, and His Son's parable of new wineskins meant to hold new wine. Clearly this is the record of a Living God and it is both exciting and thrilling to know that the Almighty is not only able but willing to display His power to change lives and history itself as well as bless His own chosen people. But the truth these Scriptural references convey must be understood, as in any other verse of Scripture, in their proper context: we must take into consideration just what the truth is, what it meant to whom it was written to, and what it means to us today from that perspective. This is a basic Biblical principle of interpretation that is all too often ignored: the Biblical context determines how we understand the Biblical verse.  See our articles on Biblical interpretation for more insight on this.

Those who quote these verses to find Biblical support for their heartfelt belief that a new innovation they push as a new work of God’s Hand are doing so with unquestioned zeal and good intent. But most of the time when this is done, the verses are lifted completely out of the Biblical context they are in when pressed into service to prove their assertions. In other words, what the verse actually means doesn't support what they say it does. The entire chapter of Isaiah 43 is a record of the prophecy of Yahweh that He would preserve Israel during its' captivity in Babylon. His ultimate and eternal purposes for the nation would be fulfilled when His transforming power would raise them up to be His witnesses in the last days. Ezekiel 36 is another prophecy about how His divine, sovereign mercy would be extended to the nation and would keep it from being destroyed. It is a reference to God's restoration of Israel in the last days, a time yet to come in which all of the nation would be once and for all be supernaturally and eternally sanctified in heart and soul unto God’s purposes alone. The plain sense of the Scriptures here is a focus not upon some new church development but upon the prophetic fulfillment of God’s purposes for His people, the wandering nation of Israel itself.

We are called to bear witness to the Lord’s gracious outpouring of mercy upon the children of Abraham, the Jewish people. This is the whole point of the verses in Isaiah and Ezekiel, not the justification of some current Christian preoccupation that stirs up excitement, nor the zealous pursuit after some hoped-for event just over the religious horizon. God’s concerns in these verses are to ensure that it is not forgotten that “God has not cast away his people which he foreknew” (Romans 11:2), a point lost by those who would downplay Israel’s role in the last days as a result of their own doctrinal biases. It certainly hasn’t kept many from using these verses to summarize their perception of “new things” afoot among them, but that doesn’t mean that their claims are sanctioned by them, let alone God’s Spirit! These are promises sworn by prophecy to the nation of Israel concerning her future first and foremost. The distinction between what Scripture actually says in context and what overzealous Christians will say when they use it to overstate their case for the latest “new thing” or need to search for one is clear and unmistakable.

And when we come to Matthew 9, we find it contains the apostle’s account of the ministry that Jesus offered to those in his own hometown of Nazareth and the region around it. This took place early in his ministry, just as the spiritual attentions of Israel under the Roman bondage of the first century were beginning to recognize His gracious presence among them, as a prophet and teacher like none ever seen before . It is His response to the questions of the disciples of John the Baptist that bring to our attention His parable of the old and new garments and wine bottles (verses 14-17) and it is from these verses we’ve beheld the zealous among us cite as proof of a new thing God does among us here or there. But the context of the chapter provides greater light upon what Jesus was actually speaking of. It shows in verses 9-17 that this event took place as Jesus was dining with those whom all of the Jewish culture of that day most despised – tax collectors who were agents of the hated Roman Empire and those who were publically recognized to be of sinful and wicked character.  This was just after Matthew, the tax collector and future apostle, had been called to follow Jesus right out of his street office where he’d been collecting the tribute for the Roman government.

We see that not only the disciples of John but the Pharisees themselves were questioning Jesus as he ate with a group of people who were to not only avoided but socially spurned. This is a significant observation. Both of them were religious laity who recognized the unique nature of Jesus’ ministry and who were among the masses of people who were following Him to hear and see what He did. Each of them were zealous in their observation of a practical spirituality that they felt would draw them closer to God. And both were following their own traditions which their questions implied were being directly challenged by what they saw Jesus doing before them in the house of Matthew. It caused them to question what was going on and to demand answers, the Pharisees asking Jesus’ disciples and in turn, John’s own followers directly asking Jesus Himself. And it is the identification made with the Pharisees by John’s disciples of their mutual willingness to fast that seemed to compel Jesus to deliver his well known parable.

The Lord Jesus, in these verses, meant to contrast the futility of trying to combine the old ways of man’s searching for God with the new era that He was about to introduce through His self-revealing mission to Israel. Through the parable of the old garment and the old wineskin, Jesus was symbolically emphasizing the need for a complete break from these old ways (the traditions of both the Pharisees and the disciples of John) so as to adopt the new and living way that He was ushering in. His contrast between the joy of the “guests of the bridegroom” (NIV) in verse 15 and the time in which they would mourn the departure of the “bridegroom” is a reference to a definitive time in which spiritual sensibilities among the God fearing would strikingly change. Jesus is the bridegroom whose presence and subsequent departure would change the way man related to God once and for all. Nothing else but an entirely new way provided in the person of the Son of God could do this since the old ways could not faithfully contain and preserve the vitality of His new way, that foundational truth we call the New Covenant of the Christian faith.

The New Covenant’s focus is entirely upon the redeeming acts of the life of Jesus Christ alone: what religious up-stirring of any pious work, no matter how sincere, could possibly compare with what He alone does? The “new wine” and the “new wineskins” are the symbols of His Spirit borne about in new vessels of His creation. Only by a long stretch of generalization can anyone suggest that this verse instead refers to a progression of revivalism and reformation labeled as a “New Wine” or a “New Wineskin,” but the comparison simply cannot support this kind of language used most by modern day Pentecostals and Charismatics.

Having brought out what Scripture in context teaches, I am not saying God can not or will not doesn’t do new things among us. The whole point here is very simple: those who direct us to embrace or search for a “new thing” in the church world cannot use these verses as divine sanction for the diversion of our energies, passions and attentions. It is unscriptural at best and imbalanced at worst to do so. And church history in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, as well as the Body of Christ at large has shown us over and over at the greatest of cost how many Christians have spent their lives in pursuit of “new things” that had nothing to do with God’s Spirit. 

Certainly there are many places in Scripture which show us how God’s mercies are abundant, poured out upon us daily and that out of His sovereignty He can and does do mighty works. But to be compelled to believe something is “new” that He’s doing or to chase after a trail supposedly leading us to a “new thing” is just not a Scripturally-founded way to live one’s Christian life. The narrow way of Jesus Christ has far more grounded directives that would mandate our attention. Pentecostals and Charismatics and all who seek the signs of the “new things” among us persist in so doing at the peril of their spiritual maturity of themselves and others. And this, I lament, is not the end of a joyous and abundant Christian lifestyle. The sooner we take our eyes off the things of this world and set them upon the Savior who will lead us in just such a fulfilling Christian walk the better.  


My precious brethren, hear me well!  These discussions are offered in a spirit of love and concern for the wandering sheep of the hills of Pentecost who have perhaps lost sight of the light of the Good Shepherd’s Words. And we are wandering thanks to these Holy Ghost straw men that have kept us hobbled by a tradition and ignorance preserved far too long on the pretense that it is God’s will! I have felt God’s Spirit upon me as I have penned these and may you too know and be visited by Him as you read. They have not been written to tear any one down but to compel examination of one’s spiritual foundation to avoid being found wanting.

May you read and consider and ponder what has been presented to the end that your foundation be firmly established on the Rock of Christ and not the slithering of spiritual sands that cannot bear you up in the midst of your trials! It’s my prayer that you will be challenged and edified. Grant it, Lord Jesus, to the readers of this work.


(1)  Tommy Tenney, The God Chasers (Destiny Image, 1998), introduction, page ii

(2)  Kenneth Copeland, Substitution And Identification, audiotape

(3)  Clarence McClendon, The X Blessing (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p.    60

(4)  ibid. p. 61, 62

(5)  Ulf Ekman, A Life Of Victory (Word Of Life, 1991), p. 168

(6)  Mike Bickel, Growing In The Prophetic (Creation House, 1996), p. 67, 69

(7)  John Wimber, Offended By God?

(8)  Rick Joyner, The Vision (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 121

(9)  One example is the public contention between two pro-life activist groups in Montana in 2001: “Concerning the recent attack by Mr. Ertelt against these Christian ministers, the Scriptures are clear: When the "men of God" (2 Tim. 3:17) are officiating their holy duty in the proclamation of His Holy Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5), they are to be held in respect by all men (Deut. 10:8; 12:19). God always means what He says and commands, "Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm." (Psalms 105:14-15) The sin of touching God's anointed is called "sacrilege" defined as "the deliberate or inadvertent violation of sacred things." Those who are called out and set apart by God to officiate His Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2), have a privileged status and responsibilities before God, and offenses against them are regarded as sacrilege.To strike at them is to strike at God. To speak ill of them is to speak ill of God, Whom they represent. Sacrilege brings God's wrath upon all those who touch His anointed. (Num. 16:1-33; Josh. 6:26, I Kings 16:34; 1 Sam. 2:30-33; Psalms 78:56-64; Jude 10-11). The Lord's warning is clear, "Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm" (Psalms 105:14-15) (emphasis mine). This is an excellent example of how disagreement with the “anointed” results in their utterance of fearful predictions of divine judgment upon those who disagree, and how this twisted position can employ a barrage of Bible verses – pulled out of context – to support one’s agenda.

(10)  Praise The Lord, Trinity Broadcasting Network, June 8, 1998.

(11)  John McCann, From A Stump Hole To The Pulpit (Companion Press, 1991), p. 98-99

(12)  Prophecy "given" to Raymond Aguilera on 19 May 1992

(13) Jack Coe, quoted in Edith Blumhofer's Restoring The Faith (University Of Illinois Press, 1993), p. 224.

(14)  John Kilpatrick, When The Heavens Are Brass (Revival Press, 1997), p. 75

(15)  Blumhofer, ibid, p. 54.

(16)  Praise The Lord, Trinity Broadcasting Network,

(17)  Internet bulletin board site now defunct


(19) This perversely twisted discerning of the sovereign will of God was made by Jack M. Tuell, the bishop of a Des Moines, Washington United Methodist Church: “The new thing that God is doing in our midst right now is to show us that homosexuality is not simply an act or acts of willful disobedience to God's law and commandments, but it is a state of being. It is an identity that God has given to some of His children. It is who they are.”

(20) This statement is part of the collected teaching of a group of Charismatic prophets who, as so many others, affirm that there’s a “new thing” God is doing we have to take a definite position upon so as to affirm our being on the “right side” of the spiritual divide: