Part four in a series on genuine revival.
As stated last week, Christians can embrace one of two extremes concerning the word “revival.” At one extreme are those who embrace pure emotionalism and hysteria—“if it’s odd it’s God”—all weird behavior is excused. The other extreme lacks a living, vibrant spiritual life. The church feels dead, cold, and lifeless. Talk of reviving the things of God (revival) is either dismissed or ridiculed. Both extremes can hinder the work of the Holy Spirit and genuine Christian growth. I am primarily addressing the first extreme in this series.
As a student of revivals, I understand that being “controversial” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Revivals are not predictable, and odd things do happen. As I read the Journals of George Whitefield, the Welsh Revivals, and the first hand accounts of the First Great Awakening in America, I found that Pastor Jonathan Edward’s words were true. He observed that a work of the Holy Spirit would be evident: 1) it would elevate the truth, 2) exalt Christ, 3) oppose Satan, 4) point people to the Scriptures, and 5) result in love for God and others. Genuine revivals focus on preaching the totality of God’s Word, calling out sin, and correcting err—holiness is sought, not hysteria. The result is genuine fruit, not ungodly fanaticism.
Some suggest that today’s battle is not so much against liberals in the church, but against those who are “not open” to new prophecies and visions—those who “religiously hold to the written Word alone.” This statement concerns me because it can be used to promote anything done in the name of the Lord such as prophecies, visions, and words from the Lord. Granted, Acts 2:17 is relevant for us today, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.” But this Scripture is balanced with, 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Not everything done in God’s name bears His approval.
Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). There will be false teachers within the church. We are encouraged to pray for wisdom and discernment. “Words from the Lord” cannot supersede the Bible, but rather, confirm it. “Prophecy involves not authoritative Bible teaching, and not speaking words of God which are equal to Scripture, but rather reporting something which God spontaneously brings to mind” (Wayne Grudem). We hold religiously to the written Word because it is our guide…to test what is being said: “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:32). The speaker should be careful since his words must be under, or subject to, God’s Word.
A “prophet,” as mentioned in the Bible, can be anyone in a position of spiritual authority or claiming to be. They are not to be elevated or idolized. We follow Christ, not men. False teachers aren’t ostentatiously dressed in red, armed with a pitchfork. They often look credible and talk convincingly; however, they bring destructive teachings into the church. They tend to avoid difficult truths such as sin, judgment, and repentance, and focus on what people want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. (Refer to Jeremiah 23.)
False teachers provide layers of truth mixed with error, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. Today, when the truth of God’s Word is spoken, people are often offended because they’ve been conditioned to hear “feel good” messages that do little in calling out sin. As a result, churches are filled with people whose lifestyles reflect little change. William Still said it well: “Many, who for the first time come under the sound of Holy Ghost preaching, are mortally offended…because they have never been exposed to the white light of the Spirit.”
The white light exposes sin and calls for repentance, holiness, purity, and righteousness—topics that are rarely discussed in many churches across our landscape. Not surprisingly, 2 Timothy 4:3 echoes throughout the ages with resounding clarity, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
How do we “test every spirit” and avoid false teachers? Determine if what they are teaching agrees with Scripture. For example, if one claims to be drunk in the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 14:40 tells us otherwise, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” If one lacks control, remember that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. If a claim is made that a “messenger of light” appeared with a new revelation, point to 2 Corinthians 11:14 where we find Satan transforming himself into an angel of light. If those who look to the Word are accused of quenching and grieving the Spirit, we are reminded that Jesus used the Word of God for finality, discernment, and power.
More next week…