Manifestations, The Devil and Discernment
This is the last post in my series on physical manifestations. I am particularly focused on what has been called being “slain in the Spirit”. When it comes to those controversial topics. Everyone has an opinion. What is most important is that everyone keep their heads about them and become nether cynical nor naive. Let’s consider how to seek such balance.
What about the devil?
When it comes to physical manifestations like falling under the power of the Holy Spirit, counterfeits can be a problem. Simply because physical manifestations can be easily counterfeited. Any time God moves in power things tend to get messy. The presence of counterfeit does not taint the whole, it only shows the enemy feels threatened enough to fight back. Such times men must keep their head about them. Evan Roberts and Jessie Penn-Lewis comment on the folly of being naïve, “No one can with safety accept all the supernatural manifestations which accompany Revival.”  In the same vein, John Wesley once counseled: “Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions, or revelations to be from God. They may be from Him. They may be from Nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore believe not every spirit, but ‘try the spirits whether they be from God.’”
It goes without saying, you will have counterfeits. Most every revival in church history – Great Awakening, Cane Ridge, Welsh Revival, Azusa Street, charismatic – there has been a mixture of real and fake. Jesus gave us a whole parable to understand this, the wheat and the tares will grow up together. And the only act that makes a definitive judgment is the final harvest, when God clears away all questions and separates the wheat from the chaff. Until then, we are not to always cry devil, nor assume it is always God. We are called to come to our own conclusions by the best judgment we have at hand. So that when stuff happens, we are all called to discern the difference.
Wisdom from Dead Dudes
When it comes to discerning physical manifestations, we have some great wisdom from the Giants of the Great Awakening. Wesley warned of a two-fold danger and calls us to avoid both: 1) to regard them too much, as essential to revival, 2) to regard them too little, condemning them altogether. The position of many of the leaders was one of a “middle ground,” between Wesley’s two extremes. We should neither accept nor reject such phenomena without further discernment. The viewpoint of Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the wisest counsel:
A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength. The influence persons are under is not to be judged of one way or other by such effects on the body; and the reason is because the Scripture nowhere gives us any such rule. We cannot conclude that persons are under the influence of the true Spirit because we see such effects on their bodies, because this is not given as a mark of the true Spirit; nor on the other hand, have we any reason to conclude, from any such outward appearances, that persons are not under the influence of the Spirit of God, because there is no rule of Scripture given us to judge of spirits by, that does either expressly or indirectly exclude such effects on the body, nor does reason exclude them.
We can look at some more modern thinkers. Through studying the history of revivals, Martyn Lloyd-Jones came to much the same close:
I would conclude that the phenomena are not essential to revival. . . I believe that in their origin they are essentially of the Spirit of God, but we must always allow for the fact that because of the very frailty of human nature, and of our physical frames, you will have a tendency to an admixture, partly along the physical, partly along the psychic [Soulish], and partly as the result of the Devil’s activity. But there is nothing more foolish or more ridiculous than to dismiss the whole because of a very, very small part… expect this, and . . . be on guard against the false and spurious… But we must not seek phenomena and strange experiences…What we must seek is revival… Anyone who tries to work up phenomena is a tool of the Devil, and is putting himself in the position of the psychic and the psychological.
Discernment and Accountability
Most don’t know the D and A in D.A. Carson stands for Discernment and Accountability. So when asked a question about the dangers of genuine moves of God he wrote:
“The blessings of a genuine movement from God tempt ministers and other Christian leaders to become less careful, less discerning. When people are eager to join the people of God and identify with them is precisely when more discernment is needed, not less. When the power of the Spirit is evident, there will always be some folk who want to throw money around and take the part of Simon in Acts 8, and therefore there will be a need for a “Peter” to tell him, “May your money perish with you” (Acts 8:20). Of course, some observers treat these dangers as so sweeping and unavoidable that they think we should be suspicious of revivals and other movements with ostensible blessings beyond the ordinary…. The abuses that called forth the discernment of Jonathan Edwards did not tempt this prince of a theologian to deny the powerful transforming work of the Spirit of God. Revival blessings demand not cynicism, but discernment.”
Discernment and accountability are the hardest and yet most necessary part of leading people into experiencing God’s power. Mostly because it demands real pastoral work. You play it hard and fast and you quench the fire and squash the fruit. Play it too loose and you run the risk of allowing error to fester into a boil or infection that could cause more problems down the road. Edwards is an example of good pastoring. His book on this is entitled “A Faithful Narrative of a Surprising Work,” which we have because he did the hard work of pastoring his people after God did a number on them. So what does a pastor do in such situations? They don’t go golfing, I know that much! For starters, they drink a lot of coffee and listen to stories. They help their people make sense of their experience. They teach theology and help their people frame their experience in biblical understanding and theological category. They help their people form a way forward into what God has for the people. They guide the uncertain and temper the overly exuberant. All the while, run off the wolves and cast out a demon or two. All in a day’s work.
In the end, I am reminded of what an old Pentecostal pastor once told me, “It’s not how high you jump, or how hard you fall that matters. It’s how straight you walk afterwards that’s the real evidence.” The fruit is seen in how they follow Christ. It is this fruit that Edwards encourages leaders and churches to focus on.
It is the work of the pastor in concert with the functioning ecclesiastical structure that brings this fruit to light over time. These two aspects of accountability, Pastor and functioning church structure actually leads to experience more freedom, joy and risk taking within the church. Psychologists and sociologists have known for some time that a negative connection exists between freedom and accountability. The sense of security that loving protection and accountability provides, dispels the fear of the unknown, cultivates in others the willingness to risk, and opens one to experience freedom.
Pastoral oversight and ecclesiastical structure with the accountability they give can function as an incubator and a filtration system. It filters out those would-be leaders or problematic influencers who have become power drunk on experiences, and obsessed with bad doctrine. Such people often don’t like fences and secretly nurse a messiah complex. Also such pastoral and structural accountability can function like an incubator for genuine Christian experience. Such structures promote the believer to run hard after God without fear, knowing they have someone watching their back. They can risk in faith for they have someone to help them unpack and understand what is happening to them or pull them back from going down the wrong path. They understand their experience within the context of the loving pastoral care which they can trust seeks to nurture them to maturity and protect that nurturing process (Eph 5:29). Such pastoral oversight and ecclesiastical structures give a believer the best chance to grow through such powerful experiences for it allows them to be open to all God wants for them while also resting in the helpful watch-care of the body.
- Jessie Penn-Lewis with Evan Roberts, War on the Saints: Unabridged Edition (New York: Thomas E. Lowe, Ltd., n.d.) 131.
- John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Chapter Ten. Question 33, Link is Here.
- John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley (Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.), 239.
- T. J. McCrossan, Speaking with Other Tongues: Sign or Gift – Which? (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1927), 42.
- Jonathan Edwards, “The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God,” Jonathan Edwards on Revival (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1984), 91.
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1987), 146-147.
- D.A. Carson, “The Underbelly of Revival?” Themelios Vol 39. Issue. 3. 2014
- Sociological research was conducted by Peter Summerlin, Associate ASLA, Mississippi State University Link Here
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