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Pursuing Presence, Not Signs: Balancing Pentecostal Experience with Biblical Teaching

Without a significant evaluative process, these so-called miraculous phenomena are allowed to function as divine confirmation of ministers and ministries.

Yet even without a significant evaluative process, these so-called miraculous phenomena are allowed to function as divine confirmation of ministers and ministries. As noted earlier, this illustrates the tendency of Pentecostalism to overemphasize the work of the Holy Spirit and fracture the continuity between the Word and the Holy Spirit. A new paradigm is in order.

The Word-Spirit paradigm I propose is based on the biblical witness of Luke-Acts. In essence, it insists on alignment between manifestations of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, always giving the Word of God the preeminent position. Undergirding this paradigm is the exercise of proper discernment among Christians, individually and corporately. This too is found in the biblical witness. First John 4 enjoins us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (1 Jn. 4:1-3) and 1 Thessalonians charges us to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Th. 5:21-22). The furtherance of this paradigm depends on the completion of practical measures, such as the development of Christian education materials on discernment and testing of spiritual matters. Another potential teaching opportunity may be found in Church small groups. Where such groups have developed trusting relationships and have sound, principled leadership, individuals could engage in discussions concerning “miraculous events” and work through the process of testing these matters for themselves.

False messiahs and false prophets will carry messages contrary to the Word of Truth but will still have power to perform miracles.

One important reason that this discernment is necessary is for the protection of the Church from false prophets and teachers that will increase in power as Christ’s return approaches. Christ warned His disciples in the Parousia about the works of false Christs and false prophets that will carry messages contrary to the Word of Truth, but will still have power to perform miracles. Further, the miracles will be of such a character as “to mislead if possible, even the elect” (Mt. 24:24-25; Mk. 13:22-23). While we are not presently faced with this situation, it is not difficult to imagine Pentecostals and Charismatics being misled by so-called prophets—even in the face of false messages—because they would lend undue credence to the false prophets’ miraculous power. A new paradigm is decidedly in order.

We are compelled to develop a system undergirded by spiritual discernment for the sake of our witness concerning God.

Therefore, we are compelled to develop a system undergirded by spiritual discernment for the sake of our witness concerning God. In a skeptical, post-modern world, the Christian responsibility to investigate miraculous claims36 is important in preventing the proliferation of false testimonies; especially since these testimonies may prevent people from believing in God. Moreover, our rejection of ministers, miracles, and messages that are inconsistent with the requirements of the Scriptures is love (1 Jn. 4:9-11). I am not advocating that we should attempt to separate the “wheat” from the “tares,” but like the servants in Christ’s parable, we should know the difference.

In my view, at least, the false testimonies impact something of even greater significance, so to Walker’s observation, I add one of my own: Most importantly, false and trite testimonies of the miraculous detract from rather than advance the glory of God—which is, after all, the whole point of miracles in the first place.

 

PR 

 

Endnotes

1 Blumhofer, Edith L, Restoring the Faith (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 12-14.

2 Klaus, Byron D, “The Mission of the Church,” in Stanley M. Horton, ed., Systematic Theology (Springfield, MO: Logion Press, 1994), 574.

3 Edith L. Blumhofer, Russell P. Spittler, and Grant A. Wacker, eds. Pentecostal Currents in American Pentecostalism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 5.

4 Tom Smail, Andrew Walker and Nigel Wright, Charismatic Renewal: The Search for a Theology (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1995), 125-26.

5 Edith L. Blumhofer, Russell P. Spittler, and Grant A. Wacker, eds. Pentecostal Currents in American Pentecostalism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 4.

6 Ibid., 12-13.

7 Ibid., 6.

8 This reference to signs and wonders is not intended to refer to what is commonly termed the “Third Wave.” Here I am making reference to signs and wonders generally.

9 Gen, Raymond M, “The Phenomena of Miracles and Divine Infliction in Luke-Acts: Their Theological Significance,” Pneuma 11 (1989): 4. I have extended Gen’s purpose of the miraculous in Luke-Acts to the entire biblical witness of the miraculous.

10 Ibid., 7.

11 Zakovitch, Yair, “Miracle (OT),” Anchor Bible Dictionary 4 (1992): 847.

12 Ibid., 846-47.

13 Of course, the miraculous may also occur within God’s creative order.

14 False, not in the sense that the miracles do not happen, but that they direct people away from that which is true concerning God and His will.

15 Tom Smail, Andrew Walker and Nigel Wright, Charismatic Renewal: The Search for a Theology (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1995), 126.

16 Gen, Raymond M, “The Phenomena of Miracles and Divine Infliction in Luke-Acts: Their Theological Significance,” Pneuma 11, no. 1 (1989): 17.

17 Ibid., 17.

18 Ibid., 18.

19 Ibid., 17.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., 18.

22 Ibid.

23 Menzies, Robert P, “A Pentecostal Perspective on “Signs and Wonders,” Pneuma 17 (1995): 269.

24 Ibid., 270.

25 Ibid., 271.

26 Ibid., 268.

27 Ibid., 271.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., 272.

30 Anderson, Allan, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 162-165.

31 Ibid., 163.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., 164.

36 Tom Smail, Andrew Walker, and Nigel Wright, Charismatic Renewal: The Search for a Theology (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1995), 124.

 

Bibliography

Alexander, Kimberly Ervin. Pentecostal Healing: Models in Theology and Practice. Blanford Forum, UK: Deo Publishing, 2006.

Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Blumhofer, Edith L., Russell P. Spittler, and Grant A. Wacker, eds. Pentecostal Currents in American Pentecostalism. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Blumhofer, Edith L. Restoring the Faith. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Burgess, Stanley M. and Eduard M. Van Der Maas, eds. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Cox, Harvey. Fire From Heaven. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995.

Gen, Raymond M. “The Phenomena of Miracles and Divine Infliction in Luke-Acts: Their Theological Significance.” Pneuma 11, no. 1 (1989): 3-19.

Klaus, Byron D, “The Mission of the Church,” in Systematic Theology, ed. Stanley M. Horton. Springfield, MO: Logion Press, 1994.

Menzies, Robert P. “A Pentecostal Perspective on “Signs and Wonders.” Pneuma 17, no. 2 (1995): 265-78.

Poloma, Margaret. The Charismatic Movement: Is There a New Pentecost. Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1982.

Poewe, Karla, ed. Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

Smail, Tom, Andrew Walker and Nigel Wright. Charismatic Renewal: The Search for a Theology. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1995.

Zakovitch, Yair. “Miracle (OT).” Anchor Bible Dictionary 4 (1992): 845-56.

 

This paper was presented at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies held at Duke University Divinity School, March 13-15, 2008, under the title: “Believers Seeking the Presence of God or an Evil and Adulterous Generation?: Balancing the Experiential and Eschatological Nature of Pentecostalism with Christ’s Teaching on Signs and Wonders in the Parousia.” Used with permission of the author.

 

 

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2009

About the Author: Jessica Faye Carter, J.D. (Duke University), M.Div. (Princeton Theological Seminary), is a lawyer, entrepreneur, and nationally-recognized expert on cultural and gender diversity. She is the author of Troubling Her: A Biblical Defense of Women in Ministry (Purple Girl, 2010), Double Outsiders: How Women of Color Can Succeed in Corporate America (JIST Works, 2007), and “Known and Yet Unknown: Women of Color and the Assemblies of God.” LinkedIn. Twitter. http://jessicafayecarter.com

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