Thursday, February 8, 2024

When the Gifts of the Spirit are Abused and Used for Show

Let me start out by making it clear that I believe all the charismata are still distributed by the Holy Spirit as He wills. I'm not only a Pentecostal by lineage (fourth generation Assemblies of God on both sides of the family), but by experience as well, having experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. I am an ordained A/G minister, and obtained my MA in Theological Studies from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

All that said, I realize that some in the Pentecostal/Charismatic sector of Christianity may not like this article, feeling that it plays into the hands of the cessationists, possibly giving them more ammunition to use against those of us with a continuationist pneumatology. But I feel that one of the reasons cessationists have been able to launch such large-scale attacks against Pentecostal/Charismatic beliefs is because we have failed to "police our own" and curb the excesses (many times possibly out of fear of lending aid to the cessationist position). 

So, let's get on to my story and my critique of what I observed around 8 years or so ago at a youth convention.

At the end of the Friday night speaker’s message, he asked all the youth who wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit to come to the front. So far, no problem. He then said that as they all prayed, he would pick people out individually to pray for them. As the worship band played, he would start pointing out two or three people at a time, whom helpers would bring to the platform. He would then pray for them one at a time, then wave his hand back and forth 2 or 3 times, and either blow at them or push his hand toward them (without making physical contact), at which point they fell to the floor. Very similar to what I’ve seen on videos of Benny Hinn and other traveling evangelists.

After praying this way for probably 12-18 people, he then addressed the crowd of young people down front. He asked how many wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Hands went up all over (no problem here, it’s great that the youth are desirous of the gifts and work of the Holy Spirit). He asked them all to press in tight, then take their neighbors’ hands and lift their joined hands high in the air. Then he said, “I’m going to count to three, and then I’m going to say, ‘Fire!’ When I say, ‘Fire!’ God is going to fill all of you with the Holy Spirit at the same time.” He then counted to three and said “Fire!” then waved his hand across the crowd, and the people went down in waves. Only a few kids around the outer edge of the crowd didn’t go down. 

I hope I’m being truly spiritually discerning, and not simply a stereotypical “seminary-educated, cynical intellectual,” but I had several reservations about how this was done. 

I have a theological problem with a preacher making a statement that God is going to fill everyone with the Holy Spirit at the moment the preacher counts to three. We are not in control, we are not the baptizer — Christ is. While we have to make ourselves open and available to the Spirit, it is His sovereign decision when and where to move. It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to ask God to fill all of you” and tell people to seek to be filled, and quite another to make a declaration that God will fill everyone at the same time.

Looking at things from a physics perspective (yes, I was a math and science nerd in high school), if you have a mass of young people pressed close together, holding hands with their neighbors, with arms raised, only a handful of people genuinely falling in reaction to the Spirit’s power is needed to set off a domino effect. Even if a person isn’t falling “under the power” they are going to fall in the flesh, because they physically have no other option. Pressed together, they can’t step out of the way of a person who is falling, and with hands interlocked and arms raised, no one can catch someone who is going down. Body falls into body, a falling person pulls down the person they are holding hands with, and it’s a chain reaction. Thus only the people on the outer edges, who could step out of the way, did not fall.

One more thing that made me uncomfortable: earlier in the service, right after the speaker was introduced, he talked some about other conventions he had been at. He specifically mentioned being at the youth convention in Orlando a year before, and showed a video from that convention. It had a few snippets of his message there, but what stood out to me was the emphasis in the video clips showing people falling out on stage, and a mass falling out when he waved his hand across the crowd. It almost seems as though he was planting a suggestion at the beginning of his message regarding what was expected later in the service.

Let there be no mistake, I believe in the ongoing miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. I pray in tongues. I have even fallen a couple of times when overwhelmed by the Spirit’s presence. But no CDs (courtesy drops). If I feel like I’m being pushed, I plant myself firmly like a cedar of Lebanon and stand my ground. 

But I don’t believe we have to manipulate things for people to be touched by God. It just comes across as phony when the “Benny Hinn theatrics” (for lack of a better term) are employed. These kinds of things just give ammo to the MacArthurs and other cessationists out there, and make people question the true moves of God.

Only toward the very end of the service did the evangelist ask pastors and youth leaders to move among the crowd laying hands on kids, and then it was to pray for physical healing. I believe it would have been much better to have pastors and leaders moving through the crowd, praying with kids who were seeking the baptism, rather than going for a "mass slaying in the Spirit." 

We must me ever-cautious not to give critics and skeptics a grounds for accusing us of using mass hypnosis or psychological suggestion and manipulation. 

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