PENTECOSTALISM, EXPERIENCE, AND SCRIPTURE

Though Pentecostals and Charismatics pay lip service to the sufficiency of the Bible, in reality experience and “personal revelation” is commonly the higher authority.

Some even admit this. Tommy Tenney, author of the popular book
The God Chasers, says: “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.” Henry Frost says, “We are not to say, therefore, that the word is sufficient” (Miraculous Healing, p. 110). Michael Harper says the world is tired of “the airy-fairy doctrines of theologians” and “awaits a fresh manifestation of Christ” (A New Way of Living, 1973, p. 12). Larry Christenson says: “... the baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a theology to be discussed and analyzed. It is an experience one enters into” (Speaking in Tongues, 1968, p. 40).

In his book
Rise and Be Healed Benny Hinn describes his alleged intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit and says: “You may ask, ‘Was it the result of a systematic Bible study?’ No, it happened when I invited the Holy Spirit to be my personal friend” (Rise and Be Healed, p. 48).

It is not uncommon to find Pentecostals and Charismatics ridiculing a “Bible only” position. John Wimber warned against “worshipping the book” and mocked those who judge everything strictly by the Bible, saying they have “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Book” (Wimber, as cited in Hank Hanegraaff,
Counterfeit Revival, p. 109). On another occasion Wimber warned against being “too rigid” and “too heavily oriented to the written Word” (Ibid.). To the contrary, the Psalmist said the written Word “is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119:105). It is impossible to be too strongly oriented toward the Bible! In his healing seminar, Wimber made the following amazing statement, “It is evil when you hide behind doctrinal beliefs that curtail and control the work of the Spirit. … The Church today is committing evil in the name of sound doctrine. And they are quenching the work of the Holy Spirit” (Wimber, Healing Seminar Series, cited from Testing the Fruit of the Vineyard by John Goodwin). This mindset undermines the authority of the Bible and leaves one open to spiritual delusion. If the Holy Spirit operates contrary to the Word of God in any sense whatsoever, there is no way to discern between the true Spirit and false spirits and the Bible cannot be the sole and final authority in the believer’s life.

Charismatic Anglican Michael Harper warns about those that “set up alarm systems and squat nervously behind protective walls” (
These Wonderful Gifts, p. 107). Of those that believe “the Bible is God’s final word,” Harper says, “[For them God] has been silent ever since. He is not allowed to address His people except through the words of the Bible” (These Wonderful Gifts, p. 104). This is a complete misrepresentation of what we believe and it is a trick that is typical of Pentecostal-Charismatics. We do not believe that God has been silent since the completion of the Scripture or that He is not allowed to speak except through the words of the Bible. We believe, rather, that the canon of Scripture is settled and that whereas the preaching and teaching of the Word under the Holy Spirit’s unction is legitimate, speaking by fresh revelation is not. We believe that every doctrine and practice must be and can be tested by the Scripture and we do not believe that God speaks anything that is different from or contrary to the Scripture. We believe that God personally leads His people by His Spirit but He never leads contrary to the Bible.

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement typically encourages people to be open to new doctrines and experiences and not to “put God in a box” by carefully testing everything with Scripture. There have been exceptions, of course, but this has been a common feature of Pentecostalism and it is certainly a feature of the modern Charismatic movement.

For example, in 1994 Phillip Johnson visited the Anaheim Vineyard, pastored by the late John Wimber, and he and the rest of the congregation were told by one of the Vineyard pastors:

“In a moment I’m going to call down the Holy Spirit. Things like you’ve never seen will begin to happen. … Don’t be alarmed by anything you see … And above all, don’t try to rationally evaluate the things you will see. … SUBJECTING THE REVIVAL TO DOCTRINAL TESTS IS THE SUREST WAY TO PUT OUT THE FIRE” (Phillip R. Johnson, “My Visit to the Anaheim Vineyard,” 1995, www.gty.org:80/~phil/articles/laught.htm).

At the same meeting a woman church staff member led in public prayer with these appalling words:

“We refuse to critique with our minds the work that You want to do in our hearts. WE REFUSE TO SUBJECT YOUR WORK TO OUR LITTLE DOCTRINAL TESTS.”

In his book The Touch of God, Rodney Howard-Browne warns, “If you come in and try to analyze or try to work out what’s happening in these meetings with your mind, you’ll miss it” (p. 99). When dealing with people who come forward to receive “the anointing,” Howard-Browne repeatedly instructs them, “Don’t pray. GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE WAY!”

When Dale Brooks, pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation in Tampa, Florida, shut down his own services and urged his people to attend the Rodney Howard-Browne crusade in Lakeland in 1993, he advised: “Don’t fight it. Enjoy it. Walk in it. DON’T TRY TO FIGURE IT OUT” (
Charisma, August 1993).

Colin Dye, a promoter of the Pentecostal Laughing Revival in England, says: “We must not dare test the work of the Spirit!” (Directions magazine, April 1995).

In a Brownsville Assembly of God service on Feb. 22, 1996, Stephen Hill said he could discern that the devil had sent analyzers to the service and warned the congregation against analyzing. “He went on to say, ‘LET YOURSELVES GO: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING; forget about those around you and what they are doing. Release your mind; release your spirit; and let the mighty river of the Holy Ghost take you wherever He wants you to go’” (Jimmy Robbins,
Revival … Or Satanic Counterfeit. Feb. 1996, Southern Pines, NC: Midnight Cry Ministries, www.midcry.org/revival.htm).

Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian priest who was influential in the founding of the Charismatic movement in the early 1960s, tells many stories of how people were “baptized by the Holy Spirit” after they stopped analyzing and just “opened themselves to God.” For example, in “Nine O’Clock in the Morning,” Bennett describes an experience he had at a meeting in Oregon:

“... one young minister challenged me. He wasn’t ungracious; he just didn’t agree with my theology. He held a mild debate with me in the presence of others there--mostly businessmen--and then departed, feeling that he had made his point. Shortly after he left, a young businessman asked for and received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. He was so overcome with the joy of the Lord that he, like others on the Day of Pentecost itself, looked as if he was filled with new wine. I could not miss the sad contrast between the young minister departing in intellectual triumph, but still dry and hungry in his soul, and the young businessman, filled with the joy which he had accepted from God in simplicity and trust. ... We too, like the young minister, CAN GET SO TANGLED IN INTELLECTUAL QUESTIONINGS that we may spend all our time have ‘great reasonings among ourselves,’ and miss the glory of God!” (Nine O’Clock in the Morning, p. 248).

This is an extremely dangerous position. Observe how that Bennett portrays the young preacher in a negative light, as strictly intellectual and as not properly open to God’s leading and as spiritually dry (a judgment that Bennett was not in a position to make). In contrast, he portrays the gullible businessman in a completely positive light because he asked for something the Bible never instructs us to ask for and received an experience never described in the New Testament (“the baptism of the Holy Spirit and spiritual drunkenness).

The fact is that the “young minister” was right. To question a doctrine and to analyze spiritual practices and experiences by the Word of God is not only right, it is necessary. It is obedience to God’s command (i.e., Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1).

In November 1993, John Arnott, pastor of the Airport Church in Toronto, flew to Argentina with his wife to have Claudio Friedzon lay hands on them. They were searching for a new experience of “anointing.” This occurred during an Argentinean pastors’ conference organized by Luis Palau’s brother-in-law, Ed Silvoso. This event is described as follows by Guy Chevreau, who works with Arnott in Toronto:

“John was standing with his hands up, posturing his openness to the Lord, and Claudio looked at him and said, ‘Do you want it?’ He said, ‘Yes. I really want it.’ Then Claudio said, ‘Then take it!’ and he slapped John on both of his hands. John fell again. BUT THIS TIME HE DIALED DOWN A LOT OF THE ANALYSIS AND SAID, ‘I DON’T CARE, I’M JUST GOING TO TAKE WHAT GOD HAS TO GIVE.’ Something clicked in his heart at that moment” (emphasis added) (Chevreau, Catch the Fire, p. 24).

This is a very significant testimony. Arnott had been unable to receive the “anointing” BECAUSE HE WAS ANALYZING IT BY THE BIBLE. When he finally broke down in desperation and stopped analyzing it, he began to receive the strange unscriptural experiences.

Even those Pentecostals that are the highly theologically oriented and that seemingly base their thinking most solidly upon the Bible commonly exalt experience and “personal revelation” to the same level of divine authority in practice.

Consider Derek Prince. He reminds his listeners that he has studied Greek since he was 10 years old and taught it at Cambridge University, but in spite of his intimate knowledge of the biblical languages he launches off into the strange waters of extra-biblical doctrine. For example, he says:

“When you are baptized in the Holy Ghost, you become a kind of prayer wheel. The Holy Spirit turns you around and prays through you. ... A lady who is known to many was born and raised in the Roman Catholic religion in Ireland. She came to London, where she was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. At the time, she worked as a maid in a hotel in London, and she shared a room with another Irish Catholic girl. One day, the other girl said to her, ‘I want to ask you something. I hope you don’t mind, but every night after you have gone to bed and you seem to be asleep, I hear you talking some foreign language. What is that language?’ That young lady got to know for the first time that every night after the body was asleep, the Holy Ghost was praying through her” (Prince, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, pp. 56-57).

There is nothing like this in the New Testament and thus it is far more likely that the unintelligible dream mutterings he has described are demonic or carnal. Yet in spite of boldly adding to and contradicting the Word of God, Derek Prince would profess that the Bible is his sole authority for faith and practice.

Consider Four-Square pastor Jack Hayford.
Christianity Today magazine calls him “The Pentecostal Gold Standard” (Christianity Today, July 2005), but when Hayford’s theology and practice is placed under the microscope we find that his position is not the untarnished gold of Scripture but the rust and corrosion of extra-biblical “revelation.” Speaking at St. Louis 2000, for example, Hayford told of how his daughter approached him one day with a concern about her “tongues speaking.” She was afraid that she was speaking mere gibberish, but he encouraged her that the believer must first learn to speak in baby tongues before he speaks in adult tongues. There is absolutely no Bible support for such nonsense and it denies the Pentecostal’s claim that the Bible is his sole authority for faith and practice. Further, Hayford says that in 1969, as he approached a large Catholic church in Southern California, God spoke to him and instructed him not to judge the Roman Catholic Church. He says he heard a message from God saying, “Why would I not be happy with a place where every morning the testimony of the blood of my Son is raised from the altar?” (“The Pentecostal Gold Standard,” Christianity Today, July 2005) Based upon this “personal revelation,” Hayford adopted a neutral approach to Catholicism, yet upon the authority of the Bible I know that the message that Hayford heard was demonic. The atonement of Jesus Christ is NOT glorified on Roman Catholic altars. The Mass is an open denial of the doctrine of the once-for-all atonement that we find in the book of Hebrews. Note what the Vatican II Council said about the Mass: “For in it Christ perpetuates in an unbloody manner the sacrifice offered on the cross, offering himself to the Father for the world’s salvation through the ministry of priests” (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery,” Intro., C 1, 2, p. 108). This is only a small part of Rome’s wicked heresies, and it is impossible that God would encourage Jack Hayford to look upon the Roman Catholic Church in any sort of positive, non-judgmental manner. If Hayford based his theology about the Roman Catholic Church strictly upon the Bible, he would never fall for such delusion.

Thus, regardless of what the Pentecostal and Charismatic say about holding the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice, this claim is almost always found to be untrue when it is examined carefully. It is a case of “what you are doing speaks louder than what you are saying.”

Observe the following Scriptures carefully:

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 perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

It is the Scripture (rather than tradition or experience or personal revelation or a prophecy or a “word of knowledge” or a voice or a vision or an out of body experience) that is given by divine inspiration and the Scripture is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. Notice the exceedingly strong emphasis here on the Scripture’s sufficiency. Observe the words that are used: “able,” “perfect,” “throughly furnished,” “all good works.” Thus it is obvious that God’s people need nothing beyond the Scripture. The Pentecostals and Charismatics admit that their prophecies and dreams and visions and experiences are not “scripture,” and in light of 2 Timothy 3:1617 it is obvious that they are not needed. The canon of Scripture was completed 2,000 years ago, and it is sufficient for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. Nothing other than the Bible is needed for these things. We don’t need a personal revelation or a personal prophecy for doctrine or a “word of knowledge” for correction.

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:16-21).

Here Peter exalts the Scripture over mystical (experiential) visions and voices. Peter was an eyewitness of Christ’s glorification on the Mount of Transfiguration and heard the actual voice of God from heaven and saw Moses and Elijah, but he says the Scripture is “
a more sure word of prophecy.” A greater exaltation of the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice could not be made. The Scripture is “more sure” than visions and voices because these can be demonically imitated and fallibly interpreted. Many Pentecostals, such as William Braham and David DuPlessis, have heard voices that led them away from biblical truth, causing them to do such things as deny the Trinity and to accept “latter rain” heresies and “second baptisms” and ecumenism and many other errors.

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Here we see that the New Testament faith was “once delivered unto the saints.” This means that it was completed during the days of the apostles. It is not still being delivered. The Lord Jesus promised to lead the disciples into all truth. “
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (Jn. 16:13). This was fulfilled in the writing of the New Testament and the completion of the canon of Scripture.

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

This warning applies not only to the individual book of Revelation but to the entire Book of which Revelation forms the final chapter. When the canon of Scripture was completed with the writing of the final book of the New Testament, it was sealed with a most solemn warning not to add to it nor subtract from it. The Revelation is finished. Ever since then, those who have claimed to speak by prophecy and other extra-biblical revelation have been deluded. This includes the Montanists, Roman Catholic popes and councils and “saints,” the prophets of St. Medard, the Cevennol prophets, the Irvingites, the Shakers, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Pentecostal prophets.

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

In the Old Testament times, the Scripture was the sole authority for faith and practice and every teaching was to be compared to it and every teaching that was contrary to it was to be rejected. The Scripture is the sole and final test of truth. Anything that is spoken that is not in accordance with the Scripture must be rejected as darkness and those who speak such things are not following the light. This is the infallible test.

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).

The same standard is true in the New Testament dispensation. The Bereans were called “noble” because they tested everything by the Scriptures. This practice is exalted by the Spirit of God as noble Christianity, and any type of Christianity that tries to add anything to the same level of authority as the Scriptures and any type of Christianity that draws back from testing everything carefully by the Scripture is ignoble and wrong.

“Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).

Here the Spirit of God gives two interconnected commandments. Prophesying is not to be despised but all things are to be tested. This is what we see in 1 Cor. 14:29: “
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.” In the apostolic churches prophesying involved both preaching and revelation, but the revelation aspect ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture. Paul defined prophesying as speaking to men “to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3), which is a ministry that continues in the churches throughout the age. The chief point of 1 Thess. 5:20-21 is that all preaching and teaching must be proven by Scripture and only that which is found to be in accordance with Scripture is to be received.

I am convinced that the doctrine of the sole authority of the Scripture refutes the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.