Don’t Let Benny Hinn Steal The Holy Spirit

Recently John MacArthur hosted the “Strange Fire” conference at his church in California. During this conference MacArthur and other well known speakers highlighted the dangers of charismatic theology and the supreme importance of the Word of God. I’m grateful for MacArthur’s steadfast commitment to the Word of God as well as his desire to highlight false doctrine. I, along with many others, have benefited from John MacArthur’s faithful, long-haul, verse by verse exposition of the Bible.

And I certainly agree that the charismatic movement has produced some seriously jacked up theology. Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and other charismatic preachers have left a trail of “healed”, “slain”, “spirit-filled” carnage behind them. But… (in the words of Pee Wee Herman, “All of my friends have big buts…”)

I am concerned MacArthur and other cessationists are discarding significant portions of Scripture in response to the abuses of the charismatic movement. As Christians, our theology cannot be knee-jerk, reactionary theology. Many good things in the church are abused. Preaching is abused (see Joel Osteen, et. all). Worship is abused. Money is abused. Authority is abused. The abuse of something doesn’t mean it should be stopped. Rather, it should be informed and governed and shaped by the word of God. The fact that the charismatic movement has created massive problems shouldn’t mean we instinctively argue for the cessassation of the spiritual gifts.

So, with that in mind, let me humbly lay out a biblical, theological case for the ongoing, supernatural, miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament. To my friends who are cessationists, I love you. I love your passion for the supremacy of Scripture. All I ask is that you would consider what I’m saying.

FROM EDEN TO REVELATION

The chief delight of the garden of Eden was immediate and intimate fellowship with God. When Adam and Eve sinned they forfeited the privilege of God’s immediate presence. They were driven out of the garden and away from the presence of God. But because we serve a redemptive, restoring, rescuing God Adam’s sin was not the end of the story.

The rest of the Bible tells the grand story of God restoring and even surpassing all that was lost at the Fall. God began by calling Abraham to himself. Out of Abraham God created the people of Israel. God promised to dwell with the people of Israel, and in this promise we see the beginnings of God’s divine restoration plan. In Exodus 29:44-46 we read:

I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

God was committed to dwelling with his people. He was committed to restoring all that had been lost at Eden. But Israel’s access to the presence of God was extremely limited. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and he could only do it once a year.

Certain men and women also experienced the immediate and powerful presence of God. The Holy Spirit would come upon prophets and judges and kings, empowering them to speak oracles and perform mighty deeds. For example, in Judges 14:6 we see the Spirit of God descending upon Samson: “Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.” But the Holy Spirit would not remain upon these men and women.

As God’s redemptive plan unfolded one thing became crystal clear: the people of Israel did not have the ability to keep covenant with God. Their hearts were bent toward sin and idolatry. They continually strayed from the true and living God. If God was going to have a people for himself he would have to perform heart surgery on his people. He would have to give them hearts that longed to obey. And so in Jeremiah 31:33-34 we read the glorious promise of a new, heart-changing covenant between God and his people:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ?Know the Lord,? for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

The promise of new, covenant keeping, God-loving hearts is one of the great and glorious promises of the New Covenant. A second astonishing promise of the New Covenant is the promise of the immediate, indwelling presence of God’s spirit. The Spirit of God would no longer be limited to prophets, priests, kings, and judges. Rather, every covenant man and woman would experience the continual, ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.

We see this clearly when the Lord said through Jeremiah, “…they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest…” We also see this clearly in Joel 2:28-29, which says:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

Under the New Covenant prophecy, visions, and dreams would no longer be the exclusive property of prophets, priests, kings, and judges. Even male and female servants would receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God would no longer dwell in a tent or a temple, but in each of his covenant people. This incredible promise, like the one in Jeremiah, is a New Covenant promise.

Both of these promises are gloriously fulfilled through Christ. In Christ we receive new, regenerate hearts, which love and obey God. And, in Christ we receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is made clear again and again in the Book of Acts. When the first Christians began prophesying and speaking in tongues Peter said, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:16) In other words, Peter interpreted the events of Pentecost as being part and parcel with the New Covenant.

We see this again in Acts 10:44-45 when the Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his family: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.” The fact that Gentiles experienced the filling of the Spirit was proof they were part of God’s covenant family. The broad dispensation of the Spirit was proof that the New Covenant era had dawned.

Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit God is slowly restoring all that was lost in Eden. Adam and Eve forfeited the immediate presence of God through their sin. Jesus secured the immediate presence of God for us through his obedience. The promise of being filled with the Holy Spirit is clearly a New Covenant promise. It isn’t an apostolic era promise or a promise only in effect until the completion of the canon. It is part and parcel with the New Covenant.

ARE PROPHECY AND MIRACLES FOR TODAY?

The most common argument against modern prophecy, tongues, and miracles is that those things were for the purpose of validating the gospel preached by the apostles. In other words, when people prophesied, spoke in tongues, or were healed it was proof that the gospel was real and that Jesus was the Messiah.

While I understand this argument I have serious theological and exegetical problems with it. First, this argument fails to take into account the significance of the Joel 2:28-29 New Covenant promise. Despite the best arguments from guys like MacArthur, I can’t see this as anything other than a New Covenant promise. The original context of the promise and the interpretation by Peter in Acts 2 don’t give any indication this promise would cease after the apostolic era or after the completion of the Canon of Scripture. The cessassion of the gifts isn’t described anywhere in Scripture. At best it could be inferred as the logical extension of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. However, I’m not comfortable building my theology on inferences and logical extensions.

The most straightforward reading of Joel 2 is that in the last days (a.k.a after Christ) every covenant man and woman would be filled with Holy Spirit. Every Protestant agrees on the priesthood of all believers. I would challenge cessasstionists that a robust doctrine of the priesthood of all believers requires fully embracing Joel 2:28-29.

Because Joel 2 and Acts 2 indicate that being filled with the Spirit is a New Covenant promise the onus falls very heavily on cessassionists to prove that this promise has ceased to be in effect or that somehow the supernatural elements of this promise have ceased. To do so requires jumping through some serious exegetical hoops. Joel 2:28-29 promise must be arbitrarily parsed at odd places and a significant amount of anachronistic interpretation must be injected into the New Testament. Personally, I’m not comfortable jumping through those hoops.

The second major problem I have with the cessassionist argument is that prophecy, miracles, and tongues did not only accompany the apostolic preaching of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 14:26 makes it clear that the Corinthians experienced tongues and prophecy in the regular church gatherings: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

In Galatians 3:5 Paul said, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…” This implication is that God supplied the Spirit to the Galatians and regularly worked miracles among the Galatians as a result of their faith in Christ.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE SUPERNATURAL?

Charismatic craziness is not anything new. Paul encountered charsmatic chaos in the Corinthian church. Those folks were absolutely out of control. They were like a Holy Ghost frat party. They were trying to out-prophesy and out-tongue each other. They were getting drunk during communion. They were sueing the heck out of each other. They had major, major problems.

In spite of all the abuses occurring in the Corinthian church Paul did not command them to cease and desist with the spiritual gifts. Rather, he commanded them to do several things:

DO EVERYTHING IN ORDER

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:31-33)

Prophecy, tongues, and even miracles are to be done in an orderly, peaceful fashion. So much of the chaos that exists in charismatic churches is the result of failing to obey this simple command.

TEST EVERYTHING BY THE WORD OF GOD

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20)

In the Old Testament every prophet was to be tested. This requirement has not changed. Everything that occurs in a church must be tested against the clear revelation of God’s word. Every prophecy, tongue, and “revelation” must be tested against the Word of God.

Let me be clear on something: I fully believe in the sufficiency and authority of God’s word. Prophecy, tongues, and revelations do not add one iota to the completed word of God. I realize this sounds like a contradiction. What I mean is this: God may give someone specific prophetic insight into circumstances I am experiencing. This prophetic insight does not add anything to Scripture. However, it can help me apply God’s revealed word to my circumstances in a way that I would not do on my own.

God’s word is sufficient to sustain me through every trial. However, God may choose to supernaturally heal me from sickness as a way of encouraging me and giving me a taste of the Kingdom to come. If he does not heal me it’s not because of a deficiency in my faith, it’s because he is sovereign. I do not have any problem simultaneously embracing the sufficiency of God’s word and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

THE END OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS

When will spiritual gifts cease? When Jesus returns. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 says:

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

These verses are crucial for our understanding of the Holy Spirit. When will prophecy and tongues and miracles and revelations cease? Paul spells it out clearly. The spiritual gifts will cease when the perfect comes. When we know fully. When we see face to face. I have a seriously difficult time interpreting this as anything other than the return of Christ. I simply cannot say that I know fully or see face to face right now. But a day is coming when I will see him face to face, and on that day the spiritual gifts will cease.

Until that day I will pursue the active, ongoing work of the presence. Guided by the Word of God and love for my fellow believers, I will pursue the Spirit. If you disagree with me that’s okay. We’re united by Christ, and one day all our disagreements will pass away along with the gifts of the Spirit.

Don’t let the crazy, unbiblical charismatics rob you of one of the most significant blessings of the New Covenant.

Comments

    • says

      Shawn, that was actually quite helpful. We all know Stephen, is, in fact, no moron by any stretch–but I am glad you made the correction. It truly was helpful… and I'm thankful you made the correction with such grace. :)

  1. says

    Helpful to read your take on continuation. Even we cessational bros can appreciate well-thought out Biblical reasoning that argues against our position.

    We just need to remember the common goal of protecting the clear borders of gospel orthodoxy. Whereas the nuances of the ministry of the Spirit don't define the fence line, there are many who have attacked the gospel while claiming authority from the Spirit. And it seems that the world's view of Christianity is quickly becoming defined more by the likes of Benny then by anything else.

  2. taco says

    Cessationists and Continuationists both build on inferences from scripture, that is how Theology is done in the synthesis of any sort of Biblical over arching narrative.

    I think it might be helpful to distinguish cessationists of today (MacArthur types) and cessationists of yesteryears (Puritans) I do not think they are the same. See Poythress and Milne’s work.

  3. says

    Stephen,

    First, I am a cessationist, at least for the time being. I was originally saved in a "Word of Faith" church, but I left after about 2 years because I had not been baptized in the spirit, could not (or would not) speak in tongues and had serious issues with what I perceived was a lack of submission to scriptural authority and contentment. My knee-jerk reaction to all of the charismatic movement is mostly abrasive due to my past experiences. Reading the likes of Grudem and Piper have softened me and helped me realize that a balance can be attained.

    Thank you for this post, it has helped to answer some questions that I have had for quite some time now. You make very sound and biblical arguments for the continuation of the gifts, but it would be helpful for me if you could outline some of the differences between you and the Word of Faith movement and where lines are drawn.

    • Stephen Altrogge says

      If you have any specific examples from the Word of Faith movement I would be glad to try to answer them! I'm not super familiar with their practices.

      • says

        One of the things I would hear is that we have been given authority over all things, so we can command things to happen if we have faith referencing Mark 11:23. This would be applied to healing mostly, and people would command the illness out of a person.

        Additionally, prophecy was given a great deal of weight. People would quit jobs because a prophet told them to, because it was done in a "Thus sayeth the Lord" kind of way.

        I also never spoke in tongues, although I was encouraged to many times. Eventually, someone told me that I was not a Christian because I hadn't been baptized with the Holy Spirit.

        When I would raise issues based upon what I would read in scripture, I would be told that I am studying too much and that faith is about the experience.

        Thanks again, I really appreciate your help!

        • Stephen Altrogge says

          Wow. Yeah, I can see why you would have a bad taste in your mouth regarding the charismatic gifts.

          – In regards to Mark 11:23 I think this passage needs to be interpreted in light of the rest of scripture. Jesus himself taught that we need to repeatedly ask things in prayer. He also taught that sickness is not always the result of sin. As I read the letters of Paul it becomes clear that suffering is simply part of the Christian life. Sometimes God chooses to heal but many times he does not. I think Mark 11:23 needs to be interpreted in light of everything else scripture teaches about suffering and prayer.

          – To obey something simply because a "prophet" said it seems foolish to me, and seems to run contrary to the command to test everything. Additionally, it seems pretty clear that NT doesn't usually function in a way of commanding people to do things. After all, Agabus prophesied that Paul would be arrested and yet Paul nevertheless continued on his journey. Prophesy in the NT seems much more geared toward the encouragement and building up of the church. I would be very, very hesitant to obey any sort of command from a "prophet" unless it clearly lined up with God's word.

          – Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit. Not every Christian will speak in tongues, just like not every Christian will prophesy or preach or lead worship. It is faulty theology to say that every Christian must speak in tongues.

          – In terms of your last question, I would never say someone is studying God's word too much. If anything we need to be studying God's word more. Faith is always informed by God's word!

          I hope this helps!

          • says

            Thank you for your blog post and for taking the extra time to respond to my questions. They were very helpful. I feel like I could talk for hours on the subject.

            Additionally, thank you for your ministries through music and writing – they have blessed me and my family more than you can know.

  4. Carlos Contreras says

    Thanks Stephen. Refreshing to hear a humble contribution to this ongoing discussion. I encourage you to continue to expand your thoughts on this theme since John MacArthur and others like Tim Challies have invited Reformed Non-cessationists to enter into a robust dialogue. The worst thing that could happen is for non-cessationists to now react to John MacArthur's reaction to the Charismatic movement. He is right that we all need to enter into the public arena and denounce the abuses and heresy of some so called "charismatic" leaders. So, keep writing! and give my regards to your old dad…

  5. says

    Thanks, Stephen, for approaching this touchy subject with clarity and biblical wisdom. We are very thankful for all the the Holy Spirit is doing in our church. You're right, just because something is abused doesn't mean that it should be outlawed. God is so kind to always give us wisdom and help in every area of church life.

  6. Chris Silard says

    Excellent job, Stephen.
    While I agree with so many of the concerns that cessationists have about the history and prevalence of abuses of the gifts God gives, I have yet to hear anything even close to a well-founded biblical argument from cessationists that faithfully exegetes Scripture in context, or one that provides a biblical systematic framework to persuasively argue that the so-called "miraculous sign gifts" have passed away or are unnecessary for the church age due to the completion of the canon.
    Thanks for your careful work and courage.

  7. says

    I am very, very thankful for my continuist brothers and sisters, as a cessationist. I, for one, never walked away from viewing the Strange Fire Conference online as explicitly or implicitly separating from anyone who did not feel the exact same way as what I believe to be the "nuanced' truth in Scripture. And reading comments from the (very small) minority of people who attended that I know, they indicated there was actually a great spirit of unity at the Conference. I'm surprised at all of the "backlash" generated from either people who didn't attend the Conference… and other groups (Olsteen and Jakes camps, notwithstanding). I didn't get that sense from people who actually attended and am anxious to follow-up with them to see if people who were at the Conference feel the same way as the people who were not at the Conference–that it was separating out distinguishing lines, further., or even a call for that. Now, having said all of that, I do truly believe this Conference was not only needed but necessary. I have so many brothers and sisters in Christ being led by false deceivers. They attend their own Conferences where "hundreds" and "thousands" of church *leaders* are there peddling their anathema gospel. As I said in one other comment, the wolves selling their brands of gospel are on the rise; not declining. I was glad at one point, one of the SF speakers gave the numbers into the hundreds of millions. It's not just in "other countries" but also in our own safe, theologically warm bubbled American culture too. Am I prone to knee-jerk reaction because of my background in a fallen Pentecostal denomination? Absolutely!–and I praise God for godly men like you, Stephen, who remind me to check that at the door. But having been fully immersed and believing/defending!! the exact heresies which hundreds of millions of people still believe/buy, I can't imagine how much eternal good and righteousness will come out of this Conference. I'm sure your desire to post this is so people will interact with the stellar Scripture verses and clarifying explanations you give for them, but I did want to address the sub/sub?point of your post which was about the broadbrushing. If you see the numbers of those who continue to buy into the types of "gospels" the speakers were addressing–it's staggering. And by the way, some of the heresies that @glanotte addresses are just a few–but main ones that are taught to hundreds of millions of people worldwide as gospel truth–supported and defended by Scripture–by heretics like what I once was. Oh God's sight-giving grace! While I don't hold MacArthur/his fellow camp/ or the Conference as doing everything perfectly, I do think, in watching the Conference, they addressed the main points of what is heretical and how we all should be walking as bearers of the truth. Just my (too long) two cents. Thanks, Stephen. :)

  8. Robert says

    Saw a link to this on reddit. Curious if you enforce the restrictions in 1 Cor 14 on the exercise of tongues and prophecy, specifically only two or three speaking in tongues, and only then if there's an interpreter; only two or three prophesying; and women being silent?

  9. Vic Christian says

    Stephen Altrogge – I have responded with a question to several of the recent posts regarding this subject – no answer yet. Possibly you can answer. With two opposing views of the work of the Holy Spirit today – one has to be correct (or close). If this is the case, then the other teaching has to be incorrect (again, or close). If this is the case, one has to be teaching a lie, or leading the followers to be sinning be either not-engaging in these experiences or engaging in them. This makes it a real issue as to which is right, so that other Christians can follow. One interesting item – since the time of the early church or apostolic period the church has not experienced this since mid-twentieth century. What do you think? Thanks!

  10. Mike Krolick says

    "So, with that in mind, let me humbly lay out a biblical, theological case for the ongoing, supernatural, miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament."

    This is as far as I read(even though I would agree with you). If you have to tell me that what you're about to write is "humble"…if you have to tell the reader that you're "humble", then in my book you are not. You appear very specific in your view and lining up very "humbly" your list of false teachers. You are very quick to judge the charismatic leaders and the "carnage" they've left behind but you don't seem to include CJ Mahaney and the years of false teaching he submitted to us and the carnage he's left behind.

    This is the problem with the "reformed" bunch…they're the only ones who are right!

  11. Sam says

    Great article! You articulated well the Biblical standards for the manifestation of the Spirit in the church. This was the most well-balanced perspective I have come across in a long time. Thank you.

  12. Steve C says

    It is one thing to call for caution, clarity and correction regarding what are perceived as spiritual excesses. But when, in the name of a doctrine (cessation) that is at best Biblically unclear, a person generalizes all Charismatics into one group and then proceeds to state that they are committing blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, which is arguably an unforgivable sin that condemns the person to hell without the possibility of reprieve or forgiveness, that is another thing altogether.

    The hallmarks of the Gospel are love, mercy, and forgiveness. Overbroad generalizations, judgments and wholesale condemnation are not. Even assuming, arguendo, that the Holy Spirit’s primary job description is to convict the believer of sin, it is clear that this right and responsibility belongs to Him, not me, and not anyone else.

    I am a charismatic believer, and I know many other like-minded people. I also have many cessationist mainline friends. We argue sometimes, sure, but we are all shooting at the same target. We want to develop and maintain an ever deeper and more intimate relationship with Jesus. We may have different ways of getting there, but we are all after the same thing. And that is what unifies us.

    What good is truth without love? No good at all. I want to reflect Jesus. And therefore the first thing I want the world to see in me is His love. I do not fear extremes. They have happened on both sides of the isle ever since Jesus died, and they will always happen in this world. But Jesus overcomes the world.

    So instead of labeling and then condemning 500,000,000 charismatics, maybe I should put my focus into loving Jesus and loving others. I think I heard someone say that once.

  13. BroTerry says

    One flaw in your thinking on Acts 2 and the reference to Joel: You will note Peter says:

    No, this IS what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ??In the last days, God says….
    Peter was proclaiming that what was being heard and seen was and IS a fulfillment of Joe’s prophecy NOT some future event. Unless of course the meaning of IS refers to a future “IS”. Good exegesis demand that the text is referring to Pentecost not a future out pouring.

  14. R M says

    The 2 ministers mentioned in this text written are men of God who the enemy set a trap for and and the lord did try ahead of time…..they are very public men and when a public man falls the sound is heard outside the forest! .but the lord is faith full and full of love and has restored them…and healed those wounds caused by the fall .and that trap the enemy set for them .so please don’t judge to quickly..cause the word says with the judgement we judge with we will be judged…Kenneth Hagin put it so eloquently..eat the hay and leave the sticks..so if they missed it at one or even 2 times or 70 x70 ,I can forgive..Jesus forgives my shortcomings and flub up’s…I guess Im still human..good thing the blood of Jesus do-sent stop just befor all sins will be forgiven…well God bless you’all Im a nobody from nowhere…but I love the lord….im gladd im not popular or in the public eye..I guess it tough place there..grace and mercy!!!.

Trackbacks

  1. […] What we need to do now is regroup and begin a bipartisan effort to rescue the people being duped by charlatans. Let?s rekindle an amicable version of the debate, present each other with what we believe and why, and let us close ranks on those who would try hijack the Holy Spirit?s reputation and drag it through the ash. I liked continuationist Stephen Altrogge?s articulation. You can tell he gets it by the title, Don?t Let Benny Hinn Steal the Holy Spirit. […]

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