My previous posts on this topic are available in the archives, and you might want to look them over + look up the scriptures referenced there.
When you hear someone describe their church as “spirit-filled,” you can safely assume the music is Christian Hip, there is a lot of jumping, shouting, raising of hands, an emotion-filled oratory by the preacher, and a frequently enforced call-and-response expectation between the pulpit and the pews. But the ultimate 21st Century implication of the phrase “spirit-filled” means the congregation “speaks in tongues.”
It is highly unlikely, during a service at one of these churches, that you will witness any of the spiritual gifts Jesus displayed, nor those of His apostles–except, possibly, one. You will not see miracles, obvious healing, or raising from the dead, even though Jesus said His followers would do even greater things than what He did (John 14:11-13). But you will witness people shouting incomprehensible combinations of syllables, which they will tell you is the “Bible evidence” of their baptism of the Holy Spirit: Speaking in tongues.
Of all the demonstrations of this I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many), I’ve never once witnessed the spiritual gift that manifested at Pentecost, in which foreigners (to the people speaking) heard them preaching in their own native languages (Acts 2:4-12). I also haven’t seen sight restored to the blind, the limbs straightened on people with deformities, or skin diseases healed, though I have seen people with those defects go through the healing line in “spirit filled” churches. After their “healing,” they’re usually advised to act like they’ve been healed, even though it doesn’t seem like they have been healed “in the natural.”
Is this greater than what Jesus did?
I’ve also seen alleged prophesying at these churches, wherein the “prophet” gives a condensed summary of a recent sermon. Often the “prophet” punctuates their monologue with phrases like “sayeth God” or some other King James-ism. You just know it’s authentic because God prefers to speak in 17th Century English regardless of the historical period or geographic location the prophet lives in, right?
I’ve heard “spirit-filled” church leaders claim that speaking in a “Heavenly language” (as opposed to the gift of tongues manifested at Pentecost) is THE sign that a believer has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I also know personally one preacher who won’t let any believer hold a leadership position in his congregation unless that person speaks in a “Heavenly language.” There is no biblical justification for this, unless he has found John Smith’s magic glasses and is reading scripture hidden in between the lines.
Some “spirit-filled” preachers admit that the point of 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 is that different spiritual gifts are given to different believers–therefore they grudgingly admit that the gift of tongues is not given to everyone. But in the next breath they claim that everyone should pray in other tongues. I’ve never heard them defend this assumption biblically.
Let’s examine prayer, with tongues in mind.
One argument you might hear for praying in tongues is that it is like a coded transmission from you to God, so the Devil won’t know what you’re asking for. First off, it’s ironic to me that fear of Satanic eavesdropping is a bullet point for this crowd that routinely insists that the Devil has no power. If the Devil is powerless against you, why do you care if he understands your prayers? Secondly, this assumption requires ignorance of what the Bible says about Satan. Why would the Devil not know your heavenly language when he himself is a heavenly creature (or “celestial being”)? (Ezekiel 28:13-16; Isaiah 14:12-14; Jude 1:8-10.) Yes, he is fallen from his exalted position in God’s kingdom, but nowhere is it stated or implied in scripture that he lost his ability to communicate in his native tongue. If you renounce your citizenship tomorrow, you will not forget how to speak your native language.
Another argument goes something like this: “You might not know what you need to pray for, so let the Holy Spirit take over your mouth.” Actually, Jesus made sure we know what to pray for in Luke 11 and Matthew 6. Moreover, how does this remote-control-of-your-mouth theory appeal to a God who has put up with so much, and gone to such lengths, in order not to violate our free will? Did he give us brains only because He really wants to bypass them and play with our vocal cords Himself? Does He want automatons or living, thinking people who choose to obey Him? Perhaps Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 14:14 when he writes of the unfruitful mind. From Romans 8:26 we know that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray for; but He does so through “wordless groans,” not by using our mouths to utter words from a “Heavenly language.”
One carefully selected Scripture used in the “Heavenly language” camp is the first half of 1 Corinthians 14:4, which says that speaking in a tongue edifies oneself. Most of the chapter is ignored though, because in it believers are encouraged to seek spiritual gifts which edify or build up the church, and not seek self-aggrandizement.
In Matthew 6:7, Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
“Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Oh, yes, yes, yes, Lord.
Bega ramoth warichi hachmanma reymanini.
Hachma bero mina ro ro ro ro ro vegal reymanini.
“Oh, yes, yes, yes, Lord…”
Ever heard somebody praying like that? I have–too many times to count. Into a microphone, at that.
Jesus also said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
So I have another question for the “spirit-filled church”: Why does the only spiritual gift on display in 99% of your gatherings just happen to be the only one you can effectively fake without collaboration?
That’s right. I went there. There’s a whole lotta’ fakin’ goin’ on by people obsessed with edifying themselves in the sight of others. I’m not pointing the finger at any specific believer or even a specific congregation. You know who you are and so does God. But this is happening and it’s a pathetic shame.
Here’s some more questions: Why are what few “prophecies” given in your churches little more than regurgitated televangelist soundbites wrapped in Shakespearean English? Why does your “healing” require people to pretend their health has been restored? Why do the only miracles that take place among you have to do with the raising of money?
Most present day churches don’t even acknowledge the Holy Spirit. In the ones that do, and even consider themselves spirit-filled, you’ve got these lame theatrics being pushed as “gifts of the Spirit.”
Is all this greater than the things Jesus Did?
In the same league?
Is it any wonder that the present day church, especially in America, is ineffectual?
Is it any wonder that people don’t take the Bible seriously or even believe in absolute truth–even people raised up in the church?
Is it any wonder that, statistically, churchgoing people have become morally indistinguishable from the surrounding culture? Shouldn’t gifts of the Spirit like words of wisdom and words of knowledge be giving believers an advantage, so that they’re not falling in the same traps as people of the world?
Is this the destiny that God called us to?
Quit trying to appear spiritual. Quit trying to help God out by jump-starting a spiritual gift in your own strength. Quit faking it ’til you’re making it. Quit gerrymandering scripture to justify what you do.
Quit being religious!