This is the last segment in a series in which I examine certain aspects of the modern Evangelical Charismatic/Pentecostal movement. A movement I was once a part of. This movement, as noted in earlier articles, has permeated and influenced most of modern Protestantism and also portions of Roman Catholicism. (Links to the preceding articles are found at the end of this article.)
Protestantism as a whole is predicated on the notion that the Church failed, went corrupt, and was in need of restoration. Protestantism claims to be the movement which has or is in the process of restoring true Christianity/Church. (Obviously, one can sympathize with the Reformers critiques of the perverted Latin system during the 1500’s – the time of the Reformation; yet the reactionary “theology” of Protestantism has been disastrous.) Protestantism necessitates that the Church went corrupt, for without such a stance Protestantism becomes a fallacy. If the Church did not go corrupt, then it was in no need of restoration, and the reformers – down to our days – are out of a job. Moreover, they are preaching a false message, one that is indeed not from God. (This also does not mean that every action of the institutional side of the church throughout time is justifiable, I’m addressing the essential reality of the Church, which is never corrupt. I acknowledge that persons in the institutional aspect of the Church can be corrupt and can use the ideal of the Church for wrong purposes.) The Church has always essentially held fast to the unchangeable Truth of Jesus Christ.
In more recent times another teaching, predominate in Evangelical Charismatic circles, is that of a last days great revival, which means a mighty move of the Holy Spirit in great miraculous signs and wonders. Over the past one hundred years, there has been a plethora of men and women all claiming to be the anointed leader of such a movement.
In this last segment, I will examine this claim. Are Christians to expect a “last days great revival?”
Is a “last days revival/move of the Spirit” at least indicated in the Scriptures? Let’s see.
I will limit myself to the Words of our Lord Jesus regarding the last days, Mat. 24, Lk. 21, and Mk. 13. St. Paul’s epistle of 2 Thessalonians, a spattering of other Pauline references, and the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation). Clearly, since this is a short(ish) article, space does not allow an exhaustive study.
In all the accounts of our Lord Jesus’ instruction regarding the last days, the picture is not all that bright (Cf. Matt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21). Persecution. War. Betrayal. Godlessness, and so forth. Of interest for the topic at hand are the opening words of our Lord in Matthew, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 4). “Christ” simply means “anointed one,” thus it is possible to understand that many will come claiming to be anointed ones. The Lord continues, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs (anointed ones, my note) and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (v. 23-24). The first thing our Lord warns about is false anointed ones and the deception that they will attempt to bring through signs and wonders, clearly this is a vital topic! And our Lord is very concerned with making sure that His followers are aware of this phenomenon.
Take note: in these sections of Scripture which relate Christ Jesus’ teaching concerning the last days, the only signs and wonders spoken of, performed by persons, are false ones. No other signs and wonders are mentioned (except those from heaven). Christ clearly does not indicate a last days revival as described by the Pentecostal/Charismatic (P/C) movement.
Rather, the picture presented is one of an increase of sin and evil together with many false christs (anointed ones) moving with false spiritual power; they perform signs so great that even the elect could be seduced, if possible (but by God’s grace the Church will withstand even this!). It does not seem to be a stretch to conclude that they will perform many of their signs in the “name of Jesus” (how else could the elect be deceived?). The situation seems so dire that Christ Jesus tells His disciples, “Be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mk. 13:23). What did He tell us? In the last days, false christs will abound – there will be many false anointings – and they will use signs and wonders to justify themselves. “See we are from God! We can move in wonders!”
St. Paul prophesies regarding the last days, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 2:1-5). Again, not a rosy picture of the “last days.” There will be an appearance of godliness, and this correlates to the many false christs of which the True Christ warned. (Power here is not “signs and wonders” but rather the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ which is the power of God, cf. 1 Cor 1:18. Thus, false christs will have an outward appearance, saying “Lord, Lord” but interiorly will be following “another Gospel,” cf. Gal. 1:6-10)
In 2 Thessalonians St. Paul teaches that in the last days a rebellion will come, a rebellion against God and His Church. Lawlessness will be revealed (cf. 2 Thess. 2: 3-4). Again, the only signs and wonders referenced here are false ones, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10). Is it not significant that when speaking of the last days the only signs and wonders spoken of by both Christ and St. Paul are false ones? Clearly, they are telling us to be vigilant; there is no indication of a last days revival, move of the Spirit, as taught by the P/C movement. St. Paul, echoing the word of our Lord, also says, “let no one deceive you in any way” (2 Thess. 2:3)
The only last days revival is a revival of sin and evil, together with a “spirituality” free from the “constraint” of the Church (which correlates to many modern Protestant groups). And what is the guard against deception? Love of and holding to the truth, which, in true Christianity, is objective. Signs and wonders are subject to Truth. They are not a definitive confirmation of truth, as the above verse indicates.
In St. John the Theologian’s revelation of the Apocalypse we see a general vision of the rise of sin and lawlessness, brutal persecution of the righteous, war, suffering, and so forth. Clearly, this book is cryptic and requires great wisdom. Of interest for this article is not the specific meaning of each character and image but merely whether or not a great last days revival is evident. We see the two witnesses, who testify against the Antichrist and his system. They are given the power to work wonders (cf. Rev. 11). Besides this positive reference to signs and wonders, the other is negative – that of the Antichrist himself and the beast (cf. Rev. 13). They use great signs and wonders to deceive the multitudes. This correlates to the words of the Lord and St. Paul.
In the book of Revelation there is no clear and explicit teaching that the Church will fail and be in need of a last days restoration. Rather the Church is persecuted and attacked throughout Revelation (cf. Rev. 12:17) because it essentially contains the love of Truth, which the fallen world hates. In Revelation, signs and wonders are predominately used to lead the multitudes astray. The culmination of all things is the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, which will truly be glorious (cf. Rev. 19).
Nowhere are Christians instructed to seek a last days “restoration” of power. Indeed, the Church has always taught that obsession (the P/C movement is obsessed with power) with signs and wonders will only act to predispose people to accept false christs and ultimately the Antichrist. The power of the P/C movement has great emotional charge, I know I have moved in it. “The willingness of our fallen human nature to mistake illusion for truth, emotional comfort for spiritual experience, is much greater than you think,” astutely observes Fr. Seraphim (Rose).1
True Christianity has always had miracles and always will, but they are not the end-all indicator of truth, they are but an indicator. They may be mimicked, and thus the underlying principles of the source of the miracles must be weighed and tested. Is the source true and sound? Is the fruit true unity in Christ Jesus and His body the Church? Does it lead to a love of Truth, or, as happens many times does it lead to depreciation, a relativizing, of Truth? Often, power flatters us into thinking that we are spiritual people and that we deserve to have the “Holy Spirit;” that we are “anointed” and even to a degree special. In Orthodoxy, this is called prelest. Let us remember the mandate to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
The chief appeal of the P/C movement is to experience, and all “truths” are subjected to experience. This is an inversion of the Gospel precept which subjects miracles to Truth. Most of the time the experience is never tested by some greater and abiding objective Truth. The assumption is, “I experienced power, thus it must be from God.” The “I” is set as the great discerner of truth, and the safety of the pillar and ground of the Church (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15) is cast aside. A great arrogant assumption is made: I am spiritual, therefore I can discern correctly! Because the Holy Spirit spoke to ME! This is relativism.
Moreover, the power in the P/C movement is fairly easy to attain, one need not be bothered by pesky ideas like a life of repentance, humility, self-sacrifice, and ascetic endeavors. No, Christ wants me to be super! I’ve been there. I have done that. My hope is that people will also, by the mercy of God, come out of this prelest into the eternal freedom and Truth of Holy Orthodoxy, which has undeniably held fast to the Truth for two thousand years.
To what do the Scriptures call Christians, most of all those living in these times? Our Lord Jesus Christ says, “In your patience possess your souls” (Lk. 21:19). “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mat. 24:13). Christ revealed the way, the Apostles preached it, and we must patiently endure in it, holding fast; not being led astray by false shows of power and “new revelations.” “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering” (Heb. 10:23). “Stand firm and hold the traditions that you were taught by us (the Apostles), either by our spoken word or by our letter” (1 Thess. 2:15). “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We constantly encounter in the Scriptures an exhortation to stand in what was given once for all and never do we see a teaching telling us to look for a coming “new” work and revelation. Christ Jesus is the only New and Eternal Revelation of God, the job of a true Christian is to hold fast to that revelation. This is the Faith of our Lord Jesus.
The Church has been founded on Christ once for all. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost affirmed the revelation of Jesus Christ to and in His Church. The Orthodox Church has proven through Her faithful and long endurance to be that very Church founded by our Lord. All “new” revelations are condemned in the Scripture. Jude goes on to tell us, “certain people have crept in unnoticed … who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). This denial is not so much a verbal one (they may continue to teach in the name of Jesus), as it is one wherein they preach their own message cloaked in the Name of Jesus. Woe to such ones. In this way, they deny Christ and preach rather their own selves (but it sounds much more authoritative if someone says “Jesus told me!”). St. Paul tells the Galatians, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema)” (1:8).
It is vital to note that the whole of Christian life and history for 2,000 years never expected a “last days revival.” To expound fully upon this would be lengthy. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that the teaching at hand is novel. The Christian Church, Orthodoxy, has never held to it. In fact, all Her teachings regarding the last of the last days are in line with the Scriptures: they will be extremely difficult days, many will lose their faith, evil will abound as will false signs, wonders, and spiritual power, but those faithful to the Revelation of Christ in His Church shall be saved.
In light of such testimony, one has but few choices: either accept them as true and proven by the Scripture and Church for over 2,000 years or throw them out and listen to what the new “spirit” is saying.
There is something indeed new at work, but it is not from the wellspring of the Holy Spirit.
Let it be briefly noted again that this is in no way a denial of true signs and wonders, for truly they have been at work in the Church since the day of Pentecost. It is a refutation of a novel doctrine that asserts the “restoration” of the church which, so it alleges, was corrupted; the primary justification it provides for such a teaching is an emphasis on signs and wonders; power untested and accepted easily with the naive assumption that Christ Jesus is the source. As we have seen such a doctrine is not in Scripture nor the life and teaching of Christ’s Church from the earliest times.
“How much, then, must Orthodox Christians walk in the fear of God, trembling lest they lose His grace, which by no means is given to everyone, but only to those who hold the true Faith, lead a life of Christian struggle, and treasure the grace of God which leads them heavenward. And how much more cautiously must Orthodox Christians walk today above all, when they are surrounded by a counterfeit Christianity that gives its own experiences of ‘grace’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’ and can abundantly quote the Scriptures and Holy Fathers to ‘prove’ it. Surely the last times are near, when there will come spiritual deception so persuasive as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect (Mat. 24:24).” Fr. Seraphim (Rose).
Please keep in mind that this series is an examination of a system. While I cannot but reject what is a faulty system, I understand that there are persons within it. The persons I leave to God. May He grant them enlightenment, repentance, and salvation. This is an examination of what I contend to be a novel system and teaching that claims to be from God but is ultimately a grave deception.
Previous articles in this series –
1Fr. Seraphim (Rose). Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. St. Herman Press, p. 141.