Do Not Believe Every Spirit
Mr. Donald L. Norbie of Greeley, Colorado, is a frequent and valued contributor to “Food for the Flock.” He serves the Lord in numerous ways, including a ministry among university students.
This is the warning of the Apostle John in his old age: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, NASB). Apparently even in John’s day there were voices claiming to speak for God that were really the voice of the enemy.
Some are calling the twentieth century the age of the Holy Spirit. It is asserted that the signs and wonders of the first century are being manifested again to prepare for the Lord’s return. In the early years of this century various Pentecostal denominations proclaiming this message were formed, such as the Assembly of God and the Foursquare Church.
Then after World War II the charismatic movement swept through various churches, teaching people to experience “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” People were generally encouraged to stay in their denominations and to share this message. While emphasizing “the baptism” this movement did not expect the tongues experience of all.
In more recent years there has also been an explosion of independent, charismatic churches centred in loyalty to a preacher. People travel far and wide to listen to a man who has the “anointing.” These are the days in which we live, days when one needs to pray for discernment.
First of all, is it Scriptural to expect the signs and wonders of the first century to be repeated in every age? Is this a realistic expectation?
Apparently miracles and healings were special signs marking out the early Apostles. Paul wrote, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12, NASB). With the passing of the Apostles this spectacular display of miracles subsided. Some may attribute this to a lack of faith by Christians but it is wiser to accept God’s sovereignty at work.
In their predictions Jesus and the Apostles connected coming false prophets with such phenomena. “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders” (Mt. 24:24, NASB). The warning to believers is to be cautious and discerning.
One also has a right to ask: Is the gift genuine? The gift of tongues (languages) which appeared on Pentecost was a fluent speaking in foreign languages which had not been previously studied by the speakers (Acts 2:4-12). Let those who profess to have this gift demonstrate that it is a foreign language they have never learned.
Most, if not all, of what goes on today as “speaking in tongues” is a repetition of nonsense syllables and is hardly a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22). Dr. William Samarin, a well-known linguist, writes, “For when we comprehend what language is, we must conclude that no gloss, no matter how well constructed, is a speciman of human language, because it is neither internally organized nor systematically related to the world man perceives”
(Tongues of Men and Angels, p. 128; New York: Macmillan Co., 1972). “Glossa” is the technical term for the tongues experience in Pentecostalism. This experience may be a psychological release but it is certainly not the experience of Acts 2.
The instructions given in 1 Corinthians 14 would eliminate a spurious use of tongues. It must be a language capable of being interpreted. The so-called interpretations of today are simply messages originating with the interpreter and not a translation of the tongues. This becomes evident when one tapes the message and has several “interpret” it.
Are the healings seen today of the same quality as the first century? There may be psychosomatic problems which are healed, but this is nothing new. The Mormons, Christian Science and occult healers have been doing this for years.
But the sensational healings of the first century are not being seen. Where are the blind being made to see, the paraplegics healed and the dead being raised to life?
We are told to pray for healing and elders should have such a ministry (James 5:14, 15). But we do not dictate to God nor demand healing. One must rest in God’s love and will.
Is the tendency in some quarters to cast demons out of Christians Scriptural? If the believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, would God allow such an intrusion? Do not demons enter because the “house” is empty and not inhabited by the Spirit (Mt. 12:44)? Is not the attempt to blame sins on demons an abdication of personal responsibility for one’s actions? Did the Apostles ever cast demons out of believers?
If “miracles” are not genuine, they are fraudulent and Satan is the father of lies. And Christians are not immune to deception. But truth always corresponds to reality. Anything else discredits the Gospel message.
Satan can perform supernatural signs, according to Christ’s words (Mt. 24:24). The message must be carefully tested by God’s Word. This is the final test of truth. Isaiah cried, “To the law and to the testimony!” (Is. 8:20). Intelligent believers will discern error. Paul urged Christians, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21, NASB). In this age which stresses signs and wonders, this age of religious confusion, this is still good advice.