In the last Ask Pastor John podcast, episode 216, you focused on the doctrinal and emotional abuses in the charismatic movement. But you said there are other abuses to address. What are some other abuses that cause you concern, Pastor John?
What I said was, lest we be harder on charismatics than non-charismatics, we must keep in mind that all the abuses I am mentioning — these have their counterparts, their mirror image, in the non-charismatic churches as well.
Charismatics and Non-Charismatics Alike
So, in the previous podcast, we focused on doctrinal abuses and emotional abuses. And I would say that non-charismatics taken as a whole — all the Christians who don’t practice the gifts — are far more guilty of these than charismatics.
Think of all the doctrinal errors in the history of the church. Those weren’t charismatics, by and large. Think of all the dying mainline churches today with all their moral and doctrinal aberrations. These aren’t charismatics. And think of the emotional deadness in thousands of non-charismatic evangelical and mainline churches. Those are deadly emotional abuses. And we just need to remember that if we target the charismatic church because of things that are happening there doctrinally and emotionally, let’s remember the mirror image — equally deadly — happening among non-charismatic churches as well.
Two Additional Abuses
So here, let me mention two more abuses. There was doctrinal, and then there was emotional.
1. Discernment Abuses
Now, I would add discernment (or lack of discernment) abuses. And by this, I mean doctrinally sound people who are not denying any fundamental doctrine and who are not loose cannons emotionally; they are just undiscerning and make mistakes that bring reproach on the spiritual gifts. I have in mind 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
Now why would Paul say, “Do not despise?” That is very strong language. And I think it is because some of those folks were claiming to speak for God, and it resulted in foolishness. They weren’t speaking for God. And it resulted in an emotional pushback in the church. They said, “We don’t want that.” And Paul was trying to rescue prophecy from a broad brush sweeping it away entirely by saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. Discern what is good here and discern what is bad here. Don’t throw it all away. Make distinctions in the various claims to hold it fast.”
I will give a couple of illustrations from my life, or maybe just one. I have been prophesied over numerous times, and two of them were just whacko. I mean, it was so hard in those days to try to take this seriously. I really resonated with the folks who were starting to despise prophecies. A lawyer one time prophesied over me when my wife was pregnant and said, “Your fourth child is going to be a girl, and your wife is going to die in childbirth.” And that lawyer, with tears, told me that she was sorry she had to tell me that.
So, I went home, and I got down on my knees and said, “Lord, I am trying to do what you said here in 1 Thessalonians 5. And, frankly, I despise what that woman just said.” It proved out that my fourth child was a son, and I knew as soon as he came out that that prophecy was not true, so I stopped having any misgivings about my wife’s life. She is still with me now thirty years later. So that is the sort of thing that makes you despise prophecy.
And then I was having another meeting where a well-known prophet — if I said the name, lots of people would know who it was — prophesied over me and I could tell as he was talking that he was just trying to fit in with the trajectory of my life and say some nice things about me. And what he said simply didn’t come true that year. He said it was going to come true by the end of the year. It didn’t. So, I know the lack of discernment that people can have even when they are solid doctrinal people. So that is a third one — discernment issues that make us want to despise the gift of prophecy.
2. Financial Abuses
And here is the last one: I would call them financial abuses. So doctrinal, emotional, discernment issues, and now, financial abuses — people who treat their giftedness, whether in teaching or healing or prophecy or evangelism, as a warrant to make their ministry a means of getting rich.
And, of course, you can hear even in that list of gifts, I gave evangelism and teaching, so I am not thinking merely about charismatics here. But we tend to think of charismatics when we think of people abusing finances in this way. Well, all you have to do is listen to the Twittersphere to know that is not the case. There are just as many non-charismatic leaders who are using their status as effective spiritual leaders to make a lot of money and accumulate a lot of money and look like they have a lot of money. And I want to say that there are a lot of simple, honest, humble charismatic pastors living on modest salaries who are less guilty than many non-charismatics when it comes to financial abuses. And, of course, there are plenty of non-charismatic pastors using their status to get rich and have lavish lifestyles.
Here is the key text — 1 Timothy 6. And as it comes to the end of verse 5, it talks about false teachers “who imagine that godliness is a means of gain.” So it is possible to have a teaching gift or a healing gift, some kind of a remarkable gift that is so popular that you make millions of dollars. And then you start feeling entitled to it all — lavish clothes, lavish cars, lavish houses, lavish jets and hotel accommodations, turning godliness into a means of gain and justifying it by the fact that you are so gifted, and so many people are benefiting from what you say.
To whom, charismatic or non-charismatic, Paul would say in 1 Timothy 6:9, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” So wanting that better car, wanting those fancier clothes, wanting that bigger house, wanting that longer vacation, wanting that top floor hotel room that has a pool in it as well as the bathtub — wanting that stuff — will kill you, Paul said.
My alternative is to preach Christian hedonism that says, Pursue contentment in God, not in things. Or let’s let Paul say it: “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6–8).
So one summary word to end: Charismatic doctrinal abuses, emotional abuses, discernment abuses, and financial abuses all have their mirror image in non-charismatic churches. We all stand under the word of God, and we all need repentance.