In part one of this “confession,” I talked about some of my experiences as a Charismatic, including the time I encountered Benny Hinn. For the formative years of my Christian life, I fully embraced the Charismatic viewpoint. I spoke in tongues, believed that God raised up healers and prophets today, and considered churches that weren’t practicing “The Gifts” to be dead. In this second part, I want to talk briefly about why I changed my views.
Before I begin, let me be clear on this point: I believe there are many sincere, genuine Christians who are Charismatic in their pneumatology. They truly love the Lord, do much good in His name, and are trying to serve Him faithfully. I have known many such people over the years. The majority of Charismatics I’ve known would want nothing to do with the Word-Faith movement. While they might share Benny Hinn’s belief in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts, they would reject much of what he teaches with regard to health, wealth, prosperity, and would cringe at his irreverent—even blasphemous—“Holy Spirit ministry.” As a Charismatic, I never really bought into the health and prosperity teachings. What captured my attention were the supposed manifestations of God’s activity in “words of knowledge,” “slaying in the Spirit,” “speaking in tongues” and so forth.
My conversion to cessationism (for want of a better term) was not the result of a single event or a particular book. It was a process that began after I left university and started giving more time to considering the questions I had previously shelved. If God is sovereign—and I was becoming more impressed in my studies at how extensive God’s sovereignty is—why does He need to be a “gentleman,” as Benny Hinn would say? Surely He could impose the Spirit on us and have us all speaking in tongues, if that was His will for every Christian. There are examples in Scripture where God sends spirits of one kind or another without regard to people’s feelings. He sent an evil spirit upon Saul, and I’m sure He didn’t ask Saul’s permission (1 Samuel 18:10). When the church was filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, it was an act of God done in His timing, and in the way He desired (Acts 2:4).
Through books like A Different Gospel by D. R. McConnell, and Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaf, I became increasingly aware of the bad theology undergirding the Word-Faith movement. As I said above, many Charismatics would distance themselves from the Word-Faith teachers, but I had to wonder: would God bless bad, even heretical theology with the miraculous? If the miracles in Acts were used of God to confirm the gospel message, would God perform tongues, healings, and “slayings” to confirm Benny Hinn’s gospel? If not, then why do these things happen at Benny Hinn crusades? If the “miracles” at a Benny Hinn meeting are not of God, then could it be that the same things happening elsewhere are also not of God? How would one know?
As time went on, I found that while I still clung to a belief in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts, that belief had absolutely no impact on my life. I stopped speaking in tongues. I spent less time waiting for an audible voice of God and more time studying His Word to know His will. In short, I became a practicing cessationist. And to my shock, my Christian growth wasn’t stunted as a result! This led me to wonder exactly why I still believed in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts. What purpose did they serve in the church today? If the canon of Scripture is closed, why look for prophets with new revelation? If Scripture is everything that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells me it is, then what else do I need to hear from God other than the inspired Word He has already revealed?
I felt no loss at leaving the Charismatic movement behind, and I still don’t to this day. I do, however, feel sad at the wreckage I’ve seen among former Charismatics who have since left the faith. I’ve heard too many testimonies of self-proclaimed atheists who were formerly members of Charismatic churches. Our culture has a fascination for the supernatural. Popular television shows and movies betray a hunger for unexplainable manifestations, and weird, seemingly-spiritual experiences. If Christianity is nothing more than another flavor of strange supernatural stuff, then its no wonder worldly-minded people go elsewhere. And when people like the English mentalist Derren Brown can use hypnotism and other psychological techniques to fake Benny Hinn-type manifestations, we shouldn’t be surprised when people who have trusted in that kind of thing as their evidence of the truth of Christianity walk away.
A few years after my experience with Benny Hinn at the Birmingham N.E.C., I returned to that same venue, this time to see Paul McCartney in concert. The place was packed out, and Paul put on a dazzling two-and-a-half hour show. I have no doubt, that if Mr. McCartney had called me up onto the stage, I would have experienced the same kind of adrenaline rush, and light-headed excitement I felt that day with Benny Hinn. With the right set of psychological expectations, I would have been just as susceptible to being “slain in the Spirit.” I don’t say that because I’m now skeptical of Charismatic experiences, but because I have, over the years since that time, recognized those same feelings in different contexts.
Where I Am Today
I believe God can do the miraculous. He can grant someone the ability to speak a foreign language. He can heal the sick without the intervention of medicine. But I don’t believe God guarantees that He will always do this. Instead, the Word indicates we can expect persecution, tribulation, distress, and famine (Romans 8:35). Indeed, God ordains sickness and trials in order to glorify Himself (Genesis 50:20; John 9:3). And there are harsh words in the New Testament regarding those who seek signs and wonders (Luke 11:29; John 2:23-25; John 4:48).
One of our problems is that we have become so used to God’s grace in our lives, we fail to recognize the miracles He is working in our midst every day. The fact that our propensity for sin is restrained, the fact that hard-hearted sinners become lovers of God and servants of Christ, the fact that the penalty for my sin has been paid by Another—these are all miracles, no less remarkable than the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And what was the raising of Lazarus other than a sign pointing to that greater wonder: the resurrection of dead souls to new life in Christ?
My study into the gifts of the Spirit have lead me to the conclusion that the sign gifts displayed and described in the New Testament were given at that time for a specific purpose. Nothing in the Scriptures convinces me that those gifts were intended to be permanent. They served the purpose of establishing the church and validating the message of the Apostles. We have that message in Scripture, and we have the confirmation of that message in the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, testifying to us of the truth of the gospel. First Corinthians 12-14 is not a manual on how to use spiritual gifts, but was written to correct the abuse of those gifts within the church at Corinth. While those gifts are no longer functioning within the church, the truths Paul preaches regarding the supremacy of love and the necessity for order within the church are certainly applicable to us today.
I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and working within the church. His ministry is evident in the lives of believers as they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The unity I see between believers within my local church, and throughout the world, is evidence of the Spirit’s activity. How else could the body of Christ hold to various positions on secondary issues, and yet speak with unanimity on the essentials of the faith? How else could brothers in the Lord like James White and Michael Brown disagree in love, and defend the faith shoulder-to-shoulder? As I see lives transformed by the gospel, marriages healed, and the kingdom of God advanced, I am convinced the Holy Spirit is continuing to do His work in Christ’s church today, as He has for the last two thousand years.
I hope this brief summary of my journey is beneficial to you. May the Lord use it to help and encourage His people.