I am 14 feet tall. I even measured myself with a ruler. Intuitively, you know I am not, but how could you prove it? If you measured me with a ruler you would find I am five feet ten inches tall. What is the difference? The ruler I used came from a child’s toy tool box and according to that ruler I am truthfully 14 feet tall. The wrong ruler, or standard, produces wrong conclusions.
The believers in Berea used their ruler to see if the Apostle Paul’s teaching measured up. Luke says, “These … received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). They did not use their feelings, their experiences, or traditions of the church to evaluate the preaching of Paul.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther pounded a placard with 95 theses to the door of the Catholic church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was his great declaration of truths he had discovered resulting from his appreciation of “sola scriptura.” When challenged by the emperor to recant at the famous Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
“Sola scriptura” became the key guiding principle in the Protestant Reformation. The great John Wesley called himself a homo unius libri, a man of one book. Today is no different; we must limit and discipline the basis of our spiritual convictions to “sola scriptura.”
The Significance of Scripture: Contextual Teaching
How can two people with opposite views quote the same Bible? Let us be clear; it is not a flaw in Scripture, but the mistreatment of it by the reader. So how must we approach the Bible, to arrive at proper interpretations on all issues, and especially those involved in Charismatic teaching and practice?
Imagine that Bob talks with his neighbor Barney, whose wife is pregnant.
Bob: “Barney, you and your wife Beatrice are such a nice looking couple. If you folks have an ugly baby, I’ll eat my hat!”
The next day, Barney Jr. is born and Barney says to his wife, “Did you know that our neighbor Bob told me that we have an ugly baby?”
True, Bob said those specific words. However, taking only part of what a person says can be hurtful, misleading, and dangerous. It is very easy to commit this same mistake with the Bible. For example, Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him that stole, steal no more.” I could use this very text to teach that the Bible commands Christians to steal. After all, doesn’t the verse say, “Let him that stole, steal!” Yes, those words are there, but the immediate context of the rest of the verse gives the opposite meaning.
Every text is packaged in a context. We must take into account the sentence, the paragraph, the book, and even the Testament in which it is found to conclude what is the significance and meaning of any part of Scripture. Much of the confusion in the Charismatic movement is simply due to not applying this essential principle of “context” in Bible interpretation.
The Sum of Scripture: Total Teaching
Gertrude shares her secret Banana Bran Bars recipe with Georgette. Georgette mixes bananas, bran, and water, pours the goop in a pan and shoves it in the oven. She is doomed to a culinary disaster simply because she did not include all the ingredients in the recipe and did not follow the progressive instructions.
Many a spiritual disaster has also been cooked up by the same error. God says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2Tim 3:16). That means that every word in the Bible has equal authority. The words of Christ in red do not override the words of Paul in black. All Scripture is equal; we are obligated to take all the Bible into account when we identify our doctrine and practice.
The Bible is a progressive revelation. Charismatic teaching focuses on one Scrpiture and ignores others. For, example, many use Acts 2:38 to teach that forgiveness of sins depends on baptism in Jesus’ name. That verse alone may sound that way, yet there are approximately 150 verses in the New Testament that stress salvation is by faith alone. Suddenly, we are brought to a different conclusion. Salvation is “not of works” (Eph 2:9), including baptism.
The Spirit and the Scripture: Harmonious Teaching
The third principle that guides us in interpreting Scripture is the principle of harmony. God cannot contradict Himself and neither can His Word. Jude says that the Bible is “The faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Therefore, we have all the Bible we are going to get and all the Bible we are going to need.
God’s written Word says, “God cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). The Bible is infallible; not one part contradicts another. A consistent God speaks consistently; a perfect God speaks perfectly. Therefore, our interpretation of any passage must be consistent with the rest of Scripture. We must never ignore some parts and emphasize others. We must read, study, and apply all of this precious volume giving all of it equal authority.
Many Charismatics attribute their spectacular experiences and feelings to the Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus said, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Could the Spirit of truth ever make a believer do or feel anything that is against Scripture? Impossible! Therefore, if any belief, practice, feeling, or experience contradicts the Word of God, it is not of the Holy Spirit of God.
The Senses and the Scripture: Objective Teaching
Emotion is not wrong, but it is not reliable. For example, suppose I say, “I feel like a tomato.” Nobody can prove I do not because it is so personal and subjective. But feelings vary and tomorrow I might feel like a zucchini. It is also difficult, because how could someone else know if they have the same feeling? Facts, on the other hand, are concrete, provable, and repeatable. If I say maple syrup comes from trees, this is a fact that can be tested and observed by others. Now suppose I am a bit sappy and feel happy about this fact. Whether I feel happy or not, the fact that maple syrup comes from trees does not change. Facts must determine emotion rather than emotion determining facts.
Those who have spoken in tongues, been slain in the Spirit, prophesied, or had visions claim that the experiences and feelings are sensational. The natural tendency is to give precedence to feelings over facts because emotion has an immediate and profound impact. Thus the bumper sticker that says, “I feel I am right, don’t confuse me with the facts.”
We must never elevate emotion and experience above Scripture. Salvation is based on written facts (1John 5:13), not on personal feelings and so should every other doctrine and practice. The articles which follow in this series will evaluate the teachings and practices of the modern Charismatic movement in light of God’s standard – His Word.