Sunday, 7 February 2016

Heresy Hunters, Sign Seekers and Rational Readers – The Need for Balance in Our Christian Walk

We should keep our eyes on Jesus and God’s Word. Image courtesy of Andreas Wahra, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Joel Kontinen

Christians are by definition followers of Christ. Or at least we should be. In practice, we tend to form small cliques and often think we have all the answers while the other groups are still groping around if not in the dark, then at least in semi-darkness.

We might distinguish between three major groups in evangelical Christianity: (1) heresy hunters, (2) sign seekers and (3) rational readers. It seems that the borders of these groups do not necessarily follow denominational boundaries.

Heresy hunters strongly believe that they are living in the end times and that the Anti-Christ might appear at any moment. Historically, the earliest members of this group were teachers of the Jewish law who claimed Jesus was possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.

It is certainly true that some preachers have marketed highly questionable doctrines, such as the “Jesus died spiritually” teaching that has no biblical basis whatsoever. The late Kenneth Hagin and his followers also taught that we are little gods. Moreover, some weird manifestations at the fringes of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement might suggest that the heresy hunters are definitely needed.

However, here we need discernment. Otherwise we might see heresy where there isn’t any. For instance, some say that speaking in tongues definitely ended in the first century A.D. when the New Testament canon became complete. The argument is based on a single verse in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

Did you notice the time element? I didn’t.

I would say that the same applies to divine healing.

Slain in the Spirit” or falling down in response to prayer or the laying on of hands is a controversial phenomenon. It occurred in some early revivals but it is also manifested in Hinduism, so we cannot really pass the final judgement in this issue.

Sign seekers are those who believe in a powerful end time revival. They firmly believe that every supernatural thing, no matter how weird it might sound, comes from God. The problem is that uncontrollable laughter, jerking and twitching also occur in Hinduism and new age settings.

Now, heresy hunters will claim that all bizarre manifestations are sure signs that they are of demoniac origin. Another possible explanation would be that they are psychological reactions to expectations in a highly emotional setting.

David Wilkerson, for instance, has said that he does not believe that weird “Toronto Blessing” type noises are manifestations sent by God’s Holy Spirit.

A big problem with the sign seeker approach is that it emphasises glory without the cross. At worst, it results in a bloodless gospel with positive thinking and self-improvement replacing the need for repentance.

We should also remember that Jesus warned of running after signs: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!” He told the Pharisees and teachers of the law and then promised them just one sign – His resurrection.

However, on at least three occasions Jesus instructed the disciples to heal the sick and the early church followed this commission literally, with amazing results for the spread of the gospel.

The members of the third group, rational readers, focus on the intellectual aspect of the Bible. They are the Sadducees of our time. The Sadducees did not believe in the supernatural. Unlike the German scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries, the rational readers do profess to believe in the supernatural, but in their quest for harmony between modern science and the Bible they often use naturalistic explanations in their interpretation of the Old Testament. Bernard Ramm was an early advocate of this tendency. Noah’s Flood, he said, was local, and Joshua’s long day was not so long after all.

A major problem with rational readers is that they tend to overestimate the explanatory power of modern science and underestimate the power of the great Creator God, who in the New Testament turned water into wine in an instant and restored Lazarus to life in no time at all.

Another problem is that Christianity loses its life-changing dynamic aspect when its inherent power is explained away. We should, after all, be doers of the Word.

Is there a solution to the problems the Church is facing? I believe there is: a return a Christianity that focuses on and lifts up Jesus Christ and gives Him all the glory for His work as Creator and Redeemer and uses discernment to keep the faith pure from intrusions, regardless of whether they come from western rationalism or eastern mysticism.