This is going to be a difficult article to write. I have never before publicly shared this story. It will be misunderstood by some and misused by others. So, it is important that I begin by making some clarifying statements.
1. I have many friends, good friends, who hold to the continuation of the extraordinary spiritual gifts seen in the Word of God during the Apostolic Age of the Church. While I hold to a Cessationist theological construct, I do not determine friendships based on a person’s agreement or disagreement with me on this issue. I used to determine friendships this way, many years ago, but God has allowed me to grow up and mature since then.
2. I do not question the genuineness of someone’s faith in Jesus Christ because they hold a Non-Cessationist position regarding the continuation and application of spiritual gifts.
3. I will be critical in this article about what I believe are unbiblical behaviors I’ve seen with my own eyes. This does not mean I am mocking genuine Christians who believe all of the spiritual gifts are extant and functioning in the Church, today.
4. I hope this article/testimony will serve as an encouragement to all Christian, cessationists and non-cessationists. I hope this article/testimony will encourage my Christian brethren to turn to the Word of God and allow His Truth to be the final arbiter of whether or not what I experienced was of the Holy Spirit or another spirit, entirely.
5. I’ve wanted to write this article for years, but the time has not seemed right until now. Monitoring the back-and-forth between Pastor John MacArthur and Dr. Michael Brown, as well as some of the talk about the upcoming Strange Fire conference (which I am attending), serve as part of the motivation for this article/testimony.
“What’s A Charismatic?”
I came to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, during the Fall of 1988. Mahria came to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ a month after the Lord saved me. The man who shared the gospel with me and took me under his wing was a sergeant with whom I worked in the County Jail. Sadly, in a year’s time he would prove to be a false convert. He was an elder in a church. He had to explain to me what an elder was. He also said the church was a “charismatic church.” I had no idea what that meant, either. My family and I began attending the church.
Mahria and I had both grown up in formal, liturgical churches. As a boy, I had been bored to death by the formality and darkness of Roman Catholic services in Latin. Mahria happily grew up in a typical Methodist Church.
Our first Sunday in church, after coming to faith in Christ, was a culture shock for both of us. The church met in a junior high school auditorium. We thought that must be what the elder meant by “charismatic.” We sat in folding, metal chairs instead of pews. We thought that must be “charismatic.” The worship team used guitars, drums, and a bass. There was no organ to be found. That was definitely “charismatic.” And the people clapped and raised their hands as they sung contemporary songs. That surely was “charismatic.”
Over time, the elder and our new friends at church, people we were growing to love as family, explained to us what “charismatic” meant. We were pointed to passages of Scriptures that talked about speaking in tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge, and healing. We were told the Holy Spirit continues to work through God’s people in extraordinary ways by giving them spiritual gifts to serve the church and to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was all a bit overwhelming. Mahria and I were new believers, reading the Bible for the first time, praying together for the first time, living as Christians for the first time.
We had no reason to doubt what we were being taught at church. Our pastor was a godly, faithful, loving, and kind man. He loved his wife and children very much. That was obvious to us. He loved the people in the church. That was obvious, too. In the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, when I was working 12 hours every day with no days off and our home was in an uninhabitable condition, the pastor gave us a place to sleep in his home. This allowed me to work every day as a deputy sheriff knowing that my family was safe.
The pastor exposed us to verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible before we had any idea what expository teaching was. To this day, Mahria cherishes her notebooks filled with what she learned under our first pastor’s teaching. He helped us to understand the Bible for the first time in our lives. And God used his Bible teaching to build in us a love and desire for God’s Word.
“What’s That Noise?”
Not long after we became members of the church, I was allowed to serve as one of the worship leaders. Ours was a small church (less than 200 people). So anyone with so much as a modicum of musical ability was encouraged to participate as part of the worship team. I could sing and hack away at a guitar, which gave me an opportunity to serve the church. I would serve as a worship leader in the church for eight years.
One Sunday morning, a morning when someone else was leading the congregation in singing, I was sitting with Mahria and our girls. By now, we had moved out of the junior high school auditorium and moved into our own rented space in a strip mall. As I tried to focus my attention on the Lord and sing praises to His name, I heard muffled laughter coming from different parts of the church. At first, I dismissed it as a lapse in judgment by those who were giggling, or maybe the immature carrying on of children in the congregation. Those things happen. But as worship continued, the laughter grew louder. It was no longer a simple lapse in judgment. It was rude. It was distracting. It was irreverent. To this day, I remember squeezing Mahria’s hand and looking at her with an expression of frustration and concern. I could tell she shared my feelings.
By the time worship was over, I felt like I had been transported from a church into a chaotic comedy club.
The pastor stepped behind his pulpit and told the congregation there would be no sermon this morning. As soon as the pastor said he wasn’t going to preach, my uneasiness with the morning service grew exponentially. Instead, he was going to turn his pulpit over to members of the congregation who spent the better part of the weekend at a conference at a church called “Anaheim Vineyard,” pastored by a man, now deceased, named John Wimber. Before that day, I had never heard of either the church or the church’s pastor.
One-by-one and couple-by-couple, elders and their wives and other leaders in the church stepped up to the pulpit to share what they experienced at the conference. I was shocked, sickened, and frightened by what I heard. They testified of what they called extraordinary moves of the Holy Spirit, but what they described sounded like a spirit of another kind to me. They described uncontrollable laughter, the feeling of physical drunkenness, people barking like dogs and quacking like ducks. Yes, quacking like ducks. One man described being thrown up against the wall by an unseen entity and being pinned to the wall. And as people shared their “testimonies,” others in the congregation laughed. But they weren’t laughing at what was being said. They were just laughing, as if they weren’t really there–as if they were somewhere else entirely.
There were others in the congregation like me and Mahria–people who sat with their mouths agape, in a state of shock and unbelief. Part of the congregation was euphoric. Part of the congregation was appalled. A spirit had entered the church–a spirit of confusion, a spirit that separated the self-anointed spiritual “haves” from the “have nots,” a spirit of disunity. It was not the Holy Spirit.
At the time of this Sunday morning debacle, I was leading and teaching one of the church’s mid-week small groups. The people in my group shared my concerns and wanted to know what I planned to do about it. I tried talking to some of the people who “experienced” the conference. I was quickly and summarily dismissed as closed-minded. I was told that I had no right to judge whether or not what they had experienced was of God because I had not experienced it myself. I hadn’t “been there.”
I knew I had to do something. I had to say something. But what?
The Day I Was Escorted Out of Church
After conferring with a few of the men in my small group, I told the group I was going to stand up during a Sunday morning service and read Ezekiel 13. During our Sunday morning services there was a time when the pastor welcomed members of the congregation to share praises and prayer requests with the rest of the congregation. My plan was to wait for that time during the service. I would raise my hand and when called upon I would stand and read Ezekiel 13. My plan was to present no commentary of any kind. I would simply read the Word of God and see what kind of reaction I received. I completely underestimated the spirit at work in my church.
Sunday morning came. The pastor asked if anyone had a prayer or praise they would like to share. I raised my hand. The pastor called on me. I said that I would like to read a passage of Scripture. The pastor smiled and told me to read. And so I read Ezekiel 13.
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ 3 Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! 4 Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. 5 You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. 6 They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. 7 Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”
8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God. 10 Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, 11 say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out. 12 And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’ 13 Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. 14 And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 15 Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, 16 the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God.
17 “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts. Prophesy against them 18 and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? 19 You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies.
20 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds. 21 Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 22 Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, 23 therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”
A low pitched murmuring and mumbling began the moment I started reading the passage. The more I read, the louder the noise became. Soon I could hear women weeping, which soon turned to wailing. Several men stood up, including the leading elder. There was fire in their eyes. They shouted and pointed their fingers at me. The leading elder bore his teeth at me as he rebuked me for reading Ezekiel 13. Moments later these same men, along with the pastor, escorted me from the worship area and into an adjacent classroom. I was admonished and rebuked for what I had done. I was told that I mishandled and misinterpreted the Scriptures. Keep in mind, I gave no interpretation. I simply read the text.
The following Sunday, the pastor publicly rebuked me from the pulpit. I sat there and took it. I was embarrassed, hurt, and confused. Could I trust anyone in the church, anymore?
A Big Mistake
After that Sunday morning verbal flogging, Mahria and I discussed leaving the church. I decided we should stay, but for the wrong reasons. I was going to try to effect change in the church, bring the church back to the Scriptures, and drive this false spirit from the church and the heart of her people. This was a big mistake.
A testimony to what kind of spiritual disarray the church was in at the time was that shortly after my upbraiding by the pastor during the church service, the pastor and the elders–the same men who had once escorted me out of the church for reading Ezekiel 13–asked me to serve as an elder in the church. Of course, I believed I was up to the task. I believed I was spiritually mature enough to serve as an elder. I also believed I would be in the perfect position to effect positive change in the church. I was wrong. I was as wrong as I had ever been about anything in my life.
Now, with the authority of an elder in the church, I became the church’s spiritual watchdog. Elder meetings were contentious. I alone held the dissenting view regarding the “moves of the spirit” that were taking place in the church. I was quickly becoming a factious man in the church.
I often, to this day, wonder why the pastor and the elders asked me to serve as an elder. I can’t help but think it was, in their mind, the best way to keep me in check, to keep an eye on me, and to woo me to their position regarding the alleged “move of the spirit” making its way through our church.
It seemed like this was all the church was talking about: the Toronto Airport Vineyard, the Anaheim Vineyard, the Kansas City Prophets, the Brownsville Revival, the Pensacola Outpouring, the Mott Auditorium meetings. Ours was the only small group in the church that was not directly affected by these things. Yet, it was often the topic of our conversations for the simple fact that everyone else in the church was talking about it, raving about it, gushing over it.
I remember Mahria and I meeting at a local park with a couple who were two of our closest friends. They, like so many others in the church, had been caught up in the spiritual confusion that had placed a strangle-hold on our church. I tried to reason with them from the Scriptures. I pleaded with them as their friend. The response was short and sharp. “You have no right to question what we’re doing or what’s happening because you haven’t experienced it yourself!”
I sat, listened, and watched as my friends (especially the wife) broke down in tears and trembling as she described how important this “spiritual revival” was to her. I listened as she sincerely and emotionally shared with me how good it made her feel to travel to Anaheim and Pasadena so she could be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” She described going once a week, then increasing to twice a week, then increasing to multiple trips each week to these centers of spirituality.
Over time, I noticed changes in her (and others) personality. She would go and “get filled” and return home on a spiritual high. Over the next few days or so she would talk about reading the Bible, deep times of prayer, an overall sense of closeness to the Lord, and happiness. Then she would crash. Her mood would change. What seemed like spiritual depression would set in. And she would begin to talk about needing to get “refilled.” So off to Anaheim or Pasadena she would go to get her next spiritual fix.
Her next spiritual fix.
As I watched my friend’s (and others) spiritual condition erode, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between her and the heroin addicts I took off the streets. The alleged “filling of the Holy Spirit” was like a dirty needle being driven into the vein of her arm. It made her feel good for a moment, but the crash after the high left her wanting more, needing more. What started as a search for a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit, turned into an unbiblical habit. It was heartbreaking to watch.
By God’s amazing grace, some of my friends who seemed hopelessly captivated by these false spiritual movements matured enough to see the frivolity, depravity, and blasphemy of them and got out. Sadly, others are still there, still addicted to the heroin-like spirit of the age, stunted in their spiritual growth, having no more love for and understanding of the Word and its truth than they did some-fifteen years ago, still hopping from one movement to “the next great thing,” always in search of that increasingly elusive spiritual high. Again, my heart breaks for them.
“You Have to Experience It for Yourself”
Eventually I tired of the objection “You can’t speak against what’s happening because you haven’t experienced it for yourself.” So, one night my friend Steve and I made the drive down to Pasadena. There, on the campus of the U.S. Center for World Missions, we entered Mott Auditorium (now, sadly, the home of the Pasadena International House of Prayer).
With hesitancy and some trepidation, we found seats in the auditorium. “Manifestations” began soon after the highly repetitive worship choruses started. People of all ages (and I mean all ages) began to work themselves into a trance-like state. They rocked back and forth and side-to-side. Several people began to literally convulse under the influence of whatever spirit was in that place.
After the crowd was worked up into an apparent altered state of consciousness, a man took the stage and began to “preach.” He never mentioned the Bible. He never mentioned Jesus. There was certainly no presentation of the gospel. He talked only about the manifestations of the spirit and he prophesied. Then another “prophet” took the stage and prophesied over the speaker and told him that God had given him the “eyes and the vision of Robert E. Lee.” I looked at my friend Steve and asked, tongue-in-cheek, “He does realize Robert E. Lee lost the war, doesn’t he?”
After the men on the stage were done prophesying, the leader made a call for all “counselors and catchers” to come to the stage because it was time for “floor time.” Steve and I watched as children, teens, adults, and apparent homeless people made their way to the stage. The speaker than told the crowd if anyone wanted to be filled with the spirit and receive an anointing, then they should come forward. And come forward they did.
As expect, as I had seen Benny Hinn and others do many times, people were “slain in the spirit.” The counselor standing in front of a person would push them on the forehead and then the person would fall into the catchers arms, who would then help the person make their way to the floor. Once on the floor, the people would writhe and convulse. Some would laugh uncontrollably. Others growled like dogs and demons. Some quacked like ducks. Others laid motionless, as if dead. This went on for a while.
Once things started to quiet down, the leader announced the service was over. Steve and I watched and listened as a group of high school-aged Asian kids gathered in a circle. I will never forget the pretty, young girl who, while talking about a homework assignment, periodically buckled over as if she were about to vomit and then would speak in a very low, gutteral, demonic-sounding voice.
Steve and I left the auditorium shaken and more convinced then ever, now that we had “experienced it for ourselves,” that what our friends were under the influence of was not the Holy Spirit. They were under the influences of demonic spirits masquerading as angels of light.
We shared our “experiences” with our friends who were under self-induced captivity to these false spirits. Sadly, and expectantly at the time, our friends were not moved by our testimony. They simply blew us off as legalists who were blind to what God was doing. Such is the attitude of the heroin addict. They are always last (if ever) to see the problem of their own addiction.
My family and I would soon leave the church. While leaving the church was most certainly the right decision, the way I left the church was sinful. I wrote a long letter to the pastor and, late at night, when I knew no one would be at the church, I left the letter and my key to the church on the pastor’s desk. It was a cowardly and hurtful way to leave the church–a congregation who was family to me. By God’s grace, the pastor and I reconciled several years ago. While we don’t see each other or communicate much these days, I love him as a friend and a brother in Christ. I do not, for a moment, question his love for the Lord or his salvation.
Things Have Gotten Worse
As the addiction progresses, heroin addicts need not only more heroin, but a higher grade of heroin to maintain the high and minimize the drug’s crushing after-effects. Sadly, the same is true of those who follow these false spiritual movements. Spiritual addicts were once content with periodic doses of Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Paul and Jan Crouch, Ken and Gloria Copeland, Mike Bickle, and Rodney Howard-Brown. But instead of getting well, instead of entering into spiritual recovery, instead of breaking bad spiritual habits, these spiritual addicts have moved on to stronger more harmful spiritual drugs–people like Bill Johnson and Bethel Church, Todd Bentley, International House of Prayer, Jesus Culture, the New Apostolic Reformation (just 2,000 year old heretics and Gnostics dressed in nicer clothes), and others.
The only thing, the only One who can bring spiritual addicts out of bondage is the true Holy Spirit–the Third Person of the Godhead. Only the Holy Spirit can take a heart and mind that craves what is false and change it to love what is true. Only the Holy Spirit can so regenerate the heart of the spiritual addict, enabling them to come to genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. While I don’t question the salvation of my Christ-loving, Bible-believing, gospel-sharing, discerning Charismatic friends, I most certainly do question the salvation of spiritual addicts who seek the gift with no concern of who the giver might be. I do question the salvation of those who ignore what the Bible says about discerning every spirit and, instead, simply swallow whatever the latest spiritual snake oil salesman is selling. I do question the salvation of those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit by attributing to the Holy Spirit that which should rightly be attributed to Satan (i.e. the magical appearance of gold dust and gold teeth, fire tunnels, healing evangelism, treasure hunting, trips to heaven, swine anointing (I can’t make this stuff up), toking the Holy Ghost, and other outrageous, man-centered, Holy-Spirit degrading, demonic, blasphemous activities).
My hope for those addicted to false spiritual movements is not their eternal demise. On the contrary: my hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit will bring them to their senses and extend to them the most precious gifts–repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And may the Lord bless His Church and the world with yet another Great Awakening, true revival that brings true glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.