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Holy Spirit & Gifts

  1. Are Tongues the only sign?
  2. Has speaking in Tongues ceased?
  3. Nine gifts or nineteen?
  4. Does God heal everyone today?
  5. What about laying on of hands?
  6. What about anointed oil?
  7. Why are spectacular miracles rare?
  8. Can preachers blow on people?
  9. What about being "slain in the Spirit?"
  10. What is holy laughter?
  11. What is the Baptism of Fire?
  12. What is blasphemy against the Spirit?
  13. Can a believer be demon-possessed?
  14. Can we bind Satan?
  15. What about Charismatic Catholics?
  16. Is this the awaited Revival?

1. Are Tongues the only sign?

There is no direct teaching in the Scriptures that speaking in tongues is the only sign or evidence of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. On the other hand there are ample examples of people speaking in tongues when they were baptized or filled with the Spirit.

All the 120 disciples who received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost "began to speak with other tongues" (Acts 2:4). When the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his family members the Jewish believers who had come with Peter "heard them speak with tongues and magnify God" (Acts 10:46). When Paul laid hands on the disciples in Ephesus, "the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). In the case of Apostle Paul, though nothing is mentioned about speaking in tongues when he was filled with the Holy Spirit, in his letter to the Corinthians he wrote, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all" (1 Cor 14:18; Acts 9:17,18). When the Samaritan believers received the Spirit there was something that a sorcerer like Simon could "see" as a supernatural manifestation (Acts 8:17,18).

On the basis of these examples, we can normally expect a person to speak in tongues while he receives the Holy Spirit in His baptismal power. But in the absence of a direct "teaching" as such we cannot say that a person is not baptized with the Spirit until and unless he speaks in tongues.

However, every believer must be encouraged to seek God to enable him speak in tongues through the Spirit because of its tremendous devotional value. Of all the nine gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor 12, tongues are primarily addressed to God in prayer and praise (1 Cor 12:7-10; 14:13-17). Also the speaker is greatly edified (1 Cor 14:4). I speak in tongues daily in my private prayer since the time I was anointed with the Holy Spirit in 1963, and it helps me build up myself and be refreshed (Jude 20; Isa 28:11,12).

It is of course possible to speak in tongues without love (1 Cor 13:1-3). Tongues are not the thermometer to measure one's spirituality. Every tree shall be known by its "fruit" (Mt 12:33). There must be a balancing of gifts and fruits.

2. Has speaking in Tongues ceased?

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away" (1 Cor 13:8). Quoting this Bible text, many Christians believe that the gift of speaking in unknown tongues is withdrawn from the Church or has vanished. Let's examine this issue here.

The first instance of speaking in tongues was on the Day of Pentecost, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Church. Historian Luke reports that the disciples "began" to speak with other tongues (Acts 2:4). He points out the continuance of this phenomenon, especially when new believers received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-46; 19:1-6). There was never a period in Church history all these twenty centuries when speaking in tongues was totally absent. As we have come to the last hours of the last days, we observe that more and more Christians of every imaginable denomination are exercising this gift. Jesus incorporated the promise of the gift of tongues while speaking of worldwide evangelism (Mk 16:15-17). Therefore, history is not in favour of the cessationist view of tongues.

Secondly, the teaching in the New Testament does not suggest that tongues have ceased. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthian Church was written about 25 years after Pentecost. Why should he discuss at such length a gift if it had already been withdrawn? According to him, tongues will cease "when that which is perfect has come" (1 Cor 13:8-10). Both individually and corporately we are still growing. We have not yet attained the perfection or the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13). When Christ shall appear, we shall be like Him (1 Jn 3:2). From then on we will be seeing Him and speaking to Him face to face. At that time our knowledge will be perfect and no faith or gift will be necessary. Only love will continue and culminate between the Heavenly Bridegroom and His Bride. That's why love is greater than even faith and hope! (1 Cor 13:9-13).

Thirdly, the benefits of speaking in tongues are becoming more and more necessary today. A spiritual discipline in which we need to be stronger than ever in these evil days is prayer (Eph 6:13,18). Speaking in tongues enhances prayer and praise (1 Cor 14:2,14,15). We are called to edify one another. Speaking in tongues is a means of self-edification. (1 Cor 14:4). When I am edified I am better equipped to minister to others. It is generally observed that speaking in tongues gives us the inner release that is necessary to operate the other gifts of the Spirit (Acts 19:6). Isaiah called this enablement as "rest and refreshing" (Isa 28:11,12).

We must not interpret the Scriptures according to our experience or lack of it. Accepting the plain teaching of the Bible as a little child, we should earnestly ask the Heavenly Father for whatever "good things" He has for us (Mt 7:7-11; Lk 11:13).


3. Nine gifts or nineteen?

The phrase "Nine Gifts of the Spirit" is so frequently used in current teaching and writings that an average believer tends to think that there are only nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, and he is not gifted if he doesn't have one of them! But a diligent study of the gift lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4 shows that the lists are only samples and the gifts mentioned are just examples. No list is exhaustive. They are all suggestive. There's overlapping but they all blend beautifully as the colours of a rainbow.

If we leave out the repetitions, the passages in the 4 chapters mentioned above give us nineteen gifts. They are Prophecy, Teaching, Counselling, Charity, Leadership, Kindness, Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Discernment, Tongues, Interpretation, Helps, Adminis-tration, Apostleship, Evangelism and Pastorship. Again if this is all what the Holy Spirit can bestow as His gifts, He is too poor! Perish the thought! "He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think!" (Eph 3:20).

There are several other gifts mentioned all over the Scriptures but we fail to recognize them so. Celibacy is an example. Paul calls it a "gift from God" (1 Cor 7:7). Hospitality is another gift (1 Pet 4:9,10). Though all believers are supposed to be hospitable, we know for sure there are some who are hospitable beyond our understanding! That's a special gift, much needed today. Hospitality literally means the love of strangers. Not easy, eh! Then there's intercession. All must pray but not everybody can lament like Jeremiah or sorrow like Paul (Lam 3:48-50; Rom 9:1-3; 10:1). Men like Rees Howells (1879-1950) and Praying Hyde (1865-1912) had this gift. Composing of songs and music is an ancient gift the Holy Spirit is gloriously restoring these days (Eph 5:18-20). This was David's gift and is that of Fr.Berchmann of Tamilnadu! (2 Sam 23:1,2). Artistic workmanship is another covetable gift (Ex 31:1-5; 35:30-35). Can unlearned herdsmen and fishermen write the Scriptures without the operation of the gift of writing? (2 Pet 1:20,21). The list is thus endless. Let's not be like the young boy who tried to empty the ocean by drawing water with a bucket!

Our so-called scientific diagrams and definitions of the gifts of the Spirit have actually limited the Holy One of Israel. The result is a "giftless" majority watching a "gifted" minority in awe and wonder. The gifts of the Spirit are neither nine nor nineteen nor ninety but numberless. Let's revise the syllabuses of our Power Seminars, recognize the hidden gifts in each person and rally the silent majority of the Church to action. Only then can the Church fulfil her mission on earth.

4. Does God heal everyone today?

God is a Healer. He revealed Himself as Jehovah-Rapha, meaning "I am the Lord who heals you" (Ex 15:26). He has never changed. His power is still the same.

God's power to heal was manifested to the greatest degree through His Son during His earthly ministry. Jesus healed all kinds of diseases. All who touched Him were made whole. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8). On the Cross He carried our sins and sicknesses (Isa 53:4,5; Mt 8:16,17). We are cleansed by His blood and healed by His wounds.

The Holy Spirit has bestowed on the Church the gifts of healing (1 Cor 12:9,28). They are in operation.

But our bodies are mortal. We are still subject to death (1 Cor 15:26). The total redemption of our body is still in the future (Rom 8:23). Until the day comes when there will be no more pain and sorrow, we may be subjected to physical ailments common to man (Rev 21:4).

When a believer becomes sick, he must resort to prayer. He must seek the help of the elders in the Church to offer the prayer of faith for him. And he must search himself to find if he had sinned. Under normal circumstances he would be healed (Js 5:14-16).

But there are times when God does not choose to heal. The Bible tells of several saints who walked uprightly before Him but were still sick. Paul had to carry on with the thorn in his "flesh." God promised him sufficient grace (2 Cor 12:7-10). Timothy had his weak stomach (1 Tim 5:23). Epaphroditus was sick unto death (Phil 2:25-27). Prophet Elisha, who worked so many miracles, died of a disease (2 Ki 13:14). History abounds with examples of godly folks who were not healed. Fanny Crosby (1823-1915) became blind when she was six weeks old and remained so till death, but she gave us 8000 hymns, one of which is Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

All good gifts come from God. He is not the author of sickness. But He uses it as a rod of chastisement or for some mysterious purpose we cannot explain. He is Sovereign. Ultimately all things, seemingly good and bad, work together for good to His children (Rom 8:28).

5. What about laying on of hands?

The first Biblical reference to laying on of hands is when Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph (Gen 48:14). Laying on of hands obviously had been an age-old practice. It gained religious significance when God commanded that the Priests would lay hands on animals before killing them for sin offering, burnt offering or consecration (Lev 8:14,18,22; 16:21). This ritual continued throughout the dispensation of the Law (Num 8:12).

Hands were laid also for installing leaders. Moses laid hands on Joshua while commissioning him to lead God's people into the Promised Land (Num 27:22,23). The apostles followed this procedure when they appointed the first team of deacons for the business affairs of the Church (Acts 6:6).

In the Gospel narrative we often read of Jesus laying hands on the sick to heal them (Mk 6:5; Lk 4:40). While giving the Great Commission He said, "These signs will follow those who believe... They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mk 16:17,18). The apostles did so in their ministries (Acts 28:8). They also laid hands on people for receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6). Parents in Jesus' day desired that He would lay hands on their children and bless them. He complied with it (Mt 19:13-15).

This Jewish practice of laying on of hands ultimately became one of the foundational doctrines of Christ for the Church (Heb 6:2). Apostle Paul warned Timothy "not to be hasty in the laying on of hands" (1 Tim 5:22). This apparently means that hands must not be laid on people indiscriminately. Its use must be restricted to absolutely necessary situations. Healing can be ministered to folks just by speaking forth "the Word only" (Mt 8:8; Psa 107:20). The Holy Spirit fell on the family of Cornelius without any laying on of hands (Acts 10:45). God through His Spirit distributes gifts and enablements to each of His children according to His will (1 Cor 12:4-11). This is the blessed privilege of every believer because of the ascension of Christ (Eph 4:7,8). Gifts are resident in the Spirit who is resident in us. The "manifestation of the Spirit" through any gift is according to the need of the situation (1 Cor 12:7a). No laying on of hands is necessary for the release of this potential power. Individuals must prayerfully exercise their faith to operate these gifts. However, for special ministerial positions elders can lay hands on the candidates for the impartation of specific gifts (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6; Dt 34:9).

Paul warned a preacher not to lay hands suddenly on any man (1 Tim 5:22). I warn people not to give their heads to every preacher. Beware of getting pushed down by the forehead!

6. What about anointed oil?

Scented oils were used in the Old Testament times to symbolize gladness (Psa 45:7; 104:15), and were avoided in times of mourning (2 Sam 12:20; Isa 61:3). Guests were anointed with perfumed oils as a mark of special honour (Lk 7:36-38, 46). Anointing with soothing oils was also part of medical treatment in Biblical times (Isa 1:6; Jer 8:22). The disciples of Christ continued this Jewish practice when they went on their healing mission (Mk 6:13). The Epistle of James which was primarily addressed "to the twelve tribes" of Israel (Js 1:1) recommends the use of oil for the sick (Js 5:14). The Greek word "aleipho" used in such instances always indicates a literal rubbing. Also the Greek word for "oil" here is "elaion" which means olive oil. Therefore we are to understand that James was prescribing both prayer and medical treatment for the sick believers.

However, oil in the Bible is also a symbol of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:2-6). Prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil when they were consecrated. Therefore the use of oil, while ministering to the sick, as a point of contact to encourage faith, is not objectionable. It may symbolize the healing virtue to flow from Christ the Head to the sick members of His Body (Psa 133:2). But it is not the oil that is to be anointed, blessed or prayed for. That is close to idolatry. Under the New Covenant God does not anoint or sanctify objects. The anointing will descend only on people (Acts 2:17) and stay on them (1 Jn 2:27).

In this context we must also comment on the use of "blessed cloth" for healing. The plain directive of Jesus to us is to "go" wherever the needy people are and "lay hands" on the sick (Mt 10:7,8; Mk 16:15,18). But at times, depend-ing on the situation, God may work in an "extraordinary" way as He did once in the ministry of Paul (Acts 19:8-20). It was a situation of direct confrontation with those who publicly maligned Christianity, and with the counterfeits and magicians. Use of such cloth pieces from preachers did not become a regular practice in the Church. As we saw earlier, God does not anoint a cloth piece. Advertising "Blessed Cloth" for healing today is therefore in violation of the whole counsel of God concerning the healing ministry of the Church. How these "Anointed Oil" and "Blessed Cloth" have been commercialized is too obvious.

The primary responsibility of ministering healing to believers lies with the local "elders of the Church" (Js 5:14). It must be further followed up by believers praying for "one another" (v 16). Healing evangelists should not urge Christians to immediately write to them or phone-call them for prayer, but encourage the Christians and the pastors to develop the healing ministry in the local context. Returning to this Biblical procedure will put an end to malpractices and exploitations in the use of the "gifts of healings" God has graciously placed in the Church.

7. Why are spectacular miracles rare?

Miracle healing crusades have been conducted in almost all the major cities and towns of India. A few healings do take place. But both the Christian and non-Christian public are aware of the hollowness of the tall claims of the handbills, wallposters and newsreports of these crusades. For instance, almost every healing evangelist of international fame has conducted his crusade in the city of Chennai. But until this day no disfigured leper or born cripple or blind known to the public has been perfectly healed in these crusades.

One notable miracle was sufficient to stir up entire Jerusalem (Acts 3 & 4). Even the enemies of the gospel could not ignore it, but confessed, "INDEED that a NOTABLE miracle has been done thro' them is EVIDENT to ALL who dwell in Jerusalem, and we CANNOT DENY IT. But so that it SPREADS no further among the people, let us severely threaten them" (Acts 4:16,17). Instead of satisfying ourselves with explanations which cannot stand the test, let us face the issue honestly. A close examination of the Scriptures gives us five possible reasons for the rareness of spectacularmiracles—

  1. We do not preach the pure gospel. Our message is diluted and adulterated. Charismatic evangelists used to despise the non-Charismatic evangelists that the latter had only message and no miracles. But the non-Charismatics did not bother about these criticisms and they kept on faithfully proclaiming the message. In the process of time, the Charismatics have sustained a double loss. In most of their meetings there is neither message nor miracle; neither substance nor spirit, but only shouting. The nature of advertisement of healing crusades is such that the audience gets more interested in the latter part of the meeting when people are prayed for, rather than the first part when the message is preached. But people flocked to Jesus first to "hear Him" and then to be "healed by Him" (Lk 5:1,15). "How to be healed" is not the gospel message. The pure and full gospel is enshrined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures... was buried... rose again... was seen." God is not obliged to confirm our preaching with signs unless our message is this "Word" (Mk 16:20; Rom 10:8-10).

  2. We do not function as teams. The Acts 3 miracle repeatedly underlines the need to work as a team if we must witness notable miracles. "Peter and John... together" (3:1) "A certain lame man... seeing Peter and John" (v 3). "Peter said, Look at us" (v 4). "The lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John" (v 11). "Peter responded to the people: Why look so intently at us?" (v 12). "The boldness of Peter and John" (4:13). Sadly we are suffering from superstar mentality. The New Testament consistently emphasizes the corporate and body ministry. No one has all the gifts. No one is giftless either. The gifts of "faith, healing and working of miracles" are to operate together if there is to be an outstanding miracle. The 1 Corinthians 12 list seems to suggest that a single preacher seldom has all these three. It says, "To ANOTHER faith... to ANOTHER gifts of healings... to ANOTHER the working of miracles" (vv 9,10). Note the plurality in the oft-quoted passage of Mark 16:17-20. "These signs will follow THOSE... in My Name THEY... THEY... THEY... THEY... THEY... THEY will lay hands on the sick... THEY... preached everywhere, the Lord working with THEM... signs." Miracle healing is an attractive ministry. God knows that even the godliest among us is too incapable to handle the applause if we do it alone!

  3. We steal the glory of God. God is jealous and He will not share His glory with anyone. When people ran to Peter and John, the apostles' instant reaction was, "Why look at us?... The God of Abraham... glorified His Servant Jesus" (Acts 3:12,13). A similar miracle happened in the ministry of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:8-18). There also the reaction of the apostles was strong when people wanted to garland them and sacrifice for them. "They tore their clothes and ran... crying out, Men, why are you doing these things?" (vv 14,15). The early disciples had only one aim and that was the glory of God. We have too many motives. We lust for big introductions. We seize every opportunity to promote our own ministries. May be with less photography and videography, we will have more miracles. God the Father trusted Jesus with so much of power because He had known that His Son would never misuse it for self-gratification or self-glorification (Mt 4:3-6; 9:8; Acts 10:38). When we believe God, nothing shall be impossible, true. But the question is, Can God believe us?

  4. We commercialise our programmes. Most of the unscriptural fund-raising techniques have been invented by healing evangelists only. (Who can deny this?) We preach faith and prosperity to people; but we go begging and borrowing for our projects. Accountability is practically nil in our ministries. Before performing that notable miracle, Peter could confess, "Silver and gold I do not have" (Acts 3:6). Which means he had not touched the huge sums of money people deposited at his and the other apostles' feet (2:44,45; 4:33-37). When we are not faithful even in material possessions, how can God trust us with miracle power? (Lk 16:11). No parent will give a sharp knife in the hands of a playful child. We are "zealous for spiritual gifts" but we are still "carnal... babes" (1 Cor 14:12; 3:1-3). When will evangelists stop learning catchy slogans from professional business consultants? When will they for their crusades choose places where the poorest of the poor, the downtrodden and the underprivileged live rather than cities and towns of high revenue potential? (Lk 4:18,19; 7:22).

  5. We have lost the emphasis on holy living. Where is Pentecostal power without Pentecostal purity? Of course God does not heal people or perform miracles "through our own godliness" (Acts 3:12). But we are called to be sanctified for the Master's use (2 Tim 2:21,22). We sacrifice the fruit of the Spirit while seeking the gifts of the Spirit. The "Word of wisdom" and the "Word of knowledge" are gifts; but we must not forget that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and "the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (1 Cor 12:8; Prov 9:10). How can we minister physical healing to others when we defile our own bodies by sins of the flesh? Will God be happy if we desire the vocal gifts of prophecy, tongues and interpretation when we care not to control our tongue against lying, exaggeration and abusive speech? Listen to Joshua: "Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you" (Josh 3:5).

Unless we deal with these issues, we will bring more dishonour than glory to God, and make the Gospel message more questionable than believable.

There are Christians who, because of the absence of spectacular miracles, conclude that the days of miracles are past. I totally reject this view because it lacks Scriptural support. The God of miracles is unchanging. His Word has the same power ever. In fact we need more miracles today than ever because no other generation worshipped so many Baals instead of the Living God!

8. Can preachers blow on people?

I am appalled by the extra-Biblical inventions in spiritual circles. Things virtually unknown in Bible times to apostolic leaders are practised without the slightest hesitation. My heart aches for those in the Church who are ignorant of the dangers of the trend of the day.

"What does the Scripture say?" This was the typical response of Christ and the apostles when they were asked apparently difficult questions (Lk 10:25,26; Rom 4:1-3; Gal 4:30). The Bible is our final authority and we dare not go beyond it.

There are only two Bible references to anyone blowing on man, and in both the instances it was "God" who did it. Genesis 2:7, "The Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." John 20:22, "Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit." God is the Author of Life and so He breathed into man (Jn 1:4). After death the spirit of man goes back to God (Eccl 12:7). Jesus is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit and so He breathed on the disciples— typically (Jn 1:33; Acts 2:33). This act of blowing on people is therefore the prerogative of the "Godhead." There is no direct or indirect teaching anywhere in the Bible to prompt any mortal being to do this.

In Ezekiel 37, we read about the breath of life coming from the four winds to resurrect the dry bones into a dynamic battalion. Even here the prophet was not instructed to blow or breathe on the bones. Rather he was commanded to just "speak" to the bones and the wind (vv 7,9,10). Yes, all we are to do is to preach to the people and pray to the Lord to fill them with the Holy Spirit. The apostles did just the same (Acts 8:14-17; 9:17,18; 10:44; 19:1-6). If the apostles had but once blown on people, Luke who repeatedly mentions laying on of hands would have certainly recorded that the apostles blew on the people!

The origin for such presumptuous practices today is obviously the modern Faith Movement. One of the popular teachers of this Movement had made the statement, "You don't have a God in you; you are one!" He bases his theory on Psalm 82:6 and Christ's quotation of it in John 10:34-36. This Psalmodic passage simply refers to the kings and judges of the earth viewed as God's divine council. It finally says that they would die like men! (v6). (See also Rom 13:1-6). Jesus employed the passage from Psalms just for an argument. (Read Chapter 9 of Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff.) We must guard ourselves against any of the characteristics of anti-Christ (2 Thess 2:3-12).

People ask, "How do you then explain the supernatural happenings on people when preachers blow on them?" To this I answer, "The end does not justify the means." In Christian life and ministry, "how" is more important than "what" (1 Cor 3:9-14; 2 Tim 2:5).

I am not a great Bible teacher but only a humble student of the Bible for about 50 years (1962-2013). To me this practice of blowing on people or into the microphone is just not acceptable. Even for mike-testing, blowing into it is not technically correct!

9. What about being "slain in the Spirit?"

I witnessed this phenomenon first as a teenager (1965) in a healing crusade where the preacher was a lady. People lined up on knees for her touch and almost everyone fell though most of them were not healed. I was a volunteer in that crusade and I somehow did not feel comfortable to associate myself in this part of the service.

This phenomenon has now become widespread and is becoming increasingly popular. People's reaction and response vary widely. Some embrace it as a "new thing" from God, while others eschew it as deceptive and demonic. Which is right?

Surprisingly the Word God records no instance of anyone "slain in the Spirit." The references usually quoted to support this phenomenon do not offer any plain or direct teaching on this. Let's look at the most common proof-texts quoted—

Prophet Ezekiel fell on his face when he saw the vision of God's glory and heard His voice. But when the "Spirit entered him," he was actually set on his feet (Ezek 1:28; 2:2). Similarly when Daniel saw a great vision and heard the heavenly voice, he fell prostrate before God. When a hand touched him, he was asked to "stand upright" (Dan 10:8-11). When John saw the glorious vision of Jesus he fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on him, saying, "Don't be afraid" (Rev 1:17). These visionary experiences of the prophets were unique and they don't teach about the so-called "slaying" phenomenon. The Temple experience of the 120 priests is typical of the upper room experience of the 120 disciples. In neither instance was anyone "slain" (2 Chr 5:12-14; Acts 2:1-4).

The disciples fell down at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-6). The security guards fell down as dead when the earth quaked and the sepulchre opened (Mt 28:2-4). Both refer to instances of "fear." Mark 3:11 and 9:26,27 speak of violent manifestations of the demon-possessed. Saul fell down as an arrogant persecutor of the Church (Acts 9:4; 26:14). There's no mention or referece to the Spirit where the officers who came to seize Jesus fell down (Jn 18:1-6). The case in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 is the voluntary prostration of an unbeliever. Falling prostrate before God "voluntarily" like kneeling or bowing is of course mentioned all over the Bible (Job 1:20; Psa 72:11; Mt 2:11; Jn 11:32; Rev 4:10; 19:4).

Thus the Biblical evidence for the phenomenon claimed as being "slain in the Spirit" is inconclusive. We cannot however rule out the possibility of men and women falling down, losing their physical strength when the power of the Spirit descends on them in an unusual manner and measure. Great revivals of the past have had this accompaniment. The ministries of John Wesley (1703-1791), George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Charles Finney (1792-1875) are examples. Of course in their meetings, it was mostly the striking down of scoffers and mockers. In our own Revival Camps, during seasons of outpouring of the Spirit, we have seen a few falling down here and there. But in the absence of any direct Scriptural reference, this experience cannot be taught as normative in Christian life or made a focus. The devil is a master counterfeit. We must beware of the "possession trance" so common in paganism.

The source of this experience can be purely human response to autosuggestion, group "peer pressure," or simply a desire to experience the phenomenon. Lining up people, keeping supporters behind to hold the "slain" to avoid head injury, the preacher going from one person to the other for the performance, etc, etc, can easily create an atmosphere where everyone would expect to "have" it. Psychology and crowd dynamics will play a role. Why folks fall backwards whereas in the Bible it was mostly falling on their faces, is another question.

The laying on of hands is primarily for ministering healing, filling of the Holy Spirit, and commissioning for service. It should not be misused for beating people on their heads or pushing at their forehead. When the apostles laid hands on people, they were either healed, filled or equipped, not slain. This is what we read from Acts and the Epistles. It's safe to stay within Biblical boundaries — even though you may think that you miss some "special blessing," so called.

The Bible commands us to live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, pray in the Spirit, and worship in the Spirit (Gal 5:25,26; Eph 6:18; Phil 3:3). Let's be concentrating on these essential and spiritual exercises, rather than coveting the merely emotional and sensational experiences. I am not for using the Scriptural phrase of "in the Spirit" to baptize personal experiences and generalise them.

10. What is holy laughter?

Holy laughing is a phenomenon reported in some Charismatic and Pentecostal groups where people break forth into an uncontrollable laughter and continue in it even for hours. This is claimed to be a manifestation of the joy of the Lord when the Holy Spirit anoints a person with the "oil of gladness." Those who are not thrown into laughter in such meetings are often considered by the "laughers" as having not fully experienced the joy! The craze for novelty is drawing several believers into this excitement.

From Church history we learn that the Church of Christ is influenced by one wave or the other at any point of time. But it is the responsibility of the Church leaders and mature believers to check these waves against the Word for their validity and desirability. "We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:11-16).

Laughter is a good medicine! The Scripture endorses this view when it says, "A merry heart does good like medicine" (Prov 17:22). Who does not like the company of a jovial person? Harmless fun and humour are not out of place in Christian fellowship. In the Old Testament history of God's people, laughter was there in their celebrations of victory (Psa 126:1-3). Foretelling Job's restoration, Bildad said, "He will yet fill your mouth with laughing, and your lips with rejoicing" (Job 8:21). But neither in the Old Testament nor in the New, laughter was encouraged alongside worship, like clapping and lifting of hands, playing music, shouting or dancing. There is no mention of laughing in any of the instances of outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. Also the Ephesian passage on Spirit-fullness (Eph 5:18-21) and the Corinthian passage on a charismatic gathering (1 Cor 14:26) do not give the slightest hint on laughing.

The true joy of the Lord is the outcome of abandonment to His will and ways. It is actually a "state" of contentment and confidence in our normal life which the world around us cannot ignore to notice. This joy is seen even amidst suffering and pain (Acts 13:50-52; 16:22-25; Lk 6:22,23).

Laughter is not necessarily an expression of joy. "Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief" (Prov 14:3). The devil is clever enough to offer cheap substitutes for the genuine and lasting thing from God.

An entire congregation or a large section of it thrown into ecstatic and sustained laughter is quite abnormal as far as the worship in a New Testament assembly is concerned. We cannot imagine Paul or Peter leading congregations into laughter wherever they went!

In this age of heavy rock music and revival of pagan religions, we will do well if our Church gatherings are marked by serenity, and our worship filled with awe. Worship leaders must avoid psychological manipulations of any sort but lead God's people to depths to understanding His greatness and their nothingness. The joy expressed in this process perhaps through tears will be even deeper (Lk 6:21b; Js 4:9,10).

When the laughter promoters are challenged to show Scriptural evidence, their immediate answer is that this is a "new thing from God!" If each group accepts and advocates an extra-Biblical phenomenon as a "new thing from God," where is the standard for our faith and practice? Are we not shaking the foundations?

11. What is the Baptism of Fire?

Matthew and Luke mention fire alongwith the Holy Spirit but not Mark and John (Mt 3:11; Lk 3:16; Mk 1:8; Jn 1:33). When Jesus quoted John the Baptist to His disciples, He did not mention fire (Acts 1:5). Because, the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a blessings for the believers whereas the burning with fire is a judgment for unbelievers. In none of the four instances of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost in Acts, Luke mentions fire (8:16,17; 9:17; 10:44; 19:6).

Concerning the ministry of Christ through the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist foretold, "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn" — work of the blowing fan! "He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" — work of the burning fire! (Mt 3:12). Both these symbols of wind and fire were present on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2,3). But they were not witnessed in the subsequent instances.

The Holy Spirit is God. He is a "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). He consumes with "jealousy" all idols in our lives (Dt 4:23,24; Ex 20:4,5). He commands them all to be burnt up (Dt 7:5). He cannot tolerate anyone or anything take His place in our hearts. In all things He must have the preeminence! (Col 1:18). His anger is aroused when we flirt with the world (Js 4:4,5).

God is like a "refiner's fire" (Mal 3:2,3). He refines our silver to make us a useful vessel for honour (2 Tim 2:21). The process of refining will be painful. It's a baptism of suffering! (Lk 12:49,50). But as we go through the furnace, our faith which is more precious than gold will be purified even more (1 Pet 1:6,7).

When we walk daily in the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit," His fire will keep on purifying us until we become like Jesus (2 Cor 3:17,18). There's nothing as a separate experience called baptism of fire.

Some people testify about feelings of warmth in their bodies when they pray or praise. While we don't say anything against such ecstatic experiences, there is certainly no Biblical basis to call this as the baptism of fire.

12. What is blasphemy against the Spirit?

"All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation" (Mk 3:28,29; Mt 12:31,32; Lk 12:10).

Pentecostals use these words of Jesus against non-Pentecostals when the latter question the genuineness of certain Pentecostal manifestations. But what did Jesus actually mean by such strong words?

Blasphemy was punishable by death. It could not be atoned for under the Old Testament law (Lev 24:10-16). But what about the provision under the New Covenant that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from ALL sin?"

Why did Jesus say that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was more serious than that against Himself?

The Father conceived the plan of redemption; the Son accomplished redemption according to the plan of the Father; the Holy Spirit applies the redemption accomplished by the Son. The Holy Spirit is the only force that can convict us of our sin and lead us to repentance (Jn 16:7-11). Without His help, no one will be able to call Christ as Lord (1 Cor 12:3). If anyone blasphemes the Spirit, there will be no one left to cause him to repent. Jesus Christ is God's first Comforter. The Holy Spirit is God's second Com-forter. There's no "third" Comforter in the administration of God!

Any sin is against the Holy Spirit because He is God. We are warned repeatedly against resisting, grieving or quenching Him. But blasphemy means denouncing with abusive and malignant language. It was when the people and scribes judged Jesus as mad and demon-possessed, He spoke about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In effect, they had called the Holy Spirit as Beelzebub (Mk 3:21,22,28-30).

Immediately after warning against blaspheming the Spirit, Jesus served several analogies like "bad tree... brood of vipers... evil treasure" (Mt 12:33-35). He called His accusers in this context as "an evil and adulterous generation" (v 39). So it is clear that their blasphemy was not merely an utterance of the lips, but an expression of character.

There's a similar reference to this sin in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-29. The author points out the impossibility of repentance and the awful judgment for those who have "insulted the Spirit of Grace" and "put the Son of God to an open shame." This is obviously outright apostasy resulting from a deliberate and persistent rejection of Christ.

Stanley Horton (1916- ), an outstanding Pentecostal leader, has warned, "Only God knows whether in any particular case a person's denial of the work of the Spirit comes from willfulness or from ignorance." There are thousands who attributed the Pentecostal experience to the devil but who later repented or had their eyes opened and were baptized with the Spirit. Hear Paul: "Although I was formerly a blasphemer, I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim 1:13).

There are many strange phenomena these days which are claimed to be of the Holy Spirit. No one is under obligation to accept these so, when these lack clear Biblical evidence. We must stay cautious but "judge nothing before the time!"

(Read also Christian Doctrine : "What is the sin that leads to death?")

13. Can a believer be demon-possessed?

On the face of the following plain and positive promises of God, it is inconceivable how a child of God can be demon-possessed—

"There is no sorcery against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel" (Num 23:23).

"I give you authority over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Lk 10:18,19).

"My sheep hear My voice... My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand" (Jn 10:27-29).

"He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 Jn 4:4).

A believer may be afflicted or even controlled by demons in certain areas of his being, but he can never be owned as an unbeliever can be. We may be deceived, oppressed and obsessed but never possessed (Mt 24:24; 1 Pet 5:8,9). Demons may influence our thoughts, emotions and actions when we fail to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Peter was once thoroughly influenced by Satan (Mt 16:23). A post-Pentecost example can be Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3,9). But none of these was possession.

Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and evil spirits can never coexit (2 Cor 6:15,16). The Holy Spirit can be resisted, grieved and quenched. But He does not quit us when we sin. Even under the Old Covenant, David after his sin did not pray to get back the Holy Spirit. Rather he pleaded with God not to take away the Spirit from him (Psa 51:11).

Jesus was zealous for the Temple (Mt 21:12,13). So also the Holy Spirit is possessive of our bodies. He will not vacate a body that is purchased with the precious blood of Jesus, and leave it to the archenemy of God (1 Pet 1:18,19; Eph 4:30). Vacating even a tenant is difficult these days! Is it possible for a lesser power to vacate the Divine Owner? "When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a flag against him" (Isa 59:19).

Passages like Ephesians 6:10-18 stress the need for believers to be fully armed and be on constant alert to counterattack the enemy. The fullness of the Spirit and of the Scriptures is the insurance against demon-possession. When believers backslide, break fellowship with other believers, become involved in sinful and occult practices, and turn a deaf ear to the repeated warnings of the Scriptures and the Spirit, they are voluntarily walking into the danger zone.

Certain cases of believers possessed with evil spirits are reported these days. There are too many factors involved in it to give a simplistic explanation. In the absence of any clearcut Biblical example after the commencement of the New Covenant, we cannot establish a truth based on uncommon instances.

Can a beliver be demon-possessed? NO, BUT BE WATCHFUL!

14. Can we bind Satan?

Binding Satan today is neither possible nor taught in the Bible. But this is widely practised in several deliverance ministries.

The power over demons was seen and witnessed most spectacularly during the earthly ministry of Christ. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn 3:8). Jesus rebuked and cast away the devil but He never once bound him.

Also during the ministry of the early Church the power over demons was mightily manifest (Acts 8:7; 19:12). But the apostles or the disciples never once attempted to bind the devil. Because, the command of their Lord was simply to "cast out" demons (Mt 10:8; Mk 16:17).

The Bible is quite clear on what we are expected to do with the devil: Give no place to the devil (Eph 4:27); Stand against the devil (Eph 6:11); Resist the devil (Js 4:7); Be vigilant against the devil (1 Pet 5:8). Exceeding these Scriptural limits will amount to presumption and lead to dismay.

There are preachers who have "bound" Satan so many times! Who untied him afterwards? How is he free as ever? Was the knot loose?

Jesus told Peter, "I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on the earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven" (Mt 16:19). This has no reference whatsoever to binding Satan. Is there Satan in Heaven to be bound or loosed? This passage just speaks of our heavenly authority on earth. And in matters of discipline we can declare guilt or innocence (Mt 18:17,18). That would be endorsed by Heaven.

"Binding the strong man" simply means that we release people "from the power of Satan to God" by the Spirit of God and "gather" them with Christ (Mt 12:28-30; Acts 26:18). The Gospel is the "power of God," and when it is preached in the power of the Spirit it releases people from the bondage of Satan (Rom 1:16; Acts 1:8). Before the captivating power of God, which is greater than that of Satan, the latter stands as if bound when souls are released (1 Jn 4:4; Acts 13:6-12). Here again there is no direct teaching that we may bind Satan.

We must wait for the Millennium to see the devil bound. An angel from Heaven with "the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain" will do it! Even after this he will be released for a little while so people may be given a free choice (Rev 20:1-3).

Another common unscriptural practice is to command the devil to go to hell or the bottomless pit. God has not asked us to do that. There is only one instance where Jesus told the devils "where" to go and that too at their request! (Mt 8:31,32). The devil is the prince of the air. If we can send him and all his army to hell today, where is spiritual warfare? (Eph 2:2; 6:12).

I have also heard preachers cursing the devil. We are simply not permitted to do this. Even "Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke you!" (Jude 9).

The devil knows the Scripture too well. He will laugh away when we try to do things we ought not to be doing!

15. What about Charismatic Catholics?

The endtime outpouring of the Holy Spirit which began on the Day of Pentecost is getting intensified as we approach the end of the endtime. The "all flesh" mentioned in the promise of Joel's prophecy has enlisted people of all nations, denominations and sections (Acts 2:17). There's virtually no Christian group which is not affected by what God through His Spirit is doing today. The Roman Catholic Church is no exception. Thousands of Roman Catholics including priests testify of having been baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and manifesting the gifts of the Spirit. This bothers those Protestants who look at Roman Catholics merely as Mary-worshippers. They question how it is possible for someone to remain a Roman Catholic and still claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Clarity in this matter is vital because Roman Catholicism is the single largest segment in Christendom. Even in India many non-Christians identify Christianity more with the name Mary than that of Christ.

God is sovereign. This is where we must begin. He can do anything. What He did in the case of Cornelius gets repeated so often in Church history. Cornelius was not a Christian. But he was "a devout man and one who feared God, who gave alms generously... and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). He was walking according to the light he had received. God who is impartial poured out His Holy Spirit on him and his family even before the preacher had finished his sermon or they got baptized in water (Acts 10:34, 44-46). When God baptizes with the Spirit devout Roman Catholics who worship God the Creator, who are we to stay God's hand? (Acts 11:17).

God's blessings of course do not endorse our practices. In Christian initiation the general order is first repentance, then baptism, and after that receiving the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Heb 6:1,2). Even though in Cornelius' case, the third preceded the second, the necessity of the second, namely water baptism, was not ruled out. Rather, Peter instructed them to be baptized immediately (Acts 11:47,48). Such a positive approach instead of a judgemental attitude will encourage Roman Catholics to embrace all truth.

Even though we the Protestants have come out of Roman Catholicism, the Roman Catholicism has not come out of most of us. We bow before a cross and they before a crucifix. The priesthood of all believers is more a theory than a practice amidst us. We still widely divide God's people into clergy and laity. Special dresses and titles which were unknown to New Testament ministers in the early Church are in vogue among us. Most of our testimonies reveal that we are yet to understand what is salvation by grace and not of works. There is so much of ritualism in our breadbreaking services.

Roman Catholics pray to or through Mary keeping her as the mediator. Protestants use preachers as mediators. Both are abominable before God. Prayers are sold by several healing evangelists as the Pope in the Middle Ages sold forgiveness tickets to raise funds for Churches or monasteries. Roman Catholics burn candles for statues, and we garland pictures. One is three-dimensional idolatry and the other two-dimensional! And someone said, "The Roman Catholics have only one Pope, but the Protestants have many!" The list is endless. This is not to approve of Roman Catholic practices but to alert Protestants to set their house in order. The message to both Roman Catholics and Protestants is this: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men (both the groups) everywhere to repent (change)" (Acts 17:30).

There are several things we must learn from our Roman Catholic friends. The R.C. Church is basically not divided. Oh, how many denominations, and divisions within denominations in Protestantism! The discipline and dedication of the R.C. fathers and nuns are highly challenging. Corruption is least heard of among them. Unlike us they don't sell Church properties or swindle money. No property is registered in the personal name of a priest. Their accounting is so clean that they don't need to bribe income-tax officials. In the matter of updating Bible translations, we are more sentimental than they. They go all out to bring the Bible in contemporary language to reach non-Christians. No one can beat them in social work. Maintenance of their buildings and campuses shames us. What a reverential fear they show in Church services! God is not unjust to forget all these works and labour of love (Heb 6:10). He accepts works of righteousness whoever does it in the fear of Him (Acts 10:34,35). Let's thank God for His visitation to the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Berchmanns of Tamilnadu, India, who was formerly a Roman Catholic priest, is a classic example. He received the baptism with the Holy Spirit while he was very much a part of the R.C. Church. Who can question the genuineness of his anointing?

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (Jn 16:13). This does not happen overnight. Revelation as well as reformation come in stages.

In conclusion, here are my exhortations to Catholic Charismatics: (1) Read the Bible regularly and diligently. Begin with the New Testament. (2) Be baptized in water as Christ has commanded. (3) Stop praying to or through Mary or any saint. Pray directly to the Father God in the Name of Jesus His Son. (4) Don't worship statues. No more idolatry of any sort. (5) Attend worship services in Churches where the Bible is faithfully preached. (6) Join teams of Christians who go out for evangelism. (7) Support missionary activities and social work among the needy and unreached peoples. "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6).

16. Is this the awaited Revival?

Undoubtedly there's a spiritual awakening everywhere among Christians of all nations and denominations. Many believe that this is the revival they had been longing and praying for. Several others are quite skeptical about it because of its certain questionable features. How are we to discern the current awakening then?

Revival is not normative for the Church. Only a sick or backslidden Church needs revival. It was when the joy of the Lord among His people was absent, the Psalmist prayed, "O God, will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?" (Psa 85:6). The call to repentance and promises of revival blessing were given in the Old Testament times when the people of God went astray. But God does not desire the New Testament Church to follow the ups-and-downs pattern. We are admonished to be always rejoicing in the Lord, always abounding in His work, and always expecting the return of His Son (Phil 4:4; 1 Cor 15:58; Mk 13:35-37). However, because the Church as it is today is not what it should be, she needs a revival for restoration.

Saints of God over the years have been interceding before the Throne for a mighty visitation of God's Spirit among His people. They have been crying to God for a latter rain with the understanding that Pentecost was the former rain (Zech 10:1). I believe that the present awakening is an answer to that prayer. But it has not fully met our needs yet. As the famous hymn goes,

Mercy drops round us are falling;
But for the showers we plead!

We need a revival of righteousness (Hos 10:12). A revival that will heal our backsliding and lukewarmness and bring us to deep repentance. Such a revival will affect the very moral climate of the society around us (2 Chron 7:14). Revivals under the ministries of John Wesley (1703-1791), D. L. Moody (1837-1899) and Charles Finney (1792-1875) had this characteristic.

We need a revival that will lead us to reprioritize our lives. The time we spend in prayer should become more delightsome than what we spend in talking to men (Psa 84:10). Bible meditation should be desired more than food (Job 23:12). The extension of the Kingdom of God should occupy our thoughts more than the earthly concerns (Mt 6:33). Giving to God must excite us more than receiving blessings from Him (Acts 20:35b). Selfishness should give place to sacrificial service for the good of others (Phil 2:4,5).

There are traces of such benefits in the modern day revival, but the questionable things seem to outnumber the desired blessings. The focus seems to be more on physical manifestations like falling, crawling, shaking and laughing than on the spiritual aspects mentioned in the last two paragraphs. When God visits His people in a new and powerful way, the devil also becomes hyperactive. He is a master counterfeit. He sows tares and it becomes difficult to differentiate them from genuine grains (Mt 13:24-30). Because there's mixture in any revival, discernment becomes difficult. We are not able to say it is 100% false. The safest way is to keep emphasizing growth in inner graces and not crossing Biblical boundaries. We can be analytical without becoming negative. We must not throw away the baby with the bath water.

The men and women whom God uses in revivals have an awesome responsibility in building up God's people and bringing them to maturity. Merely keeping the people excited and entertained may help the ministers stay popular, but the fires of testing will reveal that such activities are nothing but "wood, hay and straw" (1 Cor 3:12,13).

When we talk about revival, we must not think that everything is going to become glorious. In fact, as per the predictions of the apostles and the Lord Himself, as we approach the end of the age, there will be more lawlessness, more lovelessness, more deception, and more apostasy (Mt 24:12; 1 Tim 4:1-3). There is already a widespread revival in Hinduism, Islam and tribal religions. The long-awaited Return of Christ will be the ultimate revival for us (Acts 3:19-21).

 

 

 

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