Shane Idleman: Christians Must Avoid the Two Extremes of the Circus and the Cemetery

In our zeal to defend the Holy Spirit, we sometimes run the risk of defending wrong behavior.

My recent op-ed and podcast talking about different people in the charismatic community brought a variety of feedback, as did a sermon I preached a few years ago. With over 110,000 views, the positive and negative emails flowed in for many months.

My concern is that all who believe in the gifts of the Spirit are often thrown into the same camp as charlatans and false teachers when this is simply not the case. I’m re-posting this article from a few years ago to bring much-needed clarification.

I knew a pastor who instructed his worship leader to remove most of the songs that mentioned the Holy Spirit. How sad…in his zeal to avoid charismatic excesses, he actually quenched and grieved the Spirit. A.W. Tozer insightfully said, “If the Lord’s people were only half as eager to be filled with the Spirit as they are to prove that they cannot be filled, the church would be crowded out.” I sincerely believe that the greatest need in the church today is to confess our sins, obey the Word, and to be filled with the Spirit.

I, like many Christians, tend to be “safely” conservative when considering the power of the Holy Spirit. Believing that the Scriptures support the miraculous work of the Spirit today does not mean that we agree with all in the Charismatic Movement. I’m open but cautious. We need sound doctrine and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to be “Bible taught,” but not “Spirit led”—straight as a gun barrel theologically, but just as empty. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6).

Don’t get me wrong, theological and expositional teachings are essential to Christian living, but how often are theology students encouraged to fast and pray as well as study? How often are they taught brokenness and repentance in addition to translating the Greek language? How often are they taught the surrendered life? We can sometimes be more concerned about a Master’s Degree than a degree from the Master.

Christians can embrace one of two extremes. At one extreme are those who embrace pure emotionalism and hysteria – “if it’s odd it’s God” – all weird behavior is excused. The other extreme lacks a living, vibrant spiritual life. The church feels dead, cold, and lifeless. Talk of reviving the things of God (revival) is either dismissed or ridiculed. Both extremes can hinder the work of the Holy Spirit and genuine Christian growth. I will primarily address the first extreme where I have viewed videos of people supposedly “getting high,” “toking,” and “drunk” on the Holy Ghost. This is not the same as being filled with the Spirit of God (cf. Ephesians 5:18). I’ve attended conferences where questionable things have occurred. Bizarre and grossly unbiblical manifestations are not reflective of one filled with the Spirit. Those truly filled with the Spirit seek to reflect the personality and nature of God.

When questioned about extremes in this type of odd behavior, there are no answers that find support in Scripture. Common responses are, “I know it seems bizarre, but…” Or, “I know it’s weird, but…” Or, “You’re quenching and grieving the Spirit by not being open.” These are not biblically responses. The Holy Spirit is not quenched when we honor God’s Word and “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). He is quenched and grieved when we do not test and discern – when we allow the Holy Spirit to be misrepresented. The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:15, said that we are to judge, or discern, all things.

Leaders living luxurious lifestyles and making statements about God that are not true need to be challenged so that repentance may occur. My hope is that many will see the heart and passion of those seeking the middle ground. We cannot paint with a broad brush everyone who believes in the miraculous as charlatans, false teachers, and non-intellectuals (led away and astray by every wind of doctrine).

People like myself, Sam Storm, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Francis Chan, and the late D. Martyn Jones cannot simply dismiss the truly miraculous works of God that happen daily, nor can we minimize the incredible power of God to radically change lives through the power of the Spirit. This is a desperate plea for unity: unity on the essentials, but understanding and compassion on the non-essentials.

We don’t seek to minimize the need for discernment. A discerning person considers supernatural experiences in light of God’s Word, nature, and character. They ask, “Is there genuine fruit? Does the experience align with God’s Word? Is the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5 present: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?”

A true, genuine experience with the Holy Spirit will produce godly fruit and obedience to God. It seeks to promote those things that are pure and/or righteous. A word of caution here: even those in the New Age movement experience powerful feelings of love and euphoria, but it doesn’t draw them closer to Christ or lead to repentance or surrender to the true God. “We should not interpret Scripture in the light of our experiences, but rather, interpret our experiences in the penetrating light of Scripture” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones).

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Source: Christian Headlines