Disillusioned with Pentecostalism

I was saved in 1969 when a colleague where I was employed told me about Jesus.  In my new life as a Christian, I was totally new to the Christian world, having lived only as an unbeliever in an unbelieving world up to this time.  It was only a matter of a few weeks in this new, Christian way of life, before I encountered my first Pentecostal Christian.  His name was Peter, a young man my own age, and I met him at our Anglican church after the worship service.  I remember greeting him with the usual “How are you?”, to which he replied “Praising the Lord, brother, praising the Lord!”  He was also sporting a black eye, and he told me that he had been in the pub the night before, witnessing to the drinkers.  One of them had punched him in the face; hence, his shiner.  But he was rejoicing because he had been punched for Jesus; and as he told me this, he had an angelic look on his face which, to me, was rather comical, despite the fact that he was serious.  I also admired him for his courage in facing a pub full of drunken Aussie beer swillers.

At that time (the 1970’s), the churches were still the same as they had always been, but there was a growing swell of agitation from many quarters to modernise the Church.  The Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church began a revision of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Charismatic Renewal was also under way; there was even a Healing Service held every week in the Anglican cathedral which was headed by its canon, a Charismatic Christian.  And the mainstream denominations were riddled with liberals and Freemasons

The difference between Charismatic and Pentecostal, I was later told, was that while they were both distinguished by having experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Pentecostals were those people who had separated from the mainstream denominations, with a large part of their focus on tongues and healing; whereas, the Charismatics’ agenda was to remain in their churches and denominations so that they could bring about change from within.  However, that difference doesn’t seem to exist anymore as the Charismatics’ strategy has been so successful that nearly the whole of evangelicalism has been influenced both in theology and worship; so the two terms are now probably used interchangeably. 

I don’t think anybody outside the Charismatic movement at that time would have dreamt how influential it would become.  But the timing was perfect because people were getting restless due to the tired old worship services, the sameness and repetitiveness of the liturgy, the same old hymns, and the general “deadness” of church worship, preaching, and church life generally, as many saw the situation.  “Charismania” quickly permeated the whole church.  As the hippy drug culture spread amongst the youth, the “Jesus Movement”, itself a Charismatic movement, also spread, countering the drug culture, becoming a sub-culture itself, and bringing huge numbers of young people into salvation and the churches.  But it wasn’t limited to youth, for many adults were seeking and receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, their lives being radically changed as they experienced once again the joy of salvation and freedom in worship; or, in other instances unconverted members of liberal and Freemason controlled churches were brought under the sound of the gospel and were born again by the Holy Spirit.

The numbers of Charismatics within mainstream churches grew rapidly, and they started gathering together as groups of Christians having in common the experience of the baptism of the Spirit, worshipping together on Sunday afternoons in rented buildings.  These meetings offered excitement, joy, and passion, in a setting where they could exercise their new-found ability to speak in tongues, sing in the Spirit, dance in worship, and express other manifestations of the Spirit.  There also appeared a large body of new songs to sing in worship, using the words of the King James Bible set to catchy tunes entitled “Scripture in Song”; and Christians from traditional churches were moving en masse to these Charismatic groups to be baptized in the Spirit and share in the joy and freedom of worship.  Even the mainstream churches started using their songs.  This was the scene in Sydney where I lived, but the same thing seemed to be happening throughout Western Christianity.  Not only had the Charismatics produced “Scripture in Song”, they also produced the “Logos International Study Bible” emphasising the Holy Spirit, published by a Pentecostal publisher called Logos, to give biblical credence to their practices; it was the first of its kind, as far as I know.   

The movement seemed harmless to most people at the time, but many of the Sunday afternoon worship groups formed independent churches, and the mainstream churches started losing members to them.  Over the next decade or two, some of them joined traditional Pentecostal denominations, such as Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel Church, while others formed their own denominations or remained as independent churches.  Many of these independent church groups which attach themselves to the larger Pentecostal denominations or groups change their allegiance and attachment frequently; and even in the country town where I live, it’s hard to keep up with them.  The local telephone directory, although updated each year, is often out of date when it comes to the frequent changes of these small Charismatic churches which constantly change their name and allegiance.  Other Charismatic churches, mushroom-like, seem to appear overnight, and within a few months they’ve disappeared.

But not many saw that the movement was a kind of Trojan horse in whose belly were hidden Satan’s forces, ready to destroy the Church and the Gospel once the Horse had been brought safely behind the protective walls of the Church.  It was the planting of the tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30), deceiving unsuspecting Christians.

Suspicious Practices

When something new happens within Christianity, particularly if it’s a new movement, it can be difficult to discern if it’s right or not; and if it doesn’t seem to be contrary to Scripture, we can only test it by its fruit.  And some of the fruit of the Charismatic movement was decidedly dodgy.

A “second” blessing

For example, an event billed as a “Holy Spirit seminar” at a large Anglican church in Sydney was attended by hundreds of keen young Christians eager to get more of God and, like me, were also there to meet their possible future spouse.  As it turns out I did my meet my future wife there.  During the seminar she’d been speaking to a young man who told her he was learning to speak in tongues.  She got into discussion with him and asked if he knew Jesus as his own personal Lord and Saviour.  He admitted he didn’t, saying, “Well, no, I haven’t got to that stage yet”

At about the same time an acquaintance of mine whom I knew wasn’t a Christian, was walking past a city church one evening, and it was noisy.  Curious, he asked a young man who was standing at the door what was happening.  The young man told him it was a church meeting and asked him if he wanted to speak in tongues.  My friend told him that he didn’t believe in God.  The young man said: “That doesn’t matter.  Would you like to speak in tongues?”  My friend said “Sure.  Why not?  I’ll give anything a go”.  So the young man laid hands on my friend’s head, who then started speaking in strange syllables, which the young man told him was “tongues”.  My friend laughingly told me about it but his life was never changed and he had no interest in becoming a Christian.

The question for both these examples is, if the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second blessing given to God’s people for spiritual power, how can it be received before the infinitely more important and vital first blessing of salvation which brings forgiveness of sin, peace with God and holiness of life?  Isn’t this a tell-tale sign that receiving the “second blessing” before the first indicates that it is counterfeit, an experience with “gifts” that are not of the Holy Spirit but an unclean spirit?  Paul writes of the coming antichrist, “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess 2:9-10). 

Counterfeit signs

While I’m not claiming that this passage refers to the situation outlined above, I quote it here to demonstrate that Satan can counterfeit the miracles and signs of the Holy Spirit (see also Exod ch 7 and 8, where Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate the miracles of the staff being turned to a snake, the river being turned to blood, and the plague of frogs.  Also, 1 Kings 22:17-23 and 2 Thess 2:8-12 reveal that there are lying spirits sent to deceive), and therefore we should be careful in the way we regard the miraculous and the extraordinary in the churches.  We cannot simply accept that everything spiritual or miraculous is of God, because it isn’t. 

Fake healing

The only healings I heard about in those days were so-called “leg lengthening”.  It’s strange how, when many people went forward for prayer at Charismatic healing meetings, the people who got healed unknowingly had one leg shorter than the other.  There must have an epidemic of people with one short leg back then.  Why didn’t God heal other more serious illnesses and afflictions instead of lengthening legs of people who didn’t even know they had a short leg until the “healer” told them so?

Even in those heady early days there were some flaky things going on within Pentecostalism and the little Charismatic groups.  A bright young man from my suburban Anglican church was a medical student; he and his parents used to attend one of the Charismatic groups on Sunday afternoons.  About half-way through his studies, “God” told him to stop his studies and do some kind of ministry (I forget what it was).  This failed and, providentially, he was able to get back into medicine again.  I heard that on another occasion when he was with some Charismatic friends, his watch had stopped, so they all laid hands on it and prayed for it.

Another example was when my fiancée and I were at a small local church one Friday evening at some kind of youth programme.  A young teenage woman who was afflicted with epilepsy had recently been to a Charismatic healing meeting where she had hands laid on her to be healed.  She glowingly testified at our meeting that she had been prayed for, so she had decided to stop her medication and trust God for her healing.  While I’m not against a person praying for healing and trusting that God will do so, it does need to be done under medical supervision.  Youthful idealism, while it does have a positive place in life and in Christianity, is not faith; and I hope that this bright young woman received some wiser counsel from her parents and doctor when they discovered what she was thinking.

At our regular church, the majority were Charismatic Christians; in fact, the senior minister had recently been baptised in the Spirit and was promoting it in this large Anglican city church, the same one which had hosted the “Holy Spirit Seminar”.  There was a faithful, godly, older man in the congregation who had cerebral palsy; he went forward for healing at every opportunity but all to no avail.  The Charismatics there told him he wasn’t getting healed because he didn’t have enough faith.  However it wasn’t his lack of faith in Jesus that was the problem – he had plenty of faith – it was the lack of the Spirit of God in their healing ministry.  This poor, dear man was so discouraged by the consistent denial of his prayers for healing and the persistent accusations of his lack of faith that he just stopped coming to church.  I don’t know what happened to him after that.  But I’m surprised he wasn’t told he had a short leg so that they could heal that for him.

Hillsong

I’ve been to Hillsong Church a few times and I’ve always been disillusioned.  A lot of the songs are great and Brian Houston’s sermons are OK and he’s given some encouraging teaching in them, so I thought it would be good to visit and get a blessing.  I used to watch his TV show on Sundays after I broke from the Presbyterian church/cult I’d been “imprisoned” in for many years and I found Brian and other Pentecostal televangelists’ messages a breath of fresh air.  It was a big thing for me to do this because I had to go against years of brainwashing which had boxed me into a tiny church world and church culture.  I also had to travel halfway across Sydney to get there and I’m not familiar enough with the roads and suburbs to navigate there, especially at night.  But I made it.  When I arrived the first time by myself (I’d already been there a year or two before with the guys from a Baptist church in Newcastle – more of this later) I drove into the carpark which is so big that it needs traffic directors.  I parked down near the bottom end and started on my way to the building.  I was overawed by the size of the place and as I got near the building there were streams of people all heading towards it from every direction.  I asked a teenage girl who was with a bunch of other teens where the entrance is.  I noticed that the majority of people were young.

When inside I found a seat and there were some people in front of me chatting; in fact, there were small groups of people all around me, likewise chatting.  Soon Darlene Zchech and the band were on the stage.  Darlene seemed disconnected from the audience, which seemed vast (I wouldn’t call it a congregation); it was as if she would rather have been somewhere else and now she was just going through the motions…..and nobody seemed to be listening or singing except a bunch at the back of the building; it was weird.  To make it worse and to my surprise and annoyance, the people around me continued their conversations – I couldn’t believe it.  And they did this through the whole meeting.

The preacher was also hopeless – the talk (I won’t call it a sermon) was like an in-house subject that only he and Brian Houston and their “circle of mates” in the hierarchy understood; he was directing everything to Brian Houston; and for me, instead of getting the word of God, it felt like I was a distinct outsider.  I’ve only ever felt like that at Hillsong – never anywhere else.  And this happened on each of the three occasions I was at Hillsong.

On the first occasion I was at Hillsong, I was with a bunch of guys from a Baptist church in Newcastle, about 3 hours north of Sydney.  It was my first visit to Hillsong and I was looking forward to it….I was still recovering from my years in the cult and at that time, Pentecostalism held out so much promise for me.  We were going to Hillsong for their Men’s Convention.  We’d been as a group to the men’s conventions held at Christian City Church (now C3) in Sydney and I was very impressed with them; the talks and workshops were good and the care taken of the men was wonderful – we were well fed and every care was taken for our comfort and well-being while so that we could focus on the teaching and not be distracted.  So I had high hopes for our time at Hillsong….but I was greatly disappointed – with everything.

From the opening song, which appeared to me no different to a rock concert, with smoke swirling out onto the stage, the lead singer shabbily dressed in torn denim (yes, I know this is the culture of young churches, and no, I’m not a wowser or killjoy – but I do have standards for the worship of God, and this did not meet those standards).  I couldn’t understand the words of the song and if I didn’t already know I was in Hillsong church, I wouldn’t have known this was meant to be Christian.  God didn’t seem to be there – it seemed all of the flesh.  I don’t mind modern songs, and the bible tells us to make a joyful noise to the Lord; but I couldn’t make such joyful noise here – it was just a self-indulgent concert for the musos to strut their stuff.

The teaching was done by various leaders from Hillsong, one of them being from the Ukraine, but most of them seemed to be cosying up to Brian Houston (it is definitely his church); and it felt like the speakers were talking over the heads of the audience to the Hillsong hierarchy.  It really felt like the convention was being held for the benefit of the assembled Hillsong leaders on the stage and the whole, vast audience was simply listening in; it was like they were each patting the others on the back, making private jokes, and so on.

And at lunch-time the men were told they could go across the road to the shopping mall to get some food.  However, the mall was very small, it was late on Saturday afternoon, and therefore the few shops which sold food were getting ready to shut for the day.  And the poor customers in the mall looked startled as hundreds of hungry, noisy men converged on the mall and filled it up.  It was an absolute shambles and Hillsong had made not the slightest provision for these men, many of whom, like us, had travelled a long time to get here….they just went hungry. 

Other Let-downs from Pentecostal Pastors

I mentioned above that I’d been in a cult-like church for many years.  As I started to wake up and question what was really going on in this group, and afterwards when I was trying to make sense of what had been happening to me and my family all these years, I sought help and advice from Christians and pastors outside the group; I still felt I was bleeding inside, as it were.  And I have to acknowledge that I wasn’t only let down by Pentecostals; a mainstream pastor whom I had known from an earlier, happier, period of my life, also let me down by making an appointment to meet me and then not showing up, but on the whole, the mainstream Christians were very helpful and willing to do what they could.  Unfortunately I was set on Pentecostalism and I believed in them.  Poor fool me.

I only ever remember one Pentecostal pastor who had time for me; he was a colleague and we became quite friendly.  He helped me when I was trying to write to the pastor in the cult/church from which I’d managed to break away.  I wanted to write a strong, direct letter, without abuse, to state what I had against him and what he had done to me, in accordance with Matthew 18:15.  I showed the letter to my Pentecostal friend and he advised me not to send it but just to forgive.  Even though I felt I needed to discuss the issues with the abusive church minister, I agreed, and destroyed the letter.  But it wasn’t long before I again felt I needed to write, so I wrote a toned-down, less detailed version.  And again, I showed it to my Pentecostal friend and again he said I should just forgive….and again, I agreed, and destroyed it.  But before very long I started being really agitated again at the way I’d been treated in the cult and I knew I wouldn’t have peace until I’d presented my grievances to the main minister concerned in the abusive treatment I’d suffered at their hands.  So I took pen in hand and drafted a third letter, toned down and generalised even more – and this time I posted it. 

Eventually I received a reply from the minister but because I had removed many specifics from my letter, all of which had been in the first one, he didn’t know what I was talking about.  However, he said, he had looked back on the church records to see if he could find anything more than I had stated to him, but didn’t find much.  He offered a general apology which was very weak because he didn’t really know what he was apologising for, and I knew I couldn’t take the matter any further.

I was offended and insulted by this reply because he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong.  He had no concept of what he’d done to me and my family; no idea of the pain, humiliation, offence and so on that he had inflicted on me.  And I guess he didn’t see it because the way he treated me was the way all the ministers in the church treated all the members in a similar way, except for their own family members and the elite elders.

But it worked out for the good because, after receiving his reply and wrestling with all that it provoked in me, I took it to the Lord in prayer and forgave the minister, the elders, and the church, for all that they had done to me.  It took a couple of attempts to forgive them but I knew this was God’s way and I could leave it with him once I’d forgiven them.  And when I did forgive them – I knew they didn’t know that I had forgiven them and wouldn’t have cared anyway, and I knew I wasn’t saying that, by forgiving them, that what they did to me didn’t matter – a burden was lifted which felt almost tangible, and from that moment I was able to live, free of the bondage of the past and the shackles of rage, resentment, grief, loss, and humiliation which kept me bound to that church.  And the Lord gave me Psalm 37 as a word from himself to me to help me get free of them and walk by faith in him, trusting him.

However, the other Pentecostal pastors I went to for help either refused to speak to me because I wasn’t a member of their church, or promised to meet me at a date and place to discuss it with me but never showed up, or promised this and that but always, always, let me down by not keeping their word to me.  I became so disillusioned with Pentecostalism because of those who represented it and were its face to me that I didn’t want to be a part of that church scene.

Over the years since, I’ve seen and heard so much that has convinced me that Pentecostalism is an aberration within Christianity.  But it’s an aberration that has grown so much and so quickly that it, too, has become main-stream, and has displaced traditional Protestantism to a large degree.  I’ve written some of my thoughts about the issues and problems with Pentecostalism as I see them, both doctrinal and of a practical nature, which are much more serious than anything in this article, and have posted them on this web site. 

Being large and international doesn’t make it right, though; Islam is large and international; Buddhism is large and international; Communism is large and international.  The test as to whether it is right can only be by comparing it to the bible and seeing how it measures up.  Also, as Jesus said, the fruit of a thing or person will indicate whether it comes from a good tree or a corrupt tree (Matt 7:16-21).

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:15-23).

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