by Dr. Brad Bailey
The Misrepresentation of the Holy Spirit
I remember it just like it was yesterday. For years I had enjoyed attending an encouraging camp meeting in middle Mississippi. The preaching was always great and I was anticipating another great year. The moderator called upon a seasoned preacher one morning, who I had never heard, but had heard a great deal about. I was anxious to finally hear him preach.
The preacher introduced us to his subject with an alarming opening line: “Today we are going to address the most critical need that preachers and churches have today.” I leaned forward in interest. He said, “The greatest need of Christians today is the filling of the Holy Spirit.” I listened even more carefully, but with a great deal of skepticism, I confess. He said that when he was younger in the ministry he envied those who seemed to have a special “touch” on their ministries. He coveted what they had, but he said he was unaware of how to obtain it.
After justifying the need for his sermon by reminding all of us of the great mess the modern church had fallen into, he admonished us to see it his way. “What we need is to be filled with the Holy Spirit,” he said. I sat in amazement as his sermon turned into an anecdote. He read a text, but I must confess I don’t remember what it was. There was no need for exposition because what he was doing was “preaching” from his own experience. As Charismatic and Pentecostal as that sounds, this was indeed an Independent Baptist meeting.
He spoke of his great desire to be filled with the Spirit and he said that it drove him to the office of an older pastor where he asked what the secret was to this “filling.” The pastor told him to write every unconfessed sin he had on little pieces of paper. He instructed the preacher not to hurry, but to be thorough. The older pastor left him in a room and disappeared into his study. Hours passed and the young preacher diligently gave his attention to writing down all of his unconfessed sins.
When he finished, he knocked on the older pastor’s office door and laid the slips of paper in his desk. The pastor said, “I don’t want those! Bring them here. Follow me.” The two of them went into the restroom and the older pastor told him to confess the sins before the Lord and throw the slips of paper into the toilet. He did so, and the older preacher flushed them down. They went back into the office and the older preacher asked him if there was anything left that he needed to confess. The young preacher said, “No.” The older preacher said, “Good. Then you are thoroughly right with God?” The young man said, “I guess so.”
The older preacher told him that if he was right with God, the Lord would give him anything he asked for. It was a virtual blank check. He quoted John 14:14 where Jesus said, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” He then told the young preacher to ask the Lord for the filling of the Holy Spirit before it was too late. The young man did so.
The young man in that story was now much older and was a celebrated preacher in many areas. He stood before us and shared that story (which I have summarized). He dramatized it much more than the version I have shared with you, and I remember how emotional the congregation was. The invitation came, and I was amazed at how many people flooded to the altar asking the Lord to give them the same experience this man had relayed to us. Everyone seemed to be so moved by his experience. Everyone, that is, except me.
At first, I felt as though I was grieving the service by not going to the altar and asking for the Holy Spirit, but I kept quoting scripture to myself. I thought of Romans 8:9b, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” I wondered how I could participate in an invitation and be emotionally manipulated to ask for something that, according to the Scripture, I already had. My anxiousness turned into skepticism. I watched as people had experiences. I watched as people pled with God to give them the power and the anointing and the unction of the Holy Spirit.
Before I spoke of that event to anyone I did some soul-searching. I didn’t want to seem critical or antagonistic. As I pondered the events of that day in my heart and compared them with Scripture, I felt so right, but I wondered how that could be so when so many Independent Baptists were testifying that they had been filled with the Holy Spirit sometime after they were saved. It seemed bizarre to me. Romans eight became my new project.
Same Story – Different Ending
Shortly after that meeting I was invited to preach in a Jubilee in the state of South Carolina. When I received the advertisement for the Jubilee, I was honored to be listed on the flyer with such great fellow preachers. The Jubilee was a one-day event, and it was on a Saturday. The location was about five a half hours from where I pastor, so I knew it was going to be a long turnaround to make it back to Florida by Sunday morning, but I was scheduled to preach second, so it was definitely possible.
The pastor called the first preacher to preach and he was a young man whom I had known for some time but had lost contact with. He was a friend in the ministry. He had actually preached for our church on occasion. He was well loved in the South Carolina area, and I was looking forward to hearing him again.
I had recently completed a verse-by-verse study in Romans and I happened to bring only one sermon with me to South Carolina – Romans eight. My intentions were to address some growing concerns I was experiencing because of a false interpretation regarding the Holy Spirit. The young preacher who preached before me stood and announced that he was going to preach on a great need among Independent Baptists. He directed us to the story of Samson in the book of Judges. I could not believe what happened next. He announced the subject of the sermon: “How to be Spirit filled from the life of Samson.” I nearly fell out of my chair. Spirit filled, with Samson as an example?!? He must be kidding, right? I listened and I cringed.
The young man made ridiculous statements and claimed experiences that he had with the Holy Spirit that were, in his estimation, mandatory if you wanted the power of God. He spoke of Samson having the Holy Spirit and that presence coming and leaving from him. He said things like, “There is a difference between having the Holy Ghost in and you and the Holy Ghost on you.”
He worked the congregation into a thunderous emotional frenzy with admonishments to find somewhere in the woods and pray for the Holy Ghost to fill us. He said, “Don’t leave the woods until you know you have the Holy Ghost!” He claimed that you would not have to study as frequently and go to Bible college if you would only receive the filling of the Holy Spirit. It was clear that he and I were on opposite ends of the spectrum.
As he preached and I glanced at the sermon I brought, I felt sick. I loved this young man and I loved the host pastor, but I knew that for some unexplained reason that was the only sermon I brought – Romans eight. However, I knew it was time for someone to resist the tide of inaccurate allegations that were being laid upon the Holy Spirit, and it wasn’t some strange manifestation of the Holy Spirit leading me to do it, it was the Holy Spirit’s rendition of Romans eight. I grew anxious to begin the task.
When he was finished and the pastor called for me to preach, I mustered up enough courage to approach the platform and told the pastor that what I was about to preach might cause some trouble. He said, “Hey, just preach.” So I did. I used Romans eight and point-for-point matched every error that the young man had preached with verses that destroyed his sermon:
Romans 8:9, But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
Romans 8:11, But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Romans 8:14, For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
Romans 8:15, For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
Romans 8:16, The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God . . .
Romans 8:23, And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
Romans 8:26-27, Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
As the references and points came and went, it seemed the air rushed out of the building and there was a deafening silence from where I stood. The frenzied crowd was now noticeably disturbed. People were visibly angry. With little support, I was forced to preach out of season (II Tim. 4:2). People were slamming their Bible’s closed as their supposed experiences with the Holy Spirit were dismantled right before their eyes.
I attacked ridiculous aberrant subjects with a vengeance. I declared that there was not one single passage that instructs us to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit. I mocked the possibility of being “drunk on the Holy Ghost” and other irreverent ideas. I asked questions like, “What does being Spirit filled look like – do you shutter and twitch? Does it make you a louder preacher?” I asked, “If you can work to get the filling, do you have to work to keep it?” I asked, “Can you lose it?” With every blow backed by abundant Scripture, I drove the point home in a building that was filled to over capacity, and their response was mostly acrimonious silence.
At the end of the sermon I did something I have never done before. I requested that the congregation jot down my cell number and call me if they had questions. I had a long drive home and I was pretty stoked at the moment, and as a bonus, some lively debate by phone would keep me awake.
The pastor came to the pulpit when I was finished and said that those truths needed some consideration and instructed the congregation to take a break. I didn’t get a break. They lined up twelve deep to confront me and ask questions. When the break was over, the precious pastor scolded the congregation for being critical of Bible preaching. He defended the teachings of Romans eight and encouraged the congregation to not be hasty in making judgment but rather search the Scriptures to see if these things were accurate (Acts 17:11).
I stayed for the sermon that was to follow mine, so as to not appear cowardly by backing out of the service early, and I was thankful that the third preacher of the day made comments in support of the Scripture’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. He commented that when he was a younger man, he was also carried away by fallacies in regards to the Holy Spirit. He added that now he was convinced that those teachings were hazardous and even dangerous, but he didn’t stop there. He said that the difference between his thinking as a young preacher and his present mindset was that, as a young man, he had never read the Bible completely through and was rather ignorant. Now, however, he had been a student of the Bible for nearly three decades and was convinced that Independent Baptists have been misled about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I appreciated his supporting remarks.
What stands out in my mind most about both of these stories is that they have such a close resemblance to Pentecostal and/or Charismatic teaching. As I have researched, I have discovered that, not only is this false doctrine being preached by Independent Baptists, but it is also in print in Independent Baptist writings. One Independent Baptist writer gave the following outline as the four conditions for being filled with the Spirit: there must be cleansing, there must be consecration, there must be craving and there must be claiming. That is the essence of a Pentecostal/Charismatic experience based, performance based, Holy Ghost filling. I can almost hear my Pentecostal friends shouting “amen” in support of that teaching.
Though today I serve as the pastor of a Baptist church, I have had the experience of being raised for a portion of my childhood in a series of Pentecostal and Holiness churches. This gives me the unique perspective of having learned from error and truth at different junctures in my young and adult life. What I find strange is that much of the style and even the erroneous teaching of Pentecostalism seem to be present in fundamental Baptist churches, especially Independent Baptist churches located in the south. I find that, in doctrine, these churches deny their similarities to Pentecostalism, but in practice they appear to endorse it, and they have to deny their Baptist heritage to do it. It is no surprise to students of nineteenth and twentieth century church history that traces Pentecostalism are present in many denominations, but why?
Neo-Pentecostal Theology & Its Origin
The Azusa Street Revival was a historic Pentecostal revival meeting that took place in Los Angeles, California and is the origin of the Pentecostal movement. It was led by William J. Seymour, an African American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 9, 1906, and continued until roughly 1915. The Charismatic theology that stemmed from this was an aberration for many decades until around the mid twentieth century it spread rapidly and Notre Dame University was swept off of its feet by this move of the “Holy Spirit” and those who experienced this event gravitated towards continuationist doctrines – meaning those who are persuaded that the sign-gifts of the Holy Spirit are still active and available today. The movement was also experienced in the Presbyterian circles, the Lutheran circles, the Anglican circles, the Methodist circles, and even some of the Baptist circles. This movement was certainly not monolithic, and no two denominations that were affected by it shared the same interpretation of spiritual gifts. However, there were some basic ingredients that were common to all of their experiences, the most important of which was the abnormal idea that the believer was to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit after their conversion.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit should be distinguished from the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. The significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do with the empowering of God’s people for ministry. Jesus told His disciples that they should tarry in Jerusalem until they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit: Acts 1:4-5 says, “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
In the Old Testament, the power of the Holy Spirit was only granted selectively. It was given to men like the prophets when they especially needed supernatural power to face down the wickedness of their day with boldness and supernatural accuracy. It was also given to judges like Samson, so that he could slay the Philistines.
You may recall the feebleness of Moses. As he weakened, he could not even hold up his own arms, but needed the assistance of Aaron and Hur for that task (Exo. 17:10-12). The great feats that Moses had accomplished early in his life were indeed energized and made possible by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, but his stamina lessened to the point that he requested that if God wanted to do a personal favor for him, He could mercifully kill him and end it all.
Numbers 11:11-15, And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.
The stress of the task and the complaints of the people were far more than he could physically maintain. The misery of ministry was unbearable. God responded to the crisis by ordering Moses to select seventy assistants:
Numbers 11:16-17, And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.
Numbers 11:24-25, And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
There was a glitch in this event that was brought to the attention of Joshua. There were two men who had been commissioned and had received a portion of the spirit that was upon Moses who did not do as they were commanded. Eldad and Medad remained in the camp prophesying instead of going to the Tabernacle as they were commanded.
Numbers 11:25-30, And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them! And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.
Moses halted Joshua’s anger and said that if he had it his way, all of God’s people would have the spirit. He imagined that this would be of great benefit to the people to have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit that would eliminate the inconvenience of only some people being the source of spiritual guidance for such a vast congregation.
If you fast forward to the Day of Pentecost that is recorded in the book of Acts chapter two, what you notice is that there were present on that day believers. These believers received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and indeed, it was subsequent to their salvation (cf. Acts 2:1-4). This is why our Pentecostal friends are prone to believing that the baptism of the Holy Ghost occurs after conversion. This can be confusing unless you understand that Pentecost was a momentous event that took place in redemptive history, unique from the experience of every other believer’s experience. God poured out His Spirit upon the whole church at Pentecost in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28).
The prayer request of Moses and the prophecy of Joel, coupled with the events of Pentecost recorded in Acts two give us conclusive evidence that it was always the will and plan of God for His people to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, even if that plan was yet to be fulfilled. This belief would eliminate the potential sectarian elitism that would come from making judgments between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” This can be further defended by the fact that in the book of Acts, there was not only one event like this, but actually four Pentecost-like events. That’s right, four events in which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is visited on certain people. The Jews were the first people group to receive the filling of the Holy Spirit, but there were three to go: the Samaritans, the God-fearers, and the Gentiles.
The Samaritans – Acts 8:14-17, Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
The God-fearers – Acts 10:1-2, 44-48, There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
The Gentiles – Acts 11:13-18, And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
At a later event in Acts nineteen, Paul is shown to have believed the same way:
Acts 19:1-7, And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.
The emphasis of this event is laid on the fact that all that were present (in this case about twelve) received the Holy Spirit at the hands of the Apostle Paul.
The emphasis of the above listed events is to show that at Pentecost, all of the present Jews received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Acts eight, all of the Samaritans present received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Acts ten, all of the God-fearers present received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And finally, in Acts eleven, all of the Gentiles present received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The conclusion of the matter was not a theology of “have” and “have-not.” The significance was that if God did to these three other people groups what He did to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, they were to be accepted fully into the church, and with all of the rights and privileges that the Jews had. We deduce that it was God’s will that all present in the church be endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit for ministry. I Corinthians 12:13, For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. Because these doctrines of pneumatology have been grossly misinterpreted by Pentecostals and now many other denominations, including Independent Baptists, this gross elitism exists as a reality. You can now clearly see how the unadulterated doctrine of pneumatology in the book of Acts make experiences like those recorded in the early portion of this chapter seem ridiculous and unscriptural.
Nevertheless, false teaching has led scores of people to declare their “filling” as a subsequent act, post-conversion, and it has left others to be intimidated by their testimonies. A sense of inferiority has been created by those who claim to having been “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Those who claim the “filling” are acting out their experience before our eyes and inciting covetousness of this “gift.” They are advertising it in grandiose ways, so to make the existence of those who have not received it feel miserable and subservient. This elitism is being paraded on religious TV networks and now, most sadly, among Independent Baptists as well.
Yet another aberration is the recurrence of mysticism. Many Independent Baptists who have made attempts to resist the coldness of formalism have fallen headlong into mysticism. The mystic desires direct contact with God by immediate intuition or contemplation. If the emphasis is on the union of the essence of the mystic with the essence of deity in the experience of ecstasy, which is the crown of mystical experience, then mysticism can be very misleading, depending on the mood of the mystic. If the emphasis is on an emotional unction with God by intuition, then mysticism can have negative psychological repercussions. The main objective in mysticism is immediate apprehension of God in an extra-rational way as the mystic waits before God in a passive, receptive mood. These practices find their roots in the mysticism of the fourteenth century, but they are surfacing today among Independent Baptists again.
In his textbook-worthy volume, Emery H. Bancroft evaluated the doctrine of pneumatology and concluded, “There is widespread confusion and error in this day concerning the personality, operations and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Conscientious but misguided scholars have held wrong views concerning this doctrine. It is vital to the faith of every Christian that its scriptural teaching be seen in its true light and held in right proportion [emphasis mine].”1
The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
Does it disturb you when you hear people accusing the Holy Spirit of getting them drunk? I have heard people accuse the Holy Spirit of that before, and I confess it made me very uneasy. How does that make you feel? Inferior? Do you feel like you’ve missed something somewhere? It is reminiscent of Rodney Howard Browne’s claim that he is “the Holy Ghost’s bartender” or Mark Ford’s insistence that God is “redeeming alcoholism” which he declares is only a substitute for drunken Holy Ghost experiences. I’ve never experienced that phenomenon, and I don’t think I’m missing much. The difference between Browne, Ford and Independent Baptists is that we are supposed to be biblicists, not experientialists. Yet we are allowing some of the strange and blasphemous terminology of the charismatics to manifest themselves among us.
When I hear evangelical believers of any denomination speak of the Holy Spirit in terms that resemble worldly addictions like alcoholism or marijuana abuse, I shutter. Some of them would actually have us to believe that the Holy Spirit simply took the place of their drug of choice and is now their agent of intoxication. These people need to be alerted to the fact that, if this is what they truly believe, then they are sick. They may possibly be ignorant and just parroting what they have heard someone else say before, but if they truly believe this they need help. Dr. Gary R. Collins spoke on this subject in his book stating that, “any behavior that is compulsive and beyond the individual’s ability to control can be harmful.”2 Dr. Collins continued (emphasis added):
This includes one addiction that rarely is mentioned: addiction to religion. Some people it seems go to church regularly to get an emotional fix that keeps them high until the next service. What some observers have called “immature religion” or “sick religion” . . .3
These comments from Dr. Collins came under the section of his book on addiction. The compulsive need to feel the Holy Spirit is reducing His ministry to the feeling that is obtained from the varieties of addictive substances available. The absurdity of this is off the scale. The addictive nature of chemical substances range from heroin to caffeine. In between there is morphine, Demerol, cocaine, barbituates, amphetamines, alcohol, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, codeine, bromides, nicotine and marijuana. I ask you, which in this variety of substances best describes the experience of the Holy Spirit? If He is indeed intoxicating and addictive, will a milder dose do it for you (like a cup of coffee), or will you need a heavier dose on days when you feel stressed out? If you will pardon the rhetoric, I am simply trying to make the point that it is blasphemous to compare the Holy Spirit to addictive substances, even alcohol.
Blasphemy is defiant irreverence – the uniquely terrible sin of intentionally speaking evil against Holy God or defaming or mocking Him. The Old Testament penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning – Leviticus 24:16,And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death. The Bible is not silent on this subject.
The Forms of Blasphemy – Matt. 12:31a, 32a
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men . . . And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him . . .
It seems strange, but Jesus said that blasphemy against Himself personally, and God the Father could be forgiven. This style of blasphemy seems mysterious to us, but it was apparently a reality to those who were hearing these words spoken by our Lord.
The Forgiveness of Blasphemy – Matt. 12:31b-32
. . . but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
An unbeliever who blasphemes God the Father can be forgiven (cf. I Tim. 1:13-14). Believers who blaspheme Christ can be forgiven. Peter apparently blasphemed Christ with curses and was forgiven and restored – Mark 14:71,But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.
However, those unbelievers who blasphemed the Holy Ghost were unforgiven because they saw His divine power working in and through Jesus but refused to accept the implications of that revelation, and in some cases, attributed that power to Satan. That was, and is unforgivable.
According to Jewish teaching, the Holy Ghost had two functions: first, the Holy Ghost brought God’s truth to men and women, and second, the Holy Ghost enabled them to recognize and understand that truth when they saw it. If there is no revelation of truth and no discernment of truth, there is no light of salvation. When anyone reaches that stage, repentance is impossible. If people cannot recognize the good when they see it, they cannot desire it. If they do not recognize evil as evil, they cannot be sorry for it and wish to depart from it.
Let me illustrate. During World War II, an American naval force in the North Atlantic was engaged in heavy battle with enemy ships and submarines on an exceptionally dark night. Six planes took off from a carrier to search out those targets, but while they were in the air, a total blackout was ordered for the carrier in order to protect it from attack. Without lights on the carrier’s deck, the six planes could not possibly land, and they made a radio request for the lights to be turned on just long enough for them to come in. But because the entire carrier, with its several thousand men and the other planes and equipment, would have been put in jeopardy, no lights were permitted. When the six planes ran out of fuel, they had to ditch in the freezing water and all crew members perished into eternity.
Similarly, the Holy Spirit manages and controls the light of salvation, and when He blacks out “the runway” sinners are unable to see the way of salvation. There comes a time when God turns the lights out and further opportunity for salvation is lost forever. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will certainly hasten this time closer.
The Fruits of Blasphemy – Matt. 12:33
Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
When the Holy Spirit has been blasphemed, there will follow that event obvious and measureable decline. The fruits of that event will become visible to the person who has the spiritual apparatus that helps to interpret such events. Signs such as increasing comfort regarding the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will be fruit of this reprobation.
The Fountain of Blasphemy – Matt. 12:34-35
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
Christ’s general point in Matthew twelve was: “You must make up your minds about Me and My work. Either I am evil and do evil work, or else I am good and do good work. I cannot be evil and do good work or be good and do evil work. If I do good works, it is by God’s power; and if I do evil works it is by Satan’s. God empowers nothing evil, and Satan empowers nothing good.” Their speech would betray whatever side they were on. So accusing the Holy Spirit of being the author of some evil in Christ’s life is blasphemy.
The person who harbors ill will toward someone will eventually express those feelings verbally. The person who is filled with lustful thoughts will eventually express those thoughts verbally in crude or suggestive remarks. The person who is persistently angry and resentful will sooner or later put those feelings into words. Likewise, the person who has erroneous views of the Holy Spirit because he/she is unconverted will express those views, and they will sprout from their carnal appetites in carnal style.
William Barclay said, “There is nothing so revealing as words. We do not need to talk to people long before we discover whether they have wholesome or dirty minds; we do not need to listen to them long before we discover whether their minds are kind or cruel; we do not need to listen for long to someone who is preaching or teaching or lecturing to find out whether that person’s mind is clear or whether it is muddled. We are continually revealing what we are by what we say.”
In response, I would add that those who are verbally expressing desires to be incoherently “drunk” on the Spirit are carnal in their hearts. This is also true of those who are megalomaniacs and want to prove that they have a superior and unusual “filling” manifested by commandeering a service through shouting, or running the aisles. This is aberrant behavior and sadly, it is often claimed to have been done under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. It is actually textbook narcissism – an inordinate and exploitative craving for attention.
Trumping Error With Truth
Doctrinal accuracy sometimes skips a generation. In the matter of the Holy Spirit, we are experiencing a vast panorama of ideas of who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. Some have speculated that you cannot have the Holy Ghost without some higher performance that is above standard. They call this “the anointing.” Some say that the Holy Ghost comes after you are saved. Some, quite frankly, have used the name of the Holy Spirit to give permission to do some mighty weird things.
The writer of Hebrews warned against such behavior: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29)?” Hell is full of people who disrespected the Holy Spirit. The possibility of committing such an unpardonable sin and being in danger of sorer punishment remains today.
Macedonius, Bishop of Constantinople between 341 and 360, taught that the Holy Spirit was “a minister and a servant” on a level with the angels and that the Holy Spirit was a creature subordinate to the Father and the Son. This was a denial of the true deity of the Holy Spirit and was found to be extremely harmful. The Western churches since then have insisted on the true deity and the personality of the Holy Spirit as co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial with the Father and the Son.
We have all heard bizarre stories of people who have done strange things and blamed them on the Holy Spirit’s leadership. I have heard of extreme things like one gentleman who sat on the communion table with an offering plate on his head and sang the ABC’s. If that was not so tragic, it would almost pass as humorous. John Crowder can be viewed on video uttering incoherent things and claiming to be high on a form of “Holy Ghost marijuana” that he calls “Jehovahjuana.” The hubris of that is immeasurable. What a despicable and blasphemous term! As irreverent and sacrilegious as that sounds, it is not that far from claiming to be “drunk on the Spirit;” a term Independent Baptists have used to excuse their rowdiness. One Independent Baptist preacher even threw his car keys to someone else and made him his “designated driver” because he was so “drunk on the Spirit” that he couldn’t even drive home.
I can only speculate that the success of this irrational travesty among Independent Baptists (especially in the south) has been because this philosophy offers what they really already want. Their canal nature craves self-aggrandizement and elitism and claiming an “anointing” or a “filling” is just what they need to abase others and exalt themselves. Additional problems occur when just being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t satisfy so they announce a call to preach so they can display their filling for everyone to see.
Romans eight outlines quite thoroughly the biblical description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. For those who are biblical in their thinking, this will be exciting to discover, but for those of other persuasions, it will be somewhat dull and anticlimactic. Nevertheless, notice what the Bible teaches:
The Spirit Operates In the Believer Through a Sound Mind
The Spirit is not in the business of making a person act crazy. Independent Baptists have nearly ruined their credibility because we have allowed people to act foolishly for far too long. Many southern churches are proud of their self-styled worship, and sadly, it gives the appearance of mindless pandemonium.
The Spirit of God does not manifest Himself in ways that are strange and irrational (I Cor. 14:40). Yet I have personally seen people who have destroyed church property, injured themselves shouting, assaulted fellow believers, distracted congregations from the truth, and much more, all through what they claim is the leadership of the Holy Ghost. This would not be as pertinent if those acts did not resemble the exploits of Charismatic loons like John Crowder, Benny Hinn, and Rodney Howard Browne.
In a YouTube video, John Crowder and his friends are shown holding a small baby Jesus figurine to their mouths and drawing from it like a marijuana cigarette smoker. They were depicted as doing this while driving. The car was filled with smoke and suddenly the police appear. The police conduct a traffic stop and Crowder and his buddies are arrested for DUI after failing to pass field sobriety tests. That is crazy, and we can be assured that it is not the work of the Holy Spirit. But neither is dancing, or diving into the baptistery, or running through the auditorium with lawn equipment, all of which, to our shame, have happened in Independent Baptist meetings.
These things are all so bizarre that I am ashamed to report that many were done by Independent Baptists. In many circles, worship is not even acceptable until it is loud, mindless and embarrassing. As stated earlier, the complaint that Christ had with the religious Jews addressed in Matthew twelve was that they were attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:22-37). In today’s contemporary blasphemy the reverse is happening: the works of Satan are being attributed to the Holy Spirit. Saying the Holy Spirit said something that He did not say, and/or doing something while claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit that He would never lead you to do is no small matter.
The Holy Spirit operates through a sound mind. He does not knock us down, make us laugh, give us the hiccups, raise our body temperature, make us convulse, make us look/act drunk, make us screech, make us giggle/laugh, cause us to run, or jump in church, or any other attention-getting behavior that distracts us from the Word of God. I am now persuaded that the need for the knowledge of God’s Word is so great that anyone who engages in such distracting acts is manifesting a dark and devilish agenda.
The Spirit Operates In the Believer Through Sincere Motives
Romans 8:8-9 ought to be required reading before anyone even attempts to make claims upon the Holy Spirit. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. Fleshly, self-promoting outbursts cannot please God. Fleshly aggrandizement cannot please God, but it sure does impress men. In fact, men have been so impressed with fleshly self-promotion in church services that they will even yield the service over to the person acting out.
In such cases, there is little attention given to the lifestyle of the people who are prone to outbursts because that is why most people attend camp meetings and jubilees anyway. They are waiting for it to “break out.” If you have ever been associated with Pentecostalism then you shutter at the similarity of terminology and conduct between Holiness Pentecostals and the camp meeting spirit of many Independent Baptists. Both are similar in that they lack sincere motives.
Just like Pentecostal churches, no attention will be given to the deportment of individuals. What matters most is “are they filled with the Holy Ghost?” That is a pretty despicable error that we have now grown tolerant of in many Independent Baptist churches.
The Spirit Operates In the Believer Through Sanctified Members
Romans 8:10-14, And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
The Holy Spirit’s gift to each believer is successful victory over fleshly domination (Rom. 8:5). That is not a guarantee that there will be endless perfection, but rather hope that the Spirit of God that now indwells every true believer will offer supernatural assistance to overcome the common fleshly temptations that bring us into defeat. The Holy Spirit will renew our minds (Rom. 12:1-2) so that our battle can be won on the fronts of spiritual and mental success. Referring back to Romans eight, this can all be summarized as follows: “For whom he [God the Father] did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29).” The Holy Spirit makes us like Christ. That is His primary function.
Experience or Exposition
We must avoid the error that the nobleman Kaspar Schwenkfeld (1489-1561) who failed to recognize that in his teachings a dangerous seed was germinating. His followers were more experientially oriented. They were inclined to mysticism, and believed in inner spiritual guidance by the Holy Spirit. Inner spiritual guidance sounds lovely, but when this inner guidance becomes the servant of people’s fleshly appetites, the Holy Spirit will be blamed for their poor behavior.
Peter James and John had a legitimate life-changing experience on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). The experience was so intense that it led Peter to write of it later in his second epistle:
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount (II Pet. 1:16-18).
Peter was indeed excited about the experience that he and his colleagues had. However, he offered a balancing truth that will help us gain a better equilibrium in terms of Holy Spirit experiences. Peter said that in spite of the magnitude of their experience, he has something more important to offer the New Testament church – a more sure word of prophecy (II Pet. 1:19a). Peter went on to describe this word of prophecy as the product of holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (1:21, emphasis added). He is referring to the inspired Word of God. That’s right. Peter said that the exposition of the Holy Bible trumps experiences, even if the experience is as great as the one that he, James and John had on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew seventeen.
Why is this so? Let me offer five reasons why exposition trumps experience. First, the limited endurance of experiences. Even valid experiences, like Peter James and John had, cannot endure the test of time. When the one who had the experience is dead, the experience is dead. If the experience being referenced here had not been recorded in the pages of the Bible to endure for all eternity, it could have very well perished with Peter James and John, or shortly after their decease. Even Peter knew that his departure was approaching (II Pet. 1:14), and that his experiences had to be recorded in Scripture if they were to endure from generation to generation. The key here is that the claims of modern believers who have relayed their experiences, but because there is no way to perpetuate those experiences, their experiences are not as important as the exposition of the Word of God that Peter said, “endureth for ever (I Pet. 1:25).”
Secondly, the lopsided emphasis of experiences. Fleshly people are drawn to stories that gratify their curiosity and intrugue, with a hope that the storyteller may share something that they could possibly identify with. This is why so many churches today have resorted to storytelling instead of preaching. Relaying experiences offers fleshly gratification that both the speaker and the hearer seem to draw strength from. That makes the relaying of experiences a more preferable method in the local church than the exposition of God’s Word.
Third, the limitless exaggeration of experiences. It is amazing how stories can become a can-you-top-this event. When one person shares an experience, others feel compelled to chime in with their more extreme anecdotes. If you cannot agree with this, just tune in to some of the many alien investigation or Bigfoot shows that abound. It is predictable: one person was visited by aliens, the next guy was abducted, and yet a third was subjected to galactic surgery that altered his DNA. It is a limitless competition to boost ratings and interest in the incredible assumption that aliens have, and are visiting our planet.
When people glory in their experiences with the Holy Spirit, they are creating a similar competition. There appears to be no end to the grandiose experiences that people are claiming.
Fourth, the lovely entertainment of experiences. People seem to be able to endure a marathon of stories relaying experiences that others have had from the bizarre to the harmless, but they cannot endure a one hour sermon. It is almost like torture for some to sit under the clearly expounded Word of God. The entertainment of experiences can hold their attention, but not the Bible.
Last is the likely exaltation of experiences. This brings us back to earlier references to the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Those who do not have a grandiose experience to share are often left to feel unimportant. This is shameful. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul, who had experienced a far more legitimate event than any one of us can claim:
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me (II Cor. 12:1-6).
I don’t know how you see it, but that record that Paul made intentionally ambiguous outweighs anything I have ever heard in terms of experience. Paul had much to glory in and entertain with. He could have held the attention of the masses with that story for hour after hour, but he knew there was something more important. He said that glorying in mine infirmities and the truth were more important than telling his extremely interesting story about going to heaven and seeing things that were not lawful for a man to utter. Again, truth and exposition, trump experience.
Paul also predicted that a version of that story might evolve into something that he could not control and spread like wildfire. If he had told the entire version of it he feared that man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me (the original version). In other words, Paul resisted the urge to become a legend, and thereby remove the emphasis away from Christ and the preached word.
Relaying experiences seem to have a dangerous potential for forcing the preached word to fade into the shadows of the uninteresting. This is why it is much safer to abide within the confines of the text instead of venturing into personal experiences for illustration and content.
Sources & Notes:
- Emery H. Bancroft, “Elemental Theology” p. 203, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI.
- Gary R. Collins, Ph. D., “Christian Counseling – A Comprehensive Guide” revised edition p. 514, Word Publications, 1988.
Gary R. Collins, Ph. D., “Christian Counseling – A Comprehensive Guide” revised edition p. 514, Word Publications, 1988.