With all the vetting of the Asbury University (KY) campus chapel’s spontaneous praise and worship of the Lord1, I just wonder, “Why are we so worried?” How should we respond?
Why the Caution?
It is good to be cautious. We who believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ want to steward our faith against satanic influences that would pervert the simplicity and purity of the faith. To lead any human soul away from the truth of Christ and into emotionalism and temporal false worship is to commit a serious sin against God and man.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones —those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ ” (Mark 9:42-50).
This is very serious. So we weigh what we see and hear going on against the Standard of Truth of the Holy Scriptures. If what is happening does not match the nature of our Spirit and Lord as given to us in His precepts, then we must reject the experience as counterfeit. It is as simple as that.
Not only that, we must warn others against it by telling them the truth of the Gospel of Christ by contrast. So if we are truly concerned, we will be moved ourselves to preach the Gospel afresh to real human beings. Let’s not get caught in the trap of warning others against the counterfeit over preaching the Truth boldly. Now is the perfect time!
The Whole Counsel of God
Only let us weigh what is “of God” by whole counsel of the Word of God and not by our modern agendas that require that this or that cultural “hot topic” be covered, or that our own agendas become the resulting fruit of this phenomenon. The Spirit of God has nothing to do with our agendas.
God has His own agenda, and that is to stir up souls to know Him, to worship Him, to serve Him with greater commitment and surrender and self-sacrifice. While concerns of social justice will flow from God’s work in a person’s life, it is not in itself God’s agenda. God is establishing his Kingdom on earth by changing lives. That comes first.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'” (Matthew 16:24)
Who is to say that a core of young men and women at that university and so many people elsewhere have not and are not yet now making this commitment to Him? And many all over the world (including many who have prayed faithfully for revival) are paying close attention to what is happening are being moved in the same way.
We can ask some good questions that are foundational to the gospel of Christ:
- Is God being glorified?
- Is Jesus Christ being upheld as the sole Savior of the World through His death and resurrection and coming Kingship over all?
- Is the Spirit of God being held subject to the life-changing Cross of Christ, the power of His Resurrection in our lives today,and in the hope of Christ’s present kingdom and coming Kingship of all?
- Is the Word of God being lifted up as the sole authority for understanding the work of the Holy Spirit among us?
- Is there evidence of confession and repentance of sin, and recommitment to the Lordship of Christ in the lives of the worshippers?
- Is there evidence of the Fruits of the Spirit being manifested as listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (for example)?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to these, then we are encouraged toward the authenticity of what is happening.
To test this, let’s look at the antithesis:
- Is God being mocked?
- Is Jesus Christ upheld as only one of many paths to salvation?
- Is any part of the scriptural Jesus being denied, misrepresented, or culturally re-interpreted?
- Is the experience of the Spirit of God being exalted over Christ’s saving work on the cross?
- Is the Word of God misread, partially selected, or faded into the background as unimportant in the experience?
- Are they seeking any worldly reward for the experience?
- Are they pushing belief of their experience onto others by intentional manipulation or force?
- Are they unkind or exclusive to outsiders and seekers in their message or practice?
- Are they seeking either covert obscurity or overt publicity?
Any affirmative answer to these or other similar questions would give cause for deeper inquiries and serious confrontations.
Of course, these lists are not meant to be exhaustive. They seek to lift our sights to the larger picture and away from finer points that may, if misconstrued, be held as grounds for quenching the Spirit’s genuine movement among flawed humans.
“‘Teacher, ‘ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.'” (Mark 9:38-49, NIV).
There will always be a contaminating feature surrounding any act of God. We can look at the many obstructions Satan threw at every point in the mission of our Messiah, Jesus Christ (and I only list these as a sample):
- his birth—Herod’s infanticide designed to prevent the coming King;
- his young commitment to the scriptures in the Temple —the confusion and worry of Jesus’ parents;
- his initial public ministry—the wilderness temptation;
- his preaching the freedom of souls from religiosity—the Pharisees’ interventions and testing;
- his healing of diseases—the Pharisees’ challenges of authority, inciting and enforcing public doubt;
- his Crisis of the Cross—the public’s betraying cries of “Crucify!”, the Crucifixion;
- his Resurrection —fabricated lies of both religious and civic rulers concerning the verity of the empty tomb;
- the coming of the Holy Spirit—”You’re all drunk!”;
- the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem—the limits placed on the spread to the Gentiles by the Judaizers, the stoning of Stephen, shipwreck, persecutions and martyrdom of the Apostles and Paul, the beginning of the persecutions of the Church of God in Christ;
- the spread of the gospel into all the nations—worldwide persecution of believers that is still going on today.
Perversions and obstructing hardships do not cancel out the authentic. In fact, a counterfeit confirms that there is a perfection to fake! Let’s not forget that counterfeits only come to be because there is something real and valuable at stake.
We all love the story of the quest. The obstructions are part of the story that create tension as the sojourners press on toward the seemingly unattainable, but very sure goal. We love the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings. Clearly, the good stands out in sharp contrast to the obstructions. This is a key to our assessing of any good work of God in mortal human beings. Look for and at the good goal, don’t lose focus by highlighting the obstructions.
Further, if we should deny every message that comes from an experience that is outside of our own normal experience or understanding or agenda, or that is imperfect in some way, none of us could ever speak a word of God’s truth to anyone! We are all sinners by nature, and we do not cover every truth in every encounter with others. It is the message that needs to be weighed. If the message itself is unscriptural at any point, the messenger must be confronted and corrected so far as that is possible. If the message is within scriptural bounds, we must open our hearts to the humbling fact that our God is larger than our own understanding.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8).
I wonder how much spiritual refreshing and healing we are missing when we hold off from any work of God because of doubt, even doubt that comes from a sincere desire to remain faithful to scripture?
So how do we know which is which?
How do we know when we can rejoice and when we should be stand firm against contamination of the purity of the gospel of Christ?
First, read the entire New Testament.2 Yes, that is right. If you haven’t already, then this is a necessity. If the Bible is the Standard of Truth (which it is), then we need to know it, not in part, but in WHOLE.
The reason for this is that the entire New Testament is not only about the gospel, but these letters and prophecies are saturated in warnings against the contaminating influence of evil within the Church and warnings against counterfeit or false teachers.3 Though some interviews on an online talk show, Christian or secular, have some value for seeing how others think, they are not primary sources or conclusive., and they often serve to confuse more than clear the air. Therefore, first let the Word of Christ filter these things for you directly.
Second, pray. Ask the Lord to reveal His truth to your own heart and mind while you study His Word. Our faith is real and vital and alive! The Spirit of God is a Person in the Godhead (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He has promised to give us wisdom for the asking:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:5-7).
Third, be on the lookout for the fruit of the Spirit, not only in the movement (a possible red herring), but in your own life. Whatever is happening elsewhere, the real importance is what is happening with us individually. For we cannot discern the things of the Spirit without the help and personal experience of the Holy Spirit in our own life.
“And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The natural [unregenerated] man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14, BSB; brackets mine).
When we pray, it should not surprise us that we should have supernatural experiences and heightened emotions if the Spirit of God is working in our souls, even in answer to the question “Is this work of the Spirit real?”
The scriptures tell us that we can expect to experience conviction of sin, forgiveness of sin and acceptance in Christ, and resulting peace, joy, “abundant life”, love, gratitude, a spirit of generosity, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (yes, that is in there!), patience and endurance (e.g., Galatians 5:22-23). These are the “fruits” or results, of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. They are valid emotions of deep sorrow, humble gratefulness, and joy.
If you have not experienced these expressions of the work of the Spirit in your life, then pursue the reasons why not. A great place to begin is to head over to PeacewithGod.net where you can get answers for your questions and chat with someone live who will help you find peace with God.
It also makes sense that when the Spirit of God moves, our mortal bodies will not be able to contain or limit the overflow of all that goodness. This overflow will incite us to move (dance, even!), to act in obedience to Christ’s Word and life, to share with others!
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133, ESV).
“For the LORD is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills.” (Deut. 8:7, ESV)
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ” (Psalm 23:5-6, ESV).
It is the Lord’s abundance we feel when the Spirit of God moves in and amongst us.
Of course, that will not appear tidy to our jaded fears. We are often like Michal of old, David’s wife, who tried to subdue David’s joy in bringing home to Jerusalem the Ark of the Covenant. She was concerned that he would lose the respectability of his position as King (and of course, she was concerned about her own exalted position as the King’s royal wife). We might ask whose reputation is it that I am seeking to protect? My own? Or Christ’s? Is it my preference in music, preaching/teaching, and manner that is important, or that Christ is moving in the lives of others?
What response is biblical without quenching the work of the Holy Spirit?
Immediately, we can REJOICE!!
We can rejoice that, despite the possibility of any fakers and polluters amongst the many thousands of people on University of Asbury’s campus or any other campus or home or church, there are genuine worshippers at the core.
If we see that the message being preached is Christ alone, the Word alone, and God’s glory alone, then we are free to rejoice that God is having His way in the lives of individual souls and corporate bodies of souls. And God has His own purpose as to why this has happened and when and where. Let’s join Him (and them) in His work through joyful praise and worship!
Further, we can PRAY FOR THESE SOULS that have been blessed by His Spirit in a special way for a special reason. God knows what He will do with those lives and what they must suffer for Christ’s sake after their repentance, salvation, recommitment, and surrender to His Lordship. They need our prayers that they will not fade or forget when the dynamic experience hits the reality of their worship and commitment. As it will. They need our prayers for the support of ministry He has ahead for them. They need our prayers that they will not succumb to peer or societal pressure to conform to the “norms” of this mortal life, but will continue to live in the presence of the Lord and to continue to exude His glory in their life.
We can PRAY FOR OURSELVES. We can ask the Lord, if we haven’t been recently, for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit on us and on our family and churches, campuses, and communities. Praying for our nations (plural) means we begin praying locally. Praying locally means that we begin within the home. Praying for our home means we begin with ourselves. Make us ready, O LORD, for an indwelling of Your holy Spirit. Make us holy, as you are holy, LORD, whatever the cost. Whatever the cost.
Finally, and this is the harder part, we can and must MOVE OUT on our prayers. We have to be ready, willing, and instant in action to whatever and however the Spirit (in company with the Word) speaks to us in our prayers and rejoicing. God does not design to fill us for our own selfish, temporal pleasures. He designs for us to work while it is still day, to obey Him in whatever obscure task, in whatever public confession, in whatever humbling or difficult service He asks of us. His goal is a life laid down in imitation of Christ’s own sacrificial love for us. This is what He means when he says to ‘deny self, take up your cross, and follow Me’.
This is serious stuff. It is very real, humbling and hard. It is life-changing in every good way. It is world-changing.
So what if there are excesses and hyped, diverse and even divisive publicity of this phenomenon? Let even the concept of a possible counterfeit experience drive us to our knees to pray for an authentic one. Let it begin within our own soul, and let the Spirit flow out from there.
Let us take this opportunity to pour our hearts and minds and lives out to the Lord in deeper study of His Word of Truth and in deeper, longer, more consistent repentent prayers for our own sin and intercession for others, for our rejoicing, and for the spread of His Gospel here right where we are. We who believe should do no less.
Maybe there will be a real revival and hope after all. Only let it begin in my own life first.
Feb 26, 2023, Tamara at ReadPsalm119.com.
1I am referring here to the praise and worship phenomenon happening on the University of Asbury campus chapel in Kentucky, starting Feb 6th, 2023 and formally ending Feb 23, 2023. This has been unofficially termed a “revival” or an “awakening” by many. This terminology confuses and misleads as many try to define the parameters of what those terms mean or must include in order to be authentic.
The correct terminology, in my own understanding, should be an accurate description of what is actually happening, and that is continued praise and worship. The results of this may include individual spiritual awakening toward an initial salvation experience, a recommitment of one’s life in service to the Lord, and (by public confession) reconciliation in relationships and the sanctifying work of God in personal repentance of obstructing sin. Corporately, the experience is a joyful, compelling continuance of prayer, scripture reading, praise and worship and seeking the Lord for whatever He has to say and do in these times.
2I am not advocating reading the New Testament over the Old Testament. To be a Christian means deeply studying (yes, studying) the whole of scripture, including the foundations laid in the Old Testament. And just for example, the Old Testament also gives us warnings against false teachers in Deuteronomy 13:1-8 and Jeremiah 23:1-40.
I limit the suggestion to the NT solely for the purpose that the NT is specifically designed, along with the preaching of the Gospel and precepts for our growth and sanctification in Christian life, to give warnings for the Church of God of all nations against false teaching and leaders within the Body of Christ. We can recognize falsehood outside the Church, but God knows our frame, that we are dust, and need help identifying and casting out the wolves among the sheep-fold.
3 (e.g., Matthew 7:5, 15-20; 2 Peter 2:1-25; Romans 16:17-18; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 4:3; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 Timothy 5:20; 1 Timothy 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:13; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33; Galatians 1:8-10; Jude 1:4; Titus 1:15; Titus 3:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28; 1 John 2:1; Rev 2:2-3; Rev 2:14-16; Rev 2:20-25, and all of Revelation in the imagery of the beast the false prophet and the Dragon. This list is representational, not exhaustive!)