Reforming the "Spirit Filled" Church (Part 2): Back to the Bible

Pentecostals love the Bible. In a typical Pentecostal church you'll see many well-worn and well-marked up Bibles. We place emphasis on knowing the Scriptures, giving our children plenty of memory verses to learn and often singing songs that are simply direct quotations of Scripture. Pentecostals love the Bible.

Yet, it seems, sometimes our love of the Bible causes us to take it for granted. Sometimes there's very little Scripture read in our services. Sometimes those well-worn Bibles are carried to church, but don't need to be opened. Sometimes adults seem to think that all the memory verse learning was finished at the age of 11 when you left Sunday school.

That brings us J. Lee Grady's second reform proposal for the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement:

2. Let’s return to the Bible. The Word of God is the foundation for the Christian experience. Any dramatic experience, no matter how spiritual it seems, must be tested by the Word and the Holy Spirit’s discernment. Visions, dreams, prophecies and encounters with angels must be in line with Scripture. If we don’t test them we could end up spreading deception.
Grady's pointing to the problem of experience not being submitted to the authority of Scripture. In the first post in this series, I told the story of one of my former students and his confused ideas about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Where did his problem come from? It came from placing a greater emphasis on experience than on Scripture. Instead of looking to what Scripture taught about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, he looked to the experience of 'feeling electricity' (which is nowhere mentioned in Scripture).

Unfortunately this isn't an isolated example. Now and again I hear Christians say that they don't obey certain commands of Scripture because 'the Holy Spirit hasn't spoken to me about that!' Well, I've got news for anyone who says that sort of thing: if it's in Scripture, the Holy Spirit has spoken to you about it, for it's the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible! 

If we're waiting for some sort of experience to tell us to follow what the Bible teaches, that means, in practice, we're denying the authority of Scripture.  As Wayne Grudem has described it, the authority of Scripture means that 'all the words in Scripture are God's words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.' (Bible Doctrine, p.480). So, if we reject what Scripture says until an experience of the Holy Spirit confirms it, then that simply means that we're rejecting the authority of Scripture: we're forgetting that they are the very words of God.

Instead, it should be the other way round. We don't test Scripture by our experience; we test our experience by Scripture. The Bible, which we know to be the Word of God, is our only sure guide to what God is doing. So, we can't tell people to expect to feel electricity when they're filled with the Holy Spirit, because the Bible doesn't say anything about it. When people start making strange noises or acting in disturbing ways, instead of throwing our hands in the air and rejoicing that the Holy Spirit is there, we should be saying 'Hold on a minute: is this at all Scriptural?'

You see, I think Grady's being overly cautious in his reform. Where he says, 'If we don't test them we could end up spreading deception', I'd change could to will. We might not end up spreading deception every time, but if the floodgates are left wide open by failing in our duty to test everything by submitting it to Scripture's authority, then, undoubtedly the bad, the false, and the dangerous will find its way through, for there will be nothing to stop it.

And if we're going to test everything by Scripture, we need to know Scripture. Know Scripture, not just know isolated Scriptures. We have a terrible habit of reading isolated bits of the Bible out of context. In one country, a Pentecostal pastor asked me if Ezekiel lived before or after David. Now, this man loved the Bible and preached it well. He knew the book of Ezekiel, and he knew the life of David, but he had no idea how the two related in the overall storyline of the Bible. That's what happens when we take a piecemeal approach to the Bible. And, when we can't see how the different parts fit together, then we miss the big picture!

How can we return to Scripture as Grady urges us to do?  Well, one of the most practical ways would be to go back to expository preaching. Preach the Word! Don't use the Word to back up a sermon; use a sermon to open up the Word.

Grady's right. We need to get back to the Bible. Personal experience and pragmatism won't set us on a firm footing; only the very Word of God will.

(This post is part of a series interacting with J. Lee Grady's article 'It's (Past) Time for a Charismatic Reformation'. Here are the links to the previous posts in the series: Part 1, Part 1b.)