Today I went to Zion. Not the historical Zion, of course, but a local institution calling itself by that name. It was indeed a mountain. In my early childhood I considered mountains to be only those geographic features with jutting, raw rock and year-round snowcap. It wasn’t that kind of a mountain, but as you drove up it the valley fell away startlingly fast and you could soon see for miles and miles. I’m not sure how they feel about people roaming their grounds, but I could gladly take hikes up that mountain for pure recreation.
Zion is another pentecostal church, so there were three or four people who prophesied early on in the service–each in turn, and in English (on this occasion). It was very like the Assemblies of God church. The prophesies did not contain anything noticeably wrong, but neither did they contain anything noticeably substantiative. One spoke of God having “two fires,” a fire that consumed the impurities in a believer and a fire of judgment that did not consume but burned continually. This seems true enough to me, but I did not understand the benefit derived from mentioning it.
Not that a prophecy must always benefit or edify me. And moreso, not every prophecy is or ever was scriptural material. So, as before, I don’t reject this prophecy because I don’t get the point, but I am concerned by the pattern of vague and unspecific exhortations delivered “by the Spirit.”
The pastor who taught today was a guest pastor, not the man who I have been told is a wise teacher and great man of the faith. The message the guest pastor delivered was on verses 18 and 19 of Proverbs 30. Because this pastor chose such a few and closely proximate verses, I can offer a much better recapitulation of his message than of the previous, but the methodology has been about the same among all churches so far.
The pastor said that these four things which “the author of Proverbs did not understand” had spiritual analogies that we could understand. To condense:
- The way of an eagle in the sky. An eagle soars on the wind without flapping, discerning the movement of the wind and travelling on that. Thus we should discern the wind of the Holy Spirit and let that carry us aloft, not relying on the strength of our own “flapping.”
- The way of a serpent on a rock. The serpent moves forward by slithering from side to side, which, according to the pastor, is a confusing and deceptive way of moving. The serpent is Satan, and the rock is Christ. We might fear the serepent’s bite, but the rock is not afraid of the serpent or confused by his movement (an odd thought, that), so we should not be either.
- The way of a ship on the sea. A ship tacks from side to side to translate the movement of the wind into the direction it wishes to go. So we, in the progress of our journey, will not always travel directly toward where we want to go, but may have to take indirect paths to get there.
- The way of a man with a maid. As the mystery of romance cannot be explained, so also the way of Christ’s love for his church cannot be explained. The main concept here seemed to be that since “statistically, most women” have an anxiety attack just before their wedding, so we might have anxieties about following Christ. But we out to commit ourselves to him and make ourselves ready.
Nothing in this message is heretical, although some parts seem extraordinarily contrived and some things seem okay in the core concept but poorly extrapolated. I had understood the entire passage to be about the last point, offering three physical pheomena to compare to the intangible mystery in the fourth, and hence as a celebration of marital love (which can legitimately picture Christ’s love for the church). Such a painstaking analogy seems forced to me, but I don’t mind entertaining it as someone else’s view.
The anecdotes used for illustration made more of an impression on me. One, if taken as given, I found a credible and appreciable example of God working: the missionary (the guest pastor) had been trying to purchase land for a school and was having great difficulty in the process. One night he had a dream of being in his current rented building and trapped in by demonic forces. A man in the church smiled at him and told him he was free to go, and the demonic forces were immobilized like Peter’s guards. The next day, the person who had been resisting the missionary’s purchase the most stridently became the strongest advocate to help the process go through, and they were able to make the purchase without any debt.
Were I a participant in an event like this, I would not hesitate to give glory to God. The other story, however, left me much more in doubt. One night this missionary put on a video for his school, and as they were watching a wind came from one corner of the room and blew through the room, knocking people from their chairs as it went. And one particular girl, “who had been prayed over many times but had never recieved the baptism of the Holy Spirit fell from her chair and could do nothing for hours except lie on the floor speaking in tongues.”
Those who consider this a manifestation of God’s spirit point to passages like 1 Samuel 19:23-24 as support that the spirit of God can manifest itself in such a fashion. I think the case can be made that the action of the spirit of God in the life of Saul does not always have the same sense as the action of God’s spirit at Pentecost and in the rest of Acts. I also think what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:32 indicates that this kind of convulsive behavior is not the way God works in the midst of gathered believers.
I have never actually made the above arguments carefully and in detail, and my feeling is that although convulsive behaviour is in serious doubt, I cannot summarily and completely reject it without a better understanding of what is taking place.
It strikes me that a weakness of pentecostals is that they must see to believe. They discern the presence of the Holy Spirit by observable physical phonmenal, in bodily actions or speech, and this leaves them open to believing wrong things because they saw them. This tendency is reflected in the song sung at the service about meeting God between the cherubim and in the very name, Zion, as these a physical places associated with meeting God.
Previously I downloaded one of the principle pastor’s sermons online, the pastor whom two people have told me is a deep thinker, and was much less than impressed by his declaration that there will be houses and farms and schools (for those who died as children) in heaven. Although I agree that the new creation will have a physical nature not completely unlike this present nature, to speak of their being children and a need for these children to grow into maturity shows a very wrong idea about place where there will be no male and female. (He also seemed to be confusing the present heavenly abode of the believers with their ultimate place of rest in a physical creation.)
If this is about the extent of the strangeness in this man’s doctrine, he would not be the first man who had great insight into some parts of the truth and some very weird ideas along with it. In fact I think all of the extra-biblical great men of God have something in their doctrine that is wrong; they are men, still in the corrupt flesh, and God is not using them to add to His perfect scripture. I have not yet had time to listen to a range of other messages and see what this man has to say, but this is not a promising start.