On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts

Most denominations seem to agree that God speaks to people in a still, small voice.  But I don’t think He uses Pat Robertson-style words of knowledge/wisdom that you sit there and actively seek.  The techniques sound like New Age meditation to me, and I don’t trust that it’s always God speaking.

I’ve heard that the Early Church Fathers teach to beware of things you think the Holy Spirit is telling you, until you reach an extremely high level of spiritual discernment which is beyond the reach of most people.

A website on such things has a good rule of thumb, to just let God decide when to speak and how: Demonology, the forbidden subject.  The “possessed” section is a good place to start (“How does one get possessed?”), but the subject is mentioned here and there throughout the webpage.

Considering the trouble that these “sign gifts” have gotten me in, such as making me think God wanted me to marry guys who were totally wrong for me, these days I’m wary of anything that even sounds like them.

Now, where does Pat Robertson get these words of knowledge from?  I’ve wondered about this for some time.  One possibility is that he has a familiar spirit.

Or, it has been charged, he and Benny Hinn get them the same way stage hypnotists and stage psychics get their information on audience members: Benny Hinn: Healer or Hypnotist? by Joe Nickel

(And Pat Robertson has been called a prophet?  My only excuse for believing what he said back in the 80s and early 90s: I was a naïve teenager who believed anything Christian adults told me!  I began to lose faith in him when he prophesied that Bush would win in ’92, and Bush lost to Clinton.  That showed him to be a false prophet (Deut. 18:21-22).)

This webpage not only describes many different denominations in their own words, but also describes faith healers Benny Hinn and Peter Popoff as fakes.

Also see here, where I go into more detail about Pat Robertson, and about how charismatic sign gift teachings greatly harmed my judgment in college.

My understanding is that biblical references to words of knowledge/wisdom are about knowledge and wisdom on spiritual matters, not about getting little messages on what career you should have or something that’s going on in another town.

Pat’s teachings on words of knowledge/wisdom said that everybody could get them (the prophecy version), and over time “your track record will improve.”

He’d sit there during the daily 700 Club prayers, and say, “Somebody’s being healed of blindness,” or “Somebody who needs $5000 will get it.”  Not only did he claim to be hearing these things from God in his spirit, but his co-host shared in these words as well.

Unless someone calls in with a story of a healing, you don’t know what’s really happened.  I always wondered why I never got one of these “words.”  He’d say someone was being healed of nearsightedness, but it never meant me.

Why would the co-host participate in this?  I suspect the co-host is innocently following along with her svengali Pat, but is actually getting these “words” from herself, not from God–since it’s hard to tell the difference between a “still, small voice” and yourself.  The power of suggestion is strong, especially from a charismatic leader.

Some webpages on Pat’s “words of knowledge”:

700 Club video of Pat’s word of knowledge connected with a healing of ear pain

Pat Robertson Explains Faith Healing

Let Us Reason Ministries quotes,

A former employee describes Robertson’s “Word of Knowledge” performance in James Randi’s book, “The Faith Healers:” “There was nothing “mystical” to understand; it was simply “statistical”. Robertson’s little faith-healing procedure is a charade — he simply “calls out” an illness and predicts its cure, and with millions of viewers the statistical probabilities are that someone will have the disease named and that they will naturally recover. People put their faith in the belief that God speaks to Pat. (James Randi, The Faith Healers, 1989, p.201)

While I don’t agree with James Randi’s cynicism he has spoken for the numerous people that watch and can see through the antics that are presented as genuine Christianity and the power of God.

“(Gerry) Straub relates a non-miracle he witnessed while still a believer in the ministry he worked for. He describes Robertson, at the close of a “700 Club” videotaping, shaking hands with members of the studio audience:

“He stopped when he reached a man sitting in a wheelchair … Pat … laid hands on him as everyone prayed for healing … at Pat’s urging the man stood up. The people cheered as the man took a couple of very shaky, small steps. While everyone applauded God, I feared the man might fall.

The next day we showed the nation the miracle (on the “700 Club” broadcast). I simply wanted to know if the old man in the wheelchair was permanently healed by God or if he temporarily thought that he was healed.

A few weeks later I had an assistant track down the man’s family in order to see if the cure had lasted. He had died 10 days after his visit to [the Christian Broadcasting Network]. We reported his “healing” but not his death. (James Randi, The Faith Healers, 1989, p.201)

How The 700 Club describes these words:

Q: Your Word of Knowledge on The 700 Club brings healing to so many people. I love to participate in your prayers. Can I learn to receive words of healing from God, too? There are several people in my church who want to bring healing prayers to others. Where do I start?

A: You bet you can get a Word of Knowledge. These gifts are for everyone who believes.

The unique thing about the gifts of the Holy Spirit is they are given freely, and they are given at the point in time of baptism. So don’t go around saying, “I don’t have this gift.” You have it.

What you need to do is start practicing how to use it. So go into the meeting, and when you’re in a group, a prayer meeting, or church meeting, ask God some questions. He’s waiting for you. “You have not, because you ask not.” So ask Him, not for the gift, because He’ll say, “Well, I’ve already given that to you.”

Ask Him, “Who do you want to heal today?” Or “What sickness do you want to heal today?” Or “Do you have a Word for me for this person?” One of my favorite Bible verses is, “Many are your thoughts, O Lord, towards us.” I can’t even number them.

Ask God, “What’s one of your thoughts for this person I’m praying for? What do you think about them? What do you want me to do to encourage them?” And realize it’s encouragement, comfort, and exhortation. It’s not judgment. Judgment isn’t part of that gift. Anyway, there is a whole lot to that. —Bring it on: Sickness and Healing

I have found no evidence of sweet Sheila Walsh (Christian rock/pop star in the 80s and now with various ministries) deliberately setting out to deceive the American public.  In fact, I keep finding bloggers who hate Robertson but loved Sheila.

The Lutheran church (which is not into such terminology as “God laid on my heart,” “such-and-such is on the heart of God” or “God coming into the room,” as written by Don Matzat in the Promise Keepers article noted above) also says that Christ meets us through Word and Sacrament.

It says that any spirit which uses another vehicle (such as a “meditative altered state of consciousness in order to make contact with God”) is from the devil (Don Matzat, paraphrasing Martin Luther, The Intrusion of Psychology into Christian Theology).

For more on the Lutheran view, also see Gifts of the SpiritThe Charismatic Movement and Lutheran Theology Part 1,  and The Charismatic Movement and Lutheran Theology Part 2.

Luther’s Small Catechism states that,

The Scriptures do not teach, however, that God will necessarily give all Christians in every time and place special miraculous gifts.  The Holy Spirit bestows His blessings according to His good pleasure. . . .

In popular English, the word charismatic describes a dynamic person, highly emotional worship, or claims of special miraculous gifts.

But the Greek word charisma means simply ‘gift’ and refers, for example, to Christ’s whole work of salvation (Rom. 5:15-16), to eternal life (Rom. 6:23), and to being married or single (1 Cor. 7:7). –(p. 151-2)

The Orthodox view of the gifts of the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and His Varieties of Gifts by Rev. George Mastrantonis.  The article contrasts the New Testament gift of tongues with the modern Charismatic version.  Quotes:

The gift of the ‘utterance of wisdom’ means the deeper understanding of the Will of God and mysteries of salvation; the ‘utterance of knowledge’ means the good sense of knowledge; ‘faith’ means the supernatural achievements through the Spirit; ‘healing’ means the ability to heal various sicknesses; ‘working of miracles’ means supernatural achievements; ‘prophesy’ means the miracle in the form of preaching; ‘ability to distinguish between spirits’ means being able to distinguish between good and evil spirits by which various spiritual expressions exist; ‘various kinds of tongues’ means the gift of speaking in many dialects of which the meaning is known only to him who speaks them, not even an interpreter; ‘interpretation of tongues’ means the ability to interpret the language of the speaker of ‘tongues’ to the people who do not understand what is being said….

The ‘speaking in tongues’ in the New Testament as described above is far different from the new glossolalia, tongues movement, of today. Although the word, glossolalia, is a term which was lately adopted, in the 19th century, the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is very ancient, as mentioned before.

The difference is that in the past, and especially in the Bible, the speaking in tongues was the speaking of a human foreign language, which could be understood directly or through an interpreter. Glossolalia today has another meaning entirely.

Nor should it be associated with the Pentecostal Church, either. This new movement of glossolalia of today started in 1960 with an Episcopal priest in California. This movement has flourished, but not without opposition.

The point of this movement of glossolalia is that the ‘tongues’ are not human languages, but inarticulated speech. Some claim it is gibberish foolish sounds; others say not.

All agree that from a linguistic point glossolalia is not a human language, for one cannot identify any positive language being spoken, and there is no evidence that the glossolalia contains actual speech.

Despite the claim of the members of this movement, they cannot provide any case to stand up under scientific investigation.

Another good Orthodox article: Speaking in Tongues/Miracles by Fr. John Matusiak.  Quotes:

Concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit and specifically speaking in new tongues, I offer the following observations: While the Orthodox Church does not deny this gift in any way, it does acknowledge that this gift is rarely given, spontaneous, and only evident in cases of need….

If everyone speaks the same language, what is being revealed? If what is uttered is not intelligible to the hearers, what is being communicated?…

If it is a way of showing who in a congregation is filled with the Holy Spirit and who isn’t, it constitutes heresy, for the Holy Spirit is everywhere present and fills all things, including those individuals who have been created in God’s image and likeness yet who reject the very notion. Scripture is very clear that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are never to become sources of personal pride….

With regard to miracles, surely there can be no end to the age of miracles, for God is present everywhere and at all times in the midst of His people. This in itself is a miracle.

If, however, by miracles we are referring only to physical healings, flashing lights, unexplained phenomena, and the like, then we may very well be disappointed. Christ Himself condemned those who continually wished to see signs, or miracles. And Scripture is clear that even those who witnessed miracles with their own eyes often rejected that which they had experienced.

There’s a bunch of information here about charismatic sign gifts, from one Orthodox writer’s point of view (Fr. Seraphim Rose): Charismatic Revival as a Sign of the Times.  (Keep in mind that this is one writer; it is not the “official Orthodox view” to be so scathing of Protestants and Catholics, or of Christian rock.)

It can be said that the Charismatic Movement is actually a rebirth of an old heresy, Montanism–and it has also been said by Charismatics that Montanism was “a revival, not a heresy!”  You be the judge:

History of sect from Pentecostal point of view

Wikipedia description of Montanism

The Pepuzians or the Montanists

Catholic Encyclopedia article on Montanism

An Orthodox Priest’s view of Montanism

This article by Cooper Abrams explains how speaking of tongues, as practiced in charismatic churches, is nothing but gibberish.  It also explains how suggestible people can be in church:

Clearly, some people are more susceptible that others to having a what can be referred to as a psychological experience. For example some people are easily hypnotized and others are not susceptible to suggestion.

Some people are more emotional than others, which means that some can control their emotions in a greater way than others.

A crowd of people can be stimulated or emotionally whipped up. It can be easily observed at rock music concerts, sports events, and rallies of all sorts.

Rhythmic music, singing, and/or chanting can have a great influence on people and strongly effect their emotions. Some preachers preach in a rhythmic style and can captivate their audience.

All these common experiences show that people can be stimulated mentally to act in unusual ways.

I used to know a guy with a deep, sonorous voice which easily charmed me.   He knew how to hypnotize, and also used to be a Foursquare preacher, who was very popular, rising in the ranks, and could have become a famous TV preacher if he wanted to.

But his lifestyle had been full of sin, even in Bible college, and he told me that he faked speaking in tongues for the congregation!  I thought he had since repented, only to find he was probably a sociopath.  This is a real-life example of the danger congregations are in.

Written around 2005/2006

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church