Rev. Laning is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
We ended our last article by asking why Christ told His disciples, who had already received not only the sacrament of baptism but also the spiritual baptism to which it pointed, that they could not go forth preaching the gospel to the nations until they had received the baptism in the Spirit, and were thus endowed with power from on high. Evidently there was a sense in which they had already been baptized, and a sense in which they had to wait until they were baptized. How is this to be explained?
The explanation for this is to be found in the fact that the church at this time was going through the transition of Pentecost. At Pentecost, Christ poured out His Spirit upon His church, so that God’s people experienced the blessings of salvation to a much greater degree than they had before. This change took place after Christ was exalted to the right hand of the Father and received from the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). Christ then proceeded to pour out this Spirit upon His body, the church. When God’s people were thus filled with the Spirit, they received the additional grace they needed to proclaim the gospel of sovereign grace to the different nations of the world.
Although there was a sense in which the disciples had already been baptized prior to Pentecost, it was at Pentecost that they experienced this baptism to a much greater degree. This baptism caused them to experience more the sanctifying power of the Spirit that cleansed them more from sin and gave them a deeper knowledge into the truths of Scripture. This was precisely what they needed in order to perform the work Christ had given them to do.
What draws many to the Charismatic movement is the “power” they claim to possess. The first baptism, they say, merely brings one into Christ. But the second baptism gives one power to perform amazing things. This was referred to in the previous article. This power is said to manifest itself, first of all, in their being able to speak with tongues, a gift which they say always accompanies the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Some of these people also claim to have the power to perform miracles. This is no surprise, for the external signs of speaking in tongues and performing of miracles go together. They are referred to together in Mark 16:17, 18.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Scripture makes clear that the signs and wonders performed by Christ and the apostles ended when the Scriptures had been completed. These miracles are referred to as “signs of an apostle” in II Corinthians 12:12. Signs of an apostle were obviously performed only during the days of the apostles.
When we consider the purpose of these signs, we can understand why these signs ended once the Scriptures were completed. These signs accompanied new divine revelation and served to confirm that word, taking away any doubt that the word which was spoken was really the word of God.
We see this already in the days of Moses. When God gave Moses a message to deliver to the people, Moses expressed doubt that the people would believe that God had really spoken to him. Then God gave Moses some miracles that he would be able to perform before his brethren, signs which would confirm that the word he had spoken was really the word of God.
The signs performed in the days of the new dispensation had the same purpose, namely, to confirm the word of God. We read of this in Mark 16:19, 20.
So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
New revelation was being brought, and signs were being performed to confirm this new revelation. But now that this period of new revelation has come to a close, these confirming signs have also ceased.
The one who is working among the Charismatics is none other than the devil, who has been given power to perform lying signs and wonders, to deceive those who have pleasure in unrighteousness. We read in the Scriptures that in the last days there will indeed be some performing signs and wonders. But these signs and wonders will be signs and wonders of the lie, performed by those under the dominion of the devil. II Thessalonians 2:9-12 speaks of this when setting forth the work of the coming Antichrist.
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Similarly, Revelation 13:13 says that the antichristian church will do “great wonders” in front of the ungodly world.
The devil is bringing another gospel today, and he is trying to confirm that lie by these “signs and wonders of the lie.” This, however, is taking place under the sovereign control of God, who governs even the forces of evil. God is making use of these lying signs and wonders. They belong to the strong delusion He is sending against all those who do not love the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.
The power working among the Charismatics is impersonal and devilish. It does not bring the people into a personal, intimate communion with God. It is a devilish force that directs and controls people, so that they are more and more in bondage to sin.
This stands in direct contrast with the work of the Holy Spirit. When the disciples of Christ were filled with the Holy Spirit, they were brought much closer to God, so that Peter, for example, could now clearly explain how the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of the suffering and exaltation of Christ. The power of the Charismatics, however, is not a power that causes them to grow in their knowledge of God, so that they willingly serve Him. Rather, the power of which they speak leads them to teach all sorts of false doctrines, causes them to babble incoherently, and sometimes makes them fall over backwards. This is clearly not the power that brings one into a deeper understanding of the Word of God. It is a power that appeals to the sinful flesh, and gives one the feeling of being taken over by a power from outside of him.
Thus this power of which the Charismatics speak can rightly be called a force. It is something they give themselves over to, so that it controls them and keeps them in bondage. They babble without knowing what they are saying, unless someone is there to “interpret” the message. Some of them say that the language they speak is a real foreign language that is unknown to them, while others say it is a heavenly language unknown to anyone on this earth. But, either way, they are involved in an activity in which there is no growth in the conscious knowledge and covenant fellowship with God. All emphasis is placed on the experience of having a power come over them and take control of them.
The power of which Christ spoke is the Holy Spirit Himself. In Article VIII of the Belgic Confession, the Holy Spirit is called the eternal power and might of God. This power is actually a person; He is the third person of the holy Trinity. It is this person who is the power that brings us into the personal, intimate friendship that is called the covenant of God.
This power from on high always works with the Word, guiding us into the truth of that Word. He guides us into Christ by guiding us into the truth, for Christ is the truth. Therefore, the churches where this Spirit is found are churches where there is great emphasis placed upon growing in the knowledge of the truth. And because this Spirit has been guiding the church into the truth from generation to generation, Spirit-filled churches also have sound, biblical creeds that the Spirit has guided them to write.
When the disciples were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, Peter stood up and preached a sermon that indicated that he now had a much deeper understanding of how the Scriptures all speak of Christ and His work. Similarly today, the more we pray for the filling of the Spirit, the more we receive that Spirit, who causes us to grow in our love of the truth and to be able to preach that truth with boldness.
This is what the church needs in order to preach God’s Word to the nations. In every nation the church has to battle against many lies. The church needs the power of the Spirit to sanctify her and tocause her to grow in faith, so that she is prepared to battle these errors with Scripture.
By God’s grace we continue to receive this Spirit, this baptism. It is in this way that we are prepared to proclaim the gospel of grace to the nations, so that every nation may embrace this truth, and proclaim it in their own language, to the glory of God.