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10/31/2011

THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS

Important Lessons from the Old-Time Methodists

The 18th century Methodist revival changed the course of history and the present generation could learn a thing or two from those old-time Methodists. One thing we can learn from those early Methodists is about their pursuit of sanctification or holiness through consecration. Consecration is the act of giving some thing or one’s self completely over to God with no strings attached. Sanctification, from the Greek word hagios, is the state of the thing or person that has been consecrated and means “to be marked off and set apart for a special purpose.” When we consecrate ourselves to God, He marks us and sets us apart for His special purpose. We, then, must walk and live out that consecration.


The Joy of the Lord & Holiness are Inseparable

The early Methodists were committed to living consecrated lives and they held one another to a high standard. In his Journal dated March 12, 1743, John Wesley tells of visiting a Methodist society and “examining” the members. He then proceeded to expel 64 individuals from the society. They were expelled for various reasons including two for cursing and swearing, three for quarreling and brawling, and one for idleness and laziness. Of special interest is the fact that Wesley expelled twenty-nine for what he called “lightness and carelessness.” In other words, there was no sign of consecration in their lives but, instead, a glaring lack of seriousness about their walk with Christ.


In our day when it is all about love, grace, and being nice and nonjudgmental, we might tend to think that Wesley was being too harsh. But before we become “judgmental” about his actions, let us consider the fruit of the Methodist revival and compare it with the fruit of our own “politically correct, nonjudgmental” approach today.


One might also think that such strictness would produce a dour and stern people, but it was actually the very opposite. The early Methodists were known for their vivacious joy and outsiders often cracked jokes about the “shouting Methodists.” In his Journal, Wesley refers to the joy of the Lord breaking forth in their meetings and he considered holiness and happiness to be inseparable. He believed that when one’s heart was fully fixed on Christ setting aside all other affections, that God’s love would fill the heart, purifying the motives, and bringing forth the fruit of love and joy.


This was what Wesley called sanctification and he believed that God had raised up the Methodists “to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land.” He often quoted Hebrews 12:14, which reads, Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which on one will see the Lord. Sanctification and holiness, by the way, are both from the same Greek word—hagios.


Consecration Brings the Fire of God

As a result of their consecration, the fire of God fell on the early Methodists in a similar way that it fell on Elijah when he repaired the altar of the Lord in his contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (I kings 18:16-39). In the Old Testament, the “altar” is the place of sacrifice, i.e., the place of consecration. It is the place where the thing being consecrated is given over to God.
The people of Israel had, at this time, strayed from their consecration to Jehovah. Ahab the king, through foreign influences, had allowed the worship of foreign gods to mingle with the worship of Jehovah. Our God, however, is a jealous God (Exodus 20:2-5) which means that He is unwilling to share the honor and affection that is due Him with any false gods, including those of the heart --for He and He alone is worthy of our devotion and consecration.


After allowing the 450 prophets of Baal to pray and prophesy for hours without any results, Elijah’s turn came to call on his God. They had agreed that the god that answered by fire would be the God of Israel. Before he prayed, Elijah first repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down (I Kings 18:30). In other words, there was a renewal of consecration to God. No more divided loyalties. No more vacillating between Jehovah and Baal. Jehovah alone would be their God and the sole object of their worship and adoration.


After repairing the altar, Elijah prayed a prayer that took approximately 20 seconds. When there is true consecration, long prayers are not always necessary. When Elijah finished his brief prayer, the fire of God fell and consumed the sacrifice on the altar and licked up the water that was in the trench around the altar. The people fell on their faces crying out, The LORD He is God! The LORD He is God!


The Early Methodists Repaired the Altar of the Lord

One could say that the early Methodists repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down in their generation. The Methodist revival began with about seventy individuals, who had consecrated themselves to God, meeting together for an all-night prayer meeting to usher in the New Year of 1739. In his Journal dated January 1, 1739, Wesley described the fire of God that fell in that meeting. He wrote,


At about three in the morning as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from the awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”


These Methodist leaders began to call the people to a complete consecration to Christ. They taught the people that they must not love the world (I John 2:15) and when Wesley was asked to define the world, he replied, “Anything that cools my relationship with Christ is the world.” They discouraged their followers from attending frivolous entertainments and to give themselves, instead, to prayer, to the study of the word and other good literature, to encouraging and admonishing fellow believers, and to social outreaches to prisoners and the poor. God confirmed their message and a mighty revival burned like an inferno through the British Isles.


Because of the high standard of their walk the early Methodists became salt in their generation as Jesus had said in Matthew 5:13, You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again. It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by men.


Salt seasons and impacts everything it touches and will even stop the spoilage of fresh foods and meats. Although they were a small minority in British society, the Methodists seasoned their society. Many historians insist that it was the moral influence of the Methodist revival on British society that saved England from societal chaos and a bloody revolution such as took place in neighboring France. They were truly salt in their generation.


What About Our Generation?

Is it possible that the present generation could benefit by a recovery of truths about consecration and sanctification? Is it possible that the altar of the Lord is in need of repair in our day? Is it possible that idols of the heart have captured our affections and cooled our relationship with Christ? My answer to each question is “yes.” And I pray that God will raise up a generation of believers that will repair the altar of the Lord that we may see the fire of God fall once again and a generation impacted for God.

10/15/2011

5 WARNING SIGNS THAT PROPHETIC MINISTRY HAS GONE AWRY

Lessons from a 16th Century Revival-Prophetic Movement

Prophetic ministry has great potential for blessing and building up the people of God. But when abused and misused, it has the same potential to trouble and destroy. In order to derive the greatest benefit from prophetic ministry, we need both the guidelines of Scripture and the lessons of history to point the way.

The following information is drawn from a document written around 1560 by Obe Philips, a leader in the 16th century Anabaptist movement that sought the restoration of New Testament Christianity. Philips was commissioned as an “apostle” in this movement and he commissioned others to this “office.” The document, entitled “Confessions,” describes events in Europe in the 1530s. From this document I have delineated 5 warning signs from their experience that can help us avoid the tragic mistakes that produced such great suffering and distress for them.


Warning Sign #1
When prophecy is used to enhance the status of a movement and its leaders

1517-1537 was a very exciting time for many Christians in Europe. A great spiritual reformation was under way and many believed that God was restoring the church to its original purity and power. Many believed that out of this restoration would come a great revival and harvest that would usher in the coming of the Lord and the end of the age.
In the midst of this end-time, revival atmosphere, individuals began to arise proclaiming themselves to be special end-time apostles and prophets endowed by God with miraculous power to usher in His kingdom upon the earth.


One of the most prominent of these “apostles” was Melchoir Hoffman, a powerful preacher and teacher who gained a large following. His status was further enhanced when a prophetess saw in a vision a large white swan, larger and more beautiful than all the others, swimming in a beautiful river. She said it was revealed to her that the swan was Hoffman and that he represented the fulfillment of God’s promise in Mal. 4:5 to send Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.


Warning Sign #2
When prophecy becomes the primary means for determining the will of God

Another individual prophesied that Hoffman would be imprisoned for six months in the city of Strasbourg and, after that, his ministry would spread over the whole world. Based on the prophecy, Hoffman moved to Strasbourg where he began to preach and teach throughout that city.

The first part of the prophecy was fulfilled when the Strasbourg authorities arrested Hoffman and had him imprisoned. Philips says that he entered the prison “willingly, cheerfully, and well comforted,” convinced that the latter part of the prophecy would now soon come to pass.
While in prison, Hoffman wrote many letters which Philips says came every day describing “how his actions, his visions and revelations affected him.” One individual prophesied that at the end of his six month imprisonment, Hoffman would depart Strasbourg with 144,000 true apostles endowed with such miraculous power that no one would be able to resist them. Elated with such prophetic predictions, Hoffman vowed that he would take no food other than bread and water until the time of his deliverance.


Six months passed, however, and he was not released. More time elapsed and he found it necessary to break his fast. Hoffman eventually died in prison, a very disillusioned man. Philips says,

Everything that he so boldly professed from the prophets and prophetesses, he, in the end, found it all falsehood and deception, in fact and in truth; and he was so deceived with all their visions, prophecies, commission, dreams, and Elijah role that my heart today feels pity for his on account of this distress of his soul. (Philips, 221).


Warning Sign #3
When prophecy is preoccupied with images, numbers, and symbols

Prophetic dreams and visions flourished in this movement. These dreams and visions predicted many remarkable things related to the establishing of God’s kingdom and the destruction of the wicked. Much of this information was given in symbolic form which had to be interpreted by those who were “spiritual.” Philips says,

One came dragging a wagon without wheels, another wagon had three wheels, one wagon had no shaft, some no horses, some no recognizable driver, some had but one leg, some were lepers and beggars, some wore a tunic or a cloak with a lappet of fur. All this they could interpret for the brethren in a spiritual sense (Philips, 211-212).


These prophecies, dreams and visions predicted remarkable successes for the people of God, including a super-empowerment of the Spirit by which they would be enabled to overcome the wicked and establish the kingdom of God in the earth. In his very moving account of these matters, Philips says,

Now when these teachings and consolation with all the fantasies, dreams, revelations and visions daily occurred among the brethren, there was no little joy and expectation among us, hoping all would be true and fulfilled, for we were all unsuspecting, innocent, simple, without guile or cunning, and were not aware of any false visions, prophets, and revelations. (Philips, 213).


Warning Sign #4
When those prophesying are not open to testing and/or correction

During this time, two new apostles arrived in Philips’ home town of Leeuwarden. They declared that they had been commissioned to the apostolic office with such signs, miracles and workings of the Spirit that words failed them to describe it. They also declared that, “In a short time God would rid the earth of all shedders of blood and all tyrants and the godless” (Philips, 216).

Philips says that they frightened the people so that no one dared speak against them for fear they would be speaking against the commission and ordination of God. “For we were all guileless children and had no idea that our own brethren would betray us” (Philips, 216).


Sign #5
When prophecy becomes a replacement for the Scriptures and common sense

The tragic end of this prophetic movement came when, based on dreams, visions, prophecies, and supposed angelic visitations, a number of these visionaries claimed that God had designated the city of Munster as the New Jerusalem and from there the kingdom of God would spread through all the earth. Philips says, “Some had spoken with God, others with angels—until they got a new trek under way to Munster.” Based on the prophecies and supposed visions, they went to Munster and took the city by force from the Catholics who controlled it and renamed it New Jerusalem.

The Catholics, however, quickly regrouped and regained control of the city. They wasted no time in inflicting a terrible slaughter on those apostles, prophets and their followers who believed they were setting up the kingdom of God on the earth.

This whole fiasco resulted in widespread persecution of all Anabaptists who were hunted down, imprisoned, hanged, burned, and drowned. Philips later lamented his role in the extremes of this movement. He wrote,

It is this which is utter grief to my heart and which I will lament before my God as long as I live, before all my companions, as often as I think of them. At the time that I took leave of those brethren, I had warned Menno and Dietrich and declared my [apostolic] commission unlawful and that I was therein deceived. I thank the gracious and merciful God who opened my eyes, humbled my soul, transformed my heart, captured my spirit, and who gave me to know my sins. And when I still think of the resigned suffering which occurred among the brethren, my soul is troubled and terrified before it.


Conclusion

This 16th century prophetic movement highlights the need to “test the spirits” and to “judge” prophetic utterances according to the Scriptures. For the most part, these were sincere, seeking people who suffered much pain, grief and even death because they neglected this Biblical admonition. May we learn from their example and not repeat their mistakes.


This article is also been derived Eddie’s book, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity.

10/03/2011

5 REASONS I DO NOT PRACTICE CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER

I value quietness and solitude. In fact, it was in such a setting that I received the inspiration and direction for this article. One morning this past week I found myself wide awake at 3 a.m. Not wanting to keep Sue awake, I went downstairs and sat in a chair where, in the stillness and quietness, I thought about God and His goodness and faithfulness. At times I would voice quiet words of praise and thanksgiving as I thought on His greatness and kindness. As needs and concerns came to mind, I would present these in prayer. It was a wonderful, refreshing time. Sometime, during those quiet hours of fellowship with God, the title and layout for this article was presented to my mind.

Please do not confuse my “quiet time” with contemplative prayer. There is a world of difference. Contemplative prayer, emphasizing "silence," has roots that go back to the mystics of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. The mystics were, in turn, profoundly influenced by Neo-Platonism, a pagan, mystical religion founded by Plotinus, a disciple of Plato. Although the word “contemplative” is, by itself, a positive word meaning “thoughtful” and “reflective,” contemplative prayer as taught by the mystics is entirely out of sync with what we know of Jesus and early Christianity. I am convinced that it is a hindrance rather than a help in nurturing a relationship with God.

Here are the reasons I do not practice contemplative prayer.

Reason #1
Contemplative prayer is rooted in a non-Christian concept of God

Contemplative prayer is rooted in the pagan idea of a supreme being who is impassible, i.e., one who is unmoved by human experiences of joy, sadness, or suffering. This is because he is absolutely “other than” and “separate from” this realm of physical and human existence. In fact, the ancient Greeks—particularly the Neo-Platonists and the Gnostics--theorized that from this One supreme being there had issued forth a series of lower beings resulting in a hierarchy of celestial beings. They believed that it was one of these lower (and evil) heavenly beings that had created the earth and its inhabitants. The Neo-Platonists sought for a way to ascend through this hierarchy of celestial beings and be united with the ultimate god whom they called “the One.”

Because “the One” existed in a realm absolutely “other than” this earthly realm, human reason and language were deemed inadequate for understanding or communicating with him. In fact, “the One” could not be known by human beings, but could only be experienced in a mystical encounter facilitated by a form of spiritual prayer characterized by silence and a mind emptied of any rational thoughts about deity. This form of prayer was called “contemplation” or “contemplative prayer.” If one was unable to clear his/her mind of rational thoughts, a “mantra” or “prayer” might be repeated over and over to help them center their thoughts on the task at hand—a mystical union or encounter with “the One.”

This concept of God and the form of prayer associated with it, found its way into the church of the Middle Ages, particularly through the writings of a Syrian monk who was obviously influenced by Neo-Platonism. One book he wrote was called On the Heavenly Hierarchy where, in Neo-Platonic fashion, he examined and classified the various heavenly beings in ranks of three with each having three subdivisions—seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, archangels, angels, etc. According to this writer these constituted an ascending ladder or hierarchy of celestial beings leading to the throne of God. He also advocated a form of mystical/contemplative prayer by which one could ascend through this celestial hierarchy and be united with God.

The writings of this monk, who falsely claimed to be Dionysius, Paul’s convert in Athens (Acts 17:34), became foundational for the mystical movement in the medieval church. This false Dionysius was quoted by bishops and some of the most famous theologians of the medieval church, including Thomas Aquinas. As a result, spiritual experiences and revelations through contemplation were exalted and valued while the Scriptures were often ignored and, at times, even banned by the institutional church.

As a result of the writings by this anonymous monk, the Neo-Platonic form of prayer—contemplative prayer--became the prayer of choice, especially in the monastery and the convent. Paul was interpreted through the lens of this False Dionysius and, as Dr. Justo Gonzalez says, “Paul’s entire life was viewed as a process of mystical ascension, and his letters were considered to be guides in that process.”

Scholars in the 16th century began questioning the authenticity of these works and today both Catholic and Protestant scholars recognize the claim of the author as false. The 16th century Reformers also rejected all notions of a mystical ascension to God through contemplative prayer. They considered it a counterpart to the erroneous idea that one can be justified before God on the basis of their own works.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because it is a form of prayer rooted in a pagan, non-Christian concept of God.


Reason #2
Contemplative prayer is based on the erroneous assumption that
rational thoughts and words are of little value when it comes to prayer

Contemplative prayer is rooted in the pagan idea that human thought and language is inadequate for communicating with God. One must, therefore, find God in silence; or as one mystic put it, “The quiet dark in which all who love God lose themselves.” For those committed to this approach, it is forms, techniques, and postures of prayer, breathing, and meditation that are important. These techniques help facilitate the contemplation and silence that will lead to an encounter or union with God. One striking example is that of Gregory Palamas, a 13th century monk who stressed quietness and stillness in the pursuit of a mystical union with God. As an aid to concentration, he recommended that the chin rest on the chest, with the eyes fixed on the navel.

The God of the Bible is so different from the contemplative approach. There is no demeaning of human thought and language as a means of communicating with God. In the Old Testament, God communicates His message again and again to the people in their language through the prophets. It is obvious that He expects the people to communicate with Him in their own language. Through the prophet Isaiah He invites his people to, Come now and let us reason together. (Isaiah 1:18). He also exhorts them to present your case and set forth your arguments (Isaiah 41:21).

It is obvious that God wants His people to interact with Him and know Him in a real and personal way. Through the prophet Jeremiah He declared, Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength . . . but let him who boasts boast about this that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.

In the New Testament, this truth is even more pronounced. When the disciples, in Luke 11:1-4, ask Jesus to teach us to pray, He does not respond by teaching them techniques and postures for prayer and meditation. Nor does he call them apart into silence and contemplation. Instead, He says to them, When you pray, say, “Our father who art in heaven . . ..” Jesus thus teaches them to express themselves audibly to God in prayer. For Jesus, prayer is relational and is characterized by intelligent conversation with a personal God.

In both the Old and New Testaments there are countless passages that tell us that God “hears” the prayers of His people. Take for example I Peter 3:12 that says, For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. But in contemplative prayer there is no rational, audible prayer for God to “hear.”

I do not practice contemplative prayer because words matter and God “hears” the prayers of His people.


Reason #3
The goal of contemplative prayer is to have a mystical, spiritual experience, not to know the God of Scripture and nurture an obedient relationship with Him.

Contemplative prayer tends to turn its practitioners inward upon themselves. It is no coincidence that contemplative prayer has historically been primarily associated with life in the cloister. This is because the nature of contemplative prayer requires a separation from others and a preoccupation with one’s own experience and self—a staring at one’s navel.

This is so different from the New Testament where Jesus promises His followers a baptism in the Spirit that will empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We do not find Peter, Paul, and other New Testament believers withdrawing into solitude to seek some sort of mystical experience with God. They knew that God was continually with them, and in them, and they boldly engaged their world in that confidence.

Our goal in prayer should never be to have a spiritual experience. That is a self-serving approach. My wife Susan tells about learning this important lesson shortly after she was baptized in the Holy Spirit. As she was experiencing God’s power in new and fresh ways, she experimented with raising her hands and other expressions that seemed to bring an added sense of God’s presence. Suddenly she heard the heard the Holy Spirit speak in her heart, “Do not seek an experience. Seek Me!” Yes, we may have spiritual experiences in prayer but that is never to be our goal.

It is so interesting to note that those caught up in having a mystical encounter through contemplative prayer often neglect the Scriptures` because they tend to place too much value in their own mystical experiences. Hans Kung, the most widely read Roman Catholic theologian in the world today, addressed this problem among the mystics of the Roman Catholic Church; but his assessment also fits many in the charismatic and prophetic movements today. He wrote,

These new revelations not only overshadowed the Bible and the Gospel, but also Him whom the Gospel proclaims and to whom the Bible bears witness. It is striking how rarely Christ appeared in all these 'revelations,' 'apparitions,' and 'wonders.' Catholics who followed in the wake of every new 'revelation,' which often turned out to be fantasy or deceit, and indulged their desire for sensation by looking for the latest reports of miracles—and yet who had never once in their whole lives read the Scriptures from cover to cover.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because its goal of a mystical union with God is not Biblical; and because it tends to lead people into a trust of their own spiritual revelations more than in the revelation of Jesus found in Scripture.


Reason #4
Jesus did not practice or teach contemplative prayer.

Jesus does not advocate any form of mystical prayer. He does not teach any postures or techniques for prayer and meditation. Neither is there any mention of silence or contemplation. Instead, He emphasizes a relational approach to God in which prayer is simple conversation with a loving, benevolent Being whom He calls Abba, an endearing term used only by children for the father in the Jewish household.

For Jesus, oneness with God is not a mystical union of one’s being with God, but a practical oneness of will and purpose. Not My will but Thine be done, Jesus prayed, showing that, in His incarnate state, union with God consisted of a submission of His will to the will of the Father. I cannot imagine Jesus and His disciples all sitting in the lotus position with their eyes closed seeking to go into a place of silence and contemplation where they will ascend heavenward into a mystical encounter God. Such a picture is completely contrary to what we know of Jesus from the Gospels. Jesus believed that God was continually with Him and He moved and acted in that confidence.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because Jesus did not practice it, nor did He teach it to others.


Reason #5
The early church did not practice or teach contemplative prayer.

The early church followed in the footsteps of Jesus and prayed dynamic, relational prayers in which they recognized God’s majesty and greatness, and asked for His help in the urgencies of their lives. (see, for example, Acts 4:23-31). The miracles they experienced (healings, angelic deliverances, etc.) occurred, not in a state of mystical, contemplative prayer, but while they were going about the business of obeying Christ’s command to take the Gospel to the whole world.

The group prayer recorded in Acts 4:23-31 shows no connotations of contemplative prayer. Instead of silence and contemplation, Luke says, They raised their voice to God with one accord and said . . .. In their loud and vocal prayer they acknowledge the greatness of God, they remind Him of His promises, and they present their present need. God is obviously pleased with their prayer for when they had prayed, The place where they were assembled together was shaken and they were all filled with Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).

There are many recorded prayers in the New Testament expressed by Jesus, Paul, and others. These prayers are all vocal, expressed to a God that they assume is personal and hears their spoken prayers.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because the early church did not practice it nor did they teach it to others.