How Biblical Are the Critics of Pentecostalism?

November 15, 2013
Author Article News Opinion Pentecostalism

I try my best not to get into Facebook discussions on other people's posts. It's not a good practice. But I forget myself occasionally, and put my two penn'orth in. the effects can sometimes be instructive.

I noticed one discussion, in which some cessationists were (rightly) criticizing a video illustrating charismatic excess to the max. I would have happily agreed with their condemnation of the heretical activities. But I realized as I read the comments that the opposition to what was in the video was not on Scriptural grounds, but rather on the grounds that this is what all crazy charismatics are like, okay?

So I did place a comment. Persons 2 & 3 in the discussion are completely reasonable and biblically minded, though I obviously disagree with their cessationism. It is the comments of Person 1 that are so instructive.

PT: Giving examples that we would agree are sinful and heretical does not constitute a rational argument.

Person 1: One video of this garbage is one more video than has been provided of charismatics actually performing a miracle. Just saying.

Person 2: Would you agree that such does not represent a fringe minority? The typical response when these things are exposed.

PT: Person 2, aberrant versions of theology are widespread. Charismatic heresies are very widespread. You will be very aware from your interests on your blog – particularly your former antipathy to the ministry that I represent – that a very large proportion of cessationists are in the KJV-Only camp. Of course, I am not attempting to prove anything by that juxtaposition, other than pointing out the dangers of juxtapositions. My experience – for what it is worth – is that criticisms of charismatic excesses and heresies have always been most effective from biblical charismatics. For instance, in the days when I used to be a cessationist, I came across the Toronto Blessing nonsense. But the criticisms from my own church at the time were just dismissive, without engaging with Scriptural arguments. But I was finally impressed about their errors, when I heard a detailed biblical criticism of the “blessing” from a local Pentecostal pastor.

Person 1: Someone needed a Scriptural argument to refute the Toronto Blessing?

PT: Well, don't know about you, Person 1, but I always use the Bible for my arguments. Which book do you use?

Person 1: Anyone with an ounce of common sense could have looked at the Toronto Cursing and known immediately that what was happening was not a work of God. Unbelievers the world over could have spotted that. No Bible necessary for that one.

PT: I am amazed that you consider the Bible is not necessary for your arguments. There is no authority in common sense. Common sense would tell you that a man cannot walk on water, but I believe that Jesus did, because the Bible tells me so.

Person 3: 1 Corinthians 14:33 doesn't work for you?

PT: 1 Corinthians 14:33 would indeed be a very appropriate reference for opposing the Toronto blessing.

Person 1: Paul, not every situation needs a Biblical argument. For instance, even an unbeliever can spot a charlatan on TBN.

[Editing note – Note the bad manners here. I have never met this person, nor corresponded with him, but he feels he has the right to refer to me by my first name! When I looked at his FB profile, I noted that he is considerably younger than me, yet, because he is on Facebook, he obviously feels that he has the right to address me without respect]

PT: Young man, I am amazed at your contempt for the Bible. I counsel you that you should always be using the Bible. Even Jesus confronted the devil's “obvious” arguments with “It is written…”

Person 1: Paul, do you use the Bible when getting dressed in the morning? Making breakfast? Brushing your teeth?

PT: Sir, I think you have probably understood my point, despite your last irrelevant comment. I have nothing further to add.

Person 1: Paul, you may want to think twice before accusing someone of having contempt for the Bible. Bad form.

[Editing note – I wrote 3 replies to that comment, and deleted them all. There usually comes a point in FB discussions of this sort, where we reach the “pearls before swine” stage. There would be nothing to gain if I had replied to the comment]

Person 2: I understand and appreciate Paul's point with Person 1, however, I would note that Paul did warn the Corinthians that those who were not practicing the gift of tongues were in danger of giving the outside world the impression they were nuts. (1 Corinthians 14:23). None of those folks does the apostle Paul suggest they had a Bible to determine that. They just witnessed the behavior.

I would further add that the ravings that took place at the Toronto Cursing were not limited to or indicative of only that group. Two of my aunts, both now with the Lord, had friends in Arkansas who joined holiness Pentecostal churches. That was back in the 50s, and my aunts, being pressured to attend with their friends, refused to do so because at the services were they had attended the antics of barking like animals, rolling on the floor, knocking people over during the “slaying service” frightened them to no end and they hightailed it out of there. They, of course were accused of opposing God and running from the work of His spirit. All of that to say is Pentecostals are called “holy rollers” for a reason.

torn webshot

I also considered replying to Person 2's comment, as his reasonable point and experience deserved comment – but I decided not to do so, as it might further inflame Person 1 for no good reason. However, I know that Person 2 reads this blog, as I do his, so I think it is worth commenting here. I don't make my blog very open to comments,as I see little value in so doing, but I would be happy to publish comments from Person 2 in reply to this point.


I guess that Paul telling the Corinthians they might be considered “nuts” is an acceptable translation of 1 Corinthians 14:23. However, there are occasions when normal Christian behavior is perceived of as being “nuts” by the outside world (1 Cor 1:23). That is why I insist on being pedantic on this point – you need to refer to Scripture in order to criticize something.

However, Person 2 is correct that 1 Cor 14:23 is a rebuke to the Corinthians for their practice. The rebuke concerns the fact that they are all speaking in tongues at once, and not that they are speaking in tongues. In v27, Paul explains how this could be done in a more orderly way, with just 2 or 3 speaking. I suspect this should not just apply to tongue-speaking. It could also apply in some non-charismatic Presbyterian churches I have attended, where everyone is instructed to pray out loud at the same time.

Person 2 is also correct that the errors of Toronto were not confined to Toronto. I have never been to Toronto, but I saw a lot of those practices all over the place in Britain. Yes, it is true – the majority of charismatic churches seem to have taken on such practices uncritically. Where in the Bible are we instructed to bark like dogs, or roll around on the floor laughing hysterically? You will not get me defending such practices. For the record, I do not expect Calvinists to have to defend the fact that the overwhelming majority of Presbyterian churches today are as liberal as liberal can be. That was particularly true in the United Kingdom, but I see it here in America also. Those of you who faithfully hold the Doctrines of Grace today are not responsible for the fact that churches which claim the same heritage no longer preach the Gospel, and I would be foolish indeed if I attempted to make an argument against Calvinism which started with the very liberal state of the PCA (or is it PCUSA? I can never remember which one's good and which one's liberal – sorry if I got that wrong).

Of course, being “slain in the Spirit” IS biblical!! It happened to Ananias and Sapphira. If my fellow charismatics really want to be “slain in the Spirit”, all they have to do is lie to the Holy Spirit, and there is a danger that it might happen to them.

I think that the comment about Pentecostals being called “holy rollers” is beneath you, Person 2. I have heard cessationist churches described as being characterized by “deep joy” – a joy so deep that no one can actually see it. But it would be wrong if I responded on this blog by making such a comment! Woops – oh, well, I guess some of us penties ARE holy rollers – but at least we are holy!

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