I have been working on a book about my journey out of charismania. While other excellent books like Wandering Stars deal with the doctrines and practices of these self-appointed prophets and apostles, my book has a different focus. It is my story, and I am telling it to expose the mindsets and heart attitudes that land a believer in the devil’s prison, and the journey of repentance that opens the prison door.
Below is a sample chapter.
Blind, Deaf, and Confident
He said to me, “Mixture.” Though the implications of that word were ominous, hearing it brought instantaneous freedom to the tension in my heart. It was simply the understanding that evil lying spirits from the enemy could be at work in the church and in meetings at the same time, in the same place as true believers were seeking God and experiencing the authentic activity of the Holy Spirit. It was only the beginning of the years of searching scripture and seeking the pure gospel that would follow, but at the time it set me free. I didn’t even know that I was longing to be free of the load of confusion I was bearing about the Lord. Now the fog was beginning to lift!
The memory of feeling physically ill in the midst of the chaos and cacophony of a Toronto Blessing renewal meeting had been for years unresolved and quietly haunting me. The thought I had at the time was this: “If this is God, why do I feel sick? Do I hate the Holy Spirit?” Now, I understood, “It wasn’t the Lord! It wasn’t His presence that made me ill! I don’t hate the Holy Spirit! It is evil that I hate!” That shame and fear that had dogged me and restrained my faith lifted. My hunger for the Lord leaped forward, unrestrained. I could trust Him, with my whole heart!
Maybe He wasn’t the God who throws people on the floor and makes them act like animals! Maybe He wasn’t a God who takes broken, insecure young women and causes them to degrade themselves with howling noises and weird manifestations on a stage! Maybe He wasn’t a God who urged young men to dance like maidens in worship, to suppress their souls to produce more and more effeminate expressions of desire for God. Maybe He wasn’t crazy, nonsensical, and unpredictable, or to reference the more spiritualized terms used to explain away these inconsistencies, “mysterious” and “unsearchable.” Maybe He was straightforward, trustworthy, and pure. Of course, I would have always said that He was pure, but how do you reconcile a pure God with what was becoming my Christian experience? By then, I had begun to hear the stories of the leaders who had fallen into immorality, and I had my own friends’ lifestyles witnessing to me of the putrid “grace” offered in these streams.
How to explain the cognitive dissonance in one’s soul when so deceived? The Scriptures command us to walk in self-control, but I believed “God” throws me on the floor to writhe in public. The New Testament epistles speak often of dignity, but “God” causes me to weep uncontrollably, shake, and make strange noises. The Scripture says that no sexually immoral person will inherit the kingdom, but sexually immoral people are the heralds, the prophets, and the leaders of these movements! The Scriptures say that those who love Jesus will obey His commands, but “God” asks me to cry out, shout out, sing and dance wildly to express my love for Him, always pressing for something more grandiose, corporately and individually. The Scriptures say that for those who believe rivers of Living Water will come out of their bellies, but “God” makes me search the land to chase the moving fountains: now it’s Canada, now it’s Florida, now it’s California… The Scriptures say that God binds up the broken-hearted, but “God” makes His people come again and again for touches that open wounds that don’t ever seem to fully close! The Scriptures say, “Today is the day of salvation,” but “God” makes His weary servants wait until He decides to finally come with a visitation of His Spirit…always waiting and waiting and waiting, and no visitation ever fulfills all the prophecies of the “glory” that is coming. All my leadership, all my teachers, all my pastors (until that point) would not resolve these inconsistencies in the character of the God of the Bible, who says He is a Rock, never-changing, everlasting. From the stage, they said, “Don’t put God in a box.”
But in my heart of hearts, I was LONGING for the true God. I wanted Him to be pure, I wanted to know that He has no tolerance of sin and “in Him is no darkness at all,” and I wanted to know that He would restore and dignify me instead of degrading me further and further, maybe even on a stage (if you’re “really anointed”). In my deepest soul, in my regenerated spirit, I wanted to know that the God of the Bible is exactly who He says He is, and all His promises are true. Hearing the word “mixture” from a godly man, someone who was absolutely sure of God’s character as presented by Scripture and was bearing undeniably good, biblical fruit was the beginning of being helped out of my swirling torrent of confusion onto the solid Rock of legitimate faith. He could have said far harsher things to me than the word “mixture,” but it was enough for me at the time. I would need time and sanctification before I could face how dark my deceptions had really been and how deep they had gone.
Complete deliverance could not be had in an instant. The years of fragmented thinking and dissonant theology, experience that defies doctrine though you’re told it doesn’t: it took a toll on my mind, as it is taking a toll on many others. To embrace what I had embraced in Toronto, at IHOP, and in other prophetic streams, I had to leave behind “sound thinking,” and embrace confusion. And I could not really come out into the safety of truth until I was ready to confess and repent for how completely I had done just that. Because it was not merely an issue of lack of information or mistakes in doctrine. Deception never is. It was an issue of the heart.
You would think that such confusion would lend itself to searching, questioning, listening to the voices of others. You would think that the presence of such strong, deep fear as I had experienced would leave me hungry for answers, reading books, researching the thoughts and views of effective men of God, and above all devouring the scriptures. You would think it would produce some overarching humility, some sense of need. But it didn’t. Though that longing for truth was deep inside my spirit and won skirmishes here and there, it was obscured in actual conversation and interaction by a pride that like leaven seemed to multiply exponentially with every day in deception.
You would think that I and others would ask simple things like, “Hey, this doesn’t make any sense! Can someone show me where this is in the Bible?” It seems so obvious to look around IHOP’s prayer room and ask, “Hey, why are these kids so depressed if they are the super-anointed forerunners?” Or, “The Bible says that God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but these people might as well have the word tattooed on their foreheads! What’s up with that?” Or in Toronto, “If people are being encountered so strongly by the Holy Spirit that they can’t control their body, why are they not more holy afterwards?” Or, “Hey, I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and my life is actually way worse than before. Doesn’t God say He came to give abundant life?” Simple, obvious stuff.
These are the kinds of questions people ask from the outside. But to ask questions about what you’re IN, requires honesty. And honesty requires humility. Humility that would say, “I have read my Bible for hours every day, and still have no original revelation. I basically parrot everything that I have been told, and try to minister to others out of my notes.” Or, “I believe that I hear from the Spirit of God all day, even about things like what pants I should wear and the bird that flew overhead. But I don’t have enough wisdom to get a decent job. That doesn’t add up.” Or, “I sing and dance before God several times a week because I am so in love with His presence. But I am so beset by fear and anxiety that I have stomach problems.” Or, “I teach classes in a Bible school, but my wife can’t stand me. Does true righteousness drive your wife crazy?” Or, “I have a four year degree in being an apostolic messenger of the end-times, but I have not ever made one disciple.” Or, “I am from Nebraska, but when I pray I have a British accent. What is wrong with me???” Again, it’s not that the problems aren’t more than abundantly obvious. It’s that pride makes us unable to see them.
Looking back at myself in the midst of it, I literally could not think straight, as if my mind were in a vice grip. As I said, it never occurred to me, even when I was sick to my stomach, that the manifestations I was witnessing were those of a different spirit. Adding to the confusion was the fact that I was frequently experiencing the real work of the Holy Spirit in my life, because I was a real, born-again believer. I would read the Bible and obey it, I truly worshiped the Lord, and there were many fruits of the Spirit and of righteousness in my life. No one had equipped me with any sort of clear grid by which to separate and untangle the varied fruit in my life from two opposing sources. Until I heard that simple word “mixture,” I never would have known I needed to do so.
“Mixture.” There’s nothing that profound about the idea of both the Lord and the enemy being at work in the same environment. In fact, it’s just about the most obvious idea in the world, as it is the biblical description of our reality until Christ returns. It is the realistic worldview that leads the biblical authors to warn over and over of the deceptive wiles of the devil. It just goes to demonstrate that spiritual vice grip on the mind that reduces thinking to inanity, if not insanity! But like a troll guarding the bridge, the Fear of all Fears (that I would “blaspheme the Holy Spirit” by attributing His work to the devil) would not even let me seriously consider that any of these movements could have originated anywhere but heaven. I didn’t know my mind was held captive to a spirit of fear, but really I was unable to think outside of it. And so, it was as if, in this one area, I had the critical thinking skills of a small child.
Did I know it at the time? Not at all. My demeanor was that of the supreme confidence of spiritual pride. That pride manifested in my speech. Though I was well familiar with the commands of the Bible in regards to taming the tongue, gentle speech, honoring other believers, and on and on, I can still recall the curling of my lips to scorn those who didn’t agree with or believe in the “work of the Spirit.” I allowed myself, without reserve, verbal liberties of scoffing and attacking others that I would never have tolerated for any other reason. I didn’t just perceive doubters as stupid or inferior Christians, I would say so. I have found the fruit of sharp, derisive speech reproduced in almost every person who has embraced these strange fires, if you touch their favorite movement.
Now that I have been on the other end of the debate, and felt the heat of that scorn, I have been awe-struck at the devilishness of it. How out of character, how unlike Christ, the response one can get if one questions these “works of the spirit.” What an avalanche of derision and hatred! In my case, people who have known my character for years, who have seen my love for Christ and for them, who have shared deeply sacrificial love and friendship with me…all of that has been thrown swiftly in a trash heap when I have just begun to express a doubt about unbiblical spirituality, and they have uncharacteristically spat out accusations and condemnations into my face. Just as I once was, I see that they are without conviction over confronting me without patience, without grace, without searching of Scriptures together. In fact, it has been impossible even to bring them to the Scriptures. They are so sure that their experiences embody the truth, that they cannot perceive the simplicity of the call to test them through Scripture.
I want to point out the paradox. While on any other topic, these believers might be restrained by the Scriptural injunction that the wisdom from heaven is “pure, peaceable, and willing to yield,” but in regards to these false movements, we often find there are no restraints in reviling doubters or dissenters of the “work of the Spirit.” Those who are deeply involved speak out with confidence and force about their spirituality, their experiences, and the imbecility of anyone who would question them. Regretfully, I remember that superiority dripped off my tongue in defiance of the crumbling and trembling inside of me, and the lack of external, productive kingdom fruit. From the outside, that superiority is so clearly discernible, dangling off these movements like ornaments on a wilting, ragged Christmas tree. It is, indeed, a tell-tale sign.
In my deceived state, I did not perceive or honor fruitful, robust believers who had been serving the Lord effectively for decades. I remember easily throwing off the warning of a fiery, godly 80 year old servant of God who tried to reason with me. He had been a missionary for longer than I had been alive, but since he did not agree with my spiritual persuasions, I ignored him as a know-nothing. When people who have done nothing have no regard for the wisdom of those who have done much, foolishness has full reign. Gal. 6:3-4 This elderly man had led others to Christ, introduced the gospel in foreign cultures, headed an excellent family and godly wife, and made disciples. And I treated him as a peer to be ignored because he was not “spirit-filled.” At my worst point, no one could correct me, because they were, I thought, “blind and deaf” to the Spirit. But I was the one who was blind and deaf. The more deaf I was, the louder I spoke, and the more blind, the more sure that I could see. Reviling, despising, dividing, rejecting: these are fruits of a spirit, and that spirit is NOT the Lord.
Pride blinds us. We all have pride, and goodness knows I had my fair share before all this occurred in my life. But what I am saying is that the spirit behind these deceptions actually IS a spirit of pride. It actually intoxicates and enchants a person into a stupor, like a drug user when they are high. They cannot be reasoned with, and if all they want when they come down is more drugs, when they are sober, they still cannot be reasoned with.
To illustrate how a spirit of pride actually works in real life deception, one of the common themes you will find in all of these deceptions is that God is doing a NEW THING, never seen before. Whether the oracle claims it is because it is the end of the age, or because God is unfolding progressive revelation until the church takes full dominion, or whatever form it takes, the lying, flattering prophets tell the people that they have been chosen for an elite generation that will do greater exploits, experience more power, and be more effective than any generation of believers before them. I probably do not need to elaborate on how alluring this is to the hearer’s pride, as it is obvious. But to dissect the deception a bit further and understand how effective it is, how it actually does its work, consider my questions that seem so obvious and simple from the outside, and then consider my spiritual response to the fruitful, older man of God described above. If God is doing a NEW THING, never before seen, then the wisdom of the aged is necessarily rendered useless. Whom would you consult? No one can advise you, no matter what their fruit or experience, because the move of God is hitherto unknown and unseen. So what book can be read, what pastor should be consulted, what test remains before the NEW THING? They are rendered mute and useless. The trap is shut.
IHOP does not have to tell students to cut off relationship with their parents. Toronto does not have to command believers to divide and abandon their home churches. Bethel does not have to pay students to recruit others with all their might. They just have to let the oracles proclaim the NEW THING, with sermons proof-texting Old Testament prophecies and exhorting everyone to cast off the old wineskins, and a thousand rules of behavior fall firmly around the young participants’ prideful minds.
Mercifully, the Lord in His grace and patience brought me to the church I mentioned earlier where the astounding fruit of the gospel of repentance significantly contrasted with my lack of productive kingdom fruit. I began to see myself as I was. Beloved of God, but mostly barren. This sufficiently humbled me that I would begin to listen, seek correction, and begin the long scripture hunt that would lead me out of deception into a safe place.