Laughter and Diamonds
by Frank Fisher
In 1959 C S Lewis wrote a paper called “Fern-seed and Elephants” which he read to students at Cambridge College; attacking the then prevalent theology of “Liberalism” and its exponents. He said that with regard to their analysis of historical Christianity they claimed to be able to see fern-seeds while in fact unable to see the elephant standing only metres away. In their efforts to discredit 90% of the New Testament truth held for the last 2000 years; they had jettisoned the miraculous; and relegated it to a collection of myths inserted into the scriptures by the early church. They have replaced simple faith with intellectual appreciation; powerfully influenced by the waves of the Age of the “Enlightenment” whereby man’s rational thinking was now deemed superior to beliefs in mere ‘superstitions’, and irrelevant myths of the past.
Many were captured by the ‘liberal’ thinking of the day and departed from the faith, having traded the truths of biblical revelation for the wisdom of the ‘wise’. Today we are being powerfully persuaded to abandon the same biblical truths by a diametrically opposite paradigm: with beliefs in paranormal phenomena, new revelations and demonstrations of supernatural power. Most of the men and women introducing all this are self-proclaimed leaders in a movement claiming to be apostolic and prophetic. It is known as “the New Apostolic Reformation”. The broad aim is to gain sufficient followers and finances to spread their gospel to all nations so that the world will be made acceptable to God for the return of Christ and to usher in his reign on the planet.
This “Reformation” has emerged from the “signs and wonders” movement ushered in by John Wimber who coined the phrase “power encounters” in reference to all the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles. He further embraced evangelism and healing under the same terminology. His books, his Vineyard Churches and organised city-wide rallies attracted many who agreed with him, that for the proclamation of the gospel to succeed it must be accompanied by supernatural signs and wonders. This meant that those who did not embrace these teachings could regard themselves as left out, inferior believers or not even Christian. Fear of being left behind caused many churches, Pentecostal, protestant “Charismatic” and groups within the Roman Catholic Church to embrace the new phenomena of sincere prayer being followed by the appearance of miracles. I say ‘appearance’ because whether the number of healings and other miracles attributed to these ‘encounters’ actually occurred, is in doubt.
It soon emerged that most of these power encounters were largely being administered by church leaders and a new class of itinerants who proclaimed as evangelists. Accompanied by supernatural phenomena (to all appearances) these itinerant ministers and a number of church leaders became well known and famous, greatly aided by the United States’ “Christian-no-longer” television networks. The way people speak of these “Ministers” is in my own experience with great awe, if not an outright form of idolatrous regard. One significant phenomenon, and possibly the first of many, which became widely practised and accepted was that of being “slain in the spirit”. This is still practised by the laying on of hands by a minister or revered visiting speaker, on the forehead of the recipient; with prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit to fall upon them in such force that it would completely overwhelm them and cause them to fall backwards in a sort of swoon and remain lying “under the power” for a short while. Catchers are strategically placed behind the so-blessed lest they crack the back of their heads on the floor. Ushers discretely spread coverings over the legs of those ladies wearing skirts or dresses who had unwittingly become over exposed.
Of course this gave some Ministers such a sense of personal power and ‘anointing’, that if a person failed to swoon, it was not uncommon for the Minister to place one hand in the small of the back and apply the necessary pressure on the forehead with the other hand until the recipient buckled backwards (a move well practiced in Judo). Growing famous and better known through the number of these “slayings” and apparent healings, these Ministers became socially powerful and eventually formed loosely knit groupings of common theology and practice. I am not a theologian wishing to debate the biblical validity of “being slain in the spirit”, but from my limited knowledge, the only occasion in the Bible where people fell backwards (Isaiah and Daniel fell on their faces) was that of the troops sent to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, who on witnessing His presence fell backwards in fear. To date I have not seen anyone falling forwards; much less anyone overcome by a deep sense of unworthiness in the face of a vision of an awesome Angel (Daniel), or the Lord Himself in the temple (Isaiah). Given enough psychological manipulation through preaching and music; and the raising of belief to the point of certainty that being “slain” is indeed of the Holy Spirit and highly beneficial; it is virtually inevitable that the people going forward for the laying on of hands, do so in the high expectation that they will be “slain”; and more so if the Minister is one of the visiting famous ones who has a good track record.
It is clearly evident that the whole signs and wonders movement led people to rely increasingly on their personal experiences and the pronouncements of these Ministers via their visits, books, CD’s (and now the internet) : possibly more so than they did formerly on the Spirit’s revelations of the Truth as they read their bibles and listened to sound exegetical and traditional preaching. Some of course have been raised entirely within the new phenomenology; and under the consolidation of the American “the New Apostolic Reformation” there are now multitudes who attend church to follow after their desired form of signs and wonders. It is what has followed after the “being slain” practice became acceptable and widespread, that is of far greater concern to the church world-wide.
The door to extra-biblical phenomena having been opened; a man by the name of Rodney Howard Brown was invited by the Toronto (Canada) Airport Vinyard Church (churches founded by John Wimber) from his turf in South Africa to conduct a series of meetings. It was at this point that the bizarre entered that church. Laying on of hands was no longer required. A mere pointing of a finger and shouting “fall!” had people dropping like flies. Then instead of lying still on the floor, they manifested incessant laughing, dog-like barking, roaring and writhing to name but a few symptoms. This new adventure attracted pastors from all over the world as Canadian and American pastors who had fallen at the “Toronto Blessing” (as it became known), had found themselves “anointed” with the same “power” as Rodney Howard Brown and had introduced the new wave into their own churches. The new phenomena spread worldwide like wild fire and indeed it became known as “Catch the Fire” with a book of the same name. Of course you were deemed to be missing out if you hadn’t caught it. Now no attempt should be made, to justify this “Blessing” with sound biblical examples; as it would prove fruitless. So men, in order to justify the “Holy Laughter” movement, had to introduce a new doctrine whereby in this age the Lord is showing his hand in new and strange ways. I’ll say!
My question is which “lord” is empowering all this? In a firmly worded letter, some years later, one of the senior pastors from Toronto who had introduce the ‘fire’ to his own neighbouring church firmly repented and renounced what he had experienced as not of the Holy Spirit. That says something doesn’t it; as it meant he was ostracised from the inner circle of pastors who by then had formed one of the multi-church ruling groups. Further fires erupted at a Pensacola church and in Miami Florida where the phenomena were termed ‘revival.’ Under Todd Bentley in Florida the congregation was even more bizarrely persuaded to accept Bentley’s punching people in the stomach to impart the spirit along with his marital infidelity and the disappearance of church funds. With this craze of the 21st century, it can only be concluded that an unholy force has snared these congregations away from the traditional and even from rational thinking. How on earth can we be accepting this within the body of Christ?
Eminent leaders of ‘church America’ (mostly popular Television preachers and televangelists) who had been in practice since before John Wimber, embraced the “blessing” as part of their own performances and presumably to enhance their own popularity. One example that dropped my jaw was a video clip showing Rodney Howard Brown and well known Kenneth Copeland talking and laughing to each other on-stage in “tongues”. What the…..? Sadly other tele-pastors became exposed in sexual sins and monetary frauds, lending a further edge of non-credibility to the whole public face of this facet of the American mega church network. Some website entrepreneurs have dubbed all of this as “the great apostasy”. Now if this was ‘all’ that is going astray in today’s church I would hesitate to use this term; as bad as the phenomenon thus described is.
But the websites may be right, because there is more; and it’s not just a free set of steak knives offered with every batch of “Blessing” DVD’s sold. The itinerant and pastoral leaders, are now gathered together within a new organisation which has combined former groupings into a somewhat cohesive whole : the New Apostolic Reformation. The ministries of the itinerant prophets among them are now being accompanied by the falling of gold dust and diamonds and this is being proclaimed as a new sign and wonder by God. Just sit , and think carefully; is this possibly outside the character of God as portrayed in the scriptures? Look at the Old Testament Prophets. Did God really authenticate their proclamations with gold dust and diamonds? Or were some sawn in two, dropped into sewerage pits or at the very least rejected and despised? We are not only having our ears tickled but our eyes also. Where are we headed? For a start, much of our money is headed into the personal bank accounts of these so called power ministers as they dispense spiritual blessings in return for your “seed giving” towards their “ministries”. But worse, we are buying false gospels and are willing to believe them.
At the same time as the Pentecostal and other churches were embracing the new spirituality, another group of churches were becoming mega churches through the new “Emergent Church” and Church Growth Movements. It became vogue under the leadership structures to individually pursue a ‘purpose driven life’. Living as a disciple under grace became strictly passé and individual church attenders are taught to be ‘driven’ and active in drawing neighbours, relatives and friends to what became known as “Seeker Services”. These services are structured and carefully rehearsed so as to in no way offend any new comers. They feature catchy music, a pleasant modern environment, ‘relevant’ drama skits and a message which appeals to the sense of being drawn into a warm and welcoming circle of people. It is not up for consideration in these churches that neither Christ nor Paul was ever ashamed to offend with the truth. These churches have become huge. Effective world tested management principles were taught and introduced to govern and plan their future directions. This is achieved through setting goals, mission statements and so-called visions: not biblical visions but man made ones derived from orchestrated meetings, which appear to collectivise the ideas of the congregation while actually embedding the wishes and desires of the leadership team.
Of course to call it a “vision” makes it seem quite spiritual. Where are Christ and the dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all this? The “Seeker Services” have given permission for people to call themselves Christians, who have never heard the true gospel much less repented of anything. They are well meaning, lovely, nice folk raised in an environment akin to the best of the Service Organisations such as Lions or Rotarians. There is now a multitude of nominal, unchallenged church goers; who may never see the need to repent or depend on Christ.
But there’s more (sorry, again no steak knives). The practice of contemplative or meditative prayer has been revived within some Catholic communities in their search for a new spirituality. Some Protestant churches and organisations have taken note and followed suit. At this point you will be tempted to feel that I’m just a fundamentalist trying to denounce as rubbish the latest attempts by God to revive the world wide church. You’d be partly right; but I’d call myself Reformed Traditional; which means I hold to the gospel as proclaimed by the Reformation (no not Calvinist) and I’m traditional with regard to our spiritual practices being confined to those described within the Bible. You are right: I don’t accept extra-biblical revelation.
Back to contemplative prayer: this is a revival of the ‘mystical’ practices of the early Desert Fathers who were isolated in monasteries for the very purpose of encountering God through meditative prayer. Now my objection is that the focus is entirely on descending into one’s inner self through chanting a ‘Christian’ mantra in order to find peace, self-awareness and an encounter with Christ in whatever form he takes. Thus we may receive ‘divine’ revelation and are deemed to have exercised a form of deep devotion. I can only say where is this practice described or practiced in the scriptures? Moreover, we are laying ourselves wide open to delusion and spiritual deception. Yes, we may emerge with a rosy glow and feeling of inner peace; but so do the Tibetan Buddhist monks, serious devotees of Hindu Yoga and alternative lifestyle meditating New Agers. In fact this form of meditation is now commonly advocated and taught to those executives and managers, who in seeking enlightenment with which to improve their businesses and profits, have found the alternative of attending vigorous Boot Camps a tad strenuous. Also in the church it is spreading as an acceptable practice. Exit Jesus and hello to the inner self.
More? Yes. The ‘liberal’ form of Christianity so referred to in the first paragraphs is still with us albeit it has shifted its focus from denouncing past theology, to (quite admirably) what is known as the Social Justice Gospel. This movement seeks to emulate the life of Mother Theresa of Calcutta by being an active church engaged in alleviating through whatever means, the plight of the oppressed and the poor. Alas, if only those Reformed Traditional among us would seek to do the same; and so too the fire catchers, church growers and meditators for that matter. There is nothing so abrasive to us with a comfortable lifestyle and theology, as to work or live among the poor. We become deeply challenged and should wonder whether our ‘laughing in the spirit’, falling diamonds, inner contemplation or seeker stage shows really have anything to do with Christianity.
There is a big ‘but’: as admirable as the Social Justice Gospel practice is in its services and focus, it should not be devoid of the supernatural. How can we minister to the needy with strength and perseverance if we are not also prepared to introduce them to the supernatural mystery of salvation through Christ and work within that empowering paradigm ourselves? We may give fish to the poor, even teach them to catch fish; but we must also minister to their spiritual need for salvation. The true gospel may fall on deaf ears (remember, the gospel is offensive) but we should still be prepared to proclaim it, while continuing undiminished in or efforts to serve their physical needs; having been led to do so by Christ and not driven by a contrived purpose.
Unfortunately, in its attempt to embrace the whole world in its service to the poor and oppressed, liberal Christianity has sought to make its proclamation as inoffensive as possible, if not completely silent. Ably led by the Papacy, it is blurring the edges of the Christian faith by seeking to appease the Muslim world. We now have one common God, one father Abraham and a commendable Quran because it includes Jesus as a prophet within Islam. Oh really? This drive towards global ecumenism would have us see Christianity as but a modality which is able to absorb and accept the tenets of other faiths. To not join in will ultimately label us as bigots, narrow minded, fundamentalist and ungracious. In this way the exclusiveness of Christ’s gospel is utterly lost. He said that “no one can come to the Father but by me”, and unless this is a misquoted bit of bigotry inserted by the early church, we are forced to admit that all other faiths do not lead to heaven; they probably will only ultimately lead some to Rome.
Strange as it may seem, all the above ‘revivalists’ and phenomenologists have become unusual (and in some cases uncomfortable) bedfellows. I cannot see Todd Bentley emulating Mother Theresa; nor can I imagine the likes of Benny Hinn (a seller of blessings) engage in deep contemplative prayer in a Catholic monastery. But they all have one significant thing in common: the mutilation of Christ’s gospel to the point where it is no longer recognisable. Christ is not proclaimed as all-in-all; the only one to whom we run for forgiveness, having come to lament and abhor our own sinful natures and actions. We are fed an easy believism even in those churches where none of the above phenomena occur. “Just invite Jesus into your heart.” Raise your hand if you want to be a Christian (or a member of the club). Jesus will meet your needs. Jesus is asking you to join him on your own terms. Go and win souls for Christ. Hello?
So we end up labouring in good service for our own salvation; or relying on a weekly dose of super miracles to keep ourselves believing in God’s goodness; or seeking revelations from within our deep inner selves; or shelving out big dollars to assure God’s blessing in return; or seeking endless impartations of the spirit with which to bless ourselves. We don’t need the bible because sooth sayers and smooth speakers abound to allay our fears, tell us messages we rather want to hear, and promise blessings in exchange for a few dollars. Our songs and musical worship are often empty words as we sing to or about a God we don’t really know. Or worse, we sing about the merits of our own praise and intentions to praise.
What can be called a great apostasy (who knows if it is the one) is that the traditional Christian faith is being attacked and mutilated from all sides; and multitudes of church goers are being sucked in to the new Apostolic Reformation which incorporates all of the above without realising that they are being willingly deceived. Add to all this two incredibly well published and widely accepted books which pervert the very nature of Christ and there is a potent brew of utter deception. In The Shack  I can imagine that Jesus may have looked a little bit like the actor John Tarturo. (See the end of this article.) the portrayal of the members of the Holy Trinity is nothing short of ludicrous: Father God is a Huckleberry Fin style ‘black mamma’ and Jesus a wimpy sort of Robin Hood. Yet I have heard respected “traditional” friends extol this as brilliant and wonderful.
The other widely published book is Heaven is for Real (The New York Time’s bestselling book) wherein a young boy reports on his visit to Jesus in heaven while he was under anaesthesia. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the boy’s story nor of the father’s intentions in getting it published (he is a pastor). What is questionable is that it stands in stark contrast to Paul’s account of a visit to heaven by “a man in Christ” in which “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” The form of revelation is also utterly different to that of John’s vision as related in the book of Revelation. Both John’s and Daniel’s visions are highly symbolic where as little Colton Burpo’s are very plain. I quote from the book’s website introduction to the story:
In heaven, Colton met his miscarried sister whom no one ever had told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born. He shared impossible-to-know details about each. Colton went on to describe the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us.
In describing what Jesus looks like he corroborates a painting by Akiane Kramarik who also claims to have seen his face at the age of eight. A copy of this painting can be seen on her website. Akiane is a prolific child prodigy artist; and much of her art is amazingly beautiful. But does that make it the face of Jesus? Is Jesus so handsome and debonair, or was Isaiah’s prophetic description more accurate: he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him?
Why are we so keen to break out of the traditional and engage the esoteric? Is our Christian walk so lifeless, powerless and faithless that we need major visual proofs and new experiences? All the scriptures which I am going to show you have been rejected by those who firmly believe and have told me that God is doing a new thing. You be the judge.
Matt 7:15-16,22,23 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
You will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven…. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?…..And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Luke 21: 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.
2Peter 2:1-3 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privately shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
2Cor 11:4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
2Cor 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.
2Tim 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,2through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,3who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
2Tim 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure soundteaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2Thes 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false,12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Gal 2:4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in-who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery-5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Gal 5:7-9 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Jude 1:4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
I would say that what is happening today is more than a little leaven. It is a full scale spiritual and media blitzkrieg (which is a term describing a highly organised and devastating assault; as coined and used by the Germans in World War 2.) It is not outlandish to assume that these coordinated powerful attacks on the faith are the work of Satan. If we remain ‘conservative’ or ‘traditional’, it begs the questions: are we rejecting the Holy Spirit, and what is traditional?
· Very briefly now; a quick glance at the working of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament at least tells that he has been sent by Christ to work within us and reveal Christ’s truths to us. It mentions none of what I have called apostasy above. He birthed the church in a rather spectacular fashion (without diamonds or uncontrolled laughter); he brings us to repentance (turning towards Jesus); he endows us with spiritual gifts (none of the above) and produces saintly behaviour called the fruit of the Spirit. If that’s too tame…..!!
· The definition of traditional is well presented in the Free Online Dictionary as:
Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion.
Adhering to the Christian faith as expressed in the early Christian ecumenical creeds.
Adhering to what is commonly accepted, customary, or traditional: for example a traditional view of world affairs.
The Greek, Slavic and Russian Churches also call themselves the Orthodox Churches but that is not what we are looking at here. The early Christian creeds were agreed upon in response to various heresies which were threatening the church at the time. The three most notable are: the “Apostles’ Creed” which occurs in a letter of 390 from a synod in Milan; the Nicene Creed, proclaimed by agreement of the church leaders who met as the Council of Nicaea in AD 325; and the Athanasian Creed, which although not written by Athanasius, nor declared as a creed by a Church Council, was nonetheless widely accepted in the Western church in the middle of the 6th century; and remained a part of the liturgy in many churches until the mid-1900’s.
Wikipedia tells us that the Westminster Confession of Faith is a Reformed confession of faith, drawn up in 1646 to be a confession of the Church of England. This is probably the most comprehensive composition of traditional thought we have today. It won’t fit into a nutshell; but quotes from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress should suffice:
“But Lord, how must I properly think about you in coming to you; that is, how should my faith rightly behold you?” Then he responded, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. He is the mediator between God and us. He ever lives to make intercession for us.”From all of this I came to understand that I must look for righteousness in his person, and for satisfaction for my sins through his blood; and that what he did in obedience to his Father’s law, and in submitting to its attending penalty, was not for himself, but for he who will accept it for his salvation and be thankful. As a consequence, my heart now became full of joy while my eyes flooded with tears; now my affections overflowed with love for the name, people, and ways of Jesus Christ.
Micah tells us in chapter 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
I believe we are afraid to spend time alone with God and our bibles in our closets lest God should break through, expose us for who we really are, or worse still, bring us to a place where we acknowledge that without his crucifixion, we are lost and without hope. We are afraid he will force us to let go of our idolatries of spiritual blessings, power impartations and inner revelations in order that we come to depend solely on him for every aspect of our daily lives; in order that we should long to be obedient to him by daily and faithfully reading his Word and spending time in prayerful and humble conversation with him. We are afraid he may require us to do things which are difficult or that we don’t like. We are afraid of him because we don’t really know him; and so we surround ourselves with false teachings, exciting phenomena and we idolise deceivers and the thieves of souls.
- Fern-Seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity, Paperback– September 29, 1975by C. S. Lewis(Author), Walter Hooper(Editor)
 Holy Laughter and the Toronto Blessing: An Investigative Report James A. BeverleyZondervan, 1995