Not a God of Confusion

Some years ago, a close friend of mine attended a service at a large church of international renown where the laughing revival had been going on for several weeks. After a brief, perfunctory sermon with a minimum of references to Scripture and a lot of mangled theology, the worship leader called everyone to the front who wanted to experience the power of God. The scene that followed was utter chaos—dozens of people writhing on the floor, moaning, screaming, and jerking, while “ministry team” members coached them through the stages of the various phenomena. Other people were dancing, jumping, quivering, sobbing, wailing, and running in place.

All the commotion was there, but the laughter had subsided. The revival’s chief characteristic was supposedly joy, but my friend noticed that people’s faces were virtually devoid of expression. No one was laughing anymore. It was as if they were emotionally exhausted, unable to fan the fervor to the same intensity week after week. Instead of true, abiding joy, they had settled for sheer bedlam—in direct defiance of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14:40: “All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”

The apostle Paul was very clear in pointing out that “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Where pandemonium rules, we can be certain God is not the author of it.

Unfortunately, the truth of Scripture is too often set aside in pursuit of the emotional high of a mystical experience. At this same worship service, the pastor admonished people that they needed to be “more free.” He suggested that too much concern with sound doctrine might inhibit what God could do in their lives. He told them they shouldn’t be afraid to break out of the constraints of their belief systems and “let God work in His own way, even if it challenges your theology.” At one point in the service a woman from the church staff led the congregation in prayer and said, “Holy Spirit, we give You permission to be who You want to be in our midst.”

The effrontery of such an attitude is appalling. The Holy Spirit is sovereign God! He certainly doesn’t need our permission to be who He is. He can do whatever He wills. But He will not deny Himself. He will not mystically reveal Himself to us as someone different from the holy God the Scriptures reveal. Since the Bible tells us He is not the author of confusion—and specifically that He does not approve of disorder in the churches—we can know with absolute certainty that He is not the power behind a movement whose main features are hysteria, tumult, and frenzy.

More important, Scripture reveals Him as the Spirit of truth (John 14:17); who bears witness not of Himself but of Christ (John 15:26); who speaks not on His own initiative, but guides us into all truth (John 16:13); and sanctifies us in the truth. Where is this sanctifying truth found? Not through mystical means. God’s Word is the truth through which we are sanctified (John 17:17). This means that one of the Holy Spirit’s primary ministries is to convey the truth of Scripture to our understanding. Nothing in Scripture indicates that He works by stirring up our emotions while bypassing our minds.

That is, after all, the whole point of 1 Corinthians 14. It is why Paul valued prophecy more than tongues. “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands. . . . But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:2–3, emphasis added). “If I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?” (1 Corinthians 14:6). The point is to communicate truth. Ministry that bypasses the understanding is pointless: “If the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). All the gifts are meant to edify, which is an expression Paul uses to speak of ministering to the mind (1 Corinthians 14:3). That is why Paul insisted that tongues be interpreted. “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12, emphasis added).

It is for this very reason that Jonathan Edwards distinguished between the affections and the passions. He argued that righteous affections engage the faculties of the mind and will, whereas mere passions tend to overpower the mind. [1] Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), 98. Love to Christ and joy in Christ are biblical examples of godly affections that are no mere passions—because they always involve the mind as well as the emotions. [2] Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, 94. Edwards saw little spiritual value in indulging in raw emotion while the intellect remained neutral. In reference to 1 Peter 1:8, for example, Edwards wrote,

Their joy was “full of glory”: although the joy was unspeakable, and no words sufficient to describe it; yet something might be said of it, and no words more fit to represent its excellency, than these, that it was “full of glory”; or as it is in the original, “glorified joy.” In rejoicing with this joy, their minds were filled, as it were, with a glorious brightness, and their natures exalted and perfected: it was a most worthy, noble rejoicing, that did not corrupt and debase the mind, as many carnal joys do; but did greatly beautify and dignify it: it was a prelibation of the joy of heaven, that raised their minds to a degree of heavenly blessedness: it filled their minds with the light of God’s glory, and made themselves to shine with some communication of that glory. [3] Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, 95.

Edwards continually tied the nobility of true religious affections to the working of the mind. Having witnessed so much of people’s runaway passions at the end of the Great Awakening, he wanted nothing to do with that sort of thing.

So it should be quite clear what Jonathan Edwards would think of twentieth-century emotionalism. “Holy laughter” epitomizes the fanaticism he blamed for the demise of the Great Awakening. He insisted that the mind must be active in all legitimate religious affections. There is no way he can be enlisted as an apologist for modern mysticism.

When the laughing revival ran its course, those committed to mysticism went in search of the next big thing to produce their next spiritual high. But each succeeding movement stoked by the heat of raw passion is unable to rekindle the flames when people’s emotions finally grow cold.

Those who really know Christ and love Him must come back to His Word with a passion for interpreting it correctly and understanding its truths. The tragedy is that thousands swept up in the emotionalism of mystical movements have never been exposed to enough objective truth and sound doctrine to come to a saving knowledge of the Christ of Scripture. That is why the mystical, experience-driven realm of modern churches is, in reality, a critical mission field.

The psalmist wrote that “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, emphasis added). Those who turn aside from the lamp and grope in the darkness after subjective impressions open themselves up to deception, disappointment, spiritual failure, and all manner of confusion. But those who keep their hearts and minds fixed firmly on the lamplight of Scripture—they are the truly discerning ones.

Surely the best advice of all comes from Scripture itself:

For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:3–6, emphasis added)

John MacArthur

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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