For centuries the Bible has been held as the inerrant, inspired, infallible and sufficient objective truth of God. In the early 1800’s a new view entered the realm of Christianity: new and personal revelation from God. In reality, just as the Scriptures tell us there is nothing new under the sun, the Modern Pentecostal is nothing new. During the time of the Reformation you had the Radical Reformers, Enthusiasts as they were called, who sought the voice of God outside of the Written Word of God. Even these groups were not new but followed the continued prophecy outside of the Bible which the Montanists had argued for. Much of what Modern Pentecostals teach is not new either, but they have been declared at best heterodox and at worst heresy.
As I’ve worked on my thesis for the Int’l Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, I came to see much more of what Irving and others of his generation taught and promoted. Sadly, much of what they teach still is not to be found in the Written Word. Modern Evangelicalism has taken Pentecostalism and charismatic teachings into their arms, welcoming them, when they should be eschewing their teachings. I encourage those in conservative, creedal and confessional churches to reject their way of worship, gospel proclamation and reading of the scriptures while they embrace them in love desiring to show them the Biblical way.
Around the 18030’s, the forerunners of the modern Pentecostals with their visions and dreams stating that God still spoke outside of His written Word began to promote a “new work” and “new revelation”. They taught one could hear personally from God, apart from the Written Word. They encouraged Christians to seek the gifts of prophecy, visions & dreams, and to spread this neo-Montanism far and wide. They moved from the objective truth of God’s Written Word into the realm of subjective experience as their creed.
Over the following decades this subjective revelation became the norm and according to the early Pentecostals, was to be expected. After all, they proposed, Jesus cannot return unless the charismatic gifts are restored. People throughout Europe and North America began to seek out God’s Voice to them personally separate from the Written Scriptures. They were only doing what they were taught and because this movement had rejected Creeds and Christian history, it was easy to hear a subjective voice that may or may not agree with Holy Writ. Thus began the downward spiral to two types of God’s Word, the written one and the one spoken to you personally or to your group and church.
The modern Pentecostal has been taught to base what they believe upon their feelings and emotions. Does it bring them joy? Do they feel a flutter in their breast or goosebumps on their arms? What does their experience tell them about God? Early Pentecostals instilled an “Experience is my Creed” subjective view rather than a “This is what the Bible objectively tells us is true”. The test for truth for the modern Pentecostal is within them rather than the evidence given in the Scripture itself. Truth becomes subjective because in the mind and heart of a modern Pentecostal God is still speaking outside of the written Word. It is easy for an insincere person to share great experiences of God and promote those even if they are counter to what God’s written Word says. Doubt is not allowed to be cast at one who claims such great subjective excitements because that is their reality. Emotions, feelings and their own interpretations are the sandy foundation upon which the modern Pentecostals build their faith.
This makes the gospel proclamation very different for modern Pentecostals. While they will argue that they respect and honor the written Word, in practice, they promote feelings over facts and experience over evidence. They testify to others of the truthfulness of the Christian Gospel, not upon the evidences of the faith contained in Scripture, but upon their own feelings, interpretations and internal evidence of whether or not those experiences are true. Instead of the canon of Scripture, the historic rule and measure of God’s Word, Pentecostals rely upon these capricious emotions by which to judge truth. The measuring stick of their religious life is an inward, “God told me…” This results in a Gospel proclamation that is indefensible when encountering those in other religions or atheists because it is not founded upon objective truth.
When attempting to proclaim the Gospel this subjective position creates several issues that cannot be taken lightly. If the Bible is interpreted based on what someone feels it means, then who is to say the “burning in the bosom” of the Mormon is not from their reading of Scripture? How does the Pentecostal missionary disprove the excitements of Hinduism in their worship of Shiva or the Islamic Sufi sect who both rely upon feelings to verify truth? The simple answer is that they cannot because they have placed their subjective views over the objective truths of the Scripture. If feelings dictate truth then the Gospel proclamation strength is lost.
Webster’s dictionary defines subjectivism as “a doctrine that individual feeling or apprehension is the ultimate criterion of the good and the right” Another way to understand this is to say that there is no truth outside of one’s own experience. For the modern Pentecostal, this extends to hearing from God outside of the written word through visions, dreams, tongues and interpretation, prophecy and words of knowledge. According to modern Pentecostals, God gives them these experiences to verify that the Bible is true. If you feel God has spoken to you no one is permitted to challenge that because that is your experience. This is the basis of every other religion and false Christ, of cults and heretical groups alike; their experience dictates their belief system. Modern Pentecostalism is no different in that its very foundation was laid in the sandy soil of subjective experiences.
For the modern Pentecostal, God still speaks through contemporary apostles and prophets who receive personal revelations. The teaching is that until God restored these spectacular gifts and offices Christ could not return to His own. Other teachings that go counter the Scriptures arose through subjective experience rather than the objective truths of the Bible. They were revealed through both the forerunners of this movement and contemporary prophets and apostles, through layman and women via dreams or visions.
A subjective gospel lays Christianity on the same level as all other false religions
as they too are based upon subjective experiences and
it results in a debilitated proclamation.
This subjective word causes much damage to individuals, churches and the Kingdom Mission of the Church. As Pentecostals go out to proclaim the truth of the Gospel their actions belie their reliance upon the Word alone for they seek to hear the voice of God apart from Scripture. When other religions see and hear this they can then question the Christian saying, “But we hear from God too. What makes your revelations truer than our own?” Apart from the objective Word of God, the evidence that God has spoken through prophets and now speaks through His Son, the Pentecostal has no sure footing because they are reliant upon hearing God personally in addition to His written Word.
The questions to be asked are whether or not their new revelations and private conversations with God are, in fact, from God, and if they are can they be verified? Utilizing the tests for the Written Word these will be applied to the subjective word Pentecostals lean on as well. Does God still speak? Yes, through His eternal Word. Does God give new revelations? This author, who came out of Pentecostalism, says No!
The repercussions of such subjectivism in Pentecostalism results in a negative impact on the veracity of the Written Word be exposed. Unbelievers, because Pentecostals still say God speaks, have every right to reject this since they too have revelations for their own religion.
Still another question is: How many sources of God’s Word are there? It could be argued, if the Pentecostal is correct, that God speaks personally to people and therefore, perhaps God did speak to other religious people. If there is more than one source of God speaking, who is to determine whether the voice you are hearing is, in fact, God’s? The choice is either a multiplicity of sources based on subjectivism or the one objective voice of God in the Bible.
For Modern Pentecostals, since their forerunner, Edward Irving began looking for the Voice of God apart from Scripture, the Bible cannot be considered the all-sufficient norm for Christians through all times and in every place. While they will argue that they believe the Bible to be Infallible, Inerrant and Inspired by God in practice they hold the Bible is insufficient for life, doctrine and godliness. As Modern Pentecostals seek to hear God separately from the written Word, it will be shown that this is quite the slippery slope damaging the Gospel presentation amongst unbelievers. As stated in Popular Symbolics,
…the fundamental principle of the Irvingites (and Modern Pentecostals) seriously endangers the central doctrines of the Christian religion. The Bible cannot be considered the all-sufficient norm nor per se the power of God unto salvation” because you must hear from God outside the Bible.
Do you want a "prophetic word"? Here it is: Proclaim Christ Crucified and Risen according to the prophetic scriptures.
Pentecostals will argue that the Bible is sufficient and yet because they look for further visions, dreams and prophecies words are actually inconsistent with their practical application in life. This thesis will look at the practice of modern Pentecostals in seeking to hear the Voice of God outside of Scripture and how it debilitates the proper Gospel proclamation to unbelievers and cause confusion for the believer. As a former Pentecostal, understanding that the Christian Church has been gifted with an objective Gospel, one not based on feelings or emotions as evidence of the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has enabled me to proclaim the truth as just that whether or not I feel it that day. The authority of the message of Christianity does not lie in experience or in feelings, the “hope-so’s” or “think-so’s” but in the facts, the objective truths, that Jesus lived, died and rose again to bring life to all who would believe. Only with a recovery of this truth, the objective message, can we hope to bring Pentecostals back into a healthy Gospel proclamation. Enabling them to see the weaknesses of a subjective faith will be the only way to move them away from a debilitated Gospel to the strong Word. A subjective Gospel will continue to devastate the growth and health of the Church and wreck the witness we have to Christ.
As Martin Luther penned centuries ago,
Lord keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.
A gospel proclamation
based upon what one feels or thinks will never save.
God did not say in His Word that “your testimony” or “your experiences” or “your visions, dreams and new prophecies” are the power of God for salvation. He told us that the Gospel is the instrument He uses to bring conviction and convert sinners granting them repentance and new life in Christ.
God told us the Gospel is the Power of God unto salvation.
. “Subjectivism,” Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, accessed October 7, 2019, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subjectivism.
. Engender, Popular Symbolics: The Doctrines of the Churches of Christendom and of Other Religious Bodies Examined in the Light of Scripture (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1934), 325.
. Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book: Three-year Lectionary (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2006), 655.