Chapter 7: Strange fire

The Old Testament in Leviticus 10 makes specific reference to Nadab and Abihu being punished with immediate death for trying to create strange smoke and fire in the name of the Lord.

So it again seems counter intuitive to burn incense as part of church tradition. Yet still several churches make it part of their worship traditions.

“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord”
Leviticus 10: 1-2

In other church denominations, you may also have noticed a recent trend to use fire imagery in logos and marketing – meant to signify the holy spirit.

The Toronto Blessing and Azusa revivals seem to be the inspiration behind this Pentecostal ‘tongues of fire’ imagery, seemingly marking an end-times return of the signs and wonders performed by the apostles.

The problem? The Bible makes little reference to signs and wonders in the end times, apart from when they come from false prophets and the second beast of Revelation.

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”
Mark 13:21–23

“And the second beast performed great signs to cause even fire from heaven to come down to earth in the presence of the people.” Revelation 13:13

I’m not saying the spirit of the Toronto Blessing is definitely not the Holy Spirit (that is not for me to say), but the Bible tells us to test the spirits before we accept them. It also tells us that false spirits will be readily accepted by the church.

This, if nothing else, is reason to be wary and to test the spirits by their fruits. We should therefore ask ourselves:

Are people who receive this spirit showing obvious life-altering signs of change?

Are the signs and wonders performed in keeping with those of the Holy Spirit following Pentecost?

Is rolling around uncontrollably or laughing while scripture is being read out something to be at least concerned about?

This video gives a taste of why there is at the very least cause for discernment.

My particular concern is that this spirit is spreading fast across every area of the church.

Nadab and Abihu found to their peril that trying to ignite the spirit themselves against God’s will cause death, yet I see the Holy Spirit almost being marketed as a commodity with many faithful Christians wondering what they need to do to get it.

Yet we know the Spirit is not something that can be worked towards or given by men. Which brings me to my next observation about modern Christianity.

Extra steps to redemption
So, Jesus tells us the gospel is simple – believe in him and you will naturally want to carry out good works, not because you can earn salvation, but because we are reborn through him.

The Spirit is our guarantee, given completely freely by the grace of God.

Throughout history though, man has sought to add rules and regulations, be they the seven sacraments, indulgences, or any other ‘works’.

Of course, this is not Biblical. Jesus forever taught that we are all the same – from the greatest prophet to the lowest sinner who accepts him or converts just before death – we all have the same inheritance if we believe in Christ.

So, when you see people trying to add steps to salvation, be wary.

For me that includes a legalistic approach to giving and it also includes a necessity to receive an extra ‘baptism of the spirit’.

Don’t get me wrong, asking the Holy Spirit to refine us and fill us prayerfully is of course to be encouraged.

But nobody should tell you that you are a second-class Christian if you haven’t been given the gift of tongues because, while tongues are Biblical, the Bible makes it clear it is one of several gifts a Christian can receive.

Equally, don’t think anything you do can ‘earn’ the spirit because, like grace, it is a free gift given by God, not something that can be purchased by man.

Also, don’t assume just because I am opening eyes to error that I am promoting legalism – quite the opposite. This isn’t about judging people or slating one denomination or another. We are all sinners without Jesus and men of all denominations have no reason to be self-righteous. Indeed, I pray that everyone would find their way to salvation and I pray for the salvation of my own church as much as others.

Greed is good?
Greed in the church is nothing new. It’s been a feature of church traditions for years, especially when an expensive project needed to be completed.

But it’s only fairly recently that the prosperity gospel has become popular – a gospel that teaches people that God wants them to be rich and healthy, even though Biblical examples show the majority of God’s best people suffering pain, poverty, persecution, ill health and death.

Some of these preachers tell us God wants to bless us, but can’t unless we give the church money. And, if we don’t, we are cursed until we do. Really?

While the Bible does teach giving generously (the apostles for instance pooled all their resources together and shared it all according to Acts), there is zero evidence that giving money leading to riches.

Sure, the generous sower will reap more, but this can also apply to reaping fruit in our ministries or our heavenly inheritance.

One thing is for sure – if our motivation for giving is so we can get rich, we are doomed. The Bible cannot be clearer that man cannot love money and love God.

Besides, all of God’s blessings have already been given to the believer, completely free of charge:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 1:3

New Age teachings
From ancient Babylon to the New Age, several modern churches seem to be blurring the lines between Christianity and something entirely different.

And, though the term used may be ‘New Age’, there isn’t much new about it. In fact, practices of ‘grave sucking’, ‘soaking’ and ‘holy yoga on the labrinth’ would be more at home in the ancient world.

And, surprise, surprise, such churches, including Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church and Lou Engle’s The Call movement, have fully embraced the Toronto Blessing and Azusa Revival and are pushing hard for global church unity.

Sadly, Bethel is among the most popular and influential churches in the world and, like Hillsong, are at the very heart of modern worship music.

Let me make it clear – some of what these people say in sermons is Biblical. Some of what they do seems to genuinely bring people into the church. Engle for instance talks a lot about prayer and fasting. But the concerning elements sadly outweigh what looks positive.

I’ll talk in detail about these churches in later chapters, which will cover the growing momentum towards the joining of world religions and Christian denominations.

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