I was reading an evangelical theology blog called Parchment and Pen and discovered that there has been a deep and active debate among Evangelicals about something that has always been used as a support for the LDS church: according to the Bible, God would still be sending prophets, angels and visions today. The hallmark of the LDS missionary invitation and the LDS testimony is that we have a “modern day prophet” that leads the church. The book of Mormon especially points out that it makes no sense for God to stop sending prophets.
It may be news to some Mormons like me, who are relatively ignorant of other brands of christianity, that Evangelicals as a group are still wrestling with this question. Some believe that the gifts of the spirit, including prophecy, are alive and well (called Charismatics and “continuationists”) and some affirmatively believe that these gifts were meant to cease shortly after biblical times (the “cessationists”).
The irony of the current situation is that Mormons, whose meetings at the beginning of the church looked a lot like a pentecostal service with speaking and tongues and recounting of visions and dreams, have generally become some of the more boring and mundane in christendom. While Charismatics, who believe in all of the spiritual gifts, seem to completely reject the notion of a modern prophet who is able to speak words worthy of canonization.
Here is the latest Mormon argument regarding the continuation of scripture. Apostle Jeff Holland’s talk from April 2008 general conference asserting that Jesus’ words do not cease.
At any rate I found the discussion on the blog quite interesting and enlightening as to how Evangelicals have dealt with the question of modern day spiritual manifestations.
It’s interesting to read the accounts of the early days of the Church at Kirtland. It makes today’s hard-core Pentecostals sound tame by comparison.
Generally the gifts of prophecy are not held in as skeptical a light as gifts of tongues. Cessastionist have lost a LOT of power and credibility over the last 2 decades.
I fully accept the role of modern day prophets in Christianity. But I wouldn’t put their words in the canon category. And I don’t think I’ve even heard of Pentecostals who think that the words of a prophet are on par with Scripture.
Maybe that’s an important distinction: to a Mormon, everything a prophet says when speaking as a prophet is scripture.
The charismata and revelatory gifts would only last through and until:
1) The last days (Acts 2)
* The last days is a term that describes the last days of the Old Covenant age which ended in AD 70.
2) The Great Commission was fulfilled (Mrk. 16/Mt. 28)
* The Apostle Paul states that the GC was fulfilled (past tense) in his day (Cols. 1:6, 23; Rms. 10:18).
3) The Second Coming (1 Cor. 13:8-12).
* Jesus promised to return (and did) in the lifetime and generation of the first century church (Mt. 10:22-23; 16:27-28; 24:34).
The sign gifts and the revelatory gifts ceased in AD 70 at the end of the OC age and in Christ’s coming in judgment upon Jerusalem. Mormon’s and Charismatic Evangelicals are both in error. Please see my articles off of my web site for further information: http://www.treeoflifeministries.info or http://www.fullpreterism.com
Well, Mike, if Joseph Smith and other prophets or charismatics did and do actually receive revelation then you are mis-interpreting. I think you need to look at evidence on the ground first rather than assume something based on interpretation of scripture. That seems to be a classic mistake.
I know I’ve came to this topic years late but as a Pentecostal I can’t help but comment.
Pentecostals do believe that prophecy continues today, but we generally believe the “gift of prophecy” is a different category from biblical revelation. Much of Pentecostal prophecy is personal or local (as in applicable to a local church) rather than universally binding. It could be something like this message addressed before a congregation, “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Cast your cares upon me for I am able to carry them. I long do wrap my arms around you if you will just come to me . . . .” The purpose is to encourage and strengthen the body of Christ, not to create new scripture. Sometimes, prophecy might be predictive but most instances of prophecy that I have heard have not been.
I find it interesting that both Pentecostals and Mormons talk of the “baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire”. For Pentecostals, it is an experience of empowerment for the individual Christian to be able to serve and minister effectively. For Mormons, it is confirmation. My question is what would a Mormon think of when told that the “The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege of receiving inspiration, divine manifestations, direction, spiritual gifts, and other blessings from the Holy Spirit.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism_with_the_Holy_Spirit
Shane, do you handle serpents?
Uh . . . no. No Pentecostal did that until George W. Hensley started the practice in 1912, 12 years after Pentecostalism began. He was still a rather new convert and was praying in a mountain reading a passage in Mark when he received some weird revelation. Pentecostal denominations quickly labeled serpent handling as fanaticism and it has only ever been a feature of some churches in Appalachia. It is not a characteristic of Pentecostalism, neither now or in the past.
Why do you ask?
All I know about it is what I’ve read (having never encountered a serpent handler before). They believe, according to their interpretation of Mark 16:17-18 that serpent handling and drinking poison (some serpent handlers may also consume strychnine) are commanded in Scripture.
These activities will only take place when participants perceive the direct intervention of God. In other words, they wont do it unless “the anointing” is present. Deaths are explained by these people in the following ways: 1) the anointing was not present, 2) such deaths prove to outsiders that the snakes are poisonous and have not been defanged, 3) God wills their death.
I do hope you realize that the vast majority of Pentecostals are not serpent handlers. I would point out that people who assume that will be looked on as terribly ignorant and offensive by Pentecostals.
Because taking Mark 16:18 as commanding serpent handling is a gross distortion of Scripture.
But taking Mark 16:17-18 as commanding casting out devils, speaking with new tongues and laying hands on the sick is not?
How is it a gross distortion of scripture?
Pentecostals don’t rely on Mark 16 to establish the Christian doctrines concerning exorcism, speaking in tongues, or laying hands on the sick. We use “the whole counsel of God.” While Mark 16: 17-18 is a good passage in that it is quick and easy to cite, that is not where the bulk of Pentecostal theology concerning these practices come from. We take into account the entire Scripture. On tongues, we look specifically to Acts and 1 Corinthians. There are of course other relevant passages concerning spiritual gifts in the church.
We see in Acts that there is a definite pattern concerning speaking in tongues in relation to the fullness of the Spirit. We see in 1 Corinthians 14 a very lengthy teaching by Paul of the role that glossolalia plays within the church. Concerning exorcism, we have Jesus’ ministry as an example. Concerning laying on hands and healing the sick we have so much in Scripture, specifically James 5:13-16.
Tell me where in all of Scripture is there any indication that serpent handling and drinking poison should be treated as a quasi-sacrament by Christians?
Mark 16:17-18 says “ And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;  They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
Do you and other Pentecostals believe? If so, why do only some of those signs, but not all of them, follow you? Don’t you cast out devils? Don’t you speak in new tongues? Don’t you lay hands on the sick? Why don’t you also drink deadly things and take up serpents?
Some Pentecostals do. Why don’t you?
It is estimated that 3,000 people practice serpent handling. There are millions of Pentecostals.
Anyway, you have to read scripture in context. You cannot read a Bible verse in isolation from the rest of the Bible. We see no reason in Scripture to assume that Mark 16:18 is a command. It is only describing what will happen. In Acts 28:3-5, we see that Paul had an encounter with a viper, but suffered no ill effects. It’s important to note that Paul did not seek out the viper, the animal “fastened itself on his hands.” This was an example of the providential protection of God. It was not an institutionalized act of worship. We find no evidence in Scripture that believers went out seeking snakes to handle or went out and sought demons to exorcise.
On our journey through life we will encounter many battles. Some of us may be bitten by venomous snakes, some of us may be poisoned somehow, some of us may be trapped in a burning building, etc. God is able to work marvelously on behalf of those who belong to Him. “These signs will follow them that believe.” Christ was not mandating that we handle serpents as a ritual. He was simply promising that the Gospel would be confirmed with miraculous signs, and that supernatural protection would follow his children. Pentecostals certainly believe that.
Likewise, we should not go seeking out the demonic. When we encounter it, we must rebuke it in Jesus’ name. Children of God do not have to live in fear of Satan or the demonic. And those that are bound and held captive by demons can be delivered in the name of Jesus. Pentecostals certainly believe that.
Many accounts of baptism with the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts specifically mention that speaking in tongues accompanied the Spirit’s fullness (Acts 2, 10:44-48, 19:1-7). Some episodes of Spirit baptism do not mention tongues, however it is strongly implied (Acts 8:14-18, 9:17-19). Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:2, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” In the 5th verse, he said, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues.” Other passages in this chapter clearly establish that Paul thought Christians should “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts”.
Pentecostals have sought to understand the Scriptures and to encounter the power of God that was present in the New Testament Church. We believe that God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If he did if for the first Christians, he will surely do it for us. However, we do not find anything like what occurs in the serpent handling churches having occurred in the early church. It simply does not exist.
We must be extremely careful that we do not manufacture “signs” and “wonders”.
I would also point out that some (most?) scholars have raised questions and doubts as to the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. This is really bad news for serpent handlers. But Pentecostals don’t really care since there is ample evidence of speaking in tongues being universal in the early church already in Scripture.
I would also point out that some (most?) scholars have raised questions and doubts as to the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20.
Agreed, and most scholars have raised questions and doubts as to the authenticity of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, etc. . . . .
Is this really bad news for Traditional Christians?
@ Jared C, what I was referring to was not questions over who wrote the gospels. The claim is that Mark 16:9-20 was added to Mark sometime after Mark had already been written. Considering that the gospels were produced relatively quickly after the events they record had already happened, Christians actually can have confidence in the accounts they read.
Anyway, what is this pick on the Pentecostal because he doesn’t handle snakes like the stereotypes (or scripture apparently) demands that he do day?
You’ll notice if you read a newer Bible translation that this passage is often placed in brackets with an explanatory note saying that the earliest manuscripts of Mark that we have do not contain this passage.
3,000 out of millions is “some.” So yes, some Pentecostals do handle serpents.
Are you accusing Appalachian snake-handling charismatics of “manufacturing” signs and wonders when they handle copperheads and drink strychnine? Because I doubt that intensely.
To me, every day I talk to a Pentecostal who doesn’t handle snakes is Pick On The Pentecostal Because He Doesn’t Handle Snakes Day.
Also, this has nothing at all to do with stereotypes, so you can go ahead and drop the indignance. I am acutely aware that the number of snake-handling charismatics is absolutely tiny compared to the total number of Pentecostals. And before you play the wounded victim card, you should seriously consider checking your anti-Appalachian bigotry first, because your comments positively ooze with it.
Cal doesn’t handle snakes either, and I think I have made my disdain for him unmistakably clear.
First, I don’t see how I’ve oozed bigotry at all. If I have I apologize. Your comments honestly struck me as passive aggressive, like you were trying to make a point about speaking in tongues by equating it with snake handling.
As I explained, Pentecostals take into account more than just the Mark passage when we consider speaking in tongues. There is a whole biblical framework that is already in place about speaking in tongues. That framework just doesn’t exist when it comes to Christians doing life threatening things such as handling snakes and drinking poison. That answer, however, is apparently not good enough for you. Well too bad.
It is manufacturing signs and wonders when you consume diluted strychnine (is God not powerful enough to protect you against a full dose?) and when they use methods to make the snake’s bite less potent (like keeping them in a cold place until they are needed in the sanctuary or milking them before hand).
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I was definitely not trying to make a point about speaking in tongues by equating it with snake handling.
Indeed, it is not.
Are you accusing Appalachian serpent-handlers of being frauds? Or are you trying to justify yourself for not having the same kind of intensity of faith that they do?
No. I’m trying to answer the question I was asked, “Shane, do you handle serpents?” and “Why not?” At the same time, not knowing who you are or what you know about Pentecostalism, I wanted to let you know that most Pentecostals are not serpent handlers in case you didn’t know.
You asked a question. I answered it. If you feel that I’m seething over a lack of faith and lashing out at Christians who (according to you) have a greater intensity of faith than I do, then that is between you and God. I have done a lot of crazy things because the Spirit of God told me to. When God tells me to pick up a snake I will do it. However, I wont do it because George W. Hensley had some bright idea one day to pick up a snake and by the grace of God lived to tell about it. Perhaps God truly spoke to him and in that moment gave him a revelation about the power and providence of God. However, should he have instituted it as a regular practice in the church–in my opinion no. I am an historian. History is important to me. I can look at church history and read accounts of both xenoglossia and glossolalia. I see accounts of prophecy and exorcism. The writings of the church fathers and earliest Christian apologists are full of them. They show up in both orthodox and heterodox movements. I know of no early Christian sect that practice serpent handling. George Hensley can’t be the only one to get it right. Maybe I’m wrong? I’m happy to be corrected.
Correction, I’m not a historian. I study history. . . .
Please. You can certainly look at church history and see accounts of snake handling.
So you’re saying that if I read that book I will find evidence that there were serpent handlers in the 3rd century AD? I’m not really seeing anything past the 1800s or 1900s with my quick scan on googlebooks.
Why aren’t the 1800s and 1900s part of church history?
For a practice that is so important as to be afforded quasi-sacramental importance in Christian worship and apparently shows how intense someone’s faith is I would expect it to have been as old as the apostles.
What if it isn’t? What if it is and Paul just didn’t address the topic in any of his epistles?
Let me get this straight here. You’re arguing:
Mark says “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.” There is no proof that anyone in the church ever understood this to mean that we should pick up deadly snakes and drink deadly poison “on purpose” inside a church building as an act of worship until perhaps the 1800s. But because some people now think that is what Mark means then we should do it. And those who disagree just don’t have enough faith and are prejudiced against people from Appalachia.
No, I think you look down on Appalachia and Appalachians based on the tone of your response to my initial question. That’s an entirely (well, mostly) separate issue.
But I think you are lacking in faith because some Pentecostals clearly do handle snakes, but yet you don’t. You speak in tongues. You lay on hands. You might even cast out devils. But that just means your charismatic practices go to the limits of what is safe (and, I might add, largely unfalsifiable!) and not one inch further. That’s mighty convenient.
Meanwhile, humble God-fearing Christians in Appalachia are drinking poison and picking up copperheads, and I’m sorry, but their faith makes yours look pale.
Their faith makes mine look pale?
First, you don’t know me.
Second, unless God almighty has appointed Kullervo the magisterium of Pentecostalism and the arbiter of Christian faith and has endowed you with diverse gifts of prophecy and words of knowledge and a spirit of understanding so that you might penetrate the depths of the human soul and search out all mysteries and bring to light all things that are now in darkness, I would ask you nicely not to presume to judge how Pentecostal I am or how sincere my faith is.
Third, I do not judge or disdain humble God-fearing Christians in Appalachia. It is my belief that all Christian denominations and traditions possess errors and that we all see as through a glass darkly. All have fallen short of the glory of God, me most of all.
Fourth, even true and sincere faith can be misguided. People in good faith can misinterpret the Bible. People who have truly received revelation from God can and have fallen into excess. As a Pentecostal, I have seen and known this fact well myself. No one can place limits on God. We all must repent for attempting to quench the Spirit. But I have seen with my own eyes what can happen when no limits are placed on men and godly discernment is thrown out the window. Not every feeling is the anointing. Not every word is “Thus saith the Lord.”
Fifth, as a Pentecostal, I think speaking in tongues is the best thing since sliced bread. It makes me feel good to speak in tongues. It edifies me. It builds me up in my faith. I am a better Christian when I spend time at the throne of grace praying in the Spirit, letting the Spirit intercede for me on my behalf. I don’t know what to pray for many times, but the Holy Spirit does. That being said, I know full well that despite whatever personal happiness or validation or faith building I get from speaking in tongues not everyone needs or wants to hear me speak in tongues. Paul says, “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19). He goes on to say, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Cor. 14:23). Do you see what he is saying? There was nothing wrong per se with speaking in tongues. Paul said himself, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Cor. 14:18). But just because something is spiritual or a “sign” does not mean it has to be taken to an extreme. Tongues were a sign and a stumbling block (1 Cor. 14:20-25), and Paul did not want an entire church speaking in tongues all at once. The only result that would bring according to him was the uninformed thinking that everyone was mad. Instead, he wanted the entire church to be so filled with the Spirit that they prophesied all at once. What would be the result? According to Paul, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:24-25). Signs have a purpose. They are not toys for our amusement and badges for us to wear to show how much faith we have, as if we ourselves have done anything. Faith is a gift, as are signs and wonders. They are works of the Holy Spirit. We have to obey God. We have to conduct ourselves in divine order. Some Christians think that handling serpents is obeying God. Ok then, but I don’t agree and that is for reasons of biblical interpretation, historical study, and God’s personal leading in my own life.
Sixth, I really don’t care if you think I lack faith because I don’t handle serpents. Honestly, I don’t think you lack faith because you don’t speak in tongues, or prophesy, or heal the sick, or cast out demons (you may be able to do all of these things, I don’t know but you get might point). I’ve met a lot of Pentecostals in my life. Some can speak in tongues beautifully, but they didn’t have love. They were horrible people. I’ve seen the work of the Spirit more in the life of some non-Pentecostals than I have in some of the most Pentecostal people I know. I really don’t care how many signs you exhibit. If you claim to be a Christian. I simply want to see the Fruit of the Spirit in your life, which is love. Paul said it this way:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13)
People who truly feel that they must pick up a snake or drink poison in order to follow the commands of Jesus, or prove their faith, or whatever reason they have for what they do are answerable to God in the end. Not to me. Not to you. They have to find God’s will for themselves. That does not mean that I have to support, condone, encourage or partake in snake handling or drinking poison because they find a tenuous biblical support for the notion. Just because I speak in tongues, or believe in exorcism, or pray for the sick does not mean I have to agree with the practices of everyone who also does or believes these things. I will love them. I will pray for them. I will look for Jesus in their life and works. I will rejoice when they get it right and pray for them when they get it wrong. But I will not do what I know to be contrary to the Bible or God’s will.
Is that what you think Appalachian snake-handlers are doing?
Are Appalachian snake-handlers partaking in snake handling and drinking poison because they find a tenuous biblical support for the notion, or are they partaking in snake handling and drinking poison because the anointing is present?
I, for one, sincerely doubt that anyone picks up a canebrake rattler just because they “find a tenuous biblical support for the notion.”
“Is that what you think Appalachian snake-handlers are doing?”
Sure for many of them, just like for many Pentecostals tongues is a badge or an amusement. It may not be an amusement for them, but they certainly could think that its a badge of how strong their faith is. We’re all humans. We all have pride, even serpent handlers. And yet I’m also sure, just as with Pentecostals speaking in tongues, that there are many who truly seek to follow Jesus no matter the cost.
“Are Appalachian snake-handlers partaking in snake handling and drinking poison because they find a tenuous biblical support for the notion, or are they partaking in snake handling and drinking poison because the anointing is present?”
I don’t know any serpent handlers. I’m sure they don’t think the Mark passage is a tenuous biblical support for the notion. But I do, and since none of them are going to take my place when I stand before God their opinion of what Mark means does not matter to me. What matters is what God says.
“I, for one, sincerely doubt that anyone picks up a canebrake rattler just because they “find a tenuous biblical support for the notion.””
I agree. I’m sure they strongly believe that God wants them to do what they are doing. The point is that I think the belief they are basing that decision on is on shaky biblical ground. I understand that they believe they have convincing reasons for doing what they are doing. I’m just not convinced. And since I am not convinced on the biblical justification for the practice I cannot support them making something that amounts to private revelation a normative fact of church life.
Given that you have never met a snake handler, what could you possibly be basing your assumptions on here?
So, in other words, you assume charlatanry and bad motives from charismatics who snake handle snakes and drink poison because you see charlatanry and bad motives so often among charismatics who speak in tongues, cast out devils and lay on hands?
No. Any thing can be made into a badge of spiritual superiority, anything. I have no doubt that there are people with pure motives in any religious system. I also have no doubts that there are people with bad motives in any religious system. People are human. None of us are saints. The point I was making is that sincerity in itself does not make something true or right. I have no doubt that there are serpent handlers who are sincere faithful Christians. That fact in itself does not make serpent handling right.