The Spoiled Milk
Pitting Paul Against Pentecost
Johnson describes the scene on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The room was filled with 120 people who spoke and expressed praise in unknown tongues.
“No matter how people interpret Paul’s instruction on the use of spiritual gifts, one thing must be agreed upon: this meeting was entirely directed by the Holy Spirit. The infant Church hadn’t learned enough to try and control God. They hadn’t developed biases over acceptable and unacceptable practices. They had no biblical or experiential grid for what was happening” (p. 162).
What Johnson seems to miss is that there are instances of the Holy Spirit indwelling a leader in the Old Testament (Ex 28.3; Judg 6.34; 11.29; 14.6; 1 Sam 11.6) which did give them a ‘biblical…grid for what was happening‘. It seems like Johnson may be pitting Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians on the correct use (and not mis-use) of the Holy Spirit’s gifts in the church against what was happening here on the day of Pentecost, a day with no ‘developed biases.’
This may be too ambiguous to say for certain, but it follows with the next quote from Johnson.
“The Church has an unhealthy addiction to perfection: the kind that makes no allowances for messes. This standard [perfection] can only be met by restricting or rejecting the use of the gifts of the Spirit. ‘Let all things be done decently and in order’ [1 Cor. 14.40]. The ‘all things’ of this verse refer to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all things must be done before we have the right to discuss order” [pg. 163, Johnson’s emphasis].
So is Johnson pitting Paul’s wanting a decent use of the Spirit over what the Spirit really wants to do? Is he really saying that the Spirit wants to do more, but Paul was uncomfortable with how much the Holy Spirit really wants to do? Is Paul a closet-Baptist and the Spirit a chandelier-swingin’ Pentecostal? Poor Paul! What else is this miserable apostle supposed to do but restrict the church’s use of the Spirit?
Yet this is not the correct way to look at Paul’s command.
What Did Paul Really Say?
Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (1 Cor 1.1; 2 Cor 1.1; Eph 1.1; Col 1.1; 2 Tim 1.1; cf. Rom 1.1; Gal 1.1; Phil 1.1; 1 and 2 Thess 1.1; 1 Tim 1.1; Titus 1.1; Philemon 1.1). He does all in the sight of God (2 Cor 12.19; cf. 2.17; 4.2; 8.21) according to His commands. Paul can be trusted and does all for his church and for the glory of God.
Paul isn’t saying “all things must be done before we have the right to discuss order,” but more so, “Let all things that are done be done decently and in order.” It doesn’t mean we should let the Holy Spirit move as He wishes and then decide what we feel most comfortable with. The Corinthians were abusing their spiritual gifts and using them to promote themselves. That’s why the famous ‘love’ chapter (1 Corinthians 13) comes in between chapter 12 (the use of spiritual gifts and being one unified body) and chapter 14 (the correct use of tongues, prophecy, and order).
It’s as if Johnson is saying, “Let’s do whatever we want and then we’ll impose order if there’s something we don’t like.” But if that was the case, it would be like a subcontractor who builds a house before using geometry, tools, and the blueprints to bring perfect order (perhaps like building a house on the sand? [Matt. 7.26]). It would be like writing a book before knowing the rules of grammar (have you read people’s text messages lately?).
Was Paul Confused?
If Paul didn’t like what the Spirit was doing, it would be wrong for him to say (1 Cor 14.33), “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace,” and then a few verses later (14.40) command Corinth to “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Is Paul confused? Is God peaceful but only confusing to him? Can Paul simply not understand what God is doing through His Spirit?
If such is the case, why would these chapters be in our Bible? “Oh, that’s the chapter where Paul doesn’t understand the use of the Spirit, and in that chapter Paul is scared of disorder.” Or maybe, just maybe, Corinth started making up what the Spirit did. In 14.5 Paul says he’d rather the church prophesy than speak in tongues because then the church would be edified. Paul would rather speak five words that his church could understand and be encouraged by than speak ten thousand words in a tongue that no one understands. Many in Corinth were impressed by such grand displays of the Spirit.
Yet what do some people do today? Lie on the floor as dead? Bark? Laugh? Is this some kind of contest? Who does this really edify? We are not animals. The Bible portrays God’s enemies as beasts and wild animals (Dan 4.32-33; 7.3-8,11-12; Rev 12.3; 13.1-2, 11-13). Does the Spirit really want to work in our lives by giving us a god, hearty laugh? No, I do not think so.
“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The Holy Spirit isn’t going to work in a way which promotes disorder, where everyone prophesies at once to promote themselves, and where nobody can hear what is being said. Nobody gains anything from that kind of environment. If you have something to say, you do as you learned all the way back in kindergarten: you wait your turn and let each person speak one at a time.
When God Colors Outside The Lines
“Keeping things tidy has become our great commission” (p. 163). This may be true for many churches, but that’s besides the point. In context, Johnson thinks there should be greater manifestations of the Spirit? And what kinds of manifestations does he have in mind?
In a section in the book titled “When God Colors Outside The Lines” Johnson says, “On many occasions laughter has filled a room, bringing healing to broken hearts. Gold dust sometimes covers people’s faces, hands, or clothing during worship or ministry time. Oil sometimes appears on the hands of His people; and it especially happens among children. A wind has come into a room with no open windows, doors, vents, etc. At some locations, believers have seen an actual cloud of His presence appearing over the heads of worshiping people. We’ve also had the fragrance of heaven fill a room. In my own experience the fragrance of heaven filled our car while Beni and I were worshiping on a short trip. It lasted for about 30 minutes, and was a smell that I could actually taste, similar to granules of sugar sprinkled on my tongue. I have seen the small gems that suddenly appeared in peoples hands as they worshiped God. Since early in 1998 we have had feathers fall in our meetings. At first I thought birds were getting into our air conditioning ducts. But then they started falling in other rooms of the church not connected with the same ductwork. They now fall most anywhere we go—airports, homes, restaurants, offices, and the like“ (p. 141).
Is this how we are to be conformed into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ? The Spirit helps us in our weakness by putting oil on our hands? A wind blows through the room? Gold dust, small gems, and angel feathers? This sounds more like a comedy club than anything biblical. It’s on sections like these where I feel I don’t have to say much of anything to disprove it. It should speak for itself. Honestly, I feel Johnson’s whole book should speak for itself.
Doesn’t Examine Motives
Worse yet and strangely enough, Johnson doesn’t examine his motives.
“It may sound strange, but I don’t examine my motives anymore. That’s not my job. I work hard to obey God in everything that I am and do. If I am out to lunch on a matter, it is His job to point that out to me” (p. 140, PDF).
Is it His job? We go about living our daily lives, and it’s His job to point out our wrong doings? He will by grace, but it’s not His job. Yes, God is the one with the spotlight, and it’s by His light that we see light, but should Johnson walk blindly thinking everything is fine and dandy? One can have good actions, but what are the motivations behind those actions?
Why shouldn’t Johnson examine his motives? Does he want to cast a blind eye to his own heart? Doesn’t Romans 1.23-24 say that “God gave up” those who “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man”? Can Johnson really say it’s God’s job to point out his own sins? If Johnson ignores that correction, then what? He’s not going to point out his own motivation errors.
Yes, God is the one who knows our truest motives (Ps. 17.3; Heb. 4.12) and we can’t always be 100% sure of our motives (Jer. 17.9), but that’s without the light of God’s word and Christ, according to Eph 5.13-14. It’s after these verses in Ephesians where Paul then goes on to say that we are to walk wisely, not in foolishness, because the days are evil. How do we walk wisely? We examine our motives and make sure we are loving God and loving our neighbor.
If Johnson doesn’t examine his motives, how does he know he loves God unselfishly? You’ll recognize your motives by reading God’s Word, not some new age perception of a supposed grand, ethereal experience of ‘His presence.’ You read His word using reason and knowledge and, by seeing God’s character, you admit that your motives were not correct. The Word of God is the foundation for how we live in this world, and to be able to decipher what is true and what is false.
Ps. 36.1-2 says, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.”
Paul is not against the Spirit, but he knows that God’s Spirit builds up the body and points us to Christ, not to ourselves. We are not to use our gifts to promote ourselves, but to glorify God. Johnson is guilty of twisting Paul’s words to fit his own desire of how he believes the Spirit should work. ‘The infant Church’ at Pentecost ‘hadn’t learned enough to try and control God.’ And Paul took no issue with the 120 in the upper room. It was the Corinthian church that was trying to control God, and Paul had to put a stop to it. It’s Johnson who’s trying to control God. But, by not examining his motives, he’ll never admit to this wrong. He wants to give jobs to God and the Spirit, jobs they are not required to fulfill. Instead of putting in the work, Johnson expects God to point out his sins and the Spirit to fulfill his wildest dreams and show him exactly what his Bible says (which, of course, is a theology that doesn’t jive with pain).
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” – 1 Cor 3.16-17.
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” – 2 Peter 3.15-17