Blog Post

Discerning Manifestations

iStock_000061027562_SmallA Concerned Student asks: "Do you believe fire tunnels, laying on of hands to impart an anointing that some minster carries, and drunk in the spirit are new age concepts? Is so please site scripture and verse to defame any or all."

The practices you cite are all associated with questionable renewal and revival movements taking place in churches across America that have caused quite a bit of controversy mostly in Protestant and charismatic circles.

For those who have never heard of these practices, a fire tunnel is when a group of people line up opposite one another to form a kind of tunnel through which worshippers pass. As they do so, the people forming the tunnel lay hands on them and impart the Holy Spirit to them. People who have walked a tunnel may experience manifestations known in revivalist circles as being “drunk in the Spirit” in which a person looks, acts and feels as if they are drunk.

Laying on of hands to impart an anointing of the Holy Spirit is biblical. "When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). "Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them" (Acts 6:6). "Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17-19).

This practice continues today in the conferral of sacraments such as Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.

It’s not the laying on of hands that is suspect, it’s what kind of anointing this gesture is supposedly transferring. In some renewal and revival movements, these “gifts” of the Spirit can be quite bizarre, such as uncontrollable laughter (called Holy Laughter), staggering, swooning, going through the motions of childbirth supposedly to “birth” a new ministry, stripping off one’s clothes (called Holy Nakedness) and a variety of other manifestations.

For example, Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church has come under fire for services in his churches where dubious manifestations such as the falling of angel feathers and gold dust are drawing in the crowds.

John and Carol Arnott of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) have long been promoting a so-called gift of the Spirit known as Holy Laughter in which people break into uproarious laughter. Although its called a “new” movement of the Spirit but it’s actually very old and was once practiced by Islamic mystics, known as dervishes, who transferred it to their students by a touch or the wave of the hand.

iStock_000005435484_SmallSome Protestant leaders believe churches that promote these kinds of manifestations are associated with what they like to call the Third Wave movement which is based on the belief that there have been three recent periods of activity of the Holy Spirit in recent years.

“The first was the Pentecostal revival around 1906, the second was the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and the third began in the 1980s with a new commitment to signs, wonders and supernatural experiences with God,” writes John Wolf, founder of the Church Education Resource Ministries.

Preachers like Johnson lure people into their churches by promising them healing, prosperity and extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit to keep them coming back. The use of excessive stimuli such as forceful preaching, repetitive music, chanting and dancing works the crowd up into an emotional frenzy that often leads to bizarre manifestations.

Generally speaking, the kind of gifts that people in these renewal and revival churches are pushing are those associated with the charismatic gifts.

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit . . . . to each individual the manifestation is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.” 1 Cor 12: 4-11

These gifts are very real and very much a part of our life in the Spirit. They manifest in powerful ways even in this day and age – but they are to be used to promote the common good, not to satisfy a person’s longing for the extraordinary or to promote a particular preacher’s agenda.

In other words, all manifestations must be tested.

“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” (1 Thess 5:19)

The best way to do this is to test everything against Scripture. You’ll often hear someone say that the Spirit is “doing something new” in this or that church and therefore it can’t be checked against Scripture. Beware! The reason why there is no Scriptural basis for angel feathers falling from the ceiling or people’s teeth turning gold is not because it’s “something new” but because it’s something false.

Another way to do this is to look for the fruits of the Spirit. This is what Jesus meant when He taught “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt 7:16).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:22)

The process by which the Spirit produces these fruits is called sanctification. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24)

In other words, as we mature in the faith and the following of Christ, we no longer pine for religious “experiences”, but for a closer union with God. Our tastes have changed. It’s no longer the flesh and all of its persistent demands that drives us, it’s the Spirit of peace and self-control. We are gentler, more loving people, patient with others and generous of heart. Jesus’ command to “love one another as I love you” (John 15:12) has become the rule of our life.

Tthose who want a quick course in discernment of spirits would be well advised to pick up this little gem at your local bookstore or through Angelus Press. It’s cheap, gets right to the piont and is based on solid Ignatian spirituality.