Losing the Presence and Power of the Spirit 

I have almost 60 years of observing the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. For a time, I rejected the Pentecostal/charismatic orientation (June 1969 to Spring 1974), but then, through Bible study and experience, I fully embraced this orientation as biblical and essential. The evidence is dramatic. As Philip Jenkins documents in The Next Christendom, the progress of Christianity in the majority of the world is with amazing miracles and is Pentecostal/charismatic.  The leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance told me last spring that of 600 million people connected in denominations and streams through the WEA, 400 million are Pentecostal/charismatic.  They are not in name only but practice preaching a Gospel with signs following and gatherings where the gifts and power of God are the norm.  The amazing books by Heidi Baker on her work in Africa and the great scholar Craig Keener in his world survey of the miraculous (1000 pages), The Credibility of New Testament Miracles, gives irrefutable testimony of God’s ways in extending the Kingdom.  This is a key part of the Gospels teaching on the Gospel of the Kingdom. 

We see also the classic teaching on the importance of the power of the Spirit from famous leaders of the late 19th century, D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, A. B. Simpson (Christian and Missionary Alliance) A. J. Gordon of Gordon College fame, and V. Raymond Edmond, President and Chancellor of Wheaton College (1940-1967).  Edmund’s book They Found the Secret emphasized being baptized in the Spirit as a definite crucial experience for all believers. 

However, there is another phenomenon in the West and in Israel.  It is the decline of the reality of Holy Spirit power, signs and wonders and the practice of the charismata. In the early 1980s, in America while I was in the Washington area, I connected to a growing charismatic movement both in denominational churches and new apostolic stream churches.  Our own Messianic Jewish congregation was very much part of all this.  I was so optimistic.  I saw growing unity, people coming to faith, and frequently with a supernatural element.  Then it declined.  What happened?  One of the key charismatic pastoral leaders in Israel, a disciple of the renowned Derek Prince, noted a significant decline form the 1990s in Israel.   How did that happen?

My answer is that the presence and power of the Spirit needs to be always zealously pursued or there will be decline.  Fostering the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit is to be pursued as part of this.  If it is not done, it will decline.  Then, as with some mega churches in the United States, social psychological methods that attract will replace the Presence and Power.  For a season the replacement can look successful, but it is as with Rehoboam, there is a replacement of bronze shields for the gold, and the glory is in the gold. Human beings given what they are, with a tendency for laziness, fear, and offense, eventually are giving to a decline in the Presence and Power. Openness to the Spirit will sometimes produce manifestations that offend the mind but may be legitimate. There needs to be discernment. 

I have a name for this phenomenon.  It is the Spiritual Second Law of Thermodynamics.  The Second Law is known in science as the axiom that the energy of the universe as a whole is running down, dissipating, or going from useable energy to dissipated.  This used up energy is always increasing (the law of entropy increase).  This is why scientists agree that the universe is slowly moving towards energy death.  It will take eons, but this is where it is going.   The only answer is a new infusion of energy from outside the universe itself. Of course, science knows of no such source of new energy but is limited to knowledge in this universe.  It is the same in spiritual life.  We will tend to run down in spiritual power and energy unless we have new infusions of that energy by the Spirit of God.  

Those who are part of movements of congregations with great evangelistic gains tell us how they have maintained their spiritual energy.  Here are some pointers. 

  1. Fostering praying in tongues to build up our inner person is important. As I Cor. 14 says, the one who so prays edifies his spirit. 
  2. Regularly giving invitation for people to receive the gift of immersion in the Spirit. Many charismatic in name pastors do not have confidence to do this since they are in doubt.  They fear nothing will happen.  I recommend that it is Yeshua who does the work, and we need to pray for it regularly and trust him. 
  3. We need to teach people how to hear the voice of the Spirit and how to walk in a sense of His prophetic speaking and leading.  This is not just for prophets but for all (“the testimony of Yeshua is the Spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10).  “You can all prophecy.” (I Cor. 14:31)).  We should train them to expect this to happen in our witness to those who are not followers of Yeshua. 
  4. We need to foster the practice of spiritual gifts in our congregations until we see that most do practice the word gifts of I Cor. 12 and 14.  In larger assemblies, people can be vetted by appointed elders before they are released to the public. The reason this is not done is that leaders fear that it will be messy, and they are uneasy about governing. As someone who has done this for over 40 years now and fosters this in our related congregations, I say to these leaders, get over this.  If you want spiritual power, you need to learn how to foster and govern. 
  5. We need to see the leaders and people regularly lay hands on others for blessing and for healing and not give up until we see it happening.  
  6. Of course, all of this depends on motivating our people into personal devotional life where they daily receive new renewal in the Spirit and learn to live their day in the Spirit. 

The great last scholar, Jon Mark Ruthven, argued that life in the prophetic and the power of the Spirit is part of the essence of the New Covenant. We also do pray for revival and trust that revival will lead us back to these emphases.