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The biggest problem in the contemporary charismatic Pentecostal church of America is certainly not “strange fire.” It is the lack of fire—Holy Spirit fire, divine fire, the fire of visitation, the fire of Pentecost.
Is there some “strange fire” in our midst, some fleshly manifestations and hyped-up emotional displays? I’m sure there is, but it probably represents a tiny percentage of what actually happens in most charismatic Pentecostal churches in America today.
Instead, we have a “charismatic form of worship,” meaning we sing contemporary songs (as if this was somehow cutting edge), we raise our hands, we might even raise our voices (a little), there might be the same old tired prophecy repeated yet again and some scattered utterances in tongues, and a few people might even dance in the aisles—and that’s about it.
Oh, we may have prayer for the sick at the end of the service, and some people might even be “slain in the Spirit” (which is wonderful if the Spirit really touches someone but otherwise meaningless).
But where is the divine visitation?
Where is the demonstration of the power of God?
Where is the soul-shaking encounter with the risen Lord?
Where is the outpouring of deep repentance, the instantaneous deliverance of lifelong bondages, the sudden outbreak of miraculous healings?
Where are the prophetic words that bring the sinner to his knees in a revelation of the reality of God?
Where is the move of God that takes our breath away, the extraordinary nearness of heaven in worship that radically changes our perspective in a moment of time?
I am grateful to God for those churches where the Spirit is really moving, but truth be told, there are plenty of our churches that go months—or even years—without seeing a single true convert, that can’t remember the last documented healing, that can hardly point to a significant prophetic word, that haven’t had a Sunday morning service in memory that went on for hours because God was working so powerfully.
Yet we call ourselves Pentecostal and charismatic. Why?
We have gotten so far away from the real power of Pentecost that many of our people don’t even speak in tongues—or if they once did, they hardly do anymore. In fact, some of the professors at our “Pentecostal” Bible colleges don’t even believe in speaking in tongues, let alone practice it.
And we are “Pentecostal”? In what sense?
I wonder how many of today’s American charismatic Pentecostal leaders would have been more at home with the mockers in Acts 2:13 who said, “They are filled with new wine” (ESV), rather than with those who were amazed and perplexed and heard the praises of God (vv. 7-12).
I wonder how many of our congregants would have been like the inhabitants of the Gadarenes who begged Jesus to leave because his presence was too disruptive (Mark 5:1-20).
I wonder how many of us would have run out of the Azusa Street meetings more than 100 years ago, saying, “This is not of God!”
No, “strange fire” is hardly our problem today. It is the lack of fire.
And rather than get on our faces and repent of our busyness and carnality and compromise, we have leaned on the arm of the flesh, substituting the latest business plan for the leading of the Spirit and the latest worldly innovation—especially if it’s trending on Twitter—for the holy Word on fire.
In fact, we are more at home with marketing and media than with the manifestation of God.
And rather than cry out for the moving of the Spirit—with all the upheaval and shaking that it brings—we have wanted to prove to the rest of the church (and even the world) that we are sophisticated, that we have degrees and titles like everyone else, that we are balanced and refined. We even have ministerial robes!
But none of that can make up for the absence of divine fire, and if there was ever a time in our history that we needed a fresh outpouring, a fresh wave of revival, a fresh move of the Spirit, it is now.
Something deep inside me tells me that divine visitation is near.
But will we welcome it? Will we welcome the Spirit of Pentecost when He comes?
Michael Brown is author of The Real Kosher Jesus and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.