Monday, February 23, 2015

A pitfall of experimental religion

One man impacted significantly in the 1990s by Leonard's [Ravenhill] ministry was Mike Bickle, a pastor in Kansas City, Missouri, though the initial influence came years earlier. ...Bickle was present at one of Leonard's last significant times of ministry at the national Vineyard Fellowship conference at the Anaheim City Arena February 6-9, 1989. ... [Mack Tomlinson, In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill (Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2010), 489]

At that time I asked him [Leonard] why he was so favorable to the Third Wave movement. His answer delighted me when he said, "I am so sick and tired of death in the church that I am delighted to go anywhere where there is some life." [Richard Owen Robers, in Tomlinson, 523]

Christianity is a religion of faith and life, doctrine and practice. While doctrine without life (often called "dead orthodoxy") is wrong, life without doctrine is just as errant. When one over-emphasizes on certain aspects of practice, compromise normally follows.

Leonard Ravenhill it seems is revered in certain especially Charismatic circles, although he doesn't claim to be either a Charismatic or a Pentecostal. His roots are in the Methodist Holiness tradition, although he does not embrace Perfectionism. His message is one of holiness, prayer and revival. By "revival," the term is not meant in the revivalist sense of the term, but rather in the sense of old-school revival, the revival mentality of George Whitefield and John Wesley. In other words, Ravenhill can be considered an Experimentalist of the First Great Awakening ("New Side") variety.

Towards the end of his life, Ravenhill helped out at Vineyard Anaheim, and thus helped in the beginning period of the Third Wave. As we know by now, the Third Wave has become a monstrous, heretical movement. Mike Bickle was involved in the Kansas City Prophets movement, which was disgraced by the open sins of Paul Cain, and now heads the mystical International House of Prayer. Now, from reading the biography of Ravenhil, one does not get the impression that he will approve of what has happened in the Third Wave. Thus, while keeping Ravenhill neutral with regards to the Third Wave proper, we see here how Ravenhill's emphasis on revival has blinded him to the problems in the Third Wave. Much like Lyman Beecher in the Second Great Awakening, an emphasis of practice over doctrine will ultimately result in compromise from the faith.

Without taking a position on the old side/new side division in the 18th century American Presbyterian Church, we must insist that there is a pitfall in experimental religion of any kind — that of elevating spirituality over doctrine. Regardless of what one thinks about the idea of old-school revival, surely one should perceive that it is so very easy to emphasize piety over the foundation for piety. Sin is pervasive, even present in the godliest of us, so, if one were to esteem Ravenhill, it should not surprised us that even he were to fail in this regard. No matter how pious one may be, how any hours in prayer, how many years of service, one is always susceptible to sin. And helping out with the Third Wave IS sin.

One may admire the godly example of others, in fact, one should. But piety does not determine truth, and pious people can be wrong. The sole authority for the believer remains the Scriptures, not even pious believers like Ravenhill.

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