Tag Archives: charismatic movement

Is the Church “Joel’s Army?”

 

Locust swarm in Madagascar, as in the days of the Book of Joel. A sign of judgment against God’s people, or a symbol for the church?

A popular worship song, “Blow A Trumpet in Zion,” is taken from Joel 2, describing a terrifying army, raised up by God. Though I have sung it countless times, I never really thought about what it really meant, in the Bible.

It goes like this:

They rush on the city
They run on the wall
Great is the army
That carries out His Word
The Lord utters His voice
Before His army
Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion
Sound the alarm on My holy mountain
Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion
Sound the alarm!

For years, I had been taught that this “army,” otherwise known as “Joel’s army,” represents the church, faithful believers in the “last days,” living in “victory,” who are to be raised up by God, to restore genuine worship, among God’s people. It is a very stirring image. But the problem with this interpretation is that it ignores the context of the passage.

As Craig Keener, New Testament theologian at Asbury Seminary, demonstrates, the lyric lifted from Joel 2:9, “They rush on the city, They run on the wall,”  is not about a “victorious” church, but rather, the instrument of judgment against God’s people. The theme of the Book of Joel is about God’s warning of judgment, against a disobedient people, expressed in terms of “the day of the Lord” (Joel 2:1), followed by a word of hope for God’s people, assuming they indeed repent (Joel 2:18-3:21).

Furthermore, the army, as explicitly described in Joel 2:25, are not believers. Rather, it is actually a great horde of locusts, following a series of previous locust attacks, as described in Joel 1.  God’s people had been disobedient, so they felt the hand of God’s judgment, through these locust attacks. Joel, in chapter 2, then warns of an even greater locust plague. To “Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion,” is therefore the call to God’ people, to repent, and turn their hearts towards God, in order to avoid God’s great plague of locusts against them.

You could draw an analogy, that this locust plague also represents the Babylonians, a “great and powerful people” (Joel 2:2), as sent by God, to judge the Hebrew people, thus leading to the exile of the Jews, to Babylon. Some even find a parallel with the plague of locusts in Revelation 9:7-8, possibly representing a future human army. But taking the further step of equating the locust plague with a victorious church, is really a distortion of the text. For Joel, God’s people are under judgment, so it makes no sense to make God’s people as being instruments of judgment against themselves.

A popular movement of some Christians, particularly in a few Pentecostal and charismatic circles, is to take this idea of “Joel’s army” as being a group of believers, who exercise the hand of God, to restore God’s “true” church, in the “last days” before Jesus’ Second Coming. This teaching is often associated with the “Latter Rain” movement, or the “New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).”  This elite, or so-called “victorious,” group of Christians will then act to rebuke what they consider to be “apostate” Christians.

The problem with thinking like this, is that it is very easy to identify your own group as being among the elite in “Joel’s army,” looking down upon other believers as being less “spiritual” than you are.  Instead, the antidote to this type of thinking is to learn to read Scripture more faithfully, and read it within its original, literary context.

The Book of Joel has much to teach us today about heeding God’s warning of judgment against a shallow Christianity. God will call all people to give an account for their lives, so we must all be mindful that even though God is indeed Loving, He is also a holy and righteous Judge. So, for now on, when I sing along with “Blow a Trumpet in Zion,” I hope it will cultivate a sense of sobriety in me, a re-examination of myself, and not a presumptuous, false sense of so-called “victory.”


Moving Beyond Confusion with the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” (#7)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

The seventh (and last) in a multipart blog post series

Let me share with you some of my personal journey. When someone says “charismatic,” with respect to the Christian faith, it can evoke a lot of different reactions….

I have had a number of friends who would consider themselves as “charismatic,” as well as friends who are “non-charismatic.” I have helped to lead worship at a Pentecostal church, back in college, as well as church fellowships that take a rather dim view of all things “charismatic.”Some friends really look forward to worshipping at a “Spirit-filled” church. Others will not touch anything “charismatic” with a 10-foot pole. I even had a girlfriend years ago who dumped me because she said I was too “charismatic,” which was strange, particularly since I do not think I have ever genuinely “spoken in tongues,” and certainly never around her!

Like British Bible teacher John R.W. Stott was, I consider myself open to the charismatic movement, but I am cautious. Like Stott, I do not believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be turned on and off at will, like a water spigot. Sure, there is the whacky stuff associated with many TV evangelists that drives me crazy, but my main concern is theological. It all started with that awkward conversation with my high school friend, some thirty years ago, that I mentioned in the first blog post in this series. I lost track of her over the years, but the theological conundrum she left with me has stayed with me:

Clarke, have you received the baptism in the Holy Ghost?

In one sense, the inner turmoil turned out for the best. I had to search the Scriptures for myself, seeking God deeper in my prayer life, asking that I might be filled more with His Spirit, in obedience to His Word. I still desire that, today. For that, I am most grateful for that conversation.

But in another sense, the question left me in a state of needless confusion. I read books by John R. W. Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones on this topic, and both had very different conclusions. Which one was right? I would have conversations with various pastors, all sharing conflicting views on the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

How was I to make sense of it all? What does the Bible really teach about the “baptism in the Holy Spirit?” Continue reading


Power to Witness in the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” (#6)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

Continuing on, with the sixth in a multipart blog post series

Revival: The church’s greatest need.

So reads the back cover of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic Joy Unspeakable…. and Lloyd-Jones is still right!! How can the church accomplish her God-given mission without the inward, transforming power of the Holy Spirit?

Once you observe how Old Testament prophecy works in the New Testament, regarding the Holy Spirit, such as in the narrative portions of the Book of Acts, then the whole framework of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” falls into place. But not only does “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” in the Book of Acts fulfill prophecy from the Old Testament, it does so for a purpose, namely, that the believer might experience the power to witness for the sake of the Gospel. Continue reading


Prophecy Fulfilled in the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” (#5)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

Picking up from where we left off, the fifth in a multipart blog post series

Is “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” something that happens to the believer upon conversion, or is it a subsequent experience in the life of a Christian? In examining the teachings of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John R. W. Stott, two British evangelical heavyweights of 20th century preaching, I have since found Stott’s arguments, in favor of identifying Spirit baptism to be synonymous with becoming a believer, to be more persuasive.1

Here is what tipped me in favor of John R. W. Stott’s view, and it is something that Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not address, as I read them both in college: What is the importance of biblical prophecy regarding the empowering work of the Holy Spirit? Discerning the role of biblical prophecy helps to cut through the confusion surrounding “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Continue reading


Is “Speaking in Tongues” the Sign of the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit?” (#3)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

After a break for a few weeks, we are picking up again with the third in a multipart blog series….

Azusa Street. Los Angeles, California. April, 1906. A new African American preacher in town, William J. Seymour, a son of former slaves, stood up to preach for several nights in a row. Seymour had been blinded in one eye, due to contracting small pox, when he was young. But this did not deter Seymour from delivering his message.

According to Seymour, many churches in his day were spiritually dead. The movement of the Spirit was not to be detected. Teenagers were bored by long, droning sermons. Petty squabbles consumed the energies of church people. Spiritual lifelessness had permeated congregations. Even in Los Angeles, churches were strictly divided along the lines of race. Something was severely lacking in the churches of early 20th century America.

Seymour began preaching for revival.

Crowds began to gather to hear Seymour preach. The meetings were so packed that the small buildings where they met started to crack, and larger meeting places were sought after. The emotional excitement was electrifying. People gathered from all backgrounds in the hundreds. Rich and poor, men and women, black and white, all gathered together to experience the movement of the Spirit. Economic, racial and other barriers collapsed as people were somehow…. moved by the Spirit. Continue reading


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