Tag Archives: pentecostalism

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.”


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


What is the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit?” (#1)

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)

“… Have you ever been baptized in the Holy Ghost?”

Over the next few blog posts, I want to walk you through how a simple question lead me to a test of faith, and how the Lord, through an informed study of the Scripture, eventually led me through that crisis.

I was a sophomore college student in the early 1980s, having only been an active follower of Jesus for a few years. I did not know much about the Bible, but what little I had learned from my Bible teachers, I had trusted. So, when I went to visit some friends at a neighboring university, I was unprepared for the question I would receive.

It was a sunny, spring Saturday, and the local campus fellowships at Virginia Tech were putting on a Christian music festival.  A bunch of friends of mine had hopped into a car, going down the road to Blacksburg, Virginia, to check it all out.

There I bumped into a slightly-older friend from my high school, who was finishing up at Virginia Tech. I did not know her that well. She was known to be a bit of a party-animal back in my high school, while I was a nerdy book kid. But it was to our mutual delight that we learned that we had both become Christians in the intervening years. We spent about twenty minutes swapping stories, sharing with one another how we had both come to faith. We both spoke of the joy of having a relationship with the Savior, and the confidence we shared in Jesus. Everything was very encouraging, until she stopped for a moment, pondered what she might say next, and then dropped the bombshell.

Clarke, have you ever been baptized in the Holy Ghost?

I can still remember my puzzled web of thoughts. Though she spoke in the terms of the old King James Version, of the “Holy Ghost,” and I understood her to be asking me as to when I received the “Holy Spirit.” The question from my friend confused me, as we had been sharing how we had both become Christians. Surely, we were both “baptized in the Holy Spirit” when we both became believers. At least, that is how I was taught in my Bible-believing church:

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit”(1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)

There is but one Spirit, and one baptism in the Spirit, into the one body of Christ. The Apostle Paul had settled the matter. We receive the Spirit upon conversion to having faith in Christ. That being the case, what was my friend from my days in high school talking about?

Doubts and questions flooded my mind: Was she implying that I really was not a believer in Christ, at least, not yet?

Or was she indicating that she had a type of “second blessing” experience of the Holy Spirit in her life, something that I had not experienced in my journey with the Lord, but needed to? She did talk about so-called “speaking in tongues,” but what did that have to do with the “baptism in the Holy Ghost/Spirit?” Could I really trust what I had been previously taught about the Holy Spirit?

I was confused.

The day in Blacksburg had been a lot of fun, with fellowship, great music, and times of praise to the Living God. But as I rode back along Interstate 81, to my college dorm that evening, I kept thinking about that awkward conversation with my high school friend. I had no clue what she was talking about, but I was determined to search the Scriptures to find out. It was a bit of a spiritual crisis for me, and I needed some answers.

Over the next few blog posts, I hope to show you what I learned in sorting this all out. I acknowledge that not everyone will agree with me, as to where I finally landed. All I ask is that you sift through the content of this series and line it up with the Word of God. I may not get everything right, but I know that His Word is True.

But first, we need to gain some historical perspective, that I will explore in the next blog post in this series.


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