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ANGELS, DECEPTION AND A CRY FOR BIBLICAL TRUTH
by J Lee Grady
Weird teachings about angels have become the norm in some charismatic circles today. Itís time to demand sanity on the subject.
At a growing Brazilian church in Boston, a pastor told his congregation he was having regular conversations with an angel. Weeks later he set a chair on the stage for the heavenly visitor, whom he said was attending Sunday services even though no one could see him. The pastor eventually wrote a book containing messages he had supposedly received from the angel. The manís teachings became so bizarre that he was eventually removed from his denomination for promoting heresy.
That scenario may seem extreme, but it is one example of widespread emphasis on angels and angelic encounters in the charismatic movement today. In the case of the Brazilian church, the pastor went off the theological deep end and his church became a cult. It remains to be seen what will happen in other sectors of our movement as leaders promote teachings about angels that range from the mildly weird to downright wacky:
"It remains to be seen what will happen in other sectors of our movement as leaders promote teachings about angels that range from the mildly weird to downright wacky."
* Evangelist Todd Bentley, leader of the Lakeland Revival, stirred up interest in angels when he wrote about Emma, a female angel he said wears a long white dress, floats above the floor and resembles Kathryn Kuhlman.
* A young evangelist who was preaching in Canada last spring held up a jar with a feather in it and told the congregation it belonged to an angel who visits him. He said the angel was coming to the service to release riches and healing to those who wanted prayer.
* Leaders of the prophetic movement often speak of angels that bring healing, wealth or special anointings. Some have described angels as tall as skyscrapers while others say they have seen tiny angels the size of insects. One prophet spoke of angels who are sleeping inside the walls of churches. Another segment of believers claim that the glowing circles of light that often show up on photographs are angels in the form of "orbs."
With such exotic teachings on the rise, we desperately need some biblical guidelines. If you believe everything you hear these days, angels can be huge, tiny, spherical, male, female, feathered or non-feathered. Whatís next? Yipping dog angels? Mermaid angels with fins? Court jester angels with bells on their hats?
Since my earliest days in the charismatic movement I was always taught that the Bible is our guidebook for doctrine and practice, and that the early church's experience in the Book of Acts should be a pattern for us. This would direct us to assume that if a spiritual experience is not in the Bible, then it should not be considered normative for us today.
When I look at what the New Testament teaches us about angels and, specifically, what the book of Acts shows us about them, hereís what I find:
* Angels who looked like men told the early disciples that Jesus would return one day (see Acts 1:11)
* Angels are actively working behind the scenes to minister to the saints, especially to offer protection (see Acts 12:7-11)
* In one case an angel directed Philip where to preach (see Acts 8:26)
* Angels sometimes appeared in visions to give instructions, as one did for Cornelius (see Acts 10:3,7,22)
* An angel came to Paul to strengthen him and to assure him that he would preach to Caesar (see Acts 27:23-24).
If we look at Paulís epistles, we find only a few references to angelsóand most are actually warnings to the early church about a wrong emphasis on angels:
* Paul warned the Galatians that false angels can bring deception (see Gal. 1:8)
* Paul warned the Corinthians about "angels of light" that are messengers of Satan (see 2 Cor. 11:14)
* Paul warned the Colossians about misguided people who worship angels and deceive people with their emphasis on mystical experiences that are rooted in their hyperinflated egos (see Col. 2:18).
The book of Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who were considering going back to Old Covenant worship. In the first chapter the author makes it clear that angels have a lower place in God's economy when compared to Jesus Christ.
Many Bible scholars believe the readers of this epistle were being tempted to go back to an Old Covenant paradigm in which angels played a more significant role. The author of Hebrews warns these believers to focus their attention instead on the Son of God, who is more glorious than angels. We can make some basic assumptions about angels in the New Covenant era:
1. Angels help the church fulfill its mission, and they protect and guide the saints. Every one of us has probably experienced the activity of angels in our livesóoften without knowing it because they are usually invisible.
2. Angels sometimes intervene with directive messages. But there is no case in the New Testament church in which an angel gave his name or brought attention to himself.
3. Angels donít teach or explain doctrine. In our movement today, some leaders have suggested that certain angels (such as "Winds of Change") have arrived to usher in new movements. Emma has been described as a "nurturing angel" who brings a prophetic movement. But nowhere does the Bible suggest that angels bring moves of God. Jesus commissioned the church to advance the kingdom by preaching the gospel. Angels know this and they are expecting us to do our job.
4. Angels donít bring healing. The New Testament church was commissioned to bring healing "through the name of Jesus," and Jesus was always the focus for anyone who was healed miraculously. The story of the Pool of Siloam falls under the Old Covenant system, since this phenomenon occurred before the ministry of Jesus. And when Jesus came to that pool He proved to be a better solution to those who waited for the stirring of the waters.
5. Angels look like people, and in every case in Scripture they appeared to be male. However, in some cases their appearance was frightening because they carry with them the glory of heaven and the fear of God.
6. False angels preach a different gospel. One of the devil's strategies is to send counterfeit angelic messengers who bring teaching that is contrary to biblical truth.
There are many flaky, weird and foolish concepts being circulated in our movement today that must be corrected. If we don't hold tightly to Scripture, we might unknowingly give birth to a cult that could bring great damage and division to churches worldwide. Itís time to get back to the Bible!
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma Magazine in the USA