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The Fine Line of Discernment PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. William Mark Bristow   
Friday, 16 December 2011 03:54

For many years, I have purposely refrained from explaining the “mechanics” of spiritual experiences, manifestations, the moving of the Holy in my life for two reasons.  1) To describe the magnificence of God with my limited human “carnal” vocabulary in experience seemed so far beneath the reality of the experience that it is almost vulgar sacrilege.  2) For fear that hearer would try to implement my rather sullied explanation as an experiment and thus through misunderstanding I would pave the way for an innocent soul into a form of New Age Spiritism and subsequent deception.


In the last year or two (at this writing), I have had prophetic encouragement that I must speak!  Several have asked me how the church shall mature except we who have had the experience – teach?




Recently, reading after an author whose teaching was depth of such of that as Jesse Penn-Lewis, I had the privilege of meeting the author.  When I commented and appreciated the depth of teaching, the author said, “Mark, this was common knowledge – nothing special – when I was growing up in the Lord.”  (So what in the world are we teaching today – I ask myself??!  -- How to feel good about ourselves and have a good time, methinks!)


As we begin to teach the mechanics of spiritual exercise – experience, there is the constant danger of misunderstanding leading to deception – especially with spiritual babies – youth – well, the writer of Hebrews says it clearly, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.  For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be on the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.  For everyone that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:11-14 KJV Emphasis mine.)


It is a fact:  babies choke on solid food.  They can’t eat it, or digest it, and it can kill them!


So, I proceed with the utmost caution, fear and trepidation, as though I were teaching the use of an assault rifle, or a Howitzer (as my own Father taught in WWII) in the military – for that is exactly the spiritual reality!


This portion of teaching is to build a firm foundation of understanding for the revelation light that is to shine.  We will examine the dangers of pitfalls of delving into the Supernatural realm.  We will examine common criticisms of some in the church leveled against those of us who refuse the status quo.  We will establish guidelines from the Word for our own security and safety as we begin an entrance into this “mystery” of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:11).


Here, I intend to use criticisms as teaching tools.  These criticisms are typical of any furtherance of Spiritual knowledge and practice and have been leveled at many well-known men and women of God today, The Hunters, Kenneth Copeland, Kathryn Kuhlman, Benny Hinn, Gwen Shaw, Marilyn Hickey, John Hagee, Lester Sumrall, T. L. Osborn, etc.  These (and other) complaints are very well documented in the writings of such as self-proclaimed “watchdog” Hank Hanegraaff, and the writings of Dave Hunt, (bad as I hate to advertise for them).  (These guys at least have some Biblical training – questionable though their conclusions may be – please rely on reputable people rather than the various websites where any “kook” may portray their misguided “authority” on a subject.

Before we start, I recommend believers of full age read (in addition to scripture), the writings of Watchman Nee, Jesse Penn Lewis, Kenneth E. (Dad) Hagin, Lester Sumrall and Sister Gwen Shaw.   These are in my own library, and give great guidance, wisdom, and spiritual experience.

Here is “The Fine Line” – Discerning, first with the Word of God, and secondly by principle based on the Word with our senses sharpened and honed by the Word relying on The Holy Spirit of God to lead us into all truth.

Many years ago I heard Christians – Pentecostal Christians – question whether the miracles of healing which occurred in Kathryn Kuhlman’s ministry were truly of God’s Holy Spirit. (These miracles are well documented – and I have met many of the documented cases, some of whom are still living at this writing).  Pentecost as a modern movement was not well acquainted with her ministry of what scripture calls, “The Word of Knowledge” - where supernatural knowledge is given revealing a particular situation, event, or such.  A good example is Jesus’ revelation to Nathanael that he saw him under the fig tree in John 1:47, or Jesus’ revelation to the woman at the well of her previous husbands in John 4:16.  Or the revelation to the certain disciple, Ananias, of whom we know nothing, more than his singular appearance in Acts 9, of Saul of Tarsus’ whereabouts, and of the vision from the Lord on the road to Damascus. 

I heard more than one pastor say that Miss Kuhlman was psychic.  I heard Christians criticize her ministry because she refused to lay hands on people for healing (she often prayed for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit, or for salvation after a healing had occurred).

Many years ago I was playing for one of T. L. Osborn’s crusades in Houston, Texas.  I heard this International Statesman and Evangelist tell of how he was criticized by his own – Pentecostals – for ministering healing “in mass” – rather than laying on of hands.  (Dr. Osborn explained that in the early days they did lay on hands for healing, but as the crowds grew to 5,000 – 10,000 – 100,000 and greater it was physically impossible, and He searched the scriptures and prayed for direction.  He felt the Lord lead him to the places where Jesus spoke! – and the miracle was accomplished.)

Not long ago, I received a letter of question and criticism directed at my own ministry, questioning my practice of often ministering out in Word of Knowledge, rather than laying on hands for healing.

I once heard the famous radio preacher, C. M. Ward, declare that history shows the church fought eating with forks and knives at their introduction into civilization, saying, “If the Lord had intended it, a fork would have grown out the end of your hand!”  Those who chose to defile themselves by eating with implements were deemed heretics!

How well I remember the controversy still swirling in the 1960’s when Billy Graham began to lead people to salvation thru the 4 Spiritual laws.  Many felt hours of tarrying and wrestling with God at the altar were necessary for real salvation.  Though some simply scoffed at this great evangelist’s method of leading people to Christ, many refused to particulate and some railed that Graham was of the devil – leading people to Hell by the thousands.  From our perspective now, those criticisms seem absolutely silly.

In the 1970’s, Charles and Frances Hunter began to teach people the “mechanics” of receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.   Pentecostals cried – or rather screamed in protest, “HERESY!”  The feeling was totally against what was perceived at “teaching” people to speak in tongues.  In some places the Spirit-Filled movement literally split in two – Pentecostals and Charismatics over this and similar methods.

Today, most Spirit-filled Christians can’t imagine being “blacklisted” by area pastors for attending one of the Hunter’s meetings or participating in one of Billy Graham's crusades.   But, it happened.

Then in the 1980’s, Charles and Frances published, “HOW TO HEAL THE SICK.”  Many of the now “modern” Charismatics balked!  How can you teach someone to “Heal the Sick?”  “HERESY!”

I was present at the Hunter’s last large crusade at the Astrodome a few years back, with 25,000 in the audience, when about 8,000 trained Spirit-filled believers acted on Mark 16:18 and laid hands on approximately 15,000 sick on the stadium arena floor.  The results are recorded on video – hundreds and hundreds of healings recorded.  I personally, interviewed several and brought up the healed to give testimony on the platform.

The highlight for me, after the miracles, was a sinner’s prayer with hundreds more Born-Again, and then, when Charles Hunter led more than 3,000 brand new believers into the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  That many people speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance sounded like the mighty rushing wind, indeed!  The power and intensity of that sound was like listening to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah ROAR in the Astrodome!  No one present, will ever forget that moment.  And it was an event repeated which such numbers hundreds of times over the lengthy ministry of Charles and Frances Hunter.

I, personally have the privilege of ministering salvation and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to many hundreds at one time – and that, many times over the years.

To me, it’s no more complicated than Peter taking the lame man by the hand and “lifting him up” – as he did, the man was HEALED! (Acts 3:6-8).  Peter helped the man to act on his faith.  (Read Ruth Fisher’s famous teaching on “The Law of Appropriation.” Reprinted by permission as the last chapter of this book.)

Yet, in that day, the Hunters received so much “flack” from the Charismatic and Pentecostal church – that for a time, the “How” was dropped name of the book “To Heal the Sick.”  (Charles and Frances and their advisors soon realized most critics won’t be satisfied and changed the title back to its original where it remains today.)

When we begin to teach deeper things, the critics have exclaimed, GNOSTICISM.  (The Nicolaitans of Rev 2:6 were Gnostics, most scholars believe.)  Gnosticism is the doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition (from the Catholic on-line Encyclopedia), “based on the etymology of the word (gnosis "knowledge", gnostikos, "good at knowing"), is correct as far as it goes, but it gives only one, though perhaps the predominant, characteristic of Gnostic systems of thought. Whereas Judaism and Christianity, and almost all pagan systems, hold that the soul attains its proper end by obedience of mind and will to the Supreme Power, i.e. by faith and works, it is markedly peculiar to Gnosticism that it places the salvation of the soul merely in the possession of a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulae indicative of that knowledge. Gnostics were "people who knew", and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know. A more complete and historical definition of Gnosticism would be:

A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheistic-idealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour.”

Our Charismatic and Pentecostal beliefs and teachings become dangerously close to Gnosticism when we take Hosea 4:6 in misapplication, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge.”  Here God rebukes His people because they reject His law.  You and I know the law cannot forgive sins, nor redeem the heart of man, but the LIVING LAW – Christ Jesus, and his precious blood, is ever efficacious.  Today, many are like the Pharisees of old who standing before their Salvation accused Him of blasphemy (at the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda in John 5), Jesus answered them, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”  (John 5:39-40 KJV).  I love THE MESSAGE paraphrase here, "You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want.” 

Mental ascent – the acknowledging of a truth – is not Spiritual experience with God – reading the scripture – even a Doctorate of Theology does not guarantee salvation – only a meeting with the author of scripture – the author and finisher of our faith guarantees!  All other means of coming to God by scriptural knowledge is Gnosticism!  Yet, that knowledge of doctrine is required for the saved man’s faith and practice – for his daily walk with God.  Today the common division is: “Head knowledge” or “Heart knowledge.”   Are we teaching some secret knowledge or revelation?  There are mysteries in scripture – “Christ in us, the hope of glory” is the greatest of them.  Are we teaching salvation by secret knowledge?  Hardly.  Yet, there are depths, riches, treasures to be uncovered.  Why must we stop with the first rendering?  Psalm 1 says we “meditate” – that is a cow chewing its cud.  The food goes through several “chewing’s” (I’ll spare the squeamish the details) – but each time new and different nourishment is achieved.  So it should be with the Word. Is that teaching secret knowledge that we may arrive as gods?  -- The fine line. 


“..Ye are gods.”  And – What was Adam?


When we look at what Christ intends us to be, it sounds absolutely superhuman.  One verse will convey this almost unbelievable – almost absurd (to our natural minds) call of God, Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”  (Eph. 4:13 KJV) 


My mind says, “Till we all come to…the stature of the fullness of Christ … WHO?  ME?  ARE YOU KIDDING?”  “IMPOSSIBLE!”  -- Answers the carnality of my still unregenerate flesh. Yet the WORD OF GOD says it is possible, and the VERY desire and plan of my Heavenly Father!


I believe the mighty army described in Joel chapter 2 is a spiritual army of God moving in that fullness – going forth to reap the last most glorious harvest of souls before the coming of the Lord. 

 If we take the scripture literally, Jesus said, “greater works than these shall you do.”  (John 14:12)  In the famous quote of Mark 11:23-24 Jesus literally teaches a spirit-powered believer will have whatever he says!  When working within the bounds of the Word of God, John 15:7 makes this even more plain, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.  Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”  (Jesus made many more such statements but these are sufficient to show my cause.) 

Now, what is truly available for us?  Some have estimated Adam’s original state before the fall – and admittedly there is some guess work here, but the following is stated:  Adam named and obviously remembered the name for every animal and creature on this earth (Gen. 2:19).  He was created in the very image of the living God.  Psalm 8:5 (NRSV) says, “…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals   that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God,   and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,  the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” God is omniscient.  God is omnipotent.  God is omnipresent.  Did Adam have some degree of this nature?  I think that likely.  He could come directly into the presence of God physically.  This realization makes the devils deception even more poignant, “ye shall be as gods.”  (Gen. 3:5)  Adam and Eve already were – and didn’t see it.   When we think of our glorified bodies in heaven – none of this is shocking.  “We shall know as we are known.”  (1 Cor. 13:12).  “We shall be like Him.”  (1 Cor. 15:49)  In fact the NRSV says it, “…Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.”   The point here is this.  If Christ is restoring us to the glory of God (Heb. 2:10), then it isn’t strange for Jesus to say, ““Is it not written in your law,   ‘I said, you are gods’?”  (A quote of Psalm 82:6, I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you…”)


Certainly I am not trying to say you or I shall act as Savior, or Creator, but we have been made Kings and Priests unto Him and shall rule and reign with Him.

What should we expect of our new nature?  Should we continue to be the “such a worm as I” of the old song, “At the Cross”?  We were that “sinner” but have we been given a new, redeemed nature and should we now walk in it?  Most of our critics are quite comfortable when we remain.  We have set our sights too low, methinks.

The criticism here is this:  Are we now teaching some Charismatic form of the Deification of man – along the lines of Mormonism or New Age thought with every man being his own god? 

Herein – The Fine Line




 God - having the characteristics of both male and female 


Created in His image, should we try and understand the creator?  Are their parts missing from most men?  (Most women think so.)  Should men try to understand women?  --- Whew!  (Do I dare attempt this …?)


Is the feminine – mothering nature in God, absolutely and definitely. 

“1.         Yet … Judaism long ago acknowledged the validity of [the] feminine dimension of the Deity. The two names of God differ grammatically with regard to sexual connotation… The Tetragrammaton (YHVH)…is…feminine; it refers to God as if “He” were in fact “She.” Yet, as we have frequently noted, the Lord is also called ELoHiYM. That name ends with…masculine plural… If human beings are created in God’s image, and the single most important thing we know about God is that He is One – why did God create two kinds of people, male and female, after His likeness? …God chose to create two different kinds of people on this earth, not in spite of the fact that He is One, but precisely because God in the deepest sense of the word is really two. Of course we do not suggest any kind of dualism implying separate identities. Rather, as the very names of God imply, there are two distinct aspects to the Deity. God is both masculine and feminine. This gender difference is not one of physical attributes but one of emotion and typology.”  (Benjamin Blech, Understanding Judaism, page 273)

2.  In addition, God's "presence" (Shekinah) is a grammatically feminine word, and is often employed as a feminine aspect of God.

Was Adam created with both natures – some kind of androgynous creature?  Probably, if a “side” of Adam was removed, and from that woman was created.  (The Hebrew word translated “rib” is “tsela” and it means, “side.”) 

Some have speculated that God removed the “womb” from Adam and fashioned woman --speculation as to the mechanics, perhaps, but certainly plausible.

The importance here is that this is bandied about in an attempt to see what we should expect of our new nature.  What does God will that we should be – and do – in our new found life as a “Christ” “man” – a little – “messiah”? 

 – I know this sends the critics into a tailspin … The naysayers of this Holy Ghost Empowered Body of Christ all want us to be like Him in character and love – but should we like Him be filled with the Holy Spirit and be like Him in Power and Authority?  -- Well, That is the question, isn’t it?

Are we teaching as some charge that “God is Bisexual?”  as some charge -- please!   

The Fine Line

Visitations of Angels and Revelations


Years ago someone said, “If you talk to God you should be in a church.  If God talks to you, you should be in a mental institution!”

When I was a child – and that’s about 50 years ago now – no one, and I mean NO ONE (in my realm of Christianity) would say, “God told me thus and so.”  Absolutely not!  You never heard such in any mainline church.  Psychiatric care would have been ordered immediately.  You never heard a pastor say such. 

The few who dared talk with God in the public eye of radio or television were usually branded, “Kooks,” and “unstable” at best, and charlatans at worst.  (There obviously were real men and women of God – but since the outpouring of 1900 outpouring of Pentecost in America, most fought a tough, uphill battle to preach, pray, and practice their faith.)

Few young today in the move of the Spirit can realize the terrific price paid by those who have paved the way.  Today, in any Spirit-filled congregation, anywhere in the world, I hear people say, “The Lord told me,” and “God said,” with almost alarming familiarity.

All the while, the Word of God has remained unchanged, “My sheep hear my voice.” (John 10:27).

Whether we believe, or deny, that it could happen today – God has continued to speak.  When most of the church thought miracles and the supernatural Baptism of the Holy Spirit passé, God was still performing miracles and pouring out His Spirit.

Throughout the Bible, Angels of God (and fallen Angels) had interaction with men – sometimes seen – sometimes unseen.  So it is today.

Of course, there have been abuses.  We’ve all seen and heard of such abuses – some to the point of absurdity – for some an unhealthy preoccupation.  (I have a whole teaching on the Angelic realms, that I won’t repeat here.  Notes found at www.gfinc.org.)

Yet, the reality is in the Bible, and it should be experienced by men and women today.

Such is the case with Spiritual revelation by the Holy Spirit.  Certainly not to lead beyond the Word of God – or aside from the Word of God – or in its Holy stead – but revelation still comes from the Word and the Spirit.  God still gives men and women visions – and such experiences always give greater light upon the truths of God’s Word.  Why then, when we teach of such, or give report of experiences, should the criticism come – Mysticism!  Occultist practices!  -- The Fine Line.


Ties to false religion


As of recent, I have heard and read much, accusing Charismatic – Spirit-filled believers who experience Holy laughter – falling under the power – visions – trances, and the like of practicing an ancient East Indian form of yoga called Kundalini.  There are various warning sites on the web packed with youtube video of people falling and going into trances, shaking, and such manifestations.

Does Satan counterfeit the things of God?  YES!


Hindus revere cows as an ancestor reincarnated –  and I still eat steak.  Haitian voodoo has much similar in “look” to the manifestations that can take place when someone is in a trance, or shaken under the Spirit’s power – does that negate the real?? 

Please, where is our common sense? 

The Apostle Paul took as his text in Athens, the inscription on a pagan idol!  With that text, “To the unknown God” – the church in Athens began.  (I’ve preached in Athens! The hunger for God’s Word and Power is still there!) (Acts 17:23). 

One might as well accuse the Apostle Paul of dabbling in idol worship.

 “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.”  (1 Cor 11:14-15“9 The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, 10 and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  (1 Thess 2:9) 

I do want to call your attention to the limitations on Satan’s power.  The limitation is clear in the contest of Moses with the magicians of Egypt.  In Exodus 7:8, Moses’ staff turned into a serpent.  The magicians of Egypt did the same trick – but Moses staff/serpent --- ate theirs!   In Exodus 7:22, Moses turned water into blood – the Egyptian Magicians did the same. In Exodus 8:7, When Aaron and Moses brought forth a plague of frogs, the Egyptian magicians did the same. In Exodus 8:16-19, When Aaron and Moses brought forth a plague of gnats upon the land, the scripture says, “18 The magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, but they could not. … 19 And the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.” (NRSV) After that – the magicians didn’t even try.  The devil’s power is limited. One prophet of God said to me, “I believe there will be such an abundance of the real – the powerful working of God’s Supernatural in these last days – that the phony and the fake will fade away when held up to the light of the real!” 

The question remains, can the devil by magic and demons in the occult practices, produce some supernatural miracles, with lying signs and wonders?  The Word says exactly that.

Are we in dangerous territory when we move in the Supernatural?

Here, I believe is wisdom.  The Apostle Paul’s experience of being caught up to heaven appears exactly the same as a new age or occultist “out of body experience.” 

“2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3 And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.”  (2 Cor 12:2-4 NRSV) 

Paul is clear here that God is in control of the process.  That, I believe, is the secret to our safety. 

Many teach today that we are to “by faith” initiate or at least attempt to initiate these experiences.  (I was in a study where leaders from a great spirit-filled congregation taught and asked people if they wanted to be taken up to heaven in such an experience as Paul.  They were told to pick a point of light in the auditorium and to “stare, stare, stare, stare … now imagine yourself being caught up to heaven.  Now, who is there, who is speaking to you?”)  I was absolutely horrified as the new age technique of guided imagery and contacting spirit guides was being used in a Spirit-filled church!

But – when the Holy Spirit leads, when He initiates and experience, we are there in His glorious wisdom, Divine protection and safety! I remember reading after the occultists (many years ago when I wrongly dabbled in such before getting serious with God), of how a man who had learned to “project his spirit” in “astral travel” or “out of body experience” came back to his body to find other spirits (demons, I would understand today) had entered while he was out!  He went insane. Herein is THE FINE LINE. 

Yes, there are similarities of experience.  (To be candid, the Word of Knowledge comes to me in exactly the same way as premonitions came before I walked with God – the actual experience is quite similar.) I have a hard and fast rule – arrived at from years of experience – in trial and error, trying to walk in the Supernatural of God – and to do so with accuracy and integrity.  I only move in the Supernatural of God when the tangible anointing of the Holy Spirit is present and I must follow Him.   

As we proceed to grow from “glory to glory” and become – the (dare I use the term) “manifest sons of God” – the great army – we realize we are only at the beginning.  We shall be that great and glorious bride of Christ in this earth – the glorious church without spot and wrinkle, working the works of God.

Of those who are attempting to walk in this realm, many have thrown scriptural cautions and wisdom to the wind and are hurtling head first into the great unknown of the spiritual world. I want the deep things of God – the meat of the Word.  I want to move in the power of God – mightily.  I believe in Pentecost!  But I’m only so Pentecostal as the Word of God. God never pours out His power promiscuously.  He always has a Divine purpose. 

When we move with His Spirit – at His leading – in line with His Word – we will produce the results of the New Testament.  Whole cities will be saved!  Miracles will happen and men will be won to the Lord by them.  We, as Philip will be translated when the need arises!  The dead will be raised! The Gospel with its glorious power of being confirmed by signs following will be preached to the ends of the earth – then Christ will come!  We will rule and reign with Him.  Amen!

Last Updated on Friday, 16 December 2011 18:03
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