Years ago the pastor of my current church taught on three popular trends in today’s churches: the seeker friendly movement; the so-called “revivals” in which people lose control, roll in the aisles, laugh uncontrollably and make animal noises; and the health and wealth teaching. I have researched these trends as well, but he said something that was brilliantly insightful and which, because of my research, I recognized as true as soon as he said it. He said, “The people who fall for these deceptions tend to get carried away into further and further deception.”
How true. Some of the health and wealth teachers also teach that we become little “gods” when we are born again and/or that Jesus ceased to be God when the Father laid our sins on him at the cross. And Bill Johnson, the pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, started off as a health and wealth teacher but got sucked into the Toronto “Revival,” a full blown example of a revival in which the people lose control.
For me, the best example of a person who fell for one of these deceptions and then was carried away into further deception was the head elder of the last church I attended. He was also the worship leader of the church. He taught that it is God’s will for all of us to be healed and if we had enough faith, we would be healed. He would often declare from the platform during worship time that there would be no more sickness in his home. He even encouraged the rest of us to make the same declaration. He would continue to make these declarations even though his wife was mentally ill and taking several prescriptions to combat it.
This occurred while the so-called Lakeland “Revival” in Florida, led by Todd Bentley, in which hundreds of people were supposedly healed, was happening, and this elder just had to go see it. He came home sick. He went to work the day after he came back but was so sick his boss sent him home. So, yes, there was sickness in his home despite his declarations.
After I left that church, this elder experienced chest pains and drove himself 25 miles to the nearest emergency room. The doctor there told him he had pneumonia, gave him some antibiotics, and sent him home. He died in his sleep that night from congestive heart failure. The evidence that God kept giving him never did convince him that his teaching on healing was a deception.
But the deception did not stop there. While I was still at this church, this elder spent an entire sermon teaching us why we should pray to the Holy Spirit every day, asking him to teach us and guide us and give us strength to do God’s will. When I asked him, one on one, after the service, to show me the Scriptures that tell us that we should pray to the Holy Spirit, he said, “Brother, you need to read the Scriptures from the beginning and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where they are.” I did not say anything more to him because his answer told me that he was not ready to talk rationally about this subject, but my thought was, “Is not that the issue here? Why would I pray to the Holy Spirit if I do not know if I am supposed to pray to the Holy Spirit in the first place?”
His answer sounded like something a cultist would tell me. “How do I know if the burning in the bosom is the way God confirms if something is true?”
“Because the Book of Mormon says so.”
“How do I know that the Book of Mormon is true?”
“Ask God if it is true and he will tell you that it is by giving you a burning in your bosom.”
The Scriptures do not forbid praying to the Holy Spirit, but they do not teach us to pray to the Holy Spirit. Whenever they do teach us to pray to someone, it is always to the Father. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he said, “When you pray, say: Our Father…” (Luke 11:1-2). Jesus even told the disciples, “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you” (John 16:23). So Jesus told them that prayer was not directed even to him, but to the Father.
The disciples understood this. The prayers that are recorded in Acts (1:24-25, 4:24-30) are directed to the Father, not Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Paul’s prayers (Eph. 1:15-23, 3:14-19) are directed to the Father. After Jesus ascends to heaven, no one addresses him unless they see him in a vision. All the prayers are directed to the Father. No one prays to the Holy Spirit.
It is true that in the Old Testament, God was rarely addressed as “Father,” but David knew that he was not praying to the Holy Spirit because he once prayed, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). So even in the Old Testament, prayer was not directed to the Holy Spirit.
During the first three centuries of Church history, very few prayers were directed to the Holy Spirit (one study found only four clear examples) and only Origen encouraged anyone to pray to the Holy Spirit. The vast majority of Christians in the first three centuries understood the teaching of Jesus: prayer should be directed to the Father.
Some people try to justify praying to the Holy Spirit by saying, “We pray to the Father, who is God, so why cannot we pray to the Holy Spirit, who is also God?” That is human reasoning, which ignores what the Scriptures actually teach. Human reasoning ignores the fact that each person in the Trinity is a distinct person. Human reasoning says that because the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, then blaspheming the Father and blaspheming the Son and blaspheming the Holy Spirit should be equally unforgivable. But that is not what the Scriptures teach. Only the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable (Matt. 12:31-32). Human reasoning ignores the fact that each person in the Trinity has a distinct level of authority. Human reasoning says that because the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, they should all have the same authority. But that is not what the Scriptures teach. The Son is subject to the Father (1 Cor. 11:3, 15:28) and the Holy Spirit is subject to both (John 15:26). Human reasoning ignores the fact that each person in the Trinity has a distinct role. The Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God but only the Son actually hung on the cross and died for our sins. Yes, the Father is God, and yes, the Holy Spirit is God, but we pray only to the Father.
But even if we do not offer petitionary prayer to the Holy Spirit, is it wrong to thank him? We can thank the Father for sending the Holy Spirit and for what the Holy Spirit has done, but praying to the Holy Spirit at all starts us down the path of deception.
In my research, the people who advocate praying to the Holy Spirit are inevitably caught up in some other deception. The elder is only one example. The Catholics have developed several prayers to the Holy Spirit and, of course, Catholicism is just another deception. It seems to me that the three trends above are not the only paths to further deception. It seems that once you fall for any deception, you tend to get carried away into further deception. This is why we must always subject our human reasoning to the Scriptures and not the Scriptures to our human reasoning.
You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen (2 Peter 3:17-18).