Strange Fire: Is Your Worship Provoking God to Anger?

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by Nick Lotter on August 13, 2013

Of all the articles published on this blog to date, this one probably has the most potential to make people angry with me. Why? Because I am going to pick on things that have become much loved and sought after experiences in modern, trending churches. If you’re into Bethel church and Bill Johnson, glory clouds and gold dust, angel feathers and gems from heaven, holy laughter and being drunk in the spirit, then my friend, this one is for you.

Over the past year especially, I have seen a wave coming over churches in my city. It is, as the charismatic churches would say, like a river running through. Except this river is not a river of the move of the Holy Spirit, it is a move of great deception – in my honest opinion. Why do I say that? Because I look at the fruit of it and see people being led into deception and bad doctrine, and I see things happening which are contrary to the Bible or that even directly break God’s commandments concerning how a church ought to conduct itself.

What people need to know is that the evidence that some “move” or “experience” is from the Holy Spirit is not how it makes you feel, or how good it looks from the outside, or even how it seems to be uniting people. It’s not even based on who is leading the “revival”, as it is often called, because all men are prone to deception. The evidence that something is the work of the Holy Spirit is that it will always involve (A) true repentance and submission to the will and lordship of Jesus Christ, (B) it will always be centered on the person of Jesus Christ, and (C) it will lead to a revived love and desire for the Word of God – the Bible. Those are the fruits of a real move of the Holy Spirit. Anything which causes people to (A) focus more on feelings / emotions rather than repentance, (B) focus on self more than on Christ or even more on the Holy Spirit than Christ, or (C) causes people to move away from the Bible and into bad / unbiblical doctrine, is quite simply not a move of the Holy Spirit. Such a “move” is a counterfeit move either of man’s making, or a demonic counterfeit with demonic signs and wonders (see Matthew 24:24 and Revelation 16:14 if you think false prophets and demons can’t perform signs and wonders).

You see, the problem with deception is that those who are deceived don’t know that they’re deceived. Deception starts with a teaching that seems on the surface to be somewhat on the edge of truth and you’re initially unsure, but you trust it anyway because the guy preaching it is A) a published author, B) a nice guy, C) the pastor of a big church, D) preaches sometimes, E) claims to have seen many miracles during his meetings, or F) all of the above. Then the small deceptions lead to bigger deceptions until you find yourself lost in the wilderness.

I saw this play out recently when a very good friend of mine passed on a book to me that was written by a guy in Johannesburg. In his book, I found a few strange and unbiblical teachings that would easily trip up somebody who did not have a good grasp of the Bible, the doctrine of grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The book was littered with small deceptions and a few bigger deceptions and twisting of Scriptures, cloaked in a book with a Christian-themed cover. I read this book in April of this year (not sure when the book was written), and last month I encountered this guy on Facebook. Guess what? He has progressed from teaching little deceptions to big ones. The fruit of his initial teachings has been proven to be bad, and bad fruit comes from bad trees (Matthew 7:15-20). He now teaches that it is OK for Christians to disagree with the Bible, that the Bible is full of errors, that we must trust the leading of the “Holy Spirit” even if he leads us “off the map” into things that contradict Scripture or that are not seen in Scripture, and that nobody needs to fear God. He has pretty much gone full universalist. One of his influencers: Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, California.

My friends, it is from this mindset of ignoring or passing over Scripture that false doctrines and new man-made religions are born. It is from the lack of Biblical discernment and testing everything with Scripture, that strange and even demonic manifestations are brought into the churches, bringing along with it the promised false signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24), false teachings (1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 13:9), gold dust, glory clouds, fake healings, slaying in the spirit, drunkeness in the spirit and other such activities that you will find nowhere in Scripture among God’s people.

Now firstly let me say that I have friends – very good friends who I love and respect – who are into all this sort of hyper charismatic stuff. I am not writing this to undermine them, alienate them or hurt their feelings. I simply want you to do what the Scriptures say, and test everything according to the only infallible truth we have – the Bible.

Secondly, for those accusing me of judging or being judgmental, please refer to my article on judging.

So then…

Is Your Worship Scriptural?

 

In Leviticus we see that God appointed 5 priests over Israel to lead them in worship and in making sin offerings to God – Moses’ brother Aaron, and Aaron’s 4 sons Nadab, Abihu, Ithamar and Eleazar. In Leviticus 6, we see the commandments given by God for the burnt offering:

Leviticus 6:9-13

9 “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it.
10 And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar.
11 Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.
12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings.
13 Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

As you can see, God gave very strict, explicit instructions concerning the burnt offering and how it should be made. Throughout the book of Leviticus, in fact, we see that God gave very explicit instructions concerning every area which involved the Israelites’ worship of God and the offering of sacrifices.

In this we see something of the nature of God. He is not a God of chaos, and He desires that He be worshiped in an orderly fashion. God never changes, but He is the same yesterday, today and forevermore. Just as He gave specific guidelines and parameters within which Israel was to remain in their worship, God has specific parameters within which the church of the 21st century and beyond must remain in our worship of God. Even in the New Testament, we see that God’s Word provides us with instructions on how to order the church. God is holy and demands to be worshiped with fear and reverence – not in an adhoc, chaotic fashion that seems appropriate or fun in the mind of each individual.

Fire Comes Down From Heaven

 

Leviticus 9:23-24

23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.
24 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

Leviticus 10:1-3

1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

What we see here at the end of chapter 9 and beginning of chapter 10 are two contrasting worship meetings. The first is a worship meeting conducted in accordance with God’s will and commandments. All of Israel beheld the glory of God as fire came down from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering – the offering for the sins of Israel – thereby indicating that their offering was good and acceptable to God. And when they saw this, all of Israel fell on their faces in fear and reverence of God, shouting what must have been an awesome offering of praise and worship to their God.

Immediately in the next chapter, we see a contrasting scene. Nadab and Abihu, 2 of the priests appointed by God, set up another fire for God; except this time the result was quite different. Instead of fire consuming the fat of animals on the altar, fire came down from God Himself and consumed Nadab and Abihu, and they died. Horribly.

What just happened?

Here we see two contrasting worship meetings. One worship meeting has been conducted in accordance with God’s commandments and instructions concerning how He should be worshiped; the other a worship meeting conducted with a total disregard for God’s commandments.

Notice, the Scripture does not say that they necessarily disobeyed a commandment. It DOES say, however, that they offered unauthorized firewhich the Lord had not commanded.

Not only did they ignore God’s commands and act in accordance with what they felt was acceptable worship, but they did something else unwise and dangerous: whereas God lit the fire of the first offering which was acceptable to Him, Nadab and Abihu lit their fire themselves – thereby trying to duplicate or replicate a real, supernatural work of God with a work of the flesh.

Unauthorized Fire

 

Leviticus 10:1 describes the fire that Nadab and Abihu offered as “unauthorized”. The King James Version renders it as “strange fire”. It also says that the fire they offered was not commanded by the Lord.

This offering can be understood as being a picture of our worship meetings today, and how we conduct ourselves in God’s house and offer up worship to God.

Nadab and Abihu offered worship to the Lord which was strange, unauthorized and not commanded by the Lord. Its not that they necessarily even directly disobeyed God; but God gave specific parameters within which they were to conduct their worship, and they chose to ignore those parameters.

How do you conduct yourself in worship? Are you safely within the parameters of Scripture? Are you concerned with what the Bible says about the running of a church, and staying safely within those bounds? Or are you following after every new age idea and trend that says you can do as you please as long as you’re singing half-decent lyrics and the music sounds good?

1 Corinthians 14:33  For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

1 Corinthians 14:40  But all things should be done decently and in order.

2 Peter 1:5-7 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

These Scriptures alone prove that any church service with chaotic music, hysterical laughter and people staggering around supposedly “drunk in the spirit” or lying on the floor shaking and vibrating like electrocuted rag dolls is unscriptural, unholy and not from God. If I’ve just described your church services, be concerned. Be very concerned.

Spiritual highsThe same goes for worship services with people speaking in tongues here, there and everywhere, and people announcing random prophetic words from the microphone every 20 minutes. Chaos!

Paul instructed the church that if any speak in a tongue (an earthly language, by the way, not some gibberish or heavenly language), and there is nobody present who can interpret, then that person should remain quiet! (1 Corinthians 14:27-28) So likewise, all who wish to prophesy (to declare / preach the Word of the Lord), should do so one by one, in order! (1 Corinthians 12:31) And yet it is not uncommon to have people shouting random outbursts from every corner of a charismatic worship service. We have lost our reverence for the Word of God and replaced it with a desire for experiences and spiritual highs.

It is dangerous to go “off the map” and enter into worship practices not prescribed in Scripture. If we conduct ourselves in worship using carnal acts of the flesh, which are not commanded by the Lord, we stand in danger of acting sinfully and even becoming a stumbling block to others around us who are genuinely seeking to worship God in spirit and in truth. In so doing, we will be no better than Nadab and Abihu.

Replicating the Supernatural

 

This is a big one. How famous has Bethel church and Bill Johnson become, with all their claims of the supernatural happening in their midst?

Remember the first “worship service” in Leviticus 9:23-24. Israel set up the altar exactly as the Lord commanded them, and fire came down from God Himself and consumed the fat on the altar, signaling God’s satisfaction and acceptance of their offering. Then contrast that with the second “worship service” of Nadab and Abihu – they set it up, and started the fire themselves. They tried to replicate what God had done in the first “worship service”.

Bethel church and Bill Johnson have become huge in a very short period of time. Their worship services are famed to be visited with “glory clouds“, angel feathers, gem stones and all manner of other “supernatural” encounters. It hasn’t stopped with them either… it’s spreading. In my home town, one local church has followed in the footsteps of Bethel and claimed to have had similar manifestations of glory clouds, gold dust and the like. Actually, they go a few steps further into heresy and teach things like “sticky glory” (placing coins on a wall which God supposedly causes to stay there). Then there’s the downright weird teachings, like the idea that when they pray for healing in an ear, for example, tiny angels fly into the ear and heal the affliction.

Should it not bother us that there are no examples anywhere in Scripture of the New Testament church being engulfed in a glory cloud, or believers covered in gold dust, or being drunk or slain in the spirit, or finding gem stones in their churches?

Should it not concern us that people coming out of churches like this have confessed to planting gem stones in the church “to encourage the faith of the congregation”? Should it not occur to us that these manifestations can easily be affected without the supernatural?

Let’s just briefly discuss a few…

Glory Cloud

Videos have been taken inside Bethel church and other churches like them, showing a cloud of smoke filling the building. This is said to be the glory of God and the presence of God. Without going into much Scriptural argument in this article, I would just like to point out that smoke can be easily filtered into a building by many means. It’s really not that difficult. Secondly, and more importantly, have you not read the Bible and seen how great men of God in Scripture have reacted to being in the presence of God? Moses turned white! Ezekiel, Paul on the Damascus road, John in the first chapter of Revelation… these men all fell face down in fear and trembling (in their right minds, mind you, not in some kind of drunken glory) at being in the presence of holiness. And yet, with all these glory cloud manifestations, we see everybody playing with the cloud and shouting “WHOOO!” Presence of God? I think not.

Gold Dust

Come on! Easiest one in the book to fake. Gold dust from various churches has been taken and analyzed under microscope and found to be nothing more than gold colored confetti available from any stationery store. I have heard stories of people filling their hair with this glitter in the bathrooms before going out into the church and claiming to have been blessed with this “manifestation”.

Angel Feathers

The claim: feathers are found floating all around the church and lying on the floor during worship, and these are said to be the feathers of angels present in the church. Solution: clean out the air ducts, check for dead birds. I mean, the Bible doesn’t say that angels have wings with feathers like birds do, but even if we suppose that they do, why would their feathers be falling out? Angels were not affected by the Fall. Birds feathers fall out when they malt so that they can grow new ones. I cannot see how this would be necessary for angels.

Slain in the Spirit and “Holy Laughter”

One word: Kundalini. Do yourself a favor and do some research on the Hindu new age practice of Kundalini, and compare the parallels. It’s scary. The “guru” places his hands on the head of the follower, the follower feels a flood of emotion, love and peace come over him / her, and falls backwards to the floor, often in a trance or shaking on the floor with uncontrolled jerking movements, often accompanied by outbursts of laughter. Sound familiar?

By now I hope you get the point. Nadab and Abihu set fire to the altar, trying replicate a supernatural work of God. Clearly there is nothing new under the sun, and men are still trying to manipulate people by doing the same today – either to bring glory to themselves, or to edify their church and their teachings (which are usually false, as is the case with Bethel church and Bill Johnson. There are a number of false doctrines coming out of Bethel, but that is not the scope of this article). The general idea is to grab people’s attention to the church / movement, and there is no better way to do that than to create false signs and wonders and declare them to be supernatural works of God.

Why do people feel the need to add to their worship? Our worship of God does not need to be puffed up and upgraded with all sorts of devices of the flesh and false signs and wonders for it to be wonderful, edifying and glorifying to God. We must not try to add our own fire… If our hearts are sincere and we worship God in spirit and in truth, God will bring the fire. God will change hearts. God will do the work. And the way that we will know that it was God who moved among us, will be that there will be a permanent change in us and good fruit coming from it; repentance and turning away from sin and towards God.

Irreverent Worship

 

After Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire from God, Leviticus 10:3 reads:

Leviticus 10:3  Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

Moses quoted God as saying that He will be glorified among the people. We can conclude from Moses’ statement that not only did Nadab and Abihu offer worship to God that was not commanded by God and which was sinful in that they tried to replicate God’s supernatural power, but they also acted irreverently. Simply put, they were disrespectful and careless in their worship.

This is seen everywhere today, and the blame lies at the feet of preachers who preach a God that is nothing more than a friend who helps you get what you want. There is very little teaching anymore on the holiness or justice of God. People are no longer taught that God is to be feared. Yes, God is a loving, caring God, but He is also holy and just.

One has to look no further for an example of this than John Crowder. He and his followers speak of “toking the Ghost” and smoking “Jehovahuana joints“. I cannot make this stuff up. Its crazy.

Does This Really Apply Today?

 

So we are under the New Covenant. Doesn’t that mean that God isn’t provoked to anger like this anymore, and that He won’t do to us what He did to Nadab and Abihu? Aren’t we living under grace?

Well, yes, we are living under grace. But God does not change. He is the same God who consumed Nadab and Abihu. He was provoked to anger over these things then, and He is provoked to anger over those things now. If you have done these things, I urge and plead with you to repent and ask God for His forgiveness. It is because we are living under grace that God is patient with us, giving us every opportunity to repent before the Judgment.

By all means, our praise and worship of God must be sincere and joyful. Throw your hands in the air if you want to. Heck, clap your hands if you feel led to. But worship God in reverence. He is, after all, the Almighty Creator of the universe. We must worship God in spirit, but that does not mean we must throw all sorts of spiritual “stuff” into our worship. Jesus said we must worship God in spirit AND in truth!

John 4:23-24

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Because Jesus died and rose again, paying once and for all the penalty for the sins of God’s people, grace is available to us and we can receive mercy. In these days, you now have the opportunity to repent of these acts of the flesh and receive a pardon from God, and have your slate wiped clean.

But don’t delay, because the day of Christ’s return will soon be upon us, and an all consuming fire awaits those who refuse to turn away from their sins.

Hebrews 12:28-29

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
29 for our God is a consuming fire.

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