For all of us who are theologically Pentecostal/Charismatic, Michael Brown's Playing with Holy Fire is must-reading. And, I confess, it is at times fun reading. In the past hour I have laughed, out loud, all by myself in my home office, at least five times. This is over the top, if you knew my ethnic upbringing.
Brown takes on everything, from the prosperity "gospel" to pep-talk preachers, fake healers to false prophets, liars and exaggerators to hermeneutical ignoramuses. And more. And all, with love and truth, and humility.
One thing Brown tackles and disposes of is claims to have journeyed to "the third heaven." You know, where Paul went.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2-5 Paul writes:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
That "man" was Paul himself. Paul heard "inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell." Brown asks "How, then, do people who have allegedly gone to this same third heaven come back so chatty, lighthearted, and glib, describing everything they saw and heard in detail?" (Ib., 149)
How can they encounter something so sacred and holy, yet be so casual and flippant about it? Something, writes Brown, does not line up. He quotes A.W. Tozer:
"There are many great lessons for us in the worship and reverence of the heavenly seraphim Isaiah described in his vision. I notice that they covered their feet and they covered their faces. Because of the presence of the Holy God, they reverently covered their faces. Reverence is a beautiful thing, and it is so rare in this terrible day in which we live.…
But a man who has passed the veil, and looked even briefly upon the holy face of Isaiah’s God can never be irreverent again. There will be a reverence in his spirit and instead of boasting, he will cover his feet modestly. Even if he’s been somewhere, instead of coming home and bragging about it, chances are he’ll cover his feet." (In Ib., 150)
In Scripture it is common, when encountering Almighty God, to...
... walk with a limp (Gen. 32:22-32)
...put one's hand on one's mouth so as not to speak (Job 40:4)
...have a heightened awareness of one's own unholiness (Luke 5:8)
...fall like a dead person before the feet of Jesus (Rev. 1:17).
"Yet," writes Brown, "some of our leaders supposedly bounce in and out of God's heavenly courts as if they were poking their heads into a bar and saying hi to an old drinking buddy." (Ib., 150)
Stay away from these "leaders."
"The truth be told, there’s more strutting than limping and more informality than holy fear, all of which makes you wonder if they’re taking mental journeys more than spiritual journeys. As one of my friends asked about an openly carnal colleague, “How can he be so fleshly if he spends 30 percent of his time visiting heaven?” Something is not right." (Ib., 151)