A Theological Reformation in the Charismatic Movement

How long has it been since you’ve shed a tear over the cross of Jesus Christ? I’m sure you love the cross, but have you ever looked into the Father’s cup and received such a stunning revelation of the Lamb that you were left trembling in repentance and passion and fire?   If you’re like me, rarely had I thought about the cross, except perhaps once a year at Easter.  I had cried more tears over the death of my dog, than over the death of my Lord.

Sadly, without even realizing it, most of us have wandered far from our roots at Calvary.  This has created a great vacuum for truth, a gnawing hunger deep inside. Can you feel it?  We need a revival of the cross to restore a solid foundation, fill the hunger, wipe out deception, and set our doctrine ablaze. As the Apostle Paul urged, we need “sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:10).
The late David Wilkerson warned, “The one thing God will never endure is the casting aside of the preaching of the cross.”  In fact, Paul said, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).  He knew this “message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The cross was Paul’s highest glory: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14, KJV), and it needs to become our highest glory as well.

Returning to the Cross

Let me tell you now my story of how I came back to the cross.  As a young Bible teacher, I had been hungrily reading the works of Jonathan Edwards.  One day I discovered a sermon called “Christ’s Agony,” and when I read it, it was like lightning striking my heart.  Suddenly I could see, really see, what I had missed my whole Christian life.

Edwards graphically depicted the blood oozing from the pores of Jesus’ skin as He looked into the Father’s cup in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). With Old Testament scriptures reeling through His mind, Jesus would have recalled “the cup of horror and desolation,” which Ezekiel described (23:33); the cup Jeremiah portrayed which God said was “filled with the wine of my wrath” (25:15); and Isaiah’s description of “the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath” (51:22).  Edwards explained that a view of this cup of wrath caused Him to cry, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38).

In fact, Edwards said that Jesus’ “principal errand for coming to earth was to drink that cup.”  He poignantly described how God’s own innocent Son would drink down every drop of wrath and judgment on the cross, taking my punishment for sin.  I tried to imagine what it would be like for a human soul, fully God yet fully Man, to engulf eternal wrath and hell—not just for me but for all humanity.  It began to rush over me like a tidal wave crashing over the shore of my soul and drenching me with passion for the Lamb like I’d never known.  I realized that the reason I had little passion for the cross is because I had never looked into the Father’s cup.

A few days later, I visited a Sunday school class, where a man said, “Lots of people have died on crosses, so what’s the big deal about Christ’s crucifixion?”  I listened, my heart in my throat, as the members of the class tried to explain.  I was a visitor so I hesitated to express myself as passionately as I felt.  But finally I could hold back no longer.

I opened my mouth and began to pour out my heart.  My voice vibrated and tears flowed down my reddened cheeks as I said, “It wasn’t just the pain of scourge and thorns and nails.  It wasn’t only the dread of rejection and the terror of bearing our sin.  Above all else, it was the abandonment of His Father and the horror of enduring floods and floods of God’s wrath and punishment against our sin!  This is what caused Him to bellow that cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As I spoke, my heart burned. It was like nothing I had experienced in my whole life.  I had been baptized in the Holy Spirit for years, but this fire imploding within me was a blaze like I had never encountered.  As I spoke about the Father’s cup, I felt like I had tapped a raw nerve in heaven—something tender and precious in the Father’s heart—and He was lavishing me with flames of holy love.

As I sat in church that day, still trembling and feeling the heat, I silently wept before God, repenting for all the other subjects I had taught through the years.  These topics were good, but in comparison to what Jesus did when He drank the Father’s cup, it was like holding a match up to the fiery brilliance of the sun. They were peripheral subjects, not central, and they didn’t carry the fire from heaven upon them.  I saw how I had always been ready to hop on the latest bandwagon, the hottest revelation of the hour, but I had overlooked the greatest revelation of all time and eternity—a revelation of the Lamb.

That day I made a promise to God.  Like Paul who said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), I resolved to God that for the rest of my life I would teach and preach and write about the cross of Christ.  Now I have dedicated my whole life to teaching and writing books on the cross and the glory of the risen Lamb.  That was almost thirty years ago, and I can tell you—the flame has never dimmed.

Through the years, I’ve watched students and pastors weeping at the foot of the cross on the floor of our chapel in Alabama, on the carpets of England or Germany or Canada, on the dirt floors of Africa, on the cement floors of India or Peru, on the plush rugs of Hong Kong or Taiwan.  Their hearts were utterly electrified by a revelation of what Jesus did when He drank the Father’s cup.  They didn’t know they didn’t know.  But once they saw the magnitude of what Christ did, their hearts were undone. And when they stepped out and began preaching a message of the cross and the Father’s cup, the fruit exploded in their ministries.

One pastor said, “Whenever I preach the cross, especially the Father’s cup, the fire of God comes down and miracles happen!” Another pastor said, “Now that I’ve understood the Father’s cup, the cross has become my only message!” Another pastor said, “When I preached on the cup of wrath, I couldn’t even give an altar call.  People ran to the altar and threw themselves down in tears of genuine repentance.” One pastor told me that the weeping was so intense, when He preached about the cup and the cry of Jesus, he had to stop and wait for the people to cease sobbing.  When he finally resumed, revival flooded the whole church.

The Cross Exposes Heresy

Over the years I have learned something vital about dealing with heresy.  Whenever I have pointed my finger at deception, emotions flared, walls flew up, denials and accusations flung wildly.  But oh, when I lifted up the cross in all its blazing light and glory, heresies were exposed and annihilated like snakes slithering out of a bonfire.

I’ll give you one example.  I took a team of young revivalists to Kenya, where the hyper-prosperity message has permeated the church.  Our team lifted up the cross of Christ, teaching on the glory of the Lamb to a conference of pastors.  We never breathed a word against the prosperity teaching or any of the other false teachings so rife in Africa.  But when those pastors saw the bleeding wounds of Jesus and most of all the depths of the Father’s cup which He drank when he endured the wrath of God in their place, they soon were on their faces, sobbing in repentance.  With all the passion and sincerity of their hearts they began resolving, like Paul, to preach only “Christ and him crucified.”

Virtually every pastor echoed the words of Pastor Henry who said, “Preachers today want to get rich from their people so they preach a message of prosperity.  You know how it goes, ‘plant your seed into my ministry and God will bless you!’  But,” he said with firm conviction, “that’s manipulation and it’s wrong!  The message that will change lives and change this land is the message of the cross! This message has fire and it will spread revival through Kenya and all of Africa!”

That’s why I say—a fresh revelation of the cross will expose false teachings and ignite a theological revolution.   Even as counterfeit money is exposed when bankers study real dollars, not the counterfeits, the counterfeit teachings in the body of Christ are exposed when we study the cross and keep it central.

The Solution to the “Strange Fire” Controversy

The recent “Strange Fire” controversy which levels criticism against the charismatic movement causes us to take an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses.  Critics have fallaciously branded the whole movement as being inspired by the devil.  But “strange fire” has nothing to do with charismatic worship, outpourings of revival, or gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the critics claim.   “Strange fire” has everything to do with neglecting the cross of Jesus Christ.

Picture the scene as Moses looked on, awestruck and trembling.  The glory of the Lord swept in, and then suddenly, “fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar.” (Lev. 9:24).  Then shockingly, Moses’ two nephews “offered strange fire before the LORD which He had not commanded” (Leviticus 10:1).  God was livid, blazing bolts of fire down upon Nadab and Abihu, reducing them to a pile of smoldering ashes and bones.

Why was God so furious? Because this altar, where lambs were slain and consumed in fire, was a type and shadow of the cross, where the Lamb of God would bleed and weep and absorb our sin and engulf our punishment for sin.  Nadab and Abihu broke the type!  They desecrated the altar of the cross and in essence trampled the blood of the Lamb.

But why was it such a horrific crime to take fire from another source?  At surface level we would say—because God ignited the fire.  This is true, but there is a far deeper reason than meets the eye.  The answer will take your breath away.

This fire on the altar displayed the fire God would roar down upon His own dear Son on the cross.  When God sent streams of fire down upon the burnt offering in this story, He was showing the wave after billowing waves of punishment He would blaze down upon His eternal Son—in our place—on the altar of Calvary. By using fire of their own making, rather than fire from the altar, they broke the type which revealed the Father’s cup.  And nothing could stir the fury of a holy God more than ignoring the cup His beloved Son would drink!
Now do you see why “strange fire” had nothing to do with prophecy, or prayer tunnels, or charismatic worship?  It had everything to do with the blood of the Lamb and the wrath He would endure. So in the midst of this “Strange Fire” controversy, we do have a fathomless answer—the cross of Jesus Christ.

A Theological Reformation

This is why we need a revival of the cross.  It would cause a massive spiritual upheaval, a vast paradigm shift, a ground-breaking revolution.  It would bring a theological reformation in the church.  (Please don’t stumble over the word “theology.”  It simply means a study of God: Theos means God, ology means a study of).

Indeed a revival of the cross would set our theology ablaze, for we don’t just need solid theology, we need theology that burns!  We need passion and fire in the midst of strong biblical truth, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Logic on fire!  Eloquent reason. . . . Theology on fire, and a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology.”   It is also true that revival fire without sound theology is equally defective.  This is why we need a theological reformation in the church today.

Sometimes, however, I hear preachers calling for a reformation or a revolution, but church history proves that a reformation must be driven by a forgotten biblical truth.  Just as “justification by faith” was the neglected truth that impelled the Protestant Reformation, the neglected truth that will impel a reformation today is a revelation of the cross.   To ignite a theological reformation, we need a fresh revelation of the Lamb.

In the book of Revelation John saw the Lamb, not once or twice but twenty-nine times.  And even as the last book of the Bible gives a revelation of the Lamb, the last move of God will bring a revelation of the Lamb.  How could it be any other way?  This is God’s eternal Son around whom all of heaven cries, “Worthy is the Lamb” (Rev. 5:12). No other message or movement can compare to the worthiness of the Lamb!

So if you hunger for a deeper revelation of the Lamb, won’t you draw near again to Calvary?  Gaze up at Jesus until you are completely undone.  Such a view will pierce to the depths of your heart, as Charles Spurgeon said, “the piercing of the heart begins when you look upon the pierced One.”

For a deeper understanding of the Father’s cup and the cross of Christ, order Dr. Sandy’s book UNDONE by a Revelation of the Lamb in our bookstore.  Click here.Behold the Lamb until you are broken for neglecting His sacrifice.  Let repentance flow in tears of godly sorrow  Then resolve that for the rest of your life you will live to bring Jesus—the Lamb who was slain—the reward of His suffering on the cross. When you do, you’ll discover an amazing secret.  It may be only a flicker at first, but soon you’ll notice a blaze of holy fire burning deep inside.  This is not “strange fire.”  This is revival fire—ignited by God himself—when He sees the Lamb on the altar of your heart.

For a deeper understanding of the Father’s cup and the cross of Christ, order Dr. Sandy’s book UNDONE by a Revelation of the Lamb in our bookstore. Click here

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Endnotes

  1. David Wilkerson, “They Have Done Away with the Cross!” Times Square Church Pulpit Series
    [New York City, Feb 23, 1996], p. 2.
  2.  John Stott wrote, “Paul’s whole world was in orbit round the cross.  It filled his vision, illumined his life, warmed his spirit. He ‘gloried’ in it.  It meant more to him than anything else.  Our perspective should be the same” (John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986], p. 351).
  3.  Jonathan Edwards, “Christ’s Agony,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), p. 867.
  4.  Jonathan Edwards, “Christ’s Agony,” p. 867.
  5.  Jesus was punished for the sins of the world, but this does not mean that all people in the world are saved.  That is a heresy called universalism, and it has crept into the church today, as Steve Hill says, like a subtle soft snow. See his book The Spiritual Avalanche (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2013).
  6.  A revelation of the Lamb is not a new revelation.  It was planned in the Godhead before creation in the great covenant of redemption and written in blood all through the pages of the Bible.
  7.  In Leviticus, when a lamb was prepared for the daily burnt offering, the priest took a young lamb from the flock. It must be “a male without defect” (Lev 1:10) just as Jesus was a male without defect.  After the lamb was slaughtered, “the priest would sprinkle its blood against the altar on all sides” (1:11), for Jesus’ blood would sprinkle down all sides of the wood of the cross.  Then the priest would flay the lamb in pieces: “He is to cut it into pieces, and the priest shall arrange them, including the head and the fat, on the burning wood that is on the altar” (1:12), for Jesus’ own body would be flayed to pieces by the Roman scourge and then cast down on the altar like a Lamb.  “It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord” (1:13).  Indeed, when the fire of God’s wrath burned down upon Jesus on the Cross, though it broke the Father’s heart, like the daily burnt offering, He became “an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.”
  8.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), p. 97.
  9.  John Stott said, “Some preachers serve out excellent theology from the pulpit, but it seems to have come out of the freezer.  There is no warmth, no glow, no fire.”  On the other hand he said, “Other pulpits catch fire all right, and threaten to set the church ablaze, but precious little theology goes with it.  It is the combination which is almost irresistible in its power, namely theology on fire, passionate truth, eloquent reason” (John R.W. Stott, Between Two Worlds [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982], p. 286).
  10. Charles Spurgeon, “How Hearts Are Softened,” Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, Vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 377.
  11.  See my book The Unquenchable Flame (Destiny Image, 2009) based on Leviticus 6:9-13 which explains that if we keep a lamb continuously burning on the altar, the fire will never go out.

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