Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A biblical understanding of "holy laughter" & the Charismatic movement

Recently, I've been engrossed in a massive online discussion between Charismatic and non-Charismatic Christians, who are at odds over whether or not current Charismatic movements and practices are biblical. One such practice that has come out of the neo-Charismatic movement of the 1990s is called "holy laughter," supposedly a fit of uncontrollable incited by the Holy Spirit.  You can find numerous videos of this purported holy laughter by searching for it online.

I don't want to get into the weeds of why I think general Charismatic practices are unbiblical.  For that, I would suggest two excellent books: Counterfeit Revival by Hank Hanegraaff and Charismatic Chaos by John MacArthur.  I do, however, want to pinpoint where I think biblical truth has been distorted and how manifestations of the Charismatic movement are inconsistent with everything we know about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

First, I want to point to Ephesians 5:18, where apostle Paul is admonishing the Ephesian church not to get "drunk with wine," which he calls "debauchery."  Paul goes on to say that believers should be "filled with the Spirit" instead.  Rodney Howard-Browne, a popular Charismatic evangelist and one of the initiators of the "holy laughter" sub-movement, has often preached about getting "drunk" or having a drink in the Holy Spirit.  This expression is presumably derived from an understanding of the aforementioned verse, and a rationalization that if we shouldn't get drunk with wine, then we should get drunk with the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word for "drunkenness" is methusko, which can be generically translated as intoxication.  Obviously, getting intoxicated with the Holy Spirit is implausible and contradictory, as the Spirit is neither a toxin nor poisonous substance that the object of intoxication almost always refers to.  What's important, though, is that methusko is a prolonged form of methuo, which is sometimes used to metaphorically describe someone who has "shed blood or murdered profusely."  It goes without saying that such evil acts connoted with methuo is clearly in contradiction with the fruits of the Spirit.  Thus, we should never equate drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit, as many Charismatic preachers often do.

Second, I want to explain why I believe the Bible makes a strong case against so-called holy laughter.  Before doing so, I want to be clear that laughter is in no way condemned or admonished against in the Bible. Laughter is a God-given manifestation of joy, often used as a temporary reaction to a happy or joyous event.  Laughter alone, however, is a neutral action-- it can be used sinfully just as it can be used righteously.  Holy laughter, however, is characterized as something that is uncontrollable, a spontaneous action supposedly provoked by the Holy Spirit.

In turning to the Bible to see if there is any support for such a practice, we can see immediately that there are grave contradictions with the Word.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul declares that the fruits of the Spirit are as follows: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  I believe that "self-control" is placed last because it is emblematic of the Holy Spirit's submission in the Trinity, servanthood, and ability to show temperance and moderation.  More importantly, it is a trait that can be used a weapon against the kind of drunkenness I've described above.

The fits of "holy laughter" that often occur at Charismatic meetings not only do not fit the definition of self-control, but also stir great unease in those who witness them, Christian or not.  It's also important to look at the context of so-called holy laughter.  Charismatics believe that it is a spiritual gift, very much like tongues, which are believed to often accompany bouts of holy laughter.  However, the Bible is clear, both in documenting the Day of Pentecost in Acts and in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, that "tongues" refer to actual languages foreign to the knowledge of the speaker, and not the babbling gibberish often heard at Charismatic revival meetings.

Most importantly, Paul warns against the use of tongues if there is no interpretation to accompany it (1 Corinthians 14).  Why?  Because the purpose of tongues is for edification-- in the context of tongues that is only possible through interpretation, so that the audience may be able to understand any message and also be edified by it.  Paul goes on to express his preference for prophesying, teaching a message in a manner which can be used publicly as an act of edification while glorifying God.

The word edify is a transitive verb, meaning that there must be an object tied to that verb.  In other words, someone has to be receiving the edification.  One cannot edify in an empty room by him or herself.  In the same way, tongues and holy laughter (if it were biblical) would have to be used to edify others, as all spiritual gifts were used during the apostolic age.  However, in many Charismatic meetings, we see that tongues are indiscernible and unable to translated.  Furthermore, "holy laughter" is an act that occurs within individuals, and has no purpose other than to purportedly express Spirit-induced joy.  There is no evidence at all of the kind of edification that Paul refers to, which can essentially be defined as a very practical act of improving others morally and spiritually.

In light of these things, we have to treat our Charismatic friends with caution and care.  Of utmost importance is always turning to Scripture to support or defend practices and acts that occur within our churches.  Unfortunately, not only does the Bible not corroborate Charismatic practices, it also disproves and contradicts them.

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