LTRP Note: In 2007, Lighthouse Trails published the apologetic biography, The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves. For twelve years, Reeves was part of a River church, one in which visions, signs and wonders, and other mystical manifestations occurred. His story tells what happened during those years in a church that was so influenced by the Toronto Blessing, Kenneth Copeland, the Kansas City Prophets, John Wimber, and the spiritual hysteria and manipulation that these hyper-charismatic movements encourage. Because of the recent stories coming out of Florida with Todd Bentley’s revival, we hope you will read Reeves account. Below is an excerpt from his chapter on visions.
“I Just Had a Vision!”
by Kevin Reeves
There is perhaps nothing so powerful as a vision. When the heavens open and our eyes look upon fantastic things once hidden, it can alter the course of our lives:
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 6:1-5)
A glimpse into heaven itself to behold the God of all flesh made Isaiah panic with self-loathing. His innermost heart was revealed in the light of the Lord’s glory, and there was no place to hide.
Who wouldn’t want to have a vision of this magnitude? And why shouldn’t we? On the day of Pentecost, the Christians present experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “[A]nd your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams”(Acts 2:17).
Never in the history of our planet have so many who call themselves Christian claimed visions from God. Encounters with Christ, angels, demons, even saints long departed have begun to appear in book form, crowding the charismatic section of our local Christian bookstores. The popularity of visions never seems to wane, and the more a person has and the greater the scope, the quicker he is skyrocketed to Christian stardom. People with virtually no genuine theological training are suddenly propelled into the teaching arena, regaling vast audiences with tremendous accounts of their own spiritual derring-do. And while the stories continue to scale the heights of plausibility, an amazed public looks on, vicariously a part of the panoramic excitement and often with hands folded atop a closed Bible in their laps.
Sadly and without exaggeration, the above account is an apt description of the spiritual maelstrom that always characterized [my former church]. Sunday services were routinely stopped to give opportunity to report a vision that occurred during worship. Many in the congregation would listen with rapt attention as one person after another would share what had transpired “in the spirit.” Sometimes demons would make an appearance; sometimes it was the Lord Jesus Himself.
Angels were a particular favorite. I can’t tell you how many times angels made an impromptu appearance at our services…. No one halted the festivities to suggest examining the claim in the light of God’s Word. It was merely taken at face value and used to bolster our self-image as the church on the cutting-edge of God’s worldwide movement….
The cries of “I saw!” reverberated throughout my church my whole tenure there. Sometimes the visions were two-dimensional, sometimes 3-D, and sometimes the person was actually caught up into them, in the same way the apostle John was translated into the heavenly realms in the book of Revelation. They moved as participants in the vision itself, walking, feeling, etc. As our pastor consistently reminded the congregation of its prophetic calling, dreams and visions grew to paramount importance. They were used to chart our congregation’s very course, and any resistance or verbal doubt was severely frowned upon or openly dismissed….
Many people cannot appreciate the gravity with which visions are accepted in many charismatic circles, and consequently cannot understand the bondage that results. If someone has a vision of “the Lord Jesus” and is given a message to convey to you, for you to treat it lightly is to despise the very words of God. You are bound to carry out the instructions of this visionary or face the consequences. The ensuing fear can be devastating, especially if the message contradicts your own conscience or understanding of the Scriptures.
The new believer is especially vulnerable because he is led to believe that all these visions are from God. Furthermore, any hindrance to, or lack of visions on his own part is due, he is told, to lack of maturity and failure to fully trust the leadership….
At my best count, there are less than thirty visions or dreams recorded in the entire New Testament, and of these only about fifteen took place in the book of Acts. And this in a period, from the birth of Christ to the last chapter of Acts, encompassing about sixty years.
I have come to the conclusion that visions are not the norm for a believer, but a rare occurrence. Of those saints in the Bible described as having bona fide visions from God, a mere handful had more than one recorded vision in their entire lifetime. Furthermore, none of these occurrences were initiated by the individual, but were the result of a divine act of God. In explaining mystical experiences, which is the category visions fall into, I like this explanation by research analyst Ray Yungen:
While certain instances in the Bible describe mystical experiences, I see no evidence anywhere of God sanctioning man-initiated mysticism. Legitimate mystical experiences were always initiated by God to certain individuals for certain revelations and were never based on a method for the altering of consciousness. In Acts 11:5, Peter fell into a trance while in prayer. But it was God, not Peter, who initiated the trance and facilitated it.(ATOD, p. 34)
Compared with the frequency of modern visions by many charismatic churchgoers, these past biblical heroes seem almost deficient in their relationship to the Lord….
I believe that most of what are reported as visions are not such at all, but could be more appropriately termed mental pictures. The two are certainly not synonymous. Mental pictures occur constantly during our waking hours but don’t necessarily have anything to do with the spiritual, whereas visions always have their origin in the supernatural realm. As we speak in conversation, we see mental images, memories, etc., to correspond with the dialogue; reading gives us the same experience. Even television viewing offers the same scenario, as the images dancing across the screen click on our own past experiences or connections with our present situations. This can transpose into our times of prayer, giving us mental pictures that may or may not be of God….
The practice itself can be dangerous, actually maneuvering an innocent Christian in the wrong direction. In many cults, and, unfortunately in much of the Pentecostal arm of the church, it has already done just that….
According to the Bible, there are three sources of visions–God, the devil, and the flesh. Of these, only one can be trusted as to motive and authenticity. As for the other spiritual experiences originating with the kingdom of darkness or human sensuality, they must be discarded, and immediately. They are not impotent fantasies, but are corrupt from the word go and will quickly lead astray anyone whose attraction they capture. (seeEzekiel 13:3-8)…
I cannot stress this enough–contrary to popular fallacy, there is no such thing as a harmless false vision. Its fraudulent nature alone is enough to condemn it in the eyes of God; those who give ear to it will eventually have their faith in Christ contaminated, perhaps shipwrecked. Attendees of the Peoples Temple were regaled with stories of angelic visitations and “revelation knowledge.” The reverend Jim Jones capitalized on his self-proclaimed intimacy with heaven to lead a group of followers into mass suicide in the Guyana bush.1 Don’t think that the average believer in Christ is immune to this kind of deception. In the wake of gold teeth and gold dust miracles showing up in various River congregations worldwide, stories of angel feather sightings have set a portion of the charismatic church wild with jubilee. One West Coast church said that “tiny white feathers and gold flakes” appeared during the service.2 Such occurrences were the next logical step in an already deception-heavy system of super-spirituality, rationalization, and the frenzied pursuit of illusion….
Any spirit, vision, dream, prophet, experience, whatever, that does not agree with the revelation of Jesus Christ as set down in the Scriptures is not of God. Water may look pure, but unless we know the source from which it is drawn we may drink to our own ill health. A close examination with a magnifying glass may betray bits and pieces of debris, or worse yet, organisms roaming its depths that, taken internally, would cause debilitating disease.
Am I suggesting we carry around a magnifier to inspect anything coming our way? Perhaps that is just what is needed. For too long, we’ve covered our eyes with blinders instead and accepted a testimony to our detriment, simply because the person giving it named Christ and seemed sincere. Paul said even deceivers within the church would attempt to pass themselves off as the real article (II Corinthians 11: 3-4, 13). We can judge without being judgmental. Peripheral issues we can overlook, knowing full well the sole reservoir of truth does not rest with us.
But in the presentation of Christ, there can be no leeway. A false image of the Savior–His character, words, or deeds–will lead us away from the truth, and consequently, away from God. And eventually, that is what every fraudulent vision will do–take away from the person of Christ and demand our attention and adherence to its personalized message. I have seen it happen, as one vision after another proclaimed in my former congregation boosted our elitism and remolded Jesus just a bit more into the user-friendly image we preferred. With virtually no accountability, fear of redefining Christ’s biblically revealed character faded bit by bit into obscurity….
This current state of things within the church is just the outgrowth of an inner movement attempting to differentiate between truth and revelation. It is being stated by popular authors that truth is where God has been, but revelation is where He is at the moment. This dichotomy is a contrived one. The Word of God is truth and revelation both, and the timeless truth of God’s Word applies to all saints throughout all ages. Again, the implication of this kind of compartmentalized thinking is that the Scriptures fall embarrassingly short when it comes to equipping the saints for life in today’s world.
In a mad dash to embrace the new thing, many Christians have run right past the only place of refuge, God’s Promise, that can keep us from hurtling down the face of an impossibly steep cliff. I can testify to the broken lives and empty spirituality that remains when the initial high wears off. We had congregation members regularly spending their cash to jet to this or that prophetic conference. They just had to keep up with the latest move of God, and bring it back with them to our church. Running after other gods, ancient Israel attained to this spiritual bankruptcy on a regular basis. But we can take heart, for their failures can be our lessons:
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
For those former seers willing to swallow a large helping of humble pie, there is most certainly hope. For those willing to repent, the grace of our Lord will lead past every soulish and narcissistic revelation, helping us to walk in humility and the simple freedom of Christ Jesus.
For the rest, the road can only lead further into deception and confusion, compounding itself with every new revelation that adds to, subtracts from, or contradicts Scripture.
I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name. Jeremiah 23: 25-27
1. In 1978, cult leader Jim Jones lead over 900 followers in a mass suicide in northern Guyana.
2. Mary Owen “Oregon Church Says Gold Dust, Feathers Fell During Meetings” (Charisma magazine, September 2000, http://www.charismamag.com/display.php?id=517, accessed 01/07).
Todd Bentley and Contemplative Prayer