In the Early Church there was a surging life of the Spirit which brought its own perils. Some kind of test proved necessary for the many and various spiritual manifestations. In modern language, we would ask the question: 'Is this manifestation from God, from the devil, or some sort of psychological issue which the person manifesting has?' Biblically, the Old Testament warns against the dangers presented by false prophets who possessed spiritual powers. In Deuteronomy 13 v 1-5 it demands a death sentence for those who sought to lure the people of Israel from God's will. Think back to the Ancient times of the first century. The spiritual world was assumed to be very near. Everyone believed in gods of some sort, the Romans had hundreds of them and called the Christians heathens because they worshipped only one, invisible God! Some of these gods were good, most displayed the human characteristic of being neither always good or always bad, but there was a recognition that there were many malevolent spiritual powers in the world around. For the believer, it was assumed that the Holy Spirit would descend on a new convert at baptism and when that happened the visible effects were dramatic. It is recorded in the book of Acts that Philip the Evangelist's preaching brought the gift of the Spirit to new converts and the effects were so startling that the local magician, Simon Magus, begged to buy the power from Philip! The first letter of the Corinthians gives us an indication of what early church services must have been like. Chapter fourteen speaks of almost a riotous assembly as everyone spoke at the same time: prophecies, tongues were uttered and it was vital to have someone who could discern the spirits. It was a great time, but also chaotic and vulnerable. John here sets out his criteria to judge between the true and the false. Whatever our concerns may be if we were involved in such a fellowship today, we might think that it would be better attempting to organise exuberant chaos than remote orderliness!
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