It seems like many “fundamental” churches lack the manifest presence of God in our services. I have been blessed to have experienced God’s felt presence in prayer meetings before, and it is truly the most fulfilling experience. But when I sought to learn more, I found testimonies that sounded very much like what I had experienced, but also included things such as tongues and visions and other such things that I find hard to back up in scripture. My question is, are these people experiencing God and He is simply being gracious to their desire to know Him, so He is willing to look past their confusion on those issues? Would He not immediately remove His felt presence, or make somehow it clear that those extra-biblical actions are not based in the truth necessary for real worship?
Thank you for your insightful question. God blesses faith, which is not a work. But the fact that He blesses faith does not mean He endorses and condones every doctrine of those He blesses, or every practice. And yes, as you basically suggest, He is much more patient than we sometimes expect. If people are sincere seekers, God will patiently bring them along. But sometimes our view of how this should all play out may be different than what God allows.
The question of phenomena came up during the First Great Awakening. Jonathan Edwards wrote a work entitled The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God to both defend the revival and address strange fire. Edwards made clear that the phenomena did not prove or disprove whether or not the work was of the Holy Spirit, that they were not the real tests. He then continued to point out that the real tests are found in 1 John 4, which tells us to “try [test] the spirits.”
Edwards divides the chapter into five tests. In my book The Revival Journey, I summarize the tests into three major categories: “Does The work promote a right view toward Christ? The Spirit of Christ is for Christ and against Satan and the world (4:2-5). Does the work promote a right view toward the Scriptures? The Spirit of truth urges obedience to the truth, not disobedience (4: 6). Does the work promote a right view toward others? The Spirit of love sheds abroad the love of God in and through the hearts of believers, encouraging attitudes of Christlikeness and actions of service (4:7-18).”
For example, in some settings the focus may be on the phenomena and those who were the key people involved, and not the Lord. This lifts up man and reveals that something is awry. It violates the first test. This reveals that the phenomena in that case are false.
We must recognize the possibility of dual streams. This is a major factor. There may be a stream of real blessing, and Satan may attempt to throw in a discrediting stream, either through encouraging fleshly attempts to imitate the real or through direct demonic involvement. Either way, the true stream does not mean we should condone the false stream. Nor does the false stream mean we should dismiss the true stream.
When counterfeits are involved, it ultimately hinders the real revival. Satan knows this. But you cannot have a counterfeit unless there is a genuine to counterfeit. So in all of this we need discernment to recognize and reject that which is counterfeit, and yet, we must be careful not to reject the real in our desire to reject the false. Because some matters have been a part of strange fire, we have a tendency to think that every occurrence of those issues are false, when this may not be the case. Therefore, the tests of 1 John are a real help in discerning the spirits.