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and a further article on Arminianism -
"GOD USED PLAN B WHEN ADAM FELL - OR DID HE?"
This book by Roger Forster and Paul Marston (Pub. Highland 1989) is a lengthy major defence of Arminian theology. There is an in-depth examination of many texts and a full exposition of a number of words which the authors contend are incorrectly interpreted by those of the Reformed Faith. Such is its length and detail that it really needs an equally long book to refute the various misinterpretations and "stretching" of texts that occur. In this brief review however, it will be sufficient firstly to summarise the aims of the book, then to examine the authors exposition of a few passages and other aspects, and then go on to survey the very profound influence that an Arminian theology can have upon church practices.
THE AIMS OF THE BOOK.
The three main points that the book tries to make are -
(a) God does not, and possibly cannot, force man to accept salvation, as this would destroy his free will.
(b) Man has free will, and makes his own unaided decision whether or not to believe in Christ's atoning sacrifice as sufficient for his salvation.
(c) No individual man is ever "chosen" by God for salvation. When this word is used, it always refers to whole nations or groups, and does NOT refer to an individual being "chosen" by God for ultimate salvation. When God chooses nations, individuals within that nation or group will of their own free will accept the salvation offered by Christ, and are thus "chosen IN Christ".
In examining the scriptures to support their views, there is a considerable degree of reinterpretation of verses which contrasts with the meaning that the majority of people have drawn from them. We will only look at a few verses out of a very large number that have been used to support their case.
(1) The first passage is given on page 20 , and I give an outline of the arguments the authors present.
The verse quoted is "And take ... the sword of the spirit which is the word of God; with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the spirit."
Their comment upon this passage is "Through praying in the Holy Spirit we learn how to use the spiritual weapons of the sayings of God. We learn to praise, we learn to use the name of Jesus, we learn when and how to speak God's message to a person, and how to apply a verse of Scripture to our lives."
Precisely what "praying in the Spirit" really means would be a matter for careful discussion, for much that is attributed to the Spirit is often found to be false. It hardly needs to be said however that there is no warrant in this passage at least for knowing "how to use the name of Jesus" (whatever that may mean to the individual) or when and what to say to a person. These are ideas that have been "read into" the passage (isogesis), instead of letting the Bible speak to us in the normal common sense manner (exegesis).
(2) The second passage is on page 81 and deals with Romans 9 v 19 - 21. Paul had said that "He has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardens". This is followed by an objector who complains - "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? Nay, but O man, who are you that replies against God. Shall what is formed say to him who formed it 'why did you make me like this?'" [RSV and NIV]
The main thrust of the book is that man has free will and is therefore able to resist the will of God should he so decide. In dealing with this passage, they are forced to completely reinterpret Paul's retort. The most obvious meaning and one which is given in all the translations that are generally available is effectively "Who are you - a mere creation of the Almighty and Powerful God - to talk back to God and question His ways?"
In their reinterpretation of this passage the authors claim that what Paul is really saying is "Nay, rather, you yourself are resisting it now". i.e. "You are proving that you can resist the will of God by the very fact that you are answering back to Him!"
Again we have a interpretation that is completely different to all other translations, in which the meaning they adopt is actually the opposite to the one that most would contend the passage really means to convey. The usual understanding is that man, whilst he may have the freedom to question God's plans, does so without realising how insignificant man could be considered by such an Almighty Being, and Paul is reminding him that God's will shall be executed whether his subjects agree with his plans or not. Indeed, God will use man's rebellion to His own purposes, as He did with Judas at the Crucifixion. This passage is emphasising God's total sovereignty over man's life, whether he accepts it or not.
The authors on the other hand claim that the passage can be construed as demonstrating man's freedom from God's will by the very fact that the man has the ability to even ask the question! In this way God's sovereignty is limited by man's freedom to choose. Yet again, this is a further example of reading into a verse what they wish to see.
The whole book could be similarly criticised in detail, but just these two examples are an indication of the fundamentally erroneous approach adopted in imposing their viewpoint upon the scriptures, and the obviously great difficulties that are thereby encountered.
There are many verses that prove and support the case for the Reformed view, and the authors try to deal with a number of them. But this makes the book lengthy and filled with labyrinthine arguments to avoid the plain meaning, making the whole work difficult to read. In reading it I was struck by the similarity to Darwin's style in his "Origin of Species". Himmelfarb, his critical biographer, commented "The points were so intricately argued that to follow them at all required considerable patience and concentration - an expenditure of effort that was conducive to acquiescence." - a comment I would apply to this book also.
What then is the whole basis of the Arminian position? Both of the authors, and all others who hold to this position, are effectively claiming -
"Man has free will, and God allows this and will not overrule it otherwise he would be making them into automatons. With this free will, man is able to choose whether to accept or reject God's offer of free salvation. Although God foreknew what each man would do, this does not mean that God manipulated him in any way such as to make him conform to a preset plan that God had already ordained."
But just what are the deeper implications of this position?
Firstly we should note that they claim that there is an area in man's life that God either cannot or will not have any control over. This effectively puts a limit on God's activity, leaving Him totally at the mercy of man's whims and choices. If every man can choose any one of a number of paths, the result would be chaotic and unplannable from God's point of view. Even though God may know what decisions each man will take at any point in time, unless he has some means of influencing those decisions, ordinary logic forces us to conclude that He cannot shape the future to the end that He has decided in advance. On this basis the Crucifixion could not have been so carefully planned to fulfil all the O.T. predictions. Thus in trying to solve one problem, the Arminian raises many more that are a logical contradiction.
If we may dwell with this subject a little, the question must still be answered from the Reformed viewpoint. As one who, as a "young" Christian, was completely stunned by Lorraine Boettner's "The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination", I still find his exposition of the doctrine convincing. He points out that although man has free will, and is responsible to God for His actions, God, knowing the abilities and weaknesses of every individual, can so arrange circumstances, (or allow Satan to do so for the opposite ends), such that the man not only comes but comes willingly to Him. Thus man can still have free will in human terms, but God is still able to use this so that man can be irresistibly drawn to Him.
If I can give a simple illustration, (which like all illustrations for such deep issues must not be taken too far) we can imagine a lake in which the water fully occupies it to the shoreline all round to the same natural level. If now a man wishes to make a side bay, he can dig out a hole on the shore, and the water will rush in automatically. It does not have to be pumped, or carried in buckets, but flows in naturally simply because it is its nature to do so.
Thus the water can be piped and ducted for various purposes by the man using the nature of the water, without him even having to touch it. The water may claim that it is "free" to go anywhere it likes, but it fails to realise that it's activity is completely determined by its inherent nature. In the same way, the sinner is controlled by his sinful desires, whether he admits it or not, and despite any seeming freedom to act in a manner that appears to be unselfish.
The Arminian may consider that that this is still manipulation and that man still does not have true free will in this illustration. I would however suggest that it is a great deal closer to the truth than the picture that the Arminian draws. There is clearly a limit to how far our fallen human minds can find adequate explanations for all of God's activities, and it is here that we must draw the attention of both sides to the well known passage in Deuteronomy 29 v 29.
Except for the grace of God's restraining hand which he extends to every person, we are totally corrupt and are completely controlled by our pride and lusts (1John 2v16). Thus by simply surrounding us by circumstances and allowing our fallen natures to take their natural course, we will go in the way that God has foreseen. We cannot of ourselves rise above this condition towards God, who has to come down to us and do a special work of regeneration within us for this.
There is secondly however a much deeper and more serious flaw that lies at the very heart of the Arminian doctrine, and to demonstrate this we have to go back to the very first sin of Adam. The clear picture of Genesis is that God created a perfect human being, far more perceptive and intelligent than us, his fallen offspring, and placed him in a perfect world. The whole of the creation was obviously free from sin and God spoke with Adam face to face.
Adam, (who was our representative and who possibly possessed true free will) despite all these advantages, when faced with the very first temptation, rebelled against God and sinned, bringing in all the misery that the world has today. A few thousand years later, what is the Arminian effectively saying about himself? I suggest that it is as follows.
"Adam, although humanly perfect in perception and intelligence, sinless and in a sinless world, nevertheless of his own free will chose to disobey God's only restriction, and effectively threw God's love back in his face. I, the Christian John Smith, however, despite being a fallen, sinful man who is surrounded by other sinful men, when presented with the story of a man who rose from the dead two thousand years ago to save me from my sins (regarding the true depth of which I am unaware) have nevertheless decided, from a purely logical viewpoint and using my fallen sinful mind, that this story, despite its seeming implausibility, is actually true. I therefore believe on this basis that I will enter heaven for all eternity. God did not influence me in coming to this decision."
Although Arminians may strongly resent the picture I have outlined, I would nevertheless contend that it forms the basis of their thinking. The great error is of course the concept that they, from their fallen position were able, of their own free will, to make a spiritual decision that was superior to Adam's, who, despite the perfect conditions in which he had been placed nevertheless made the wrong decision.
Here we have reached the very heart of the Arminian error. As they maintain that it is they who personally decided to "choose Christ", they are automatically reserving an area of their spiritual life that they maintain God does not control. This inevitably means that they are superior to Adam, and the basis of a deep seated pride in the fact that it is THEY who have made the "right" decision is well and truly established. So deep and profound is this error, that the ramifications are far from obvious at first. As in all things however the deeper the error the longer it may take to surface and the more serious the consequences.
As a convinced Calvinist, I can only testify to the very real sense of a humbling of the soul I experienced when I realised that not only was I saved, but that my "decision" also had to be induced by God, for I was totally unable to come to such a decision myself. By this act, God takes away the very last vestige of a basis on which man may congratulate himself. [Eph. 2v 8-9]
Before writing further, I must insist that I am not saying that those who hold the Arminian viewpoint are thereby unsaved. It could be argued that we will be judged on what we believe, but who then is perfect in all his doctrines? It may be that holding this erroneous doctrine, contrary to God's sovereignty as it is, may result in condemnation, but we cannot say whether this is so, or where the line will be drawn.
ARMINIAN INFLUENCE IN THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT.
Are there any evidences of the effect that this false doctrine has upon churches? Without making a long historical survey, one church that specifically embraced Arminianism was the Methodist Church of John Wesley. It is perhaps significant that after his death it gradually became a liberal stronghold with little effort to arrest its decline. Blindness to one important error is likely to induce blindness in other areas also.
What then of the charismatic movement? Not all its leaders are professedly Arminian in doctrine, many claiming to be fully Reformed. But having said that, few are prepared to simply preach the simple Gospel and leave the outcome to the Holy Spirit. There is a general tendency to pressurise seekers to "Come to Christ", whilst the use of choruses and the general emotional atmosphere that is created in meetings all apply an external human influence.
Two of the major features of the movement is its high level of evangelism, and its call to sinners to "make a decision for Christ". Both of these are related to an Arminian conception. If leaders are convinced that the unsaved person has free will to choose or reject the Gospel, then they feel justified in bringing the maximum psychological pressure to bear in order to persuade the person to make the "right" decision. If the eternal life of the person depends upon such a decision, then the use of music, emotional calls to the front, and all the other methods that can be used to achieve this end can be legitimately put into practice. We see this in the methods used for evangelism by Finney in earlier years and Billy Graham in our own day, both of them being Arminian in their practice.
In thinking about this aspect, I am struck by the similarity it bears in essence to a conversation that I had with an articulate and intelligent Roman Catholic concerning his view of "salvation". During our discussion, he claimed that he was convinced that only through the R.C. Church could one finally reach heaven. He was therefore prepared to force me by torture if necessary, had he the power and the opportunity, to accept the R.C. beliefs, for he claimed that I would eventually be grateful to him in heaven when we both reached that place!
It will be apparent that in both the R.C. and Arminian viewpoints outlined above, God has no control over who finally will be in heaven, but it depends entirely upon the "free will" decision of individuals. In both cases, entry into the "kingdom" depends upon the utterance of certain words and the affirmation of certain beliefs. God is reduced to looking on whilst the membership of his eternal city is being decided purely by the effectiveness of the influences that are brought to bear upon various people, and their present mental, emotional and spiritual state at that time. If the power of the persuasion is strong enough, there will be rejoicing that yet another has been "added to the eternal kingdom". It is when the underlying theology is set out in this way that we begin to see just how misleading and dangerous it really is. There is no area left in which the Spirit can "blow where it listeth" [John 3v8], - well beyond man's control.
This approach to obtaining "salvation" by persuasion, leads on to yet another serious objection that could be made. In considering the many cases related to me about the manner in which charismatics become Christians, I cannot but note that there seems to be a most vital stage that is often passed by. The usual scenario is for an unsaved person to be challenged to "decide for Christ", and if this is accepted, this is often followed by a highly emotional sense of joy and release of inhibitions, coupled at times with the immediate speaking of "tongues".
What does seem to be missing is a most vital factor, i.e. a deep sense of repentance for their rebellion against God for their present life. Surely it is a fundamental part of true salvation that the sinner should humble himself first before God, for only then will the gift of forgiveness be fully appreciated. God has to break us down before he can build us up into a new man.
I did point this out to a leader of a charismatic group, who admitted that this was often the case, but that they "later came to be repentant". Thus the sequence of salvation is completely reversed at this point. The fact that this man was a leader of a charismatic group yet he accepted this without any misgivings is but a further indication of the depth of the error, regarding which they were completely unaware.
In precisely the same way, it will be found that the highly popular "Alpha Course", written by the leaders of Holy Trinity Brompton - a centre for the "Toronto Blessing" with its degrading activities - also skirts around this whole subject of repentance being the very first act of the sinner before he can accept Christ's death in propitiation for his sins - past, present and future.
Is it possible that salvation along this route is thereby made non-effective?
This has been considered by other writers who have pointed out that the new form of evangelism is fundamentally different to the old approach. Where before a man came before God and was broken with repentance, we now have the challenge that you can be "saved" from, or overcome your particular problem (drugs, loneliness, drink - whatever it may be for the individual) by simply "accepting" or "believing" in Christ.
Thus the main emphasis is to present the attractions of the Christian life as being a "higher", better and a victorious life over the present problems. A deep contrition and sorrow for one's past Godless life is not the first consideration - only the achieving of a "positive" result. Thus the new convert is not asked to die to his earthly desires, he is only redirected to a better, "higher" and more rewarding lifestyle than he is experiencing at the moment.
That the sinner should FIRST humbly confess that all his life has been a total act of rebellion against God is hardly ever touched upon. To do so is to erect a difficult barrier and may put the seeker off from making the "right decision" at a crucial psychological moment! To put it in this seemingly crude fashion may be objected to, but it nevertheless gives the outline of the approach that is almost invariably adopted.
It is of vital importance to consider this question of the effectiveness or otherwise of the "salvation" that charismatic churches provide. As I have referred to above, I am not able to judge what the eternal position is of the many members of the charismatic churches, but I would here quote the words of a minister of a very large church who has had considerable experience in dealing with members who have come to him having been disillusioned in their former church.
John MacArthur wrote a book entitled "The Gospel According to Jesus" (- the American title, named "You Call Me Lord?" in the U.K.) When it appeared in 1988, it caused a furore, for what he was saying was that many members of evangelical churches throughout the United States were fooling themselves in thinking they were saved, because they had not fully accepted the Lordship of Christ over every part of their lives. Thus they had "made a decision", and regularly attended church, but apart from that, they were hardly distinguishable from any well-behaved unsaved person.
In order to demonstrate that they were not truly "born again" he makes the trenchant comment - "As a pastor, I have rebaptised countless people who once 'made a decision', were baptised, yet experienced no change. They later came to a true conversion and sought baptism again as an expression of genuine salvation." [p17]
This statement by an experienced minister should be very disturbing to many members of evangelical churches. Whilst his comment is mainly directed to a broad spectrum of church members, it nevertheless still applies to many members of the charismatic church who have "made a decision". Certainly their lives demonstrate a remarkable change, but many of their practices are unscriptural. To try to show this from the Bible, as I have, is to be labelled as "legalistic" and be dismissed.
MacArthur is not alone in testifying to the great disillusionment experienced by those who have come out of the movement. Furthermore he is not just referring to a few disgruntled people but to a large number who, despite their euphoria, have come to recognise the real lack of spiritual depth in the centre of their lives. On this website, I give the letter from "a disillusioned charismatic" which is the heartcry of a leader who came out of the charismatic movement and suffered extreme spiritual turmoil in the course of it.
Further support for questioning some charismatic routes to salvation comes from the Puritans. They claimed that "a peppercorn" of self in salvation is sufficient to destroy that salvation. This may appear to be an extreme view, but it is very thought-provoking nevertheless.
Many Christians agree that the evangelical church is in considerable disarray and confusion. In this short paper I have tried to show that the root cause of much of this is due to the outworkings of an erroneous basic doctrine that has been adopted, either openly or subconsciously, by some churches. This has resulted in practices that differ sharply from those of the more traditional churches. Much stress has been generated and unscriptural divisions have taken place within sound evangelical congregations. This is in contrast to the strong emphasis that the N.T. places upon the unity of brothers and sisters in Christ - raising the subject far more frequently than even evangelism and worship.
If the various subjects raised above are reviewed and accepted as having some validity, is it not possible that the charismatic movement is one of the most deceptive and disruptive influences to which the evangelical church has been subjected for centuries?
Small update (Puritans quote) 5 Sept.2001
Dec. 2001 - reference to "disillusioned charismatic"
Errol Hulse pointed to the inability of the Arminian teaching to ever fulfill the deepest hunger of the human heart in its quest for God. In his "An Introduction to the Baptists" (Carey 1976 p.39-40) he said;
"It is not surprising therefore to find that neo-Pentecostalism sweeps into General Baptist churches. The modern tongues movement is appallingly superficial and embraces High Anglicans and Romanists who fail to pass the basic Scriptural requirement of Justification by Faith. It is a wonder that Hindus who speak in tongues are not invited to join the cult! Why is this movement so attractive? The answer is that Arminian Christianity has failed to bring believers into a deep experience of the sovereignty and majesty of God. A void has been left and this void must be filled [Emphasis MB]. Many Christians are yearning for reality and neo-Pentecostalism, with its claim to be like apostolic Christianity, seems to be real. Those who are well grounded in the truth are best equipped to discern the shallowness of the teaching.
What about the intellectual vacuum that is created by Arminian Christianity? Many believers, particularly those who have received disciplined intellectual training in universities, are not satisfied with shallow answers to their questions. Arminianism fails to answer their questions. Great areas of truth are avoided and neglected. Frustration results. It is not surprising therefore that Barthianism-neo-orthodoxy - (the old Modernism dressed up in Reformed language) has made some rapid headway among the intellectuals in General Baptist churches. How can these subtle heresies of neo-orthodoxy be resisted when the believers have not been built up in systematic theology? Here is language which purports to deal with God's sovereignty as it relates to the varied spheres of life. It sounds wonderful. But we discover that the advocates of this teaching are universalists who deny the evangelical belief that "All Scripture is God-breathed".
It is tragic that the vacuum left by ignorance is being filled all over the world by that which is not true. Even now, Modernists are being groomed in colleges thought to be evangelical, soon to make their way into evangelical Baptist churches where the poor sheep have never been taught the difference between one system and another."
SECOND ESSAY -
GOD USED "PLAN B" WHEN ADAM FELL - OR DID HE?
A further examination of the Arminian doctrine.
There appear to be many who believe that God gave Adam freedom of choice, (whether to eat the forbidden fruit or not) and had "A plan" (whatever that may have been) worked out for him and his children. However, Adam, following the leading of his wife, disobeyed God. It is said that God did not expect this but already had "Plan B" prepared for such an event. This plan concerned man's salvation and all that is involved with it.
This is seriously accepted by many, but there are a number of both logical and doctrinal objections to it, which I summarise. We will then examine the dangers of the doctrine and possible reasons why it is held by many people.
Let us look first at the proposal and its consequences.
(1) Unpredictability of man
If God created Adam and gave him such a wide range of freedom that God could not predict what action he would take at any time that he had to make a decision, then he could never predict what Adam, or subsequently any other man, would do at any time. This would apply, not only to major decisions, but to every minor decision also, as they are only differing in degree.
(2) Unpredictability of the future.
If God could not predict man's actions, He could never plan for the future. He would never be able to plan in advance how he would deal with Adam, whether he would Fall or not. If He did not know whether Adam would Fall, it is surely reasonable to assume that He was completely unable to predict any future events that would involve man at least and therefore unable to plan for the future?
(3) In that case, even though he may have had "Plan B" ready prepared, it would have been completely useless, as every decision Adam made, and all men after him, would have involved another "Plan C, D,.." every time.
(4) This would have made all the historical events leading up to the Cross impossible to organise in the way that the OT and NT clearly set out for us. That this was a most carefully planned event, spanning very many generations, is so very obvious. The predictions in the OT were all PERFECTLY fulfilled in Jerusalem and subsequently. From these arguments, the implications that God was surprised by Adam's Fall are such that it makes the whole proposal completely untenable.
There are many verses in the Bible that demonstrate that God had everything planned out and completely contradict the idea that God had to alter His plans when Adam fell.
One of the most obvious ones is Eph. 1:4 "..He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world."
The usual Arminian interpretation of this is to say that God looked into the future and chose those whom he could see would choose Him; He then put into operation His plan for their salvation when they did, eventually, choose Him. Thus, the whole of history is ultimately left in man's hands and God looks on powerlessly as He looks to see which men will choose Him! In this case, it is perfectly possible that not a single man might choose to be saved, and God's great plan would be useless. To allow for such a situation even as a possibility is hardly honouring to God's omnipotence.
Regarding man's salvation, God made a deliberate choice of who would be saved when there was absolutely nothing attractive whatsoever in those He would choose. ALL men were in total rebellion against God. To show this, we will turn to just two passages.
(i) God's choice of a race;
Ex. 32:9 "And the Lord said to Moses 'I have seen this people, and it is a stiffnecked people.'"
Ex. 33:3 "[The Lord said] '... you are a stiffnecked people..'"
Deut. 7:7 "'The Lord did not set His love on you nor CHOOSE you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.'"
Thus, despite not having any redeeming features, God nevertheless still CHOSE the Jewish people to be His representatives on earth.
(ii) Christ's choice of the Disciples;
John 15:16 " 'You did NOT choose Me, but I chose you..'"
In these we see that it is ALWAYS God who does the choosing - not man.
It is rather appalling that fallen, sinful imperfect men should nevertheless still today arrogantly claim that, ultimately, it was their choice that ensured their eventual salvation; that they had the ability and inherent spiritual wisdom and insight to choose to follow God, against all the normal instincts of naturalistic rationality. What could be less acceptable to the natural man the idea that he will obtain everlasting life simply by believing that a man who died two thousand years ago took the punishment for his sins and rebellion against God? Surely, it requires the powerful working of the Holy Spirit within him to first give him an active spiritual life in order to accept such a preposterous suggestion. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you cannot tell where it comes from. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." [John 3:8] It is the Holy Spirit who performs this first task of giving a man the initial spiritual life that enables him to THEN respond to the call of Christ.
Is the Arminian viewpoint the last bunker a man has in defence of his pride, when dealing with a God who is infinite in His humility? Could it result in his condemnation? There are two passages that should force all Christians to look very carefully at their doctrine, Christian life and attitude;
(1) The Great Wedding Feast - and the man in the wrong clothes! - Matt. 22:11-14
Many were invited to the wedding feast, but when the Master challenged a man without a wedding garment, he was speechless. He was bound and cast out of the feast into the darkness.
On the Cross, Christ took our filthy robes of self-righteousness and gave us His perfect robe of humility, which is what God will see when we finally stand before Him. The man in the parable is surely a person who thought he was a member of the Christian family, but was not wearing this God-given robe, but one of his own making.
(2) Matt. 7:22-23.
"Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."
No comment is needed.
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