The replica of the Palmyra Arch, destroyed by ISIS in October, 2015. This reasonably nondescript Roman archway was recreated using 3D printing technology and put on display in a New York City park. According to charismatics, this exhibit signals the arrival of Baal in the United States. It seems Baal litters the world with easily identifiable clues as to his whereabouts, in this instance an 11-tonne lump of moulded plastic.
There are those who seek for signs.
A great number of these people fall within the charismatic camp, which is a movement so frequently riven with heterodox opinions. Heterodoxy is the natural result of a small army of self-appointed “prophets” who deliver “revelations” to the charismatic faithful. These revelations range from idiotic musings to a mash of scripture and commentary, blended with a tincture of politics and a liberal splash of imminent doom.
People caught up in the movement – and I know a few – seem to live lives of ceaseless supernatural drama. They crave it. Perhaps their lives are so boring that the only way they can realise some purpose in their daily existence is to imagine a constellation of supernatural workings surrounding them, both demonic and angelic. The charismatics I know interpret every dream, every international news event, and every happening in their personal lives as a “sign”, or the voice of God, or a portend of the apocalypse. Usually a portend of the apocalypse. The nuttier drivers of the movement appear to find supernatural signs in their morning cornflakes. So ubiquitous is this characteristic of sign hunting, that it seems to be the logical and inevitable outworking of charismatic doctrines.
Our Lord, of course, warned people against seeking for signs (Matthew 16:4). God-honouring faith should not require them. Indeed, a person who lacks faith in the integrity and the quality of God’s word – as many charismatics seem to – will lack the fundamental prerequisite for meaningful knowledge of the Almighty. After all, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Nonetheless, God in his great mercy sometimes does provide his people with authentic signs to demonstrate the reliability of his Being and purpose, and these actual signs have been recorded in inerrant scripture for our edification. As C. S. Lewis once pointed out, the authentic signs and miraculous works of God never have the quality of fiction to them. They could not ever be lifted from the script of a supernatural teen drama series, unlike the ruminations of many charismatics which seem to indeed be strongly influenced by supernatural television drama.
Too many charismatics seem to imagine that the devil and the demons litter the world around us with signs of their activity, like the exhaust of a passing engine. To wit, a few days ago, Charisma News reported the following story that follows the charismatic script to the letter.
It turns out that a 3D printed plastic replica of the ancient stone archway in Palmyra destroyed by ISIS was erected in a public park in New York City. Because this 2,000 year old Roman archway once connected a main thoroughfare to the entrance of a temple to Baal, charismatics immediately “exposed” the fact that… yes, you guessed it, that this replica archway is a sign that Baal has come to America. (Cue sinister organ music.)
(For an immeasurably more sober account of what is going on, read here.)
It is my contention that charismatics who promote this kind of nonsense bring disrepute to the gospel of Christ, which first and foremost is a reasoned and logical presentation of truth. Part of the inestimable glory of the gospel is that it is divine knowledge with a power unto itself. Humble, long-term exposure to this knowledge changes a man into a wiser creature, a more sensible creature with mature habits of thinking, who is thus equipped to really and properly enter into a loving relationship with God. One never gets the impression from the New Testament that the first Christians were jumping at shadows, or trying to divine the future by using the news headlines in the same manner that a shaman might once have employed the entrails of a bird.
These sorts of charismatic claims are juvenile and childish. They do not betoken tutored or sober minds that have been nourished by the word of God. Moreover, such claims are also utterly illogical. By the logic of the Charisma News article, any ancient archaeological religious artefact that is brought to a country must be a “harbinger” of doom or a sign of some demonic entity’s day of visitation. It must be very perplexing for charismatics, (should they consider the matter deeply at all), that most national museums in advanced Western countries hold collections of pagan religious artefacts and have done so for a long time. These artefacts are essential pieces of the historical record.
I simply refuse to accept a Christianity that is so intellectually sterile, juvenile, and fearful that a plastic replica of an ancient doorway is cause for alarm. Such a Christianity is not that of St. Paul, or of C. S. Lewis, or of St. Francis, or of Martin Luther, who despite his famous wrestling matches with the devil, was a level-headed fellow who did not engage in omni-directional emoting but produced considered argumentation. He did not interpret every change of wind as a sign of coming doom.
If it were not for the painstaking archaeological investigations of scholars both Christian and non-Christian, we would know very little about the ancient world and therefore our understanding of the biblical past would be much impoverished. Sensible Christians should never be afraid of evidence or of knowledge, which when rightly interpreted through the prism of a God-honouring intellect, always enhances and enriches our wisdom. It helps us to grow and learn, not just as individuals, but as as Church.
Charismatic nuttiness, of course, is the direct function of certain presuppositions and first principles. If a person lives in a reality where the devil leaves easily identifiable demonic signs everywhere – in this instance, an 11-tonne plastic archway in a public park – and if a person buys into the (largely American fundamentalist) idea that America is so extraordinary and exceptional that it must feature prominently in any end time prophecy, then of course these signs will form the links in the fabric of a worldview. Or more correctly, these signs will form the iron bars of an intellectual cage.
To such irrationality, I prefer scripture which is rational and sound above all things. In scripture, Paul tells us that idols are “nothing at all”. Indeed, a person may even eat food sacrificed to idols in a clear conscience (1 Corinthians 8) providing he does not violate the conscience of his brother by so doing. Now, if it is true that an idol is “nothing at all” other than a misshapen lump of wood or metal, then it is most assuredly true that a 21st century plastic replica of a 2,000 year old Roman archway that once linked a street to a temple is “nothing at all” as well.
This archway has no moral quality to it. It has no power. It is merely a moulded form that bares some resemblance to something else. It is a copy, and therefore lacks the essential qualities of the thing that it imitates. It is not being used for purposes of worship. It is not being used to revive a cult of Baal in the United States. If anything, it is being used to strike a note of defiance against ISIS – which is a real evil in the world.
The devils do not work according to the dictates of ancient and medieval superstition (or according to the silly tropes of Hollywood!), which imagined that this object or that totem could somehow take upon itself a power and must therefore be regarded as having moral agency all of itself. The devils work by corrupting men, not by inhabiting things.
This is where charismatic nuttiness becomes dangerous and even corrupting. For if you buy into the idea that this plastic archway is a revival of Baal worship, then you have to also (logically) buy the idea that ISIS were doing God’s work by destroying the ruins in the first place. Are any charismatics prepared to embrace the logical overflow of their worldview?