A reader recently asked me this question: “What if you incorrectly identify something as demonic?” While I will answer that question, I think the fear behind it is something related to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The real question that was probably being asked was this: “What is the sin against the Holy Spirit?”
The reason I say this is because there is an event in the life of Jesus that is often used by some power-hungry and control-freak pastors to beat and cajole the people in their church into submission, to quell all dissension, and to quiet all objections. These pastors usually accuse people of committing a sin against the Holy Spirit (or blasphemy against the Spirit) if they challenge or question the pastor, and especially if someone accuses the pastor of doing something demonic.
Let me just say this: Some of the most demonic things that have ever been done in the history of the world have been done in the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, I would go further and say that if one person does something evil, and another person does the exact same thing but does it in the name of Jesus Christ, the second action is way more demonic and evil than the first.
Doing evil is bad enough, but there is nothing worse than doing evil in the name of God.
Anyway, back to the point…
Matthew 12 and the Sin Against the Holy Spirit
The event from the life of Jesus that some pastors and church leaders refer to is found in Matthew 12. Jesus performs some miracles and the religious leaders accuse Jesus of operating under the power of Beelzebub (aka, Satan). In turn, Jesus accuses these religious leaders of being close to committing a sin against the Holy Spirit, or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
So when one Christian accuses a church leader of doing something evil or wrong, the pastor often feels justified in retorting the same way Jesus did, and accuses his accusers of committing a sin against the Holy Spirit. They teach that if someone is doing something by the power of the Holy Spirit, and someone else says they are doing it by the power of the devil, that this is a sin against the Holy Spirit, and those who commit this sin will never be forgiven.
You see how this works? Some pastors use Matthew 12 to make sure that no one ever challenge or questions their ideas, teaching, actions, or motives. For they are “God’s anointed” and if you do question them, then maybe you are committing the sin against the Holy Spirit and will end up damned for all eternity as a result.
Hmmm…. is this true? Let’s consider the specific situations where this occurs a little more closely.
There are some churches out there that have times in their weekly services where they engage in practices like speaking in tongues, prophetic utterances, and miraculous healing. A second group of leaders and churches (which do not practice these things) often accuse the first group of doing these miracles in the power of the devil rather than in the power of God.
Why would they say this? Sometimes (but not always) in churches where healing and miracles take place, there is also a lot of chaos, bad theology about God, and power struggles between leaders.( Of course, these things are pretty much present in any church, but that’s an inconvenient truth….) So when churches that are prim and proper see the chaos and the bad theology, they say, “See? If these things were from God, there would be peace and order… like in our church. But since there is chaos and division and bad teaching, then these signs are not from God but from demons.” They often point to passages like 1 Timothy 4:1 that warns about how doctrines of demons will be taught in churches in the latter days.
Churches and pastors who participate in miracles and prophecies don’t like to be told that they are being controlled by the devil, and so they often counter with the argument that anyone who says that something is of the devil when it is actually from God is committing a blasphemous sin against the Holy Spirit and will never be forgiven of such a sin. They get this idea from Matthew 12:31-32 where the religious Pharisees of Jesus’ day said that He was doing His miracles by the power of the devil, and in response, Jesus said that they were close to committing the unforgivable sin.
I have written elsewhere about why attributing the works of God to the devil is not the unforgivable sin (get the book on this topic here: The Unforgivable Sin)and so you can go read about that question there. By way of summary, the Pharisees did incorrectly discern the source of Jesus’ power, but Jesus does not say that they have committed blasphemy, but that they were close to committing blasphemy. So it is obvious from this that attributing the works of God to the devil, while a serious mistake if one makes it, is not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
It may not even be a sin against the Holy Spirit.
Sin Against the Holy Spirit vs. Obedience to the Holy Spirit
While it is true that if someone is operating under the power of God, to accuse that person of operating under the power of the devil is a sin against the Holy Spirit, I think that there are few cases where a person is actually operating by the power of the Spirit where it will not be obvious to all that this is going on. It will be obvious because the fruit of the Spirit will be evident: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23) If these things are not obvious, then there is every reason to think that the actions being performed are not from the Holy Spirit, and therefore, it is no sin to question or challenge such actions. While we should probably not accuse others of operating under the power of the devil (see my previous post on signs of demonic possession), it is not wrong to call leaders to account for the things they do and say which do not lead to godliness.
Far from being a sin against the Holy Spirit, such questioning of abusive and controlling church leaders is actually good and Godly! As I indicated at the beginning of this post, there is nothing more evil than committing sin the name of Jesus Christ. If Christian leaders are using their power and influence to control and threaten others, and doing this in the name of Jesus, then it is not a sin against the Holy Spirit to call them out on this! Far from it, it would be obedience to the Holy Spirit to do so.
This is even true if the spiritual leader in question is able to perform signs and miracles. Often these leaders use signs, miracles, dreams, and visions to “verify” their status as “God’s anointed.” But even the magicians of Pharaoh were able to copy and emulate many of the early plagues that Moses brought upon Egypt (cf. Exodus 7). Also, Satan is the father of lies, the great deceiver, and one who masquerades as an angel of light. Satan loves nothing better to appear divine and to get people to do demonic things in the name of God.
But again, be wary about making accusations too quickly about any person, especially accusations that they are operating under the power of the devil. Making such an accusation is in itself a possible indication that you are trying to use your power and influence to control others. So don’t do it.
If you are in a church where such spiritual abuse is taking place, just leave. You don’t need to raise a ruckus or cause a stink in the church. Just stop showing up on Sunday morning. Stay home or go somewhere else.
And if you are a pastor or church leader and another leader in town is behaving in strange and erratic ways, there is no need to accuse him of being of the devil or preach against him and his ministry from your pulpit. This is spiritually abusive as well.
All of us Christians would get along a whole lot better if we each focused on doing what we are called to do, which is to follow Jesus in loving others.