I just finished reading The Feast of Tabernacles by George H. Warnock. It is definitely one of the seminal books of the Charismatic movement, although very few contemporary Charismatics have heard of it. George H. Warnock was a key figure in the “Latter Rain” revival of 1948, and wrote the Feast of Tabernacles in 1951 in response to a prophecy. He had this to say about the relationship between the Latter Rain and the Charismatic movement “It wasn’t long until the move of God began to infiltrate the large post-reformation churches, and some saw fit to give it a name that was more prestigious — The Charismatic Movement.”
The Feast of Tabernacles is contains an elaborate and fascinating set of typologies. Perhaps because of this, and because of the climate during the 20th century which was hostile to typology he includes a section in the book where he explains and defends its use. It may be the only book I’ve ever read which actually explains in some part the theory of hermeneutics that underlies it. I was interested in the book because something of the Latter Rain has always captured my interest, especially since it is talked about so glowingly by certain ones who were “there” and at the same time an almost forgotten movement because so many who were involved dissolved in the Charismatic movement or got into cults. So that leaves me with a question – what was it that was good about the Latter Rain that we should keep, and what was bad that caused the problems? So reading the Feast of Tabernacles is part of going to back to the source.
The basic theory of the book is simple. There are three biblical feasts: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Passover and Pentecost are explicitly fulfilled in the New Testament which leaves an open question about the Feast of Tabernacles. That fulfillment is coming at the end of age – now – through the people of God. The first part of the book is spent laying the backdrop of the other two feasts and seems fairly straightforward. It begins to get interesting as he moves deeper into the Tabernacles concept and seeks Biblical justification in a variety of places.
Warnock looks at the various celebrations of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Bible as each showing us something about a final eschatological Feast of Tabernacles in the Church: Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, Nehemiah, Jesus visit to the Feast.
First, let me deal with places where I had issues or disagreed. My main and most consistent of the book is the thinly veiled elitism it contains. In several places the implication is made either directly or through typology that if you are not with “us,” you are against God. This same kind of elitism continues today in some heirs of the Latter Rain. This is where the Charismatic idea of responding to critics as “Pharisees” seems to stem from. Let me say up front, that the most Pharisee-like experience I’ve ever had was in a Charismatic church.
In addition the idea of rallying around a doctrine is derided, while at the same time new doctrines are advanced. I definitely see the point that during a special revival visitation of Christ, doctrine becomes less important as the true people of God are called out from every place and called together, yet during the rest of time doctrine is an important part of building together.
George Warnock has an unusual idea of there being different groups within the church. In other words descriptions like “Sons,” “The Bride,” which we take to be metaphors for the church, he sees as parts of the church. Here again is a problem. Although he does not develop the idea here, others did, and it led to serious elitism. What if I’m a manifested son and you’re not? What if I’m the bride and you’re not?
First, I strongly believe in George Warnock’s basic theory of approaching Scripture. Sixty years later the scholarly community seems to be slowly moving to the place where Warnock already was by revelation. The Hermeneutical principles he lays out are:
- We should use the same principles of hermeneutics that the apostles did.
- Typology is valid and important in interpreting Scripture.
- All of the Bible is applicable to us. (He identifies the church as spiritual Israel)
- The Old Testament is the pattern of the New. (1 Corinthians 15:46)
I was thrilled when I first read this because it follows the exact line I’ve been exploring through other channels. It was a strong confirmation that the journey I’ve been on for Spirit-filled hermeneutics was heading the right direction.
We see George Warnock applying these hermeneutics throughout the book. In the end of the book he looks at Moses and Elijah appearing on the mountain and Peter offering to construct “tents” (tabernacles) there as a sign of a “Moses-Elijah Company” on the Earth.
In addition to applying the Feasts typology to history (Passover = Reformation, Pentecost = Pentecostalism, Tabernacles = Return of Christ), he applies the history of Israel as a pattern for the history of the church. We already went through the “Babylonian Captivity” of the Dark Ages (this is in agreement with Luther). Protestantism itself was a kind of “Second Temple,” but just like the second temple, it ended in a system of religion not glory. The idea is that now in the post-Christendom era, we are in the same place Spiritually as when Christ came the first time and he is preparing the house for his return. This pattern may be more of a stretch, but it is interesting. He then spends a chapter examining the restoration of the temple by Zerubabbel, Nehemiah, comparing their task of restoration of the Temple to our task of restoring the church. This works, but it doesn’t exactly match the historical recapitulation scheme he set up.
He uses numerous other types and symbols as well. He shows the significance of the number 2. He looks briefly at the concept of redigging of wells, which was such a big deal recently in the Charismatic movement. He uses the story of Jonathan winning a victory but being punished for eating the honey as a typological story of being punished for tasting the fruit of the spiritual “promised land.” He also interprets Jacob’s ladder. Really it’s a gold mine of typological interpretations. Some very strong, some not as strong, but really an example I’d like to examine in more detail as an application of “Apostolic hermeneutics” to now.
Different Charismatic groups have built different eschatologies, but they all differ from the traditional Pentecostal dispensationalism, and this is due directly to the influence of the Latter Rain. George Warnock sees the “hope of the church” not as the return of Christ to the saints, but as the Glory of Christ filling the “Temple” of the church in the same way it did in Solomon’s dedication ceremony.
He has a big vision for what is possible in God. In fact, you could say that his vision was very similar to that of the original Pentecostals. He talks about speaking in foreign tongues (xenolalia), being translated, and doing all kinds of exploits. It was definitely a vision of “unlimited Christianity” and read a lot like a David Hogan story (p181). I got a kick out of this line “They shall poison his food but it shall be like adding vitamins to his diet.” The emphasis here though is on living the very same kind of life that Jesus did. This is a part of the Spirit filled promise that we should never lay aside. In some ways that was what the Feast of Tabernacles book was all about –– a kind of trumpet call to the church saying that we are entering and end time phase of history where as Christ begins to tabernacle more with his church, we shall increasingly reflect the glory and power of Christ. I believe both of those things.
Warnock sees overcomers as coming to a place where they speak “with such power and authority that the very nations themselves will have to bow in submission.” This sounds postmillennial on the surface, but I actually see his ideas a more of a modified amillennialism, because they do not focus on cultural transformation, they focus on spiritual transformation and victory. He acknowledges a Great Tribulation, but he sees these overcomers as having remarkable authority in the midst of it, including prayers that cut it short, and in general a ministry to those who are oppressed and persecuted during it. The concept here is of a deep intimacy with God and protection during the judgment as Noah was protected in the Ark. Our covenant must end in “glory and victory” because it is a ministry of life, where as the Mosiac covenant was a ministry of death. This is a pattern of “Spiritual Victory,” as opposed to postmillennial ideas of physical dominion, or premillennial ideas of awaiting the king, or evangelizing to save as many before he comes.
On the one hand, I want to dream big, on the other hand, it seems that if you get focused on being “powerful” you don’t be come powerful, you become arrogant. I’m not sure how to resolve this at the level of personal spirituality yet.