The Feast of Tabernacles

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.

 

Criticisms

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?

 

Hermeneutics

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:

  1. We should use the same principles of hermeneutics that the apostles did.
  2. Typology is valid and important in interpreting Scripture.
  3. All of the Bible is applicable to us. (He identifies the church as spiritual Israel)
  4. 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.

 

Eschatology

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.

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8 Comments

  1. I have read Warnock’s book as well as several of George Hawtin’s. I disagree with the unrestrained manner Warnock and Hawtin employed typology in their hermeneutic. We need only take a look back at the early Alexandrian church to see how unrestrained typology crosses over into allegorical interpretation, and just how unorthodox the conclusions can become as a result. The only seeming guideliness for Warnock and Hawtin typology was their imagination and cleverness in presentation. Contemporary books on hermeneutics all seem to keep typology within safe boundaries by providing guidelines. Much New Testament typology is considered a function of inspiration and not illumination. With this kind of contemporary consensus, I think one needs to engage the arguments of people like Gordon Fee if they are to expect to have their typology taken seriously. If Fee and others are wrong, just how have they erred? If they are wrong, how do you propose we keep from straying into allegorism? I think it is interesting to note that many of the unorthodox, Latter Rain doctrines such as the manifest sons teaching were largely argued from out-of-bounds typology.

    By the way, if you know of any fully informative books on LRM history, I would be interested to know about them. R. M. Riss’s Masters Thesis is pretty good, but he deleted most of the controversial material for his published book as well as in his entry in the Dictionary of Pentecostal and charismatic movements.

    Also, I think your diagram showing a straight line from the LRM to modern charismaticism is a bit simplistic. Where would you put the Calvary Chapel movement on your chart? I see no place for it and some other movements that came out of the charismatic and the Jesus movements.

  2. David. Thank you for your comment. I find it somewhat uncharitable that you referred to my diagram of 20th century church history as “a bit simplistic” Perhaps you are aware of some other models that I am not but I felt that the model I created several years ago was unique and useful.

    My personal opinion and experience is that Calvary Chapel especially as it has evolved , regardless of how it self-identifies, is not properly called Charismatic. It aligns much better as a kind of evangelical even slightly-fundamentalist movement. This was evident even in the late 70s when the Vineyard split off as a more Spirit-oriented variant. What I would do is draw a line from Azusa Street out to the Jesus People movement and from that down to the Vineyard and the Shepherding Movement. I don’t think at the time of the post I fully appreciated the role of the Jesus People.

    I stick with my contention, though, that the basic sensibilities of the contemporary Charismatic church stem from a sort of Latter Rain-lite. Part of that is the hermeneutics. Part of that is the hyper-Spirit orientation. Part of it is personal prophecy. Part of it is the worship style. When you step into a true “Charismatic” church even today, you are only a few steps removed from the LR ideals.

    I think the work of Greg Beale and others in the Biblical Theology movement have definitively answered the evangelical-critical hermeneutics of Fee and others in the majority. My favorite practical book on the topic is “Him We Proclaim” http://www.amazon.com/Him-We-Proclaim-Preaching-Scriptures/dp/1596380543/ I think he answers your question quite well. But reading anything by Beale gives the scholarly meat if that’s your thing. We should be exegeting in the same way the apostles did, not exalting our modern higher-critical inspired methods as superior to theirs.

    No one has done better work on the LR than Richard Riss, and it’s a shame to hear if he intentionally removed some of the negative material. At one point, I had maintained a pretty extensive page on the Wikipedia before someone came and destroyed it and I lost the will to fight them. At one point I was collecting various books and notes related to the LR, and was one of the original authors of the now much changed wikipedia article, but I’ve moved on from the topic. The Pastor’s Pen by Reg Layzell is the one history type book of the LR that I am aware of must be consulted.

    The myriad of cults and strange movements to emerge, I think will simply never fully be cataloged or remembered, and perhaps that is best anyway.

    1. I learned my lesson about Wikipedia years ago. I worked very hard on an article only to have it utterly destroyed by biased editors who outnumbered me. I think it is vitally important to realize that the Apostles clearly went far beyond the bounds of exegesis by inspiration. Illumination must be limited to authorial intent or we have no boundaries outside of our own creativity and we have no clear, established meaning in Scripture by which to discern true from false teaching. If we use apostolic inspiration as a model for Christian exegesis we are confusing categories and not exegeting at all. The result is not an understanding of authorial intent so much as an understanding of one’s own fanciful imaginations and how cleverly they can match them to some passage of Scripture. In such a case, anything goes. Nothing is true or false inherently, only true for me or true for you — which fits well in postmodernism and Derridean philosophy if that is where one wishes to go. That’s a slippery slope, though. It leads (and has led) to an “anything goes” Christianity with no real definition other than one’s fondness for the word “Christian.” At that point, why even use a Bible if imagination and personal preferences are the keys?

      1. David, I understand this concern, and it was oft-repeated during my seminary training. It is certainly the case that a lot of what passes for Biblical interpretation in Charismatic circles has no particular Biblical warrant to the point that a doctrine can seem true just because it is novel. I’m not arguing for unrestrained interpretation.

        What I would suggest are the following:
        1. The Apostles used a discernible hermeneutic, they were not simply inspired. They were following a typological redemptive-historical method.
        2. Typology is deeply ingrained in the Bible itself, and in church history. Every major interpreter in history including those of the so called “Antioch” school, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, all made use of it in ways that would be condemned using the evangelical-critical method. I have a difficult type arrogating a modern method over that which has been standard in history
        3. Typology differs from allegory in that it is based on accepting the factual veracity of the Bible, and that the application of the type corresponds tot he type itself.
        4. We should follow the method of the apostles, not dismiss it.
        These points are all very solid and backed up by the scholarly material and school of interpretation I mentioned before.
        I don’t personally find this has anything to do with post-modernism, and I doubt the hard-core conservative Reformed types who are advancing it would either.

        As a Pentecostal I add the following more controversial point:
        1. The Spirit has the ability to shine light on a passage to bring an apparently novel but valid interpretation to light, which may not be evident from a plain reading of the text. I call this the “two way mirror.” Once you have the revelation you are able to support it from the text, but it is unlikely you would ever have found it by reasoning upward from the text. This is exactly how the Old and New Testaments relate. Without the key of Christ, all of the OT was unclear, but with the additional revelation of Christ, it is easy to see how Christ is manifest throughout.

  3. Regarding the diagram, I suggest you check out Vinson Synan’s Century of the Holy Spirit. He accurately traces several streams of the charismatic movement that are unrelated to the Latter Rain Movement that started in Battleford — http://www.amazon.com/Century-Pentecostal-Charismatic-Renewal-1901-2001/dp/0785245502. I guess we will have to agree to disagree about “apostolic method.” There is no method for being inspired to write Scripture. As to church history, many people have erred at times throughout the centuries. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon were all cessationists. Should I agree with them on that point or should I search the Bible to see what it says? What you refer to as the Evangelical-critical method has at least as much historical grounding as unbounded typology. Additionally, I have read just about everything by Spurgeon and found no errant typology in his writings. I have read some of Luther and found none there either. I no of no one who suggests that no typology is legitimate. Most of us would merely suggest that the canon is closed and we are now limited to principles of legitimate interpretation of the canon. Paul was inspired in a way that we are not. I have been a Pentecostal over about 40 years. I have pastored churches and taught at a Bible College. I would strongly urge you as a brother to reconsider what you have said in your last point. If the Holy Spirit shows you something that is not in the text, it is Spirit-given insight unrelated to the text. All of us have experienced a strong speaking of the Spirit while reading Scripture. That experience often leads to a chain of insights unrelated to the text you were reading. To go back and read that branched-off insight into the text is unjustified if the historico-grammatical meaning of the text is unrelated to the Spirit-given insight. If it is related to the text but not explicitly stated in the text it is likely an application of the text. One might read about loving your neighbor and have the Spirit show you the need to help drug addicts recover their lives and get back on their feet. That is a wonderful and legitimate application of the text. If however, in the course of my experience with the Spirit, the subject turns, and He begins to speak to me about the wisest way to help drug addicts, it is not legitimate for me to say “love your neighbor” specifically means the particular benevolence methodology God is showing me. Though it is true the wisdom concept came in conjunction with the Spirit’s showing me an application of “love your neighbor,” and the wisdom is good, it is not the meaning of the text I started with. The text is understood by authorial intent or it can mean anything at all. Many well-meaning cults started just this way — with a leader’s revelation that can’t be found in the historico-grammatical meaning of the text. We have to stick to the book itself. At least that is what I will continue to do. You may do as it seems best to you.

    1. David, thanks for your concern. I am familiar with Synan’s work and have met him in person. He is definitely the premier historian of the movement. I think my purpose or concept here was a bit different than his. .

      I don’t think you’ll find a lot of wild interpretation this blog, and in fact, I’m quite against it. I truly believe cults are primarily expressions of character problems from which extends bad theology, and Biblical interpretations to support them. I consider the dispensationism that reigned over most of the 20th century a kind of cult, and they were ultra-literal in their reading.

      Thanks again for your input and blessings to your ministry

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