I used to walk through Christian book stores and choose my books based on whether or not the author was a charismatic. I would pick up a commentary and turn immediately to 1 Cor. 12 (the section on spiritual gifts). If the author believed that the spiritual gifts were for today, I would put it back on the shelf in disbelief that the store would carry such misleading material. If they did not believe that the gifts were for today—if the author was a “cessationist”—I would consider purchasing the book.
Such was the time when I believed that all those who believed that all charismatics were practicing a different Christianity, at best, or demon possessed, at worst.
I am not a charismatic, and I have my reasons, but I do not feel the same way today as I used to. Let me first define the terms and set up the field of play.
The word “charismatic” can be used in many ways. It is taken from the word “charisma.” Websters Dictionary defines it as “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader).” Many would say that Barack Obama has charisma in such a way. Charisma is taken from the Greek charisma which means “gift.” Its root, charis, means “grace.”
In Christianity, “charismatic” refers to those who believe that certain “spiritual gifts” such as tongues, prophecy, and gifts of healings, are normative for the church. In the Scriptures, we are told that God gives certain gifts to everyone in the body of Christ. Representative gift lists are mentioned in 1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12, 1 Pet. 4, and Eph. 4. Some of these gifts seem to be natural extensions of the recipients personality (leadership, teaching, encouragement) while others distinguish themselves by their extra-ordinary nature. A charismatic is one who believes that God still gifts people in the church with the extra-ordinary or supernatural gifts and that these gifts are normative in the body of Christ for the extension of God’s message, glory, and grace.
Charismatic is not a denomination, but a trans-denominational theological stance or tradition which can find representation in any denomination or tradition, including Evangelicalism. In fact, I think that the charismatic position (or some variation thereof) is the fastest growing tradition within Evangelicalism.
A cessationist (taken from “cease”), one the other hand, is one who believes that the extra-ordinary gifts ceased in the first century, either at the completion of the New Testament or at the death of the last Apostle. Cessationists believe that the supernatural gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healings were “sign gifts” that were given for the establishment of the church and then passed away due to a fulfillment of their purpose. They served as a supernatural “sign” from God that the Gospel message being proclaimed was unique and authoritative. Since the Gospel message has been proclaimed and established in the New Testament, cessationists believe that these type of gifts ceased due to an exhaustion of purpose. Therefore, with regards to the “gifts of the Spirit,” there are “permanent gifts” and there are “temporary gifts.”
What would a post be without a chart?
If you can see this (!), you will notice that certain “sign gifts” are revelatory while others are confirmatory. The revelatory gifts are those that reveal God’s message in some way. They are prophetic in nature. Not everyone would agree which gifts belong in this category. Some would not place “word of wisdom” or “word of knowledge” here and one’s placement of tongues will depend on how it is defined (prayer language? prophetic revelation in another language? Gospel proclamation in another language?). Either way, the catergory describes those gifts which involve a supernatural revelation from God. The “confirmatory gifts” are those which confirm or provide evidence for the revelatory gifts. In other words, someone cannot just claim to be speaking prophetically on behalf of God. Their message must be confirmed by some undeniable act of extraordinary power. Otherwise, anyone could claim to speak on behalf of God.
Of course the gift of healings have a benevolent purpose as the benefits of such gifts effect people in a wonderful way, but, according to most cessationists (and even some charismatics), the result that a person is healed is the secondary purpose. The primary purpose is the legitimize the message of the healer.
A very important points need to be made. (If you don’t get this, don’t ever bother engaging in this conversation.) Whether one is a charismatic or a cessationist, all Christians believe in God’s supernatural intervention. Only a deist would claim that God has a “hand-off” approach to history and our lives. It is not that the cessationist does not believe in healings or miracles, it is that they don’t believe in the gifts of healing, miracles, etc. being given to a certain people. Both charismatics and cessationists (should) pray for God’s supernatural intervention, can believe in stories of healings, and can expect God to direct their lives through some sort of divine guidance. In other words, just because someone prayed for healing and believes it happended, this does not make one a charismatic (properly speaking).
However, there does seem to be a higher level of expectation for divine intervention among charismatics than from cessationists. I am not saying whether this is good or bad. Expectation of the power of God can both motivate a Christian’s life or be a cause for great disillusionment. More on that later.
I will continue by giving some arguments for the Charismatic position and then we will see where this series goes.
Merry Christmas friends.