While I am not a charismatic, I am around them all the time. In fact, I think that I have more charismatics that work for me than non-charismatics. It’s quite a bit of fun. While I ban the “power of the Spirit” being manifest in speaking in tongues during work hours at the Credo House, I certainly don’t ban the power of the Spirit in anyone’s personal life. Everyone is free to believe whatever they are led to believe in this area here at Credo. We are very open and encouraging of this type of diversity. It has only gotten weird a couple of times. (Maybe I will write about that someday!)
I often tell people that I am the most want-to-be-charismatic non-charismatic they will ever meet. I long for the gifts of the Spirit to be manifested in such a way. To see people healed of serious ailments would be a taste of heaven. But more than anything else, I desire prophecy. I want to hear from God in such a way. I want God to speak directly to my situations. I would love to experience this type of communion with God. It would be so encouraging.
The other day (not at Credo), I had someone chase me down and prophesy over me. I was so excited when they approached. I think it was a husband/wife team. They said that when they saw me, they had a vision from God. It was a vision of me writing checks. “We saw you writing check after check.” I almost thought they had it right (considering how many bills I have to pay!), but they were talking about something else. They saw me giving money all the time to people in need. They talked about how generous I was. Now, as much as I would like to make such a claim, I certainly don’t have anything that would stand out in that area. Normally, my only version of giving significantly is taking a pay cut so Credo can move forward! Then they said that they saw the nations all around me in the form of various people groups, especially those with different languages, I was influencing. Again, they did not have the right person. Yes, this ministry is international, but their description of the type of influence I was having was much different. In the end, I was very deflated. Whatever visions they had of my identity, they either had the wrong person or the wrong spirit talking to them. It was not God talking to me.
As this encounter ended, I found myself attempting to assess my thinking about such things. I was kind to them and, right to wrong, I did not rain on their prophecy by saying they were incorrect in their visions. I just thanked them for their kindness and went my way. But I wondered about their “prophetic” gift and about my view of prophecy in general. In essence, I began to relate this, once again, to my Protestant heritage. Here are some of my thoughts: If charismatics have prophets who can directly speak God’s word, doesn’t this deny the Protestant principle sola Scriptura? If the Bible is the only infallible source of revelation, there cannot be prophets who speak on behalf of God, since their prophecy would also be infallible. If the Bible alone is the ultimate source of revelation, how can there be people today who receive “words from the Lord” which would be, by definition, another ultimate source. After all, God’s word is God’s word. One cannot be truly prophetic, and thus, contingently God’s word, while the other is the true standard. That would make the former simply a matter of opinion. It is either God’s prophetic word, whether written or spoken, or it is not.
Therefore, it is my contention that Charismatics are not truly Protestant as they deny one of the two central doctrines of the Protestant movement, sola Scriptura (the other being sola fide). In fact, they have fallen into the same trap that the old Papists have in the past. They have an authority alongside the Bible that is equal to the Scripture in the Christian life.
A little harsh? I think so. Again, I am not charismatic, but I am not fully persuaded that their belief in the continuation of prophecy necessarily denies the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura.
I suppose the most important thing for us to do at the beginning is to define our terms. Do a little research and you will find that the little Latin phrase sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) is not easy to define. Here are some of the possible definitions I have discovered:
1. Scripture is the sufficient source of revelation.
2. Scripture is the only infallible source of revelation.
3. Scripture is the ultimate source of revelation.
All of these are found in the writings of the Reformers. And then there is the common mis-definition that is so popular among twentieth-century American Evangelicals and fundamentalists that Scripture is the only source of authority in the life of the Christian (often termed nuda or solo Scriptura). But this is not a serious definition as, if nothing else, sola Scriptura has always allowed for other authorities.
If I look back over my personal notes (as well as in some of my published writings), I have always defined sola Scriptura in this way: Scripture is the final and only infallible source of revelation.
I am changing a bit here I think. While I believe that Scripture is the sufficient and ultimate source of revelation, I am not sure that it is the only infallible source we have available.
Think about this: isn’t creation infallible? Both Romans 1 and Psalm 19 tell us that creation itself is revelation of God, “pouring speech” about his attributes and divine nature. So authoritative is creation as a source of revelation, Romans 1:20 says it renders a person “without excuse” in their refusal to acknowledge God. And if creation is truly a revelation from God, it, by definition, must be infallible. Yes, we can misinterpret and misunderstand creation and yes, it is fallen. But this does not mean it pours forth speech with a lisp. And if creation is infallible, then Scripture is not the only infallible source.
Yet, I do think that one of the things the Reformers had in mind was the issue of infallibility. The Reformers were distinguishing themselves from an institutional authority that claimed infallibility. The Reformers believed that the Pope, the Magisterium, and the councils had all erred and were therefore fallible. To them, the Scriptures we not only the final, all-sufficient source of revelation, but were the only infallible source.
So, unless I am misunderstanding original intent of sola Scriptura, I think that we all must deny that the Scriptures are the only infallible source of revelation. If prophecy is continuing today and God is still speaking through people, I don’t know how one can deny it the status of infallibility. It must be tested by the previously revealed truths of Scripture (as Scripture is the ultimate source) and it will never include intel about salvation that reveals the Scriptures insufficiency (as Scripture is sufficient), but there is no reason why the presence of infallible Scripture means the absence of infallible prophecy.
So, do Charismatics deny sola Scriptura due to their view of prophecy? It all depends on whether you believe the phrase “only infallible” is part of the definition of sola Scriptura.
What do you think?