Archive | Why I Am/Not Charismatic

Let this Strange Firestorm be a Lesson

Controversy is like a social hemorrhoid that will flare up on a regular basis & need to be cooled and soothed (I almost used the term strange anal fire but I thought better of it).  Some controversies are uglier than others. The worst kind of ugly controversy is the kind that might have been avoided because it wasn’t entirely necessary. Usually the culprit is misunderstanding, failure to define terms, or generally sloppy reactionism. When the internet was set ablaze with the anointing flame of controversy last week over the “Strange Fire” Conference in So-Cal, I had to wonder if this had the makings of one of those misunderstandings and failures to make responsible distinctions.

And in large measure I fear that this was just the case. As the smoke from the temple clears, I think there is a lesson to learn from this. The controversy was not just a quiet charismatic-cessationist stare-down. It was at times noisy and contentious. Names were dropped, reputations put on the line, and personal feelings bruised. Unfortunately there will likely remain some rifts between prominent persons and between prominent churches over the affair. And it may have been avoidable.

The biblical and theological debate about the gifts aside, wisdom demands something from us when it comes to a big public cyber-spat like this one. In this case I humbly submit that discernment requires distinctions. Some distinctions were not made that should have been made. Going forward, here are three things that must be clarified and made distinct on this subject.

 

1. The meaning of “charismatic”

Quick word association: I say “charismatic” you say …

Maybe you think of Robert Tilton with eyes shut tightly and hand raised, asking viewers who need a financial miracle to place their hands on their TV screens. Is that what we mean by that word? For some people it’s anyone who ever lifted a hand during worship. Maybe it’s belief in Holy Spirit baptism (aka “Second Blessing”). Or is it merely non-cessationism?

One thing is for sure, you’d better make clear the meaning you have in mind, and if you’re debating someone about it, you’d better agree between the two of you what precisely you both mean when you use the term. It has been painfully obvious to me in the brief eruption of attention on this issue that people are using the term differently. Some of them mean merely those whose theological position is not cessationism. Others seem to mean Todd Bentley, Kenneth Copeland, and people spending hours “Holy Ghost glued” to the floor.

Often usage determines meaning, and common or shared usage of a word can alter how we perceive it. Since this word is biblical, it seems most appropriate to recapture, as best we can, its early etymology as at least a starting place for defining it properly. As first year Greek students learn and as footnotes in your Bible may tell you, the word is essentially the word “grace” (“charis”) used in such a way (charisma or charismata) as to denote gracious acts or gifts. The specific use of the word to describe spiritual gifts (mostly in I Cor. 12 and Eph. 4) – and particularly the more extraordinary and supernatural gifts, like miracles, healings, tongues, prophetic words – is responsible for it being used to describe Christians who emphasize those kinds of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

So far so good, but this still doesn’t help me know whether or not I should use the word only to describe those who believe that the supernatural gifts did not cease (as opposed to “cessationists” who believe that those gifts were for the messianic and apostolic eras and not normative for the church all-time), or whether I should use the word to include things like the prosperity movement, the strange semi-Eastern doctrines about how your words create spiritual realities (the so-called “Word of Faith” movement), and the outlandish “outpourings” that have people spending hours gyrating, fainting, laughing then growling, freezing and seizing.

Like many people, I have seen both the good and the utterly bizarre under this umbrella of “charismatic.” I have attended churches and have known ministers (even in my own family) who are charismatic by identification, of whom I would never say the sorts of things I say about certain televangelists. I’ve met old-school Southern Baptists overseas serving as missionaries who, though they were raised in a non-charismatic church setting, are convinced of supernatural spiritual activity based upon years of experience.

Then again, I’ve attended a charismatic service where the so-called preacher reads one verse from Isaiah (31:4 in case you need an idea for Sunday) about how God speaks as a “roaring lion” and then proceeds to lead the congregation in 45 minutes of “roaring in the Spirit.” A simplistic approach won’t do. There are charismatic Roman Catholics whose language and church life bears little resemblance to what you would find at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (as it used to be called). When debates on cessationism broke out in the seminary classes I attended long ago, the mostly Southern Baptist students were very much split on the issue.

It may well be that we cannot presume to know what another person hears in the word “charismatic”, which means that we have to make the minimal effort of finding out and negotiating a definition that we can all understand. Even if I and an opponent agree to define the word differently, each of us will at least know what the other person is meaning when he or she uses the word.

2. “Charismatic” vs. the Prosperity and/or Word-Faith & Otherwise Whack-job Televangelists

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Why I Am/Not Charistmatic: History of the Gifts Response – Sam Storms

Michael,

Thanks for your careful approach to this question. I appreciate your desire to properly honor our common heroes of the faith throughout these past 2,000 years of church history. But I have to say that I remain utterly unmoved and altogether unconvinced by your appeal to this argument from the life of the church these past two millennia. I can’t address all your points, and on several occasions I will simply encourage the reader to go back and examine my article and the evidence I cited one more time. But I do have a few important points to make.

(1) First, I don’t think you honestly believe what I’m about to say (at least I hope you don’t), but much of what you wrote in your article, together with several comments in previous entries, suggests that it may be hiding just beneath the surface and I want our readers to reckon with it.

In all your talk of how experience or the lack thereof shapes your beliefs and practices, you’ve made several good points. But a danger lurks when one question is pressed: “What should I do when my experience does not line up with Scripture?” I put it this way because you have conceded on several occasions that the NT does not teach hard cessationism. You have even conceded that the exegetical case for continuationism is stronger than the one for cessationism. Your response has been to rely on the argument of what you call de facto cessation (“How do we know the gifts ceased? We know they have ceased because they in fact ceased”).

You do not argue that they have ceased because Scripture teaches they have. You concede that Scripture appears to teach otherwise. So, in my opinion, we have one of two available responses: either (1) marginalize Scripture on the subject of our responsibility with regard to spiritual gifts, or (2) do what we can, with God’s help, to alter our experience and repent of what we have believed or done that has led us to fall short of what Scripture truly says and commands. It strikes me that the only legitimate response to the alleged de facto cessation of gifts (which I’m only conceding for the sake of argument; as you can see from my article, I don’t believe they ever altogether ceased) is to admit that this must mean the problem is with us, the people of God, and not the Word of God.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: I struggle to understand how your view can be made consistent with a high view of biblical authority. If you concede that the NT makes a stronger case for continuationism than cessationism, then embrace the former and do everything within your power (as empowered by God) to pursue and facilitate and practice the gifts, regardless of what anyone else in any age of church history may believe or do. Otherwise, I don’t know how the Bible functions authoritatively in your life. Now, as I said above, I don’t believe you deny the functional authority of Scripture (I know you too well for that), but I fear that your arguments betray the subtle and perhaps unconscious influence of a tendency to invest more authority in your and others’ experience than in that of Paul and his precepts.

(2) Second, you write that “the cumulative experience of the historic body of Christ, at this point, is one of the things that keeps me from being charismatic.” In keeping with the previous point, I’m very sad to hear you say that. I would have hoped you had said, “the cumulative evidence from God’s inspired Word, at this point, is the primary thing that prompts me to be a charismatic, the experience or lack thereof in other believers notwithstanding.”

(3) Third, you insist that, subsequent to the first two centuries of church life, spiritual gifts were in decline and were at best infrequent and on the fringe for the next 1,800 years or so. I’m not going to continue to argue that point, but would ask only one question: “Why were they purportedly in decline and infrequent?” I would simply ask that you and our readers consider the several possible explanations for this found in my article. One explanation that you will not find, because Scripture won’t allow it, is that it was God’s design that the gifts only operate during the initial stages of the church’s existence. The Bible simply nowhere says that.

(4) Fourth, I will not respond to your quotations from church history but choose to stand by the evidence cited in my article. I would simply encourage the reader to go back and carefully read the statements from prominent figures and ask if what they believed and saw and experienced is consistent with de facto cessationism. In my opinion, it most certainly isn’t.

(5) Fifth, you argue that “the loss of the [truth] of the Gospel was a loss of an understanding of a doctrine (sola fide), not a loss of the effectiveness of this doctrine,” and thus can’t be compared with the decline or relative loss of the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church. You go on to say with regard to tongues that “you never have as a prerequisite a belief in the truthfulness of a doctrine of continuationism before Christians experience their effectiveness.”

I honestly can’t believe you believe this. Are you actually saying that one’s theological convictions about the validity or cessation of tongues and other gifts has no effect on whether or not a person eventually experiences them? I would insist that our beliefs control and shape our zeal, our expectations, our prayer life, and especially how we respond to and interpret claims people make regarding their experience of supernatural phenomena. Let me develop this point at greater length, because I think it is of crucial importance.

I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but your understanding of when and why spiritual gifts either are or are not present in the life of the church appears to be influenced by what strikes me as hyper-Calvinism, or at least a somewhat fatalistic approach to the Christian life that undermines both prayer and human responsibility. Can you believe that a committed 5-point Calvinist just wrote that? Well, yes, he (I) did.

You point to the gift of tongues in Acts and argue that in all three instances where it appears it came “sovereignly,” so to speak, without regard to the prayer or spiritual posture of those who received it. I think this is misleading for a couple of reasons.

For one, those present on the Day of Pentecost were there in obedience to the command of Jesus: “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49: cf. Acts 1:5,8). The reason all received the gift of tongues on that Day is due to at least two factors. First, they were obedient in responding to Jesus’ command. There is no reason to believe, at least in my opinion, that if some had disbelieved Jesus’ promise, disobeyed his command, and had refused to wait with the others in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Spirit that they would have received tongues anyway, irrespective of their response to him. Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Not Charismatic, Part 15

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, Sam Storms and J.J. Seid as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts.

Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Not Charismatic, Part 14

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, Sam Storms and J.J. Seid as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts.

Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Not Charismatic, Part 13

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, Sam Storms and J.J. Seid as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts.

Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Not Charismatic, Part 12

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, Sam Storms and J.J. Seid as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts.

Why I Am/Not Charismatic: The Gift of Prophecy Response – C Michael Patton

The following is part of a discussion (not debate) between two friends, Sam Storms and C. Michael Patton, about the charismatic gifts of the Spirit. Sam is a Charismatic. Michael is not. If you have come in late, you can access the entire series here.

Sam,

Thanks much for detailing your argument in such a way. I know this is something you have to do often for people like me, so I pray this conversation is not redundant. While I am desperately committed to this remaining a discussion and not a debate, this is the first response in the series where I find we have significant points of disagreement. I pray you will bear with me while I respond. And please know that while my response will cover some major points of disagreement, I do love you and hold you in the highest regard, seeing you as a great mentor in my life.

Let’s begin with your Charles Spurgeon quote. It is very interesting and often used among charismatics. First, let me say this. My current position of “soft cessationist,” or more simply, “non-charismatic,” is not a position against prophecy. I know that some people are. Some believe that any prophecy given today puts the “closing” of the canon of Scripture in jeopardy. But as I expressed before, this argument is not strong. I have read a lot of Spurgeon. As a matter of fact, after my wife and I got married, we would read a sermon of Spurgeon every night. I am not kidding – every night! When I told a mentor/professor about this, he responded, “As a newlywed couple, can’t you find something better to do at night?!” Wisdom or folly? Who knows. But back to my point: In all my reading of Spurgeon, I would not dare to say he was a charismatic (and I know you would not either), even if he had a prophetic experience here and there. Why? Because, as we defined at the beginning, the key points we are arguing are that God wants gifts such as prophecy to be 1) continuing, 2) normative, and 3) actively sought out. Having some divine revelation a few times does not qualify as evidence of any of the three, in my opinion. Although I am open to correction here, I think the following quote, from a sermon called “Receiving the Holy Ghost” (#1790 Vol 30, Year 1884, pg. 386, Acts 19:2), evidences that Spurgeon was at least a soft cessationist. (This probably is better placed in our coming discussion about the history of the charismatic gifts, but since you brought Spurgeon into the discussion, I think this is proper):

You know, dear friends, when the Holy Spirit was given in the earliest ages, He showed His presence by certain miraculous signs. Some of those who received the Holy Spirit spake with tongues, others began to prophesy, and a third class received the gifts of healing. I am sure that if these powers were given now you would all be anxious to possess them. You would want to be healing or to be speaking in tongues, or to be working miracles by which you would benefit your fellow men and glorify God. Now be it never forgotten that those works of the Holy Spirit which are permanent must assuredly be of greater value than those which were transitory. We cannot suppose that the Holy Ghost brought forth the best wine at first and that His operations gradually deteriorated. It is a rule of the kingdom to keep the best wine to the last; and therefore, I conclude that you and I are not left to partake of the dregs, but that those gifts of the Holy Spirit which are at this time vouchsafed to the church of God are every way as valuable as those earlier miraculous gifts which are departed from us.

As well, when I look at Spurgeon’s first revelation, frankly, it seems to take a rather legalistic cultural bent.  He condemned a man for having his shop open on Sunday? To me this is not unlike the people who claim to have near death experiences and go meet God in heaven. Their description of heaven – streets of gold, gates of pearls, wings on people, etc. – are not biblical (in my opinion). Most of what they describe is nothing more than a representation of the unbiblical folk theology of their culture. I could be wrong here, but I tend to think Spurgeon’s culture believed that leaving your place of business open on Sunday was a terrible sin. However, Paul said let no one judge a person with regard to the Sabbath (Col. 2:6).

Concerning your third point, we agree in a very important way. You distinguish between prophecy and teaching God’s word. Many people will combine the two, believing they are essentially the same. Prophecy, as I said in my post, is supernatural and direct divine revelation that comes by various means.

You make a point to say prophecy is a “report” of divine revelation. I am fine with that – to a point. Where I can’t follow you right now is where you allow for the short-circuiting between the revelation and the report. You say, “prophecy is occasionally fallible.” That is a hard thing to wrestle with. Part of me says you are right. It is fallible. That is why God instructs us, in both the Old and New Testaments, to test the prophets (Deut 13:1-3; Deut 18:20-22; 1 Cor 14:32). Where I can’t follow you is when you say that a prophet can be wrong (i.e., deliver a false prophecy), yet this not be seen as sinful or destructive to the community of God. This is God’s word we are dealing with. Sam, you are in no way frivolous with God’s word. I know you well enough to see this. However, I don’t see how encouraging the church to embrace claims to divine revelation (contingent or not), which may or may not be from God, can be seen as anything other than frivolous. I can’t get over the idea that adopting this acceptance of failed prophecy is a dangerous carefree lack of seriousness concerning those who speak on behalf of the Creator of the universe. Continue Reading →