My heart was a bit heavy as I witnessed the blogosphere light up today over John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and the broad brush stroke polemics against Charismatics. I appreciated Michael Patton’s thoughts on the subject.
Now to be clear, I am not a Charismatic. But I used to be and commitedly so – third wave, direct experience (direct communication is better; we all should have some kind of experience), charged atmosphere, seeking signs and wonders (or what I thought were signs and wonders). But seven years ago I stepped away due to a challenge by a friend on the disjointed and fragmented way I was reading Scripture. As I studied and considered Scripture from a holistic perspective and learning how to read stuff in context, I transitioned into soft-cessationism. This was not due to any negative experience but as a result of a formulation of a robust view of the doctrine of Scripture and how God sufficiently spoke through it. In other words, when I considered how the 66 books fit together and pointed to God’s redemptive work through the Son and how everything pointed to him, it made me re-evaluate how I understood continuation of gifts, prophecy, hearing from God directly and an over-reliance on experiential phenomenon as proof of God’s Spirit at work.
It was not like I didn’t read the Bible, didn’t believe in essential Christian truths, or didn’t have a commitment to Christ’s church. In fact, many in my circles genuinely loved the Lord, sought to serve and please him and recognized that he had paid the price for their life. Although, I went to extremes after my conversion away from Charismania, I came to rest in kind of a tense area. In fact, I have said on a number of occasions, that I went from being a crazy charismatic to a crusty cessationist and now live in a place called tension.
Why tension? Because I discovered that there are actually thoughtful, well read and even scholarly Charismatics who believe in the authority of Scripture and allow it to interpret how to consider God’s work in the world today. I ran across guys like Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms, scholars, pastors and authors. I encountered Vineyard guys like Luke Geraty and others who took the Bible and discipline of theology serious. These folks are not the experience driven, ignore the Bible, anything goes step-child fringe that rightly deserves critique. In Michael’s article, I appreciated his statement that you can’t judge all Charismatics by the ugly red-headed step children.
And here’s the thing, the Charismatic movement is not a monolith. Charismatic has to be defined because there’s a range of beliefs. Again, Michael offers some good food for thought in this article Will the Real Charismatic Please Stand Up. He identifies some key components and says it really depends on what you do with each one. In the end, he like me, falls on the cessationist side but the plea to be reasonable.
In the New Testament, we are told that God has gifted the church and individuals with gifts (charisma) and offices that are for the mutual edification of the church. On the far charismatic end of the scale, there are those who not only believe that all gifts are still in operation, but whose life and ministry are centered around the practice of the more extravagant gifts. For them, the gift of tongues is a sign of maturity and the presence of the Spirit in their life. Every church service is chaos, as people are uncontrollably “led by the Spirit” to prophesy, speak in tongues, and/or pronounce a word of wisdom or knowledge. On the non-charismatic end of the scale, we have those who don’t believe in the gifts at all. Some believe that all gifts of the Spirit ceased in the first century. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself. I know of a very large network of churches which believes the gifts of teaching, giving, evangelism, tongues, healing, prophecy, and every other gift mentioned in the New Testament ceased in the first century…
It should go without saying that both extremes are not only unhealthy, but potentially destructive to the body of Christ due to their imbalance. There is a healthy middle which represents an orthodox position in all of these areas.
He provides this graphic here.
Amen! When you consider some of the arguments of Charismatics who really try to be thoughtful about the authority of Scripture and the work of the Spirit AND cessationists who have a robust view of the Spirit’s work, that middle part makes good sense. We have to consider how each component/gift could be possible today and in some cases comes down to hermeneutics (and also definitions of what it means for God to speak).
And this is why I was so bothered by what I saw, not only the fact that a whole conference had been based on a polemic against the Charismatic movement wholesale. But in reaction against this, Charismatics did the same thing with cessationists, building tired strawmen arguments and calling cessationism silly and devoid of the Spirit. I wish those that raise these polemics would consider this thoughtful article What Cessationism is Not. Please do check it out and realize there are good and valid reasons for cessationism.
Christians, we have got to do better in addressing this topic than calling one side crazy or the other side callous to the Spirit. Clearly, there are those on the fringes. But in the middle are a whole lot of folks really trying to honor God, his word and work in the world. So allow me to turn Charismatic for a brief second. I have a vision of Jesus doing a facepalm. Not because of those seeking direct communication and miracles, as the cessationist would say. Not because of the so-called quenching of the Spirit and putting God in a box, as the Charismatic would say. But because of the divisive and uncharitable way in which his church is handling this topic and throwing a lot of God’s people under the bus in the process.